Mapping Identity and Placemaking Across U.S. Empire in the Pacific—Moving Peoples and Racial Ideologies from World War II into the 21st Century

Endorsed by the OAH-Japanese Association for American Studies Japan Historians' Collaborative Committee

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Colonial/Revolutionary; Military; Nationalism and Transnationalism


As one lens into the OAH theme of “crisis”—crises mobilized by U.S. imperial histories—our panel explores U.S. military imperialism in the Pacific by focusing on how this history has shaped formations of place and identity at global and local levels in unexpected ways. We examine Pacific history and U.S. empire from the lens of identity formation as such formations moved through the circuitry of U.S. Empire in the 20th and 21st centuries. Both Christen Sasaki and Lauren Hirshberg approach this history by tracing ideologies (with a focus on racial formations linked to material cultural analysis) that have moved to and from spaces of U.S. military empire in Hawai’i and the Marshall Islands respectively. Alfred P. Flores rounds out our focus on movement and identity formation with analysis of transoceanic identity mapped by Chamoru migrations from Guåhan (Guam) to Southern California from the 1960s onwards. Our panel begins in the 21st century, with Christen Sasaki’s exploration of white supremacist and militia groups who have started to wear “aloha shirts” to rallies and protests as they assert a range of grievances. Centering analysis of imperial erasure, Sasaki delves into material cultural history by tracing the deeper context of the aloha shirt while mapping its contemporary usage in ways that buttress historic and ongoing militarism, white supremacy, and disavowal of U.S. empire in Hawai’i. While Sasaki’s paper offers analysis of how this material cultural history has moved from the localized space of military colonial rule in Hawai’i back to the continental landscape of U.S. empire in ways that inform identity within this contemporary white supremacist movement, Lauren Hirshberg’s paper turns to examine how U.S. symbols of racial hierarchy moved from the imperial center to a local space of military empire in the Marshall Islands. Hirshberg traces how both the material history of the Ku Klux Klan robe and ritual performances “slave day” surfaced in local community life at the Kwajalein high school that catered to the families of U.S. civilian workers on the U.S. missile installation at Kwajalein Island during the Cold War. Hirshberg analyzes how these emblems marking foundational histories of slavery and its legacies exported to this space of U.S. empire in the Pacific worked to familiarize this Marshallese island to incoming American settlers as an “American home,” while also helping to discipline a local military landscape of racial and colonial segregation. Our third paper builds upon these themes of movements mobilized by U.S. military empire in the Pacific and identity formation, but instead of turning to ideology and material culture, Alfred P. Flores traces the movements of peoples, Chamorus of Guåhan (Guam), into the diaspora in Southern California. In doing so, Flores also delves into the theme of imperial circuitry by contextualizing the conditions of the local placemaking impacts of U.S. military empire that fueled Chamorus migration to Southern California during the 1960s, and then follows these migrations to examine how Chamorus’ settlement began to remake, and remap the local of Southern California with a transoceanic indigenous identity.

Papers Presented

Making Sartorial Sense of Empire: Boogaloo Boys and the Aloha Shirt

On January 18, 2021, armed demonstrators gathered at a rally outside of the Oregon State Capitol to protest the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election. They carried customized assault rifles, sidearms, and wore body armor over brightly colored “aloha shirts.” Along with tactical gear, the aloha shirt has recently been used as a uniform for a mixture of right wing extremists, including clusters of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and libertarians who are coalescing around discontent over pandemic-based stay at home restrictions, the results of the presidential election, and Black Lives Matter protests. In this context the shirt is most strongly affiliated with the “boogaloo boys/bois.” Among the many positions that members of the boogaloo movement adhere to is the idea of a coming race-based civil war in the United States and the desire to see American society descend into chaos. As the boogaloo movement’s use of the aloha shirt has resuscitated discussions surrounding this seemingly “innocent” piece of attire, this paper argues that advancing a historicized account of the garment highlights the relevance of material culture and the politics of dress to the continuing processes of militarized occupation and settler colonialism in Hawai‘i and the continental United States. That is, as an embodiment of “militourism” (Teaiwa 2001) the aloha shirt mediates colonial relationships by camouflaging American imperialism and its conspirators, militarism and white supremacy, with a “discourse of aloha.”

Presented By
Christen Sasaki, University of California San Diego, Ethnic Studies

Mapping White Supremacy in the U.S. Imperial Pacific: Traces of the Ku Klux Klan and “Slave Day” rituals at the Kwajalein missile base in the Marshall Islands

During the Cold War, the U.S. military recruited U.S. engineers, scientists and their families to settle on Kwajalein Island in the Marshall Islands to lead their intercontinental ballistic missile research program. Under sanction of a United Nations Trusteeship Agreement, the expansion of U.S. empire took an exceptionalist narrative of innocence at the global level, while at the local level the narrative of U.S. imperial innocence was furthered by military leaders who transformed Marshallese land into a small town, segregated suburban missile installation. The portrait of “Andy Griffith’s America” built onto Kwajalein came replete with local high school dances and other annual festivities that Kwajalein’s yearbook photographs captured vividly. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the pages of Kwajalein’s K-12 yearbooks also showcased another feature of how American life was being mapped onto the island; through symbols and celebrations of the most violent chapters in U.S. history: costumed dances featuring the Ku Klux Klan robe and annual “slave days,” in which some American teens performed the slave auction in chains. This paper explores the migration of these symbols of U.S. slavery and its legacies to this space of U.S. Empire in the Pacific, arguing that this export of U.S. racial markers of hierarchy worked to further familiarize Kwajalein as an “American home,” while helping to map and order the varied landscapes of racial and colonial segregation onto this imperial missile installation.

Presented By
Lauren Hirshberg, Regis University

Mapping Chamoru Communities in Southern California

In 1962, my Chamoru (Indigenous people of the Mariana Islands) grandparents moved themselves and their children to California. Their migration to the continental United States was part of the largest exodus of Chamorus who left Guåhan (Guam) after Typhoon Karen destroyed 90% of all civilian structures on the island. However, the typhoon itself was not the main reason many Chamorus left Guåhan. Instead, I argue that the lifting of the U.S. Navy’s security clearance program, which had regulated the off-island migration of Chamorus and the historic U.S. militarization of the island, were the primary factors for why Chamorus left their home island. Second, through a Chamoru mapping of southern California, I contend that Chamorus maintain a transoceanic Indigenous identity that flows from Guåhan and throughout the southern California diaspora. This Chamoru mapping of Southern California allows for a recharting of Indigenous community formation in the face of U.S. militarism.

Presented By
Alfred Peredo Flores, Harvey Mudd, Intercollegiate Dept. of Asian American Studies

Session Participants

Chair: Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., Arizona State University
Dr. Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr. is an associate Professor of Asian Pacific American Studies in the School of Social Transformation and Affiliate Faculty in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego, and co-editor of Beyond Ethnicity: New Politics of Race in Hawaiʻi, and Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific. His forthcoming book, Aloha Compadre: Latinxs in Hawaiʻi, explores the historical and contemporary experiences of the Latinx population in the Hawaiian Islands. Dr. Guevarra’s work has also appeared in the Journal of Asian American Studies, the Journal of American and Canadian Studies, and the Journal of San Diego History. Dr. Guevarra is also an urban gardener and heritage cook, and has a forthcoming cookbook, The Mexipino Cafe, which traces his family’s Mexican and Filipino culinary traditions with storytelling.

Presenter: Alfred Peredo Flores, Harvey Mudd, Intercollegiate Dept. of Asian American Studies
Alfred P. Flores is an assistant professor in the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies at Harvey Mudd College. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Los Angeles, his M.A. and B.A. degrees in Public History and History from the University of California, Riverside, and an A.A. degree in Liberal Arts from College of the Desert. His research and teaching interests include U.S. empire in the Pacific Islands with an emphasis on diaspora, indigeneity, labor, migration, militarization, oral history, and settler colonialism in Guåhan (Guam). Dr. Flores’ research has appeared in Amerasia Journal, American Quarterly, Brill, and Oxford University Press. His forthcoming book is under contract with Cornell University Press and is tentatively titled, Tip of the Spear: Land, Labor, and U.S. Settler Militarism in Guam, 1944-1962, which examines how the island became a crucible of U.S. empire in the western Pacific.

Presenter: Lauren Hirshberg, Regis University
Lauren Hirshberg (Paper presenter and panel organizer/proposal submitter): Lauren Hirshberg is an assistant professor of History in the Department of History, Politics, and Political Economy at Regis University in Denver. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan where she studied U.S. and Pacific history. Her research and published works center analysis of U.S. Empire in the Pacific with a focus on the Cold War, U.S. militarism in the Marshall Islands, and suburban and urban histories. She published her first book, Suburban Empire: Cold War Militarization in the US Pacific, with the University of California Press in their American Crossroads series (February 2022). She has also published portions of her research in LABOR journal, History and Technology, the OAH Magazine of History, and the NYU Press edited volume Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism.

Commentator: Kirisitina G. Sailiata, Department of American Studies
Kiri Sailiata is an assistant professor in the Department of American Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. She received her Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan. Her research and interests include U.S. and Pacific history, critical Indigenous studies, transnational feminism, visual culture, law and the environment. Dr. Sailiata’s work has appeared in The Routledge Global History of Feminism, Native Studies Keywords, and the Amerasia Journal. Her book manuscript The Making of Samoa Amelika traces the formation of American Samoa as a territory and attending U.S. citizenship debates in the early twentieth century.

Presenter: Christen Sasaki, University of California San Diego, Ethnic Studies
Christen T. Sasaki is an assistant professor in UCSD’s Ethnic Studies Department. Her research and published works focus on the politics of race and empire in the 19th century. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California Los Angeles. Her research and published works focus on the politics of race and empire in the 19th century. Her forthcoming book project, Pacific Confluence: Negotiating the Nation in 19th Century Hawai‘i, contracted with UC Press, contends that questions of race, national belonging, and state jurisdiction which haunted the development of American empire, were encountered and negotiated within the inter-imperial condition of the archipelago. She has also published in American Quarterly, Pacific Historical Review, and Amerasia Journal.