Thursday, May 18, 2006

Into the Light, oh spiteful colonizing desire, I Command Thee!

A less than laudatory poem this year in celebration of Mother's Day. The tune to this poem is "I Nana gi i familia" ginnen Si Johnny Sablan, but with a different twist. While Johnny Sablan's own song is a tribute to the strength of Chamorro mothers, the song I wrote comes after spending several afternoons in Guam Memorial Hospital and Saint Dominic's, and seeing so many people there without families. Whereas Johnny's Sablan's song places the Chamorro mother as the center of the Chamorro family, the thing that binds it all together, that feeds, clothes, teaches, and will therefore be given a place beside Si Yu'us, the mother of my poem is very much alone. If anything the Chamorro family appears to be structured around her absence, around the ability to warehouse her and her illness elsewhere, namely the Hospital. The day I first started writing this song, I found a number of such manamko', who seemed to suffer quietly and valiantly, in this last possible form of familial assistance. When their family is confronted with the "hustle and bustle" of modern life, where the sort of caring the elderly need, whether physical or just interpersonal (listening to stories, acknowledgement of existence, simple communication), is just too much work or effort, this is last possible sacrifice for comfort and happiness.

With this post, I am not denouncing Chamorro families and not interested in this being interpreted as some blanket generalization about the decline of Chamorro families. Usually when people discuss cultural declines, they do so in such a lamented ridden way that it seems almost understood that there is no hope for reversing such a trend. The extended family is disintegrating, the kinships ties are fading apart. People now bring KFC to fiesta siha!

These declines are absolutely reversible, and I refuse to entertain any arguments about "cultures changing, blah blah blah," as that transculturative nonsense is how colonization continues to flourish. It should always be understood, regardless of the limits of the language that we use, that the defense of anything, whether it be a specific form of family organizing, a language, a cultural practice, requires a reinvention of that concept, its re-evaluation. I assume that this particular form of family exists, indendepent of any claim of uniqueness, but I do not assume that it truly exists in defiance of my articulation, it exists because of the articulations that claim to refer to it, and therefore change it, based on whatever content they weave into its potential meaning.

"Family closeness" in Guam amongst Chamorros is a perfect example of this, and how its content has been changed based on what it is articulated with (made equivalent with) and articulated against (made antagonistic or productively negative against).

While once a crucial signifier for forming oppositional chains of indigenous culture and identity, the authority of the positivity of "family closeness" has been greatly contested in Guam, in particular since 9/11. After World War II for example, the use of this signifier can best be summed up through the statements of an elderly black man in the film Cry Freedom, you whites have a lot, but family was one of the things you didn’t get right.

More recently however, the hegemony of this chain of meaning has been weakened, through the linking of “Chamorro family” with less than noble images of government corruption (nepotism), child molestation (as evidenced by discussions around Shawn Texerria’s book Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) (statement: “Chamorros are really into family” response: “you’re just covering up all the abuse that takes place!”) and family violence in addition to reformulating the concept to be linked nationally rather than locally (“love and closeness of family is what makes Guam and American strong”). A shift has thus taken place, where the shading of this signifier has inverted what it might have meant a generation ago, thus making it as a positive concept more “American” and as a negative concept more “Chamorro.” In one sense of decolonization, one would obviously not try to evict this concept from Guam, but instead battle over its meaning and where its perceived source is. Is family closeness just another fantastical attempt to overcome the colonial gap? (“Our love of family is what makes us strong semi-Americans”) Or is it something which might link us to other communities in the Pacific and elsewhere, with regards to alternative notions of social organizing?

Reversing this trend in family commonsense will take more than simple manipulation of ideology, but a willingness to endure more material discomforts. A willingness to understake that same sacrifice that our parent, our elder is willing to take to keep us from sacrificing. It takes a sacrifice on our behalf, whether it be free time, comfort, privacy. The modern world seems to provide temptation for the worst most selfish aspects of ourselves. You will find this in the speech of Chamorros who left Guam long ago and don't keep in touch with their families. You'll find it in recent migrations from Guam, for people who are so relieved to be free of all of the "drama on Guam." You'll find it in people who join the service, left Guam far behind and claim that if they had stayed on Guam, they'd be either fat or dead. People both on Guam but elsewhere who claim that corruption and incompetence are more indigenous to Guam then Chamorros themselves.

What all these things feed into, is the idea that my self-realization, the manifestation of the usually deceptive feeling of "who I really am," is intimately linked to my movement towards the United States, whether in terms of "giving up culture" or literally moving to the United States.

The most cruel remanant of American colonization cannot be reduced to simple material objects or practices. It is instead a colonizing desire, deep inside of us. A desire which pushes us constantly Eastward, pushes us to conceive of our way of life as something which must be cast aside to achieve success, our parents as something to warehouse or rest home in order to get what we want, our island a place to quickly leave behind, and lastly the military service, the place which one interview subject told me "is the place where your eyes are really opened. On Guam we are all blind, ignorant, we don't know anything, join the service, and you will see the world as it really is."

I have been toying for more than a year, with writing a poem about this desire that sits within us, our speech, our vision, our dreams. The sinthome or hegemonic phrase that I would like to structure the poem around I've heard most prominently in the film Constantine. After Shia Labeouf is killed by an unknown assailant, Constantine tries to reveal the identity of the attacker by calling it out of the translucent shadows, "Into the Light I Command Thee!"

For years, this has been my project. Tracing the serated edges of this desire, that cut the Chamorro to pieces constantly and offering them up as a sacrifice to the altar of American awesomeness.

Into the Light, oh spiteful colonizing desire, I Command Thee!

Here at last, is the poem that I started this post with, adahi hao sa' na'triste este na kanta, siempre ti propiu este para i sinilebra i ha'anin mannana...lao it is definitely related, for it is that colonizing desire to helps support all manner of the justifications for family estrangement and isolation, because of the way these bodies, these people, these obligations stand in the way of my Americanization, my constitutive consumption, my leisure, my relaxation, my choices that are mine because I'm such a freedom loving individual. Along with it, I've also included the words to Johnny Sablan's I Nana gi Familia:

I Nana Gi I Familia:

I nana gi I familia
Maseha chatpa’go pat bunita
Ta honra todu gi tiempo
Kalang anghet para Hita

Ti bunita Si nana-hu
Ti u maayek para raina
Lao bunita’na Si nana-hu
Ki un blonde na Amerikana

Ti ha chagi Si nana-hu
I latest styles siha gi tenda
Lao todu tiempo listo I modan-mami
Maseha pinat manmalienda

Ti umeskuela Si nana-hu
Ni’ sirtifiku ni’ un dimploma
Lao guiya ha’ yu’ fuma’na’gue
Na Si Yu’us na bai adora

Hamyo todus ni’ Mannana
Gof takhilo’ I sagan-miyu
Si Yu’us infanbenendisi
Put todu I bidan-miyu

Esta taigue pa’go nai Si nana
Lao magof yu’ hongge todu
Sa’ esta hu tungo’ Si nana
Gaige fi’on as Yu’us



I Nana ni’ Mahalang

Si Nana ni’ taya fimilia-na
Kumekematai gaige gi espitat
Yanggen guaha familia-na
Siempre esta manmaleffa pot Guiya

Si Nana ni’ maneyok gi korason-na
Taya u faisen I estoria-na
Taya u ekongok para I kanta-na
Ya taya u tanges put matai-na

Si Yu’us ha’ pa’go I ga’chong-na
Yan kada fanaitai nu Guiya
Sa’ Yu’us ha’ u alibia piti-na
Ya u chalao I anti-na

2 comments:

Mari said...

I used to visit St. Dominic's during the Christmas season when I was in high school. It was one of the most depressing parts of my year and I always left crying. Our choir always went there to sing carols and talk to the manamko' there, but I always felt so lost and angry when I went there and seemed to make an extra effort to be cheery and bright. I could never understand why families left their parents, their aunts and uncles there. Sure, they're cared for, but there's the flip-side of knowing that your family thinks of you as a burden and only visits you when its convenient for them. My grandmother lived with my uncle and we always visited her, so it really hurt me every time I went to St. Dominic's and saw people like my grandmother slouched in wheelchairs and staring off into the distance. Suffice to say I would never do that to my own parents.

I agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly and dangkulo' na si Yu'os ma'ase for writing of it. When I was living in Hawai'i, I was always struck by the amount of manamko' I saw on the bus, alone and sometimes too frail to walk right, in wheelchairs, or bent over dilapidated walkers. I always felt this gaping hole in my chest open up when I saw it and thought to myself--this isn't what it's like on Guam. Then I remember St. Dominic's and feel a little sadder. This isn't the cheeriest comment, but I hope people read your post and think about what the "American culture" that some of us subscribe to has done to our own culture. I think the day a nursing home like the ones they have in the US pops up on Guam will be a very sad one indeed.

Anonymous said...

Ok Sister,

This means that when we're both on Guam we're gonna have to spend as much time with our manamko' as possible and organize the youth and help them understand the importance and value of spending time with them, and not out of pity but because of RESPECT and the knowledge they have. I think we all have to listen to what they have to say and learn everything that they have to offer because they are our direct link to our ancestors. If we lose them to time, it's our fault and not the Haoles or Governments or anybody else we would like to point a finger to. It's time to take responsibility for our culture and not let anything stand in our way.

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