Like many fifth graders in American elementary schools, Kristin Oberiano took U.S. history. But what she learned in the classroom about the history of Guam, the small Pacific Island near the Philippines where she was born and raised, didn’t match her experience growing up there.
“I would flip to the [textbook’s] index, look for Guam, and if it was in there, it would be one entry about World War II, and how the United States freed Guam and then found its way to go capture the Philippines or some other islands in the Pacific,” said Oberiano. “I recognized, I think, from a very early age that this did not reflect the reality that was around me.
“Guam is more than just a military base. It is filled with people who are rarely written [about] in the U.S. history textbooks.”
The desire to write a history of Guam that is inclusive of all those who call it home eventually brought Oberiano to Harvard. Today, she is a graduate student in the history department studying the relationships between the island’s Filipino residents, many of whose forebears immigrated there to work for the U.S. military during World War II, and the CHamorus, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands who have lived on Guam for more than 4,000 years. The two cultures share an intricate, intertwined history — from the legacies left by colonialism under Spain and the United States to the military presence that continues today.
“I’m looking at specific moments in the 20th century where Filipinos and CHamorus have interacted with each other and how these moments are emblematic of the tensions but also the solidarity between the two groups,” said Oberiano. “They were colonial siblings, essentially. During the Spanish era, Guam was under the purview of the Spanish government through the Philippine colonial state. But when the Americans came in, the Philippines and Guam were considered separate political entities, and the connections that had formed between the CHamorus and the Filipinos in the Spanish era were contested and severed.”