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Discontiguous States of America: The Paradox of Unincorporation in Craig Santos Perez’s Poetics of Chamorro Guam

Abstract

Eclipsed by other islands incorporated into the United States after the Spanish-American War of 1898, Guam has nevertheless played a crucial role in the development of the American Pacific as a strategic military site. Like other territories of the United States, Guam’s ambiguous legal status and the presence of native peoples, cultures, and histories signal the paradox of unincorporated territories that troubles the issues of belonging and identification as “American.” This essay takes up poet-scholar Craig Santos Perez’s work to assert the primacy of Indigenous Chamorro histories, languages, and cultures in understanding the island’s place in and out of the American Empire. Perez’s experimental, decolonial poetics fracture narratives of America as a benevolent force in the Pacific; of English as the only relevant language of the Mariana Islands and America; of Spanish and Catholic domination as a relic of the past; of environmental transformations wrought by the intimacies of empire; and of simplistic accounts of assimilation or resistance to militarization and colonialism. Furthermore, by foregrounding “Discontiguous States of America” as an organizing trope for comparative understanding of unincorporated territories in the Caribbean and Pacific, American Indian reservation spaces on the continent, and the outlying states of Alaska and Hawai‘i, this essay argues that transnational American Studies must look within its territorial possessions to Indigenous sovereignty claims as well as outside to global flows in order to offer a truly critical, transnational American Studies.

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