Sunday, October 09, 2005

Acts of Decolonization

Since I came to the states a few years ago to start my graduate program and a career as an "academic" I've often experienced a big disconnect when it comes to dealing with academics from the United States. This isn't to say that the disconnect is total or absolute, a sheer and insurmountable abyss, but its given me mixed feelings about the work I do here. When I try to discuss Guam's status and how it cannot be accounted for within the nation (at least not in any neat or clean way), people nonetheless find ways of recycling it back into it.

For example, most recently in one of my seminars, when I was discussing decolonization in Guam, one of my classmates decided to use South Korea to discuss her problems with my ideas of decolonization and colonization. Comparing places is fine, but South Korea and Guam have not just completely different historical and contemporary relationships with the United States, but very different statuses today. Using that example, or any similar ones tends to obliterate any point I was trying to make.

Similarly, most academics that I have met in this country, although they may consider themselves to be the most critical people in the room, have trouble with the term decolonization itself. When they hear it, they tend to assume, no matter what your argument is, that for you decolonization is a zero-sum game, where your goal is to expunge your land, country, colony, whatever, or all traces of the colonizer, thus attempting to recapture that precolonial moment, and the indigenous people that you once were. I reiterate, that regardless of what your argument is, this is the argument that is generally imposed on you. (the reason is probably because even if you're a person of color or a super smart scholar, unless you are careful you will tend to make critiques on behalf of the nation, whether you like it or not, and regardless of how "trans-national" you say you are.)

In reality very few decolonization movements have that character. Very very few wish to return to that precolonial movement and in fact tend to be more obsessed with being the greatest modern nation they can be, which means doing a Grimm's move on their history and culture, nationalizing it as part of the nation-building process. Needless to say, neither of these is my point when I say decolonization. Considering how many arguments I get into, or how many people I meet who function as little more than brick walls in discussions on these topics, I decided that it might be a good idea to try and put down on paper my thoughts and conceptions of what decolonization is for today, most specifically with regards to Guam.

Decolonization is defined through displacement. It is not so much a ridding the land of all American traces, because this assumes a fixing of meaning, and that Guam is easily divided into categories of being, meaning and source and that they don't so much change as are either vaporized, removed or forgotten. So therefore under this thinking, decolonization would mean, getting rid of all the American flags, getting rid of education, getting rid of the government, cars, concrete houses, etc, blah blah. But on the contrary, these meanings are never fixed, but constantly battled over. The perceived source of an object is what gives it power in the colonial space and how an object is connected or chained to other objects. (given this language, J.D. Crutch's pula i kadena i korason-hu, ya sotta yu', can be thought of as a decolonization song).

Different objects, institutions, concepts, words, images, people, all of these things are battled over constantly in Guam, as to how their meaning will be made to mean and thus what will constitute the forces that hegemonize or create common sense connections and narratives. As I wrote recently in a paper, family closeness was a concept which was constantly invoked to reflect something positively Chamorro in contrast to American china'gue put familia, but in recent years, in particular since 9/11, the battle of this concept has shifted from a contrast, to a beautiful connecting image, which binds Chamorros and Americans through their shared love of family, thus in comparision to earlier times, hijacking it from Guam.

Decolonization would not be to evict this concept from Guam, but instead contest it and fight over its meaning and source. According to Slavoj Zizek, we never speak directly of an object, never really describe it, but always speak of it, to contest something we perceive to be a competing description (the examples he uses are the Shark from Jaws and the Jew in European history).

Decolonization are thus particular interventions into the hegemonic struggle which seek to contest the fixing of certain images, groups and concepts to certain elements, thereby releasing otherwise repressed or excluded potential. But, one could argue that my previousstatement is all that the hegemonic struggle is, thus this description doesn't create any particularity to this concept which would require naming it something different.

What makes decolonization different however, is that it is a statement meant not just to displace or change the circle of meaning around the object, but also to change and refocus the terrain over which the objects exists and the battle for hegemony takes place. Decolonization is an attempt to shift the battle from there (US) to here (Guam), to change contingent basis upon which statements can be made, should be made, and will reflect once they are made.

I can already hear people clamor that its an impossible, unworkable distinction, to divide Guam and US like that is to reduce decolonization to that all or nothing game. This reaction is of course one of the most fundamental hegemonic points in Guam, which of course keeps the game from not being played out locally, or not even trying. This task is meant to be impossible, and thus not meant to be tried. Those who are being overtly critical of me in this regard, do not factor into account the fact that impossible should not be interpretted as something which shouldn't be tried, or something which would not have effects or successes. (Impossible is a concept and word which must be explored more, because it is too often used strategically to deter, whereas I would rather attempt the impossible task of making it enable.)

Decolonization is therefore an attempt to change the hegemonic battle in such a way that something outside of the established limits, something namely outside of or beyond the limits of the United States and its perceived influences and objects in Guam. Thus making it so that Guam can sit at the center of the hegemonic battle, and thus the battle take place in the interests of Guam and not the United States. The basic move of colonization in Guam was i mabokbok or the uprooting of the Chamorro imaginary, so that this battle would take place across the Pacific and ultimately always fall on the side of the United States.

Given the framework I've described here, acts of decolonization or at least attempts are taking place all the time. One of the problems however, is how this important impulse to imagine something outside of or beyond the United States, too often finds itself redistributed back into that nationalizing hegemonic battle. For example, the easiest way to constitute a subject outside of the United States is to resort to anthropology and the precolonial pure native, and thus attempt to reinvent that subject. Acts that follow this logic do assert a native image, a Chamorro, but they do not refocus the hegemonic terrain. Obviously a contestation takes place, in that the source of the Chamorro is attempted to be altered by asserting a presence/essence that predates the United States and Spain in Guam. But the gaze which makes the statement is not challenged, in fact it is eagerly embraced. The ego ideal for the Chamorro remains that of the United States. But now it is no longer Uncle Sam the benevolent liberator patriarch who wants you to be American, but now Uncle Sam the Anthropologist, who wants you to be a friendly native.

Thus the focus of decolonization is to shift the imagination of Chamorros to Guam first and the United States second. For example, the very high numbers of Chamorros serving in the military, the great love and acceptance of 1/3 of Guam being under American military control, and the great love and accomodation for the United States military, especially in terms of government rhetoric (at least Carl Guiterrez had a soundtrack for his administration (EXCEL) other than Uncle Sam Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam, Won't You Please Come Back to Guam), all of these things indicate the ways in which the United States is imagined first, then Guam as an effect of that. If such was not the case, then there would probably at least be more questions about Guam's relationship to the United States, in particular its military. But sadly there are not, and decolonization in one vein, must be about releasing the potential through hegemonic struggle, where those questions can emerge.

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