A Few Things to Know About Guam Beyond the Headlines


Guam’s been in the news this week, but there’s a good chance you don’t know much about the island. After North Korea said it was considering an attack on the U.S. territory, Google searches for  Guam spiked 5,000%, and many Americans were scratching their heads: “Where is that place again? How is it related to the USA?”



Guam—specifically, Point Udall—is the westernmost point of the USA, 4,000 miles from Hawaii, (and just over 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.) Here are all the U.S. territories, with Guam at the far left.


It’s the second-largest territory (after Puerto Rico), with more than 160,000 people on 210 square miles. About 40% of Guamanians are Chamorro, the island’s indigenous group, and about 26% are Filipino.



Guam residents also serve in the U.S. military at rates higher than any state. Seventeen Guamanians died in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a rate more than twice that of any state. My friend Carl, a Guam native, served in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam. His grandfather served in World War I. His father fought in World War II. His son is now in the Coast Guard. Military service is a point of major pride here; one of the main roads is Marine Corps Drive.



See those stones pictured above  (along with Carl, left,  and his friend Tony)? Those are latte stones, two-piece stone pillars that served as the foundation of  traditional Chamorro homes.  They're pronounced "lottie" (so not like you're ordering at Starbucks), and although they're no longer  used as structural components of everyday houses, you see the motif in lots of architectural designs and logos and the like.


Guam’s food is the best. Seriously. I ate well in all five territories (shouts to the USVI’s mauby and Puerto Rico’s lechon!), but Guam was my favorite, food-wise. Highlights included chicken kelaguen (sorta kinda like chicken salad, but so much better), boñelos åga (banana doughnuts), and—best of all—barbecue, which combines elements of Guam’s Chamorro, Japanese, and American cultural roots, and stars a marinade spiked with vinegar and soy sauce.


For more about Guam—and all the U.S. territories—check out The Not-Quite States of America, just out from W.W. Norton. Booklist says "One will never think about the United States in quite the same way after this enjoyable read."






Tumon Bay tourist district.

Apra Harbor, where American troops landed in 1944.

In July and August 1944, all of Guam was a battleground. There are markers everywhere, some of them hiding in plain sight,  like this one outside a strip mall..

Dancers at the Chamorro Market.

Hagatna, one of the main business areas.

Millions of Asian tourists--primarily from Japan, but also Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere--come to Guam every year to  go to the beach, do some duty-free shopping, and try out some stereotypical American activities, like driving a Mustang or shooting a gun.


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