Montel Williams lived there. Matilda's crappy family moved there at the end of the movie. Stephen Colbert harangued its nonvoting House delegate on TV. It's a U.S. territory, "Where America's Day Begins," and one of only 17 colonies left on earth.
But a lot of Americans — even college-educated ones — know nothing about the island of Guam. That's why, when growing up, I preferred to tell new acquaintances that I was Asian or Pacific Islander, rather than Chamorro (the indigenous people of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Okinawan and Filipino.
I kept racial categories broad and simple, because I hated the glassy-eyed, awkward nod people gave in response when they didn't know what Guam was, and they were scared of looking ignorant. Despite the waxing social awareness and an ever-growing appreciation for American diversity in all its forms, much of the U.S. still has a somewhat narrow understanding of the ethnic multiplicity that accompanies race.
And this can cause some problems for writers of color who don't fit neatly into racial categories, but who still want to actively participate in the conversation about race.
Fortunately, it's likely that all Americans have met people of different races; if not, then most have been exposed to diversity through music, films, sports, the news or television shows.
But this self-satisfied familiarity with broader racial categories necessarily sacrifices the specifics. Big terms like Asian, White, Black, Latino, even Multi- or Biracial, gloss over more vexing and "exotic" ethnicities that most Americans have few reference points for — Hmong, Xhosa, Tamil, Uyghur, Chamorro, Samoan, the list goes on.
Does "Asian" really encapsulate what it means to be Tamil versus Japanese? Or does "black" differentiate between Xhosa and a third-generation African-American? Does "Native American" help distinguish a Chippewa from a Navajo from a Lakota?
I'm not saying we should do away with these terms. I'm just trying to explain why I, as a "minor-minority," find them so deeply unsatisfying. Writer or not, I expect I'm not alone in feeling that way.
The "double-double consciousness" of minor-minorities
I was thrilled when I first stumbled across Buzzfeed's recent article "39 Pieces Of Advice For Journalists And Writers Of Color," published last week, but it also compelled me to write about what I've inelegantly named in my mind "the minor-minorities." We're the "weird minorities" who baffle a lot of people and expose — or at least hint at — the hard truth that how we usually talk about race erases some meaningful differences in what distinguishes one person of color's experience from another's.
There's a kind of double-double consciousness associated with being a minor-minority.
On one hand, I identify as Chamorro, Okinawan and Filipino, but I've spent much of my life lazily cloaking myself under the vague umbrella of "Asian."
"Ha ha," I'd say, when I was attending UCLA, a school where Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 34.8% of the student population, outnumbering white students to the point where the school is jokingly (stupidly) called the University of Caucasians Lost Among Asians. "Ha ha, yeah, there's so many of us."
But the fact is, I'm half-Chamorro and there's not so many of us. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, fewer than 60,000 people identified as Chamorro/Guamanian in combination with another race. In other words, people like me make up less than 0.02% of the U.S. population.
And still, there's no satisfying narrative for us within the grand, ongoing narrative of "people of color."
Like many U.S. minorities do at some point in their lives, I've been preoccupied with mimicking "whiteness," or my idea of what it meant to be a "normal American." Only in my case, my family wasn't from another country. We were from Guam, so we were all American citizens, but many Americans on the mainland didn't see us that way. We were like tourists in our own land.
That's where the double-double consciousness comes in. You at once inwardly embracing your heritage, but also trying to erase your uniqueness for the sake of feeling part of a larger minority group, but you also seek to appear to others as "white," or at least part of the mainstream.
This is tiring work. And it gets really complicated when you're trying to find your voice and identity as a writer of color.
What this all means to me as a writer
I'm not a famous journalist, yetI can't help but feel that I still have a responsibility as a minority (female) writer in a majority white (male) industry to shed some light on the experiences of women and of persons of color.
Here, things get tricky. "Don't let yourself become their 'token,' warns one contributor to Buzzfeed's (truly wonderful) advice list. Would that I could, but I'm hardly "token" enough to be any outlet's resident Writer Who Comments on Things Regarding Asians or Pacific Islanders.
One of the most important questions in journalism is So what? or Why should anyone care? The answers are myriad for some writers, like Cord Jefferson and Ta-nehisi Coates, who often write authoritatively and intelligently about their own (quite different) experiences as black men in America.
A vast audience is willing to consume their stories, and not only because these men possess plenty of talent, grit and passion. While Jefferson and Coates are minorities, their experiences as black men in particular matter a huge deal in America, whether they're talking about pop culture, the culture of poverty, the criminal justice system, racial amnesia, ad infinitum.
But in the case of Chamorros — and other minor-minorities — the answer to So what? is less clear. There aren't that many of us. It's highly likely that many Americans aren't familiar with our people or where we're from. The cultural touchstones are lacking. We're immediately less relevant when a mainstream audience can't mentally pigeonhole us.
As a Chamorro writer who has lived and worked in Los Angeles and the Bay Area (and now D.C.), I face a bit more of an uphill struggle if I want to write about racial/ethnic issues. I have to do more work to convince people that my ideas and stories are worth reading.
Because of my own reluctance to shed light onto my confusing, nebulous nexus of identities, I've found a lot of satisfaction in telling stories that belong to others, using the mirror to illuminate elsewhere and reflect the light away from me.
But I realized I finally wanted to explain to others — and myself — why I felt so conflicted about writing from the vantage point of a Person of Color.
So what? or The Moral of the Story (or tl;dr)
My goal isn't to eventually become a voice for the Chamorro people. This isn't about me.
As I grow and learn as a writer, I want to encourage other minority-minority writers to be more confident asserting themselves in the tiny, exclusive journalism and literary industries, even if they choose to not write about race.
I want them to know that their experiences matter and that their heritage isn't something to shy away from. If it's complicated, if it's hard to explain, try anyway, and try not to blame the readers for being slow to listen.
Sure, your story may be messy, incongruous and weird. That just means you have to learn to tell it better.