Are You Smarter Than A Congressman?

Are you smarter than a Congressman? Answer one geography question, and let’s see. Is Guam a foreign country? With a 50/50 chance of getting the right answer, let’s hope you chose wisely. The answer is a resounding “NO!” If that was your response (guess?), you are smarter than at least one sitting federal legislator.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representing Georgia, learned a geography lesson the hard way. And by hard way, I mean she publicly made a geographic misstatement. Taylor’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (“CPAC”) in February included the statement, “…our hard-earned tax-dollars should just go for America not for what? China, Russia, the Middle East, Guam….” I’m not sure why little old Guam was lumped together with those large and daunting countries and a volatile world area, but Guam is definitely not foreign. Yes, Marjorie, Guam is part of the U.S.

Some folks may be scratching their heads and saying to themselves, “I know Guam is not one of the 50 states, so how can that be?” Answer? The United States is composed of more than just 50 states; in addition to states, Uncle Sam counts some territories, including Guam, as part of his homeland too. The island territory may not be a state, but its residents are U.S. citizens, and Guam sends a (non-voting) delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The current delegate from Guam to Congress is Michael F. Q. San Nicholas (“MFQSN” for short). Since he can’t vote, MFQSN has a bit more time on his hands than representatives in Congress. Accordingly, he arranged to provide an impromptu geography lesson to Rep. Greene. Accompanied by three dozen National Guard troops from Guam, MFQSN marched over to Greene’s office in the Capitol bearing a big basket containing cookies and guidebooks on Guam. The guidebooks, to no one’s surprise, made abundantly clear that Guam is a part of the United States. Unfortunately, Rep. Greene was absent from class that day, being out of her office at the time the Guamanians came a calling.

Although Rep. Greene has been criticized for her geographic blunder, I think she’s in a big boat of people who aren’t educated about Guam. My memory may have dimmed a bit over the years (OK, decades) since I was in high school, but I don’t recall ever studying Guam in geography. Additionally, I don’t remember helping my kids do geography homework concerning Guam. So, I think it is a safe assumption most Americans need a crash geography course, Guam 101. Guam, here we come!

How does one get to Guam? Westward ho! Guam is a jaunt of 5,800 miles from San Francisco to the western north Pacific Ocean. In fact, Guam is so far west that it’s actually the westernmost part of the United States. Due to its proximity to the International Date Line, this U.S. territory’s unofficial motto is “Where America’s Day Begins.”

The island, part of the Mariana Island archipelago in Micronesia, is volcanic in origin and is ringed with steep cliffs along its coast. Guam covers an area of 210 square miles and provides a home to an estimated 168,801 people and serves as the location for 19 villages. The capital, Hagatna (formerly known as Agana), is a bustling village of 1,051 residents. With a tropical rainforest climate , absolutely no one should be surprised that the territory’s economy is dependent primarily on tourism.

The indigenous people of the island are the Chamorros. Their language and English are the official languages of Guam. Presumably, the Chamorros are wonderful bakers as MFQSN filled his basket with Chamorro Chip Cookies to deliver to Rep. Greene. Baking supplies are not locally grown though; Guam must import most of its food.

Ferdinand Magellan, whom I am certain U.S. citizens studied about in school, arrived on Gaum on March 6, 1521. That day is celebrated as Discovery Day by Gaumanians. The Kingdom of Spain ruled Guam for about four centuries, but that European control ended when the U.S. occupied the island after Spain’s defeat in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. Japan occupied Guam during World War II.

Guam officially became a U.S. territory as a result of the Organic Act of 1950 (doesn’t that name make you think of food?), and its people were granted U.S. citizenship. As a result of Guam’s territorial status, its residents are U.S. citizens by birth. The islands’ official name is the U.S. Territory of Guam, and the U.S. dollar is its official currency.

Pouring big bucks into the island’s economy are the Department of Defense installations on Guam. The territory occupies a strategic location, and one-third of its land is owned by the U.S. armed forces. Military installations situated on Guam include Andersen AFB, which is the most important U.S. air base west of Hawaii, U.S. Naval Base Guam, and Marine Corps Base Blaz. Guam was a major base of operations for the Air Force and Navy during World War II.

Lest one think that Guam is nothing but tourists and military, think again. The island is home to the University of Guam, the only public university in the western Pacific. I’d imagine its students may be tempted to lounge on the island’s beaches sipping tuba, a local fermented coconut drink, rather than hitting the books though.

Tourists stream to the island through the island’s only public airport, the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. And no matter how many tubas a tourist drinks, they ought to easily remember the airport code of GUM. If they imbibe too many tubas, tourists can claim they were merely verbalizing the USPS abbreviation for Guam, GU, when speaking incoherently.

In the end, perhaps freshman Rep. Greene’s geographical gaffe was a good thing. It provided a teachable moment (or 5 if you read this whole blog post) for Americans to learn more about their country. Surprise! The USA is bigger than you thought and includes exotic and faraway locations outside the continental U.S. such as Guam. Perhaps Rep. Greene’s biggest contribution to her constituents and other American citizens is not serving them but spurring them to have a greater geographical grasp of the country we call home–one of which Guam has been a part for many years whether we knew it or not. Hopefully all of us in addition to an embarrassed member of Congress are smarter geographically now.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you were given a globe, could you pick out Guam’s location? Were you aware Guam was a U.S. territory? After reading this blog post, do you deem your geographic education adequate? Why or why not?