Tumon was an important village in ancestral Guam; in the past few decades, it has been deformed into the tourist center of the island (often dubbed a “mini-Waikiki”). In 2012, 1.3 million tourists invaded Guam, with over seventy percent being from Japan. For the first two months of this year, Guam’s hotels were fully booked with the added visitors traving for Chinese New Year, as well as over 2,000 military personnel on island for various military exercises.
Gun tourism is popular in Tumon, particularly among Japanese tourists since Japan has strict gun laws. Along the main shopping street, you can fire various shotguns and handguns at Western Frontier Village gun club (among other gun clubs). It’s a thrilling way to experience American gun culture.
Last month in the “Pleasure Island” district of Tumon, a 21-year old local boy intentionally drove his car onto the sidewalk, injuring six people. He then crashed into a convenience store of a hotel, jumped out of the car with a knife, and stabbed eight people. Three people died from their wounds. Nearly all who were injured or killed were Japanese tourists.
This tragic story was globally covered, from the Huffington Post to the Japan Times. In Guam’s media, many people expressed shock over the violent rampage. How could this happen? Isn’t Guam a safe place for tourists and residents alike?
Hawaiian poet Haunani-Kay Trask, in her essay “‘Lovely Hula Hands’: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture”, exposes the relationship between colonialism and tourism. She points to how the tourism industry pollutes native lands and water, prostitutes native culture, and contributes to the crime rate, overpopulation, and poverty. Trask’s poem, “Hawai’i”, offers a poignant image:
heiau stones lie crushed
beneath purple resort
in the Native
heart of darkness.
In addition to deforming the physical island landscape, tourism has a profound psychological effect on islanders, who are forced to serve, accommodate, and WAVE (Welcome All Visitors Enthusiastically—a slogan used by the Guam Visitors Bureau). With the cruel realities islanders are forced to live (high rent, unemployment, health issues, migration, incarceration, etc), it becomes increasingly difficult to WAVE.
In Chamorro poet Cecilia Perez’s poem, “View of Tumon Bay” (1997), she tells the tourism industry: “You WAVE. / My hands are / Too busy / Fanning away the stench / Of tourist industrial waste…” The poem ends by invoking an ancestral Chamorro story, in which a giant fish eats the center of the island:
Maybe it’s time to call
The legendary big fish
To come and chomp
Back to the sea,
But you’d probably
Just find a way
To sell that,
Tourism is not only a result of our colonial threesome between our islands and the empires of Japan and the US, but tourism is also tied to militarism. Micronesian poet Teresia Teaiwa terms this relationship: “militourism,” referring to how the military reinforces the success of the tourism industry, while the tourist industry masks military power and violence.
We should not be shocked that this violent attack took place in Tumon. We should not be shocked that this attack took place at a time when tourists and military personnel were bombarding the island. We should not be surprised at the violence of this attack when we live within the violence of American culture and the hopelessness of American colonialism. If we don’t address the root causes of this violence, then these acts will continue with more frequency and more intensity.