Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just Left of the Setting Sun

Biba Julian! Maolek i bida-mu che'lu. Sigi ha', fausuni mumumu!

Yanggen gaige hao giya Guahan, fanhanao yan fahan este na lepblo.

If you're on island, go out and buy this book.

Call to consciousness:
Chamorro author launches a collection of essays that chronicle the local struggle for human rights, dignity and recognition
By Jojo Santo Tomas Pacific Sunday New

Say the name Julian Aguon, and if you know him at all, you might conjure up an image of a slightly chubby high school student crooning the National Anthem to 20,000-plus people at Adelup, in celebration of President Bill Clinton's visit to Guam seven years ago.

Today, the former teen reporter for the Pacific Daily News is back in the newspaper, though on the other side of a byline. He graduated from Gonzaga University last year and has since focused his energy on bringing to light the troubles that he says the Chamorro people have faced in years past and especially now.

Aguon, 23, received a grant to pursue his passion, resulting in the recent release of his book, "Just Left of the Setting Sun." It is an 85-page nonfiction book of essays on Guam's status and global relationships and is often critical of entities that he feels are slowing the people of Guam's quest for human rights.

And yes, if you're still wondering, the guy can still make you cry with his voice.

Q: Welcome back from college. What were some of the things you wanted to do when you got back home?

A: I wanted to relax, to have fun, to hang out and actually spend time with my family. I wanted to reconnect with my nieces and nephews and stuff. Reconnect with the land, too. I started chanting when I got back also, that's been a really big part of my journey, my awakening, post-college, and it's been a very good thing.

Q: What then, was the catalyst or impetus for you for wanting to put your thoughts on paper and get it published?

A: One of the catalyst experiences that led to this was attending the 9th Annual Festival of the Pacific Arts in the Republic of Palau, July 2004. Being surrounded by my Oceanic brothers and sisters whose pride is so evidenced through their art was something stunning to see and to witness firsthand. And being there and seeing the tenacity of the human spirit all over Oceania, to see that, to see people determined to emancipate their histories, emancipate their art, emancipate their politics, was eye-opening for me and made me realize that there's so much work to be done back home, in Guahan, where there's a lot of internalized colonization that is holding our emancipation hostage -- it's holding us emotionally hostage, actually. There's a lot of work to be done to call the community into consciousness.

Q: So as soon as you got back from the Festival of the Arts, you got to work?

A: You could say that. ... Actually, this project is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guam Humanities Council.

Q: Some people, maybe even fellow activists, might say that someone so young as yourself could not begin to know the deep meanings of colonization and other issues that have affected the Chamorro people over the years. What could you say to that?

A: I can say to some extent, they're absolutely right. And to another extent, in another way, I realize that in the 21st century, and all that is at stake, the stakes are so high and so grave that that idea is no longer suitable for our day. We need to realize that everyone has gifts and everyone has a voice and we all need to come together to the conversation with our own things -- with conviction yet openness. That is where change is gonna happen. And I think I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Q: In doing your research for your book, did you discover that you learned more from talking to people or from reading books?

A: I would say that I learned the more important things from talking to people. Not necessarily that I learned from speaking with you versus reading; I learned a lot from the literature. But speaking to the people and being present with them, and with their exhaustion, and with their cynicism and with their hope, all put together, that human exchange is much more enlightening for me coming into consciousness about the subject matter, about the material, because I realize that the Chamorro movement is a very long one. We've been struggling for a long time to articulate a poised, political, sociological position and there's a lot of people who've done a lot of backbreaking work and I need to pay homage to them.

Q: What was the focus of the book going into it and did that focus change as you were writing it or when you were done?

A: Oh, that's a very good question. ... I think the focus was just trying to bring to the book issues about the Chamorro struggle for justice in a very general way. And once I started writing it, of course it remained that, but it just launched into so many smaller channels, like it went into the American militarization and the Chamorro ideological resistance to that; to issues as particular as water privatization (and) how they reflect larger, national global phenomenon such as the corporatization of our world. So on one hand, it was very global the entire time and on one hand it was very regional and very grounded here in this place, in our reality in 2005. But the focus, I don't think, ever changed. It was all about justice and trying to tell the truth about what's happened to us, and exactly what it is we're combating now and how we're gonna get to where we're going.

Q: How do you know that everything you're writing is the truth?

A: Of course, I don't know that everything I've written is the truth, it's probably not. But I think that nobody has the monopoly on the truth, especially this truth, not a truth that for a people who's history is so hidden, or so ugly, or so erroneously written about. And I think that it's important that a Chamorro is the one who wrote about Chamorro history, first of all, and second of all, I was honest in the entire process with myself and I tried to present the entire issue as honestly as I could and that was good enough for me and I hope it's good enough for the reader.

Q: Julian, you no doubt consider yourself a Chamorro activist. But in today's world, when you say that, sometimes it creates a foul taste or image in some people's minds. What can you do about that?

A: Well, I wanna make it very clear that I'm not a Chamorro activist just by virtue of being Chamorro. This is my work by virtue of being a human being. I think we're all morally called to care about this and to act in the service of that compassion for this cause because we're human beings. For me, I link the Chamorro struggle for human rights and dignity and recognition, real recognition, to the global one. Across the planet, the indigenous world, the Third World, the poor of the world are writhing on the cross of this neo-imperialistic corporate globalization project. And for Guam, up here, it's part of that. I think we can't survive the century we've been entrusted unless we're able, in 2005, to link our struggle to the global human one.
The human race is rapidly becoming the most endangered species so when I'm saying that I'm opposing, or that I'm concerned about, American militarization and everything that that might mean, it's not only for the Chamorro people that I'm concerned, it's for the entire human race.

Q: Will you be doing anything else to promote your book?

A: Well, I want to start visiting the high schools, maybe, and definitely the University of Guam too. I would like to start getting my generation to really start questioning and start getting engaged in the conversation and see what they really think. There's a lot to learn from them.

Q: What do you think may or may not happen as a result of this book being released on the island?

A: You know, I don't know what's gonna happen or what's not gonna happen. I hope, and that's the most important thing, that it deepens the pride of my people, quite simply.

Q: Do you think it's kind of strange that as you've been known quite a bit as a singer of high stature, it was somewhat odd that it was an artistic event that led you to your realization?

A: I think the meaning behind that goes so deep for me, I think. But overall, I think it's still voice, art, singing and writing, all of it, to me, are different dimensions of my same self. They both reflect equally deep longing of resolutions of issues and justice. Like the songs that I usually sing or that I'm known for are inspirational hymns, they're soul songs. I sing a lot of Negro spiritual hymns or gospel songs. You can see it, it's almost hidden, but inside those kind of songs there's a yearning for freedom, a hunger for it. And in the writing, I think the thing that came out most clearly is that deep longing for resolution.

Q: So you just had a successful book signing, I'm sure that was a beautiful personal high for you. Tell me about the experience.

A: It felt exhilarating. More than anything, I felt so honored and so humbled and I felt very blessed. To see in their eyes their pride and their respect and their camaraderie ... we're in this together and I think that's what I walked away with (Thursday) night. Without community, there is no liberation and it takes all of our gifts, all of our voices, if we're gonna walk in any real direction towards change and progress.

Q: Now that the book is out, what's next for Julian Aguon?

A: I don't know. First, the deep breath. Second, I'll figure it out. I don't really know right now.
Originally published November 13, 2005

"Just Left of the Setting Sun," by Julian Aguon, is available at Bestseller Bookstore at the Guam Premier Outlets and costs $13.95. It will be available exclusively on Guam until its national release in February 2006.

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