Guam, Where America’s Voting Rights End
My 7th grade social studies teacher made us, the children of Guam, memorize the names of all 41 American presidents, whose portraits stared down at us in the furthest American territory from the White House. As I recited their names at home, my parents watched Bill Clinton play saxophone on television. “Are you voting for him?” I asked. My dad, wearing his Army t-shirt, said: “Didn’t your teacher tell you that our votes don’t count. It don’t matter that we’re citizens or veterans.”
A few years later, my family migrated to California, where I became a resident, graduated high school, and registered to vote. But after Al Gore lost, I learned that living in the states doesn’t guarantee your ballot will actually count. I learned how easy it is to memorize the name of a president who wages two wars and sharpens your island into a weapon. And isn’t that what an American president is: a name to which our lands and bodies are ultimately sacrificed.
When Barack Obama campaigned in 2007, his name gave me hope because it descended from slavery, from the civil rights movement, from a mixed raced family, from the Pacific. Yet Obama only visited Guam once. In 2011, his plane landed at night on the air force base, refueled, then departed. That’s when I learned the arc of history doesn’t bend justice towards Guam. I learned no matter what the president’s name is, he remains our commander, and our island remains a forgotten name.
For thirty years, a straw poll on Guam has accurately predicted the result of U.S. presidential elections. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the poll, yet still lost to Donald Trump, thus breaking our historic (and ironic) streak. I voted for neither candidate, which felt like a betrayal to my kin back home, who don’t have a voice in the election. Some activists now petition to extend voting rights to the territories; instead, I want our decolonial voices to be counted, I want Guam’s liberation from American presidents to be inaugurated.