The United States "liberated" Guam and the Marianas Islands from 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As is usually the case with American Liberation, this meant further colonization, conversion into military outposts, and a forced re-education of the native Chamorros. To be fair, those indigenous inhabitants had already endured some 300 years of Spanish colonialism by then. By the time the US showed up, most Chammoros spoke in Spanish. But they also had their own language, called CHamoru.
But, as the Guardian tells it, the imperialist force that famously boasts about its firm belief in the freedom of speech (from a country that doesn't even have an official language) tried to stomp out the language at all costs:
The US navy banned CHamoru in 1917 “except for official interpreting”. The naval administration even burned CHamoru-English dictionaries.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the ban on speaking CHamoru in schools was lifted, says Michael Bevacqua, a CHamoru language educator on Guam. Until then, schoolchildren who spoke CHamoru were punished, and their parents were sometimes even fined.
A decade ago, the US census estimated there were about 25,827 CHamoru speakers on Guam, just 2,394 of whom were under the age of 18, and only 14,176 CHamoru speakers in the rest of the island chain.
Robert Underwood, the former president of the University of Guam, says most of the fluent speakers are likely to be over the age of 50.
“In another 20 to 30 years there may not be any real first-language speakers of CHamoru,” he says.
Fortunately, there is now an ongoing effort to fund CHamoru education, starting with an elementary school pilot program.
Citizens of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands, like those from Puerto Rico, are technically US citizens, and get to send a delegate to the US House of Representatives. However, they have no Senatorial representation, and they can't vote for President. The least we can do is let 'em speak their own damn language.
The fight to save CHamoru, a language the US military tried to destroy [Anita Hofschneider / The Guardian]
How the US has hidden its empire [Daniel Immerwahr / The Guardian]
Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson