Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Federal Bitchalism

I posted articles a few days ago about the growing scandal over the Tiyan landowners and whether or not the Federal Government will re-take the land which was returned to them, or if the local government will stand up and fight for their rights.

This issue is of supreme importance and it shows one of the limits of most vocal forms of activism on Guam over the past few decades. In his afterword to Penelope Bordallo Hofschneider's text Campaign For Political Rights on the Island of Guam (1899-1950), Robert Underwood makes the point that issue of tano' or land have been at the core of any Chamorro radicalization since World War II. Land issues were the one thing that could turn anyone, whether a nurse, a teacher, a farmer or a soldier into an activist, indigenous or otherwise.

Over the past decade indigenous activism has settled into a sort of lull on Guam. Some attribute this to the death of Angel Santos or poor economic conditions (such as that urban legend that the closing of bases on Guam was in response to Chamorro critiques of the US and its military presence in Guam), but it could also have to do with the fact that some of the goals which radicalized Chamorros have been met. One of my friends made this point to me several months ago when I was on Guam. Some people have gotten their lands back, so you can no longer paint the United States as an indifferent adversary who is ruthlessly hording your lands. In the public mind, some justice has been meted out over this issue. Some people have received their lands, other people made landless from the war, can now get lands through the Government of Guam (lao u tinaka' apmam siempre). For many, the battle is over.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If anything, the creation of programs such as the Ancestral Lands Commision and the Chamorro Land Trust Act will soon create a powerful discourse on Chamorro exceptionalism, and help ferment a movement by moronic haoles who will be pushing for real old fashion American style equality on Guam, and no "special treatment" for anyone. These programs and others such as the Department of Chamorro Affairs and the Commission for Decolonization exist to attempt to correct injustices of the past, and should not be dismissed as mere favoritism and exceptionalism. Anyone who believes that America truly is the land of equality, where everyone has the same chances to get ahead, should not be allowed to pass their genes on. The privileges of white people in the United States go beyond a few government programs here and there, but are so powerful that the law can actually claim to be neutral while they reap the benefits of their positions. (Power is at its apex not when its invisible, but when it can claim to have never been visible. Isn't this the perfect example of how the rhetoric around American democracy and freedom work? This privilege, this power can always find a way to be lost, to have never existed.)

Those who argue for good old American equality on Guam among settlers and the Chamorros, need to first remember that Guam is NOT equal with the United States in the first place, and that one cannot even speak about a local equality when this colonial relationship persists so openly and blatantly. The blind stupidity of claims that everyone on Guam should be equal based on some mythic lore of American wonderfulness, both omits the history of deliberate and brutal racial exclusion in the United States as well as its contemporary manifestations, whether in terms of minorities in the United States, those of us in the colonies, as well as those whose lack of sovereignty in the global or local sense is strategically necessary. So long as these injustices continue to be naturalized and explained off as necessary evils or worse yet necesary good forms of colonization or paternalism, then all claims for an ethnic equality under some rubric of American wonderfulness and democracy must be ignored as the babbling those who continue to colonize us, and those who cannot perceive an existence for themselves outside of the colonizer. In other words, they have nothing to do with Guam, but are all about protecting the United States in Guam.

It is times like this that I wish humans were equipped with truth genes, so that when people spout racist rhetoric while claiming neutrality or commonsensical positions, their eyeballs will pop out of their faces and their lungs will collapse. It is unlikely however that major corporations or the Bush administration would want to fund that sort of research.

What this new scandal over the Tiyan landowners shows is that the battle is far from over, and would require far more then the return of some lands for any of us to rest. It can only be won when the nature of Guam's relationship to the United States and the rest of the world is changed. Furthermore it can only be won when locally Chamorros and others perceive their relationship to the United States differently.

What I want in my work, both academically and elsewhere, it to push to privilege the local in how we perceive reality. As I've often posted on this blog, colonization in Guam was about stretching the Chamorro imaginary, so that where they derive their consistency, identity, history and meaning from, is always elsewhere. Their freedom is in American history. Their sovereignty is in American military history. Their progress and survival is in American economics and civility. Their existence is supposed to depend upon this uprooting, this persistent movement across thousands of miles of ocean to the United States proper. What happens from this form of colonization is that how we think about Guam is always through how we think about America in Guam.

The recent push for privatization of water on Guam illustrates this well. Publicly, the push by the Chamber of Commerce and the CCU has been about fixing the water system, getting better delivery, decreasing the suffering of the people of Guam, etc. But what lies beneath this "betterment" of Guam is the desire to increase the military presence in Guam, and enhance Guam for its current military presence. What is claimed to be "good for Guam" in scenario's such as this, is in reality meant to be "good for America in Guam." The local concern becomes a simple effect, fortunate if it works out, but if not, too bad.

That is the current character of our relationship with the United States, if our interests run parallel, then things are solid, gof maolek! However, what happens when the interests conflict, and when it can't be simply covered over by patriotism or self-denegration?

It is moments such as this which have to be focused upon by those of us interested in a better future for Chamorros and for Guam, detatched from whatever the United States wants. The Tiyan scandal represents one of these moments, where a conflict arises. Where Felix Camacho and all his patriotic pandering is threatening to crumble. The veneer that has covered his political existence is shaken by this issue. Whom is he to side with, his role as the representative of "the people of Guam" is now split between his colonial function which is to basically do whatever he thinks the US wants, and his local function which is to side with Guam and Chamorros and their rights and their interests.

It will be interesting how this works out, because alot of the inconsistencies of life become too uncomfortably visible at times like this. Recently for example, the autonomy and sovereignty of Puerto Rico was questioned in a similar way that the Feds are threatening Guam with.

There was a conflict several years ago, over Puerto Rican law and US Federal law over the execution of someone in Puerto Rico. The US sought to execute two men in Puerto Rico despite the fact that Puerto Rico's constituion forbids it. In 2000 a Federal judge ruled that the US could not seek the death penalty because it was locally inapplicable. A year later however this decision was reversed, basically reaffirming the sovereignty of the US over Puerto Rico and its laws.

We might expect a similar Federal slap in the face soon over the Tiyan land issue.

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