An Indigenous Poet on SPAM and Colonialism

Our guttural love of SPAM was born in 1944, when cases of the shiny cans were berthed from aircraft carriers.

“My food philosophy is simple: I eat therefore I SPAM.”

Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images. 


SPAM’s Carbon Footprint II

SPAM WAS BORN on July 5, 1937, in Austin, Minnesota—
the home of Hormel headquarters and the SPAM museum
#cubistartyoucaneat. Eight pounds of SPAM die in every
Chamorro stomach each year, which is more per capita than
any other ethno-intestinal tract in the world. Motto: “Guam is
Where the Impure Pork Products of America Begin!”

OUR GUTTURAL LOVE of SPAM was born in 1944, when
cases of the shiny cans were berthed from aircraft carriers.
That fateful day when my grandparents first tasted SPAM
is commemorated as the Feast Day of the Immaculate
Consumption. St. Hormel, pray for [us]. The rest of the story
is a gestational genealogy, a delicious cycle. Sadly, military
recruiters are now worried that young Chamorros have
become too unhealthy and obese to enlist in the armed forces.

MY FOOD PHILOSOPHY is simple: I eat therefore I SPAM. How
can I prove that I’m an authentic Indigenous person and not a
SPAM script? At this year’s Hormel SPAM Cook-Off in Guam, the
Polish-inspired “Pika Pierogi” ousted the “Crispy Wanton Spam
Ravioli” for first place. I’ve eaten turkey SPAM, smoke-flavored
SPAM, hot and spicy SPAM, garlic SPAM, SPAM lite, Portuguese
Sausage flavored SPAM, and more! When did our lives become
so complicated and post-modern? WSFWJE? What SPAM Flavor
Would Jesus Eat?

COME CLOSER, CLOSER, and I will whisper to you, in my sexy
voice, “Google the SPAM factory’s dirty little secret.” Oooo
baby here I am, come rub up on my belly like SPAM jelly,
Spam-Spam-Jelly, Spam-Spam Jelly! #mandatorymarley. In the
morning, we can bring our SPAM labels to the Sorensen Media
Group Offices in Hågatña, and redeem 12 labels for a SPAM
shirt and 9 for a SPAM hat. Guam is an acronym for “Give Us
American Meat.”

MY FAVORITE SCENE in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
(b.1939) is when the tractor driver takes a lunch break near a
tenant house and eats his sandwich of white bread, pickle,
cheese, and SPAM. The curious, starving children surround the
driver, watching his hands carry the SPAM to his mouth.

ONCE UPON SPIRAL TIME, a Chamorro brother and
sister refused to eat SPAM, so their Authentic Chamorro
Grandmother banished them into the diaspora and cursed
them to a life without meat. The vegetarian siblings migrated
to Minnesota, where they opened the world’s first vegan
butcher shop and sold meatless meats at farmers markets
and pop-up events. They dedicated their lives to creating the
perfect vegan SPAM. They tried vital wheat gluten. They tried
garbanzo tapioca flour. They tried peanut butter. “The flavor’s
good but the texture’s off,” they say in unison. “SPAM is just a
difficult whale to catch.” If they succeed, I will never eat it.

This poem first appeared in from unincorporated territory [lukao] (Omnidawn Publishing, 2017).

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The Pacific Written Tradition

In 2010, I read aloud from my new book
to an English class at one of Guam’s
public high schools. After the reading, I

notice a student crying. “Whats wrong?”|
I ask. She says, “I’ve never seen our culture
in a book before. I just thought we weren’t

worthy of literature.” I wonder how many
young islanders have dived into the depths
of a book, only to find bleached coral and

emptiness. They teach us that missionaries
were the first readers in the Pacific because
they could decipher the strange signs

of the Bible. They teach us that missionaries
were the first authors in the Pacific because
they possessed the authority of written words.

Today, studies show that islander students read
and write below grade level. “It’s natural,”
they claim. “Your ancestors were an illiterate,

oral people.” Do not believe their claims.
Our ancestors deciphered signs in nature,
interpreted star formations and sun positions,

cloud and wind patterns, wave currents and
fish migrations. Always remember what navigator
Papa Mau once said: “if you can read the ocean

you will never be lost.” Now let me tell you
about the Pacific written tradition, about how
our ancestors tattooed their skin with defiant

scripts of intricately inked genealogy, stories
of plumage and pain. Or how our ancestors carved
epics into hard wood with a sharpened point,

their hands, and the pressure and responsibility
of memory. Or how our ancestors stenciled
hieroglyphic poems on cave walls with clay, fire,

and smoke. So the next time someone tells you
islanders were illiterate, teach them
about our visual literacies, about how we

still read and write the intertextual sacredness
of all things. And always remember: if you
can write the ocean we will never be silenced.

This poem first appeared in Cream City Review (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Spring/Summer 2016).

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