Guam’s Colonial and Military History

Much of what is known about Guam is post-colonial history, recorded after Magellan “discovered” the island for Spain, in 1521. After a cultural misunderstanding about property ownership with indigenous folks, Magellan named Guam an “island of thieves”. He was killed soon after in the Philippines.

The United States “captured” the island during the Spanish-American war, and it has remained a U.S. colony since, with the exception of a three-year occupation by Japanese forces during World War II. The Japanese occupation was extremely violent and very difficult for the Chamorro people.

In 1950, Guam became an “unincorporated organized territory” of the United States. The federal government oversees the island, and Guam has a local government. However, it is not counted in federal elections.

Pan Am’s first commercial flight landed in Guam in 1967. Since then, the island has been a cross between a military outpost and a tourist playground. The layers of colonialism continue to inform the island’s culture; Guam is very visibly a mix of influences. More information about Guam can be found here

Regional Migration

Partially because of nuclear testing conducted in the region, President Reagan signed a “Compact of Free Association” agreement with other islands in the area in 1986. Folks from Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia (including Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae) can all travel to Guam and work without Visas. This has implications for a lot of industries that rely on migrant labor, including tourism, construction, and sex work.

Hawaii and Saipan

These neighboring United States territories have their own unique histories, but it is useful to mention that they, too, see migrant labor and sex work as part of the regional flow of labor. Some highlights include:
  • Saipan’s garment industry had a series of highly publicised labor law violations in the late 1990s, when it was uncovered that workers from across Asia were traveling there to live and work in garment factories.
  • Until 2014, it was legal for police officers in Hawaii to engage in “sexual acts” with workers in order to prove they are committing the crime of prostitution.

78 Day Contracts

It is important to remember that not all migration is legal or safe. Currently, in Guam, the legal contracts (Artist Agreement) (Contract) for an exotic dancer detail 78 working days. Is it a coincidence that travel visas are typically issued to foreign nationals for 90 days?

Visa Waiver and Military Buildup

There have been murmurs about a visa waiver extension to Russia and China in recent years, which would undoubtedly alter the demographics of the migrant labor workforce in Guam.

Also, partially because of several high-profile assaults in Okinawa, the United States has been discussing the transfer of troops from Japan to Guam for several years. This move would involve new shooting ranges and construction, and an “Environmental Impact Statement” has been prepared by the Navy. Although obviously much harder to quantify, there has been no official discussion of the socioeconomic impact of this proposal.