Camacho: Name change will affirm identity
By Dionesis Tamondong • Pacific Daily News • February 16, 2010
To help mark his legacy as the island's chief executive, Gov. Felix Camacho has called for the formal change of Guam's name to Guåhan.
"As we quickly move into this time of rapid growth and development that may forever change our island, our sense of identity, family and place, it is important that we reaffirm our identity as a people," Camacho said during his State of the Island address yesterday.
The governor issued an executive order for the name change and said he would submit a bill for lawmakers to approve the change.
While some senators supported the renaming proposal, other senators said it amounted to empty symbolism.
Speaker Judith Won Pat said the return to calling the island "Guåhan" could restore some of Guam's lost identity.
"This is the age where, throughout the world, people want to know who they are and find their identity," she said. "This is very important for Guam as well."
Sen. Ben Pangelinan said he supported the name change, but said the Camacho administration hasn't accomplished much in terms of indigenous issues that would back up the symbolic gesture.
He noted the Commission on Self-Determination and the Commission on Decolonization have done little under Camacho's term.
"Self-determination is not changing the name of the island. It's the exercise of our right to vote for what we want to be in terms of our place in the political community of the world," Pangelinan said.
The name "Guåhan" means "we have," said Toni Ramirez, historian for the Guam Historic Preservation Office of the Guam Department of Parks and Recreation.
He said "Guåhan" was an appropriate name for the island because it was blessed with abundant fruits, rivers and many natural resources compared to other islands in Micronesia.
The name was used before 1900, when Guam's first Naval Gov. Richard Leary designated the island as the "Isle of Guam."
Guam Visitors Bureau General Manager Gerry Perez said the name change will require a lot of work from his agency to communicate that change to Guam's visitor markets. But in the long run, he said it can reinforce the island's cultural identity and history, which is already part of the bureau's campaign to show tourists what sets Guam apart from other destinations.
Sen. Eddie Calvo, a gubernatorial candidate in this year's elections, said while the name change could be positive for Guam, the government will have to look at the potential costs and impact of doing so.
Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz said he thought the name change isn't going to have any major impact. He also said he was disappointed the governor decided to make this his lasting legacy.
"I expected that the legacy was going to be more what he was going to do about the buildup and not about renaming Guam Guåhan," Cruz said. "Sure, it gives us pride in ourselves, but we would have a little more pride if we had a leader that was going to protect us with this upcoming buildup. That would have been more important for me to hear."
Pacific Daily News reporter Brett Kelman contributed to this report.