Sunday, October 23, 2005

American Brain Disease

Life is regularly horrifying when you are an American who is not quite American. For those born and raised on Guam, you are prepared from a young age, to be an American. You were probably raised up on American cartoons, movies and most savagely American commercials imported directly from California (I'm still shocked at about how much I knew about places such as Millbrae or San Dimas as a child, because commercials from those cities would be beamed directly to Guam as if we lived there). Whether you like it or not, you have an unavoidable intimacy with the United States, whether you've actually been there or not. After all, you were taught to memorize its capitals in schools, even learn the nicknames of its states (sunshine state, show-me state, golden state, blech kalakas!) and instructed in the importance of a number of its dead white men.

But although you live and breath this need to complete your desire, to find a fullness a completion as to why you were taught these things in school, shown these things on tv, and made to feel that they were important, this desire is never reciprocal. Save for a few orientalist exceptions, there is no desire to complete one's knowledge or yearnings for Guam and Chamorros. People in the United States do not hum the tune to IT&E or Dial Rent to Own jingles. They were not made to learn the village flowers for Piti, Malesso or Mangilao. Nor were they instructed in the importance of Maga'lahi Hurao, Pale' Jose Palomo or Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo.

This is the subtle horror that Chamorros from Guam live with in the United States and seek desperately to cover up and repress.

Most recently, a friend of mine was at the post office mailing a package to Guam. The woman at the counter, unaware that she had any colonies to speak of, asked impolitely, "Guam huh, isn't that where they have that brain disease?"

A shock and awe strike worthy of Donald Rumsfeld. (for those who don't know the brain disease this epidemiological scholar was referring to is litiko bodig, which was a disease highly concentrated in Guam which combines symptoms of dementia and Parkinson's Disease). But of course, strikes such as this take place everyday, across this not so great land. Most Chamorros when slapped with this, find themselves overcompensating in their patriotism and love for the United States as a cushion for this traumatic ignorance and disinterest. This thing, the Chamorro, which has existed for thousands of years, which has a culture, a history, a homeland, and a language has to be squished down and smashed until it becomes not a thing worthy of recognition or acknowledgement outside of the United States, but just another fragile piece of that beautiful multiculturalist puzzle of America. Once this move is naturalized, then this lack of recognition becomes tolerable, because it is now the task of that proud and greatful American Chamorro to educate his fellow Americans about a corner of this multiculturalist wonderland that they haven't had the pleasure of knowing yet. To sum up, when slapped with a pathological and uncarring ignorance such as this, most Chamorros turn themselves into tour guides.

Other Chamorros however brood over this, and its appropriate that they should. The lack of symmetry over things such as this is appalling. To posit a response from my friend to the "brain disease" American, it would go something like this: What I know of you and this country could fill a book, fill a hundred books. But all that is supposed to be me, is apparently me, is contained in that single statement of "brain disease."

For the sake of our people, it is vital that these moments of terror not be used to make more patriotic Chamorro American tour guides. When confronted with an obvious lack of knowledge, respect and reciprocity, our response SHOULD NOT be, "despensa yu', nangga na'ya ya bai hu na'menggua i kettura-hu, pues mas faset para un tungo'." for those of you who don't speak Chamorro, our response shouldn't be, "I'm sorry, allow me to transform my culture into something which will be easier for you to deal with."

This diminishing of cultural possibilities is what I detest about multiculturalist logic. In the United States for example, we do not live in a world full of a multitude of beautiful cultures. We live in a world where a multitude of diminished cultures all reflect the glory of a singular dominant culture. As members of different cultures we are privileged to take a place in subordination to this culture, but nothing more.

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