There is an old expression we have all heard from our elders that holds true from generation to generation: to know where you are going, you must remember where you have been. There is no place on Guam that is more important to us historically than this place you see pictured here, the Plaza de Espana. It has been around in various stages of repair, and disrepair, for over two and a half centuries. It has changed names as well. It has been known as Plaza de Magallanes and Plaza de Magalahes. It is now called Plaza de Espana.
During its heyday before World War II, we simply called it Y Plaza or Y Plaza gi ja Hagatna. History tells us that our Chamorro ancestors settled in Agana and it was a focal point of their activities. We have learned that Chief Quipuha himself gave land to the Catholic church upon which the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral now stands right next to the Plaza. Much of the original Plaza and the surrounding structures are now gone but what remains are reminders of classic Spanish architecture of the 17 and 1800's.
This painting of a church yard with a water fountain and flowers looks very familiar to those of my generation who recall visiting the Plaza during recess from our schools which were around it. This painting, however, is not of the Plaza de Espana in Agana but of a Plaza in Mexico. It also reminds us of the California missions. There was a time when the center of activity on Guam was the Plaza for change of command ceremonies, dancing, Mass, calisthenics, drill competitions, processions, promotions, defensive positions, surrender, executions by the occupying forces, victory celebrations, protests, and gubernatorial inaugurals. The Plaza has been the scene of triumph and tragedy, joy and sadness. For those of my generation, the lush bougainvilleas, the bright flame trees and the exquisite cadena (cadena de amor) did not completely camouflage the walls behind the arches on one side of the Plaza. Within these walls was a grade school before WW II from which vibrant voices of the young could be heard. They were not unlike those of youngsters in other societies except for the perfect English that they spoke. We were of the same ages but we hardly saw them for the walls either kept them from us, or us from them. They enclosed the American School in the Governor's Palace Complex and we were not allowed to go there.
This is said with candor, but without rancor, as a reminder of where we have been. The walls are still standing but they are now just stark reminders of where we have been. It is said that when French soldiers pass a famous vineyard, they salute it. When I pass these walls as a Chamorro manamko, a certain smile appears on my aging face. The Plaza, once the busiest place in Agana is now deadly silent with inactivity but it is Living History at its fullest.