Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Inner Beauty of I Trongkon Niyok

Before starting my post I want to urge everyone to head over to this website to sign the Petition for Peace and Justice for Guam and the Peace, which was drawn up in response to the United States military buildups and exercises currently taking place in Guam

For more information on these increases, head over to the petition's supplemental blog,

I have long called commonsense the enemy of Guam's future, but I only say this because of the current dominant forms that it takes. If a revolution in values and meaning, in the perceptions, perspectives and understandings of people on Guam were to take place, then I might be in a different position, commonsense might then be on my side, instead of something I constantly find looming over my head, listo para u u'tot i aga'ga-hu.

Answers as to how the current form of commonsense came to be on Guam today is something I have discussed in my academic work for the past few years. My first master's thesis, the one I did at the University of Guam first confronted that question in the form of "Why are Chamorros to visibly and enthusiastically patriotic to the United States, given their dubious position in relation to it?"

What I am interested in doing in Guam is simple, shifting things slightly so that the most natural gesture of identity or identification is not the crass patriotism and devotion towards the United States, but is something more locally or regionally directed. I have other grand plans, but at the core of everything I do and try to do, this is it.

So long as the most dominant means of expressing oneself politically remains this silly patriotism, then little will change, because within this articulation, the only thing that can change Guam or improve Guam comes from the largesse of the United States, its benevolent care and concern.

In seeking to understand how this patriotic quagmire formed in Guam, I was led to statements, notions, even slogans, which on one hand might seem silly and meaningless, but on the other hand, have an incredible potentcy and power over eveyday speech and what we conceive of as impossible or possible. It is important to take stock of these ideas and statements because we say them everyday. They can be for example, tourist slogans, such as "Guam, Where America's Day Begins" which quickly becames a military slogan as well, and a justification for acceding to anything the military might want from us, because of the obligation we have as being where America begins its day. Or how about Guam as "America in Asia," which takes on so many meanings, all of which basically assure the dominance of "America in Guam." America in Asia, is a testament to the greatness of American liberal democracy and its latest multiculturalist twist. It is also the reason why Guam is so important militarily, another everyday protection of the American value in/of Guam. It is also another way of erasing the Chamorro, by emphasizing the Asianess and the Americaness of Guam, and implying that it is this interplay of strategic value and cross cultural contact that makes Guam visible, knowable and not its indigenous people.

But even the notion of the United States as a liberator has particular roots, with particular groups of Chamorros who set out to form a relationship to the United States, which basically built itself off of the colonial citizen to "Mother Country" dynamic that the elite Chamorros of pre-war Guam had with the United States and its Navy. As these manakhilo' set about concretizing a specific relationship with the United States and therefore a public/political position for the Chamorro in its empire, the rhetorical strategies that a postwar letter tendered by six elite Chamorros become the norm, become hegemonic. In that letter, the survival, the continued existence of Chamorros is predicated on the United States, on its awesomeness first in military might and second in concern for its colonial citizens. While one might argue that this gratitude was meant only with regards to the war, and was in fact a thank you note for that liberation, the two positions of the Chamorro as the suffering victim with nothing and the United States soldier/military as the strong, powerful liberator become generalized to everything after the war. We still live in that moment to this day. In a paper I wrote earlier this year titled The Scene of Liberation, I described this process and how it came about, and what it looks like.

I posted a section of it on my blog a few months ago, click here to check it out

So long, as this ugly patriotism remains hegemonic, meaning the dominant means of conceiving of reality and possibility, then this following statement will be the gist of what is Guam (especially the prospect of Guam apart from the United States):

I AGREE! Get our military out of GUAM! Make them Free and on their own! WE NEED TO STOP giving them our hard earned TAX DOLLARS! Stop the Pell Grants, Fedral Loans and ALL Financial Aid programs for Education, Revoke all Scholorships and have them pay non-u.s. tuition, Stop giving them Food Stamp, WIC, Compact Impact Aid, FEMA and Stop ALL assistance when natural disasters hit. RECOVER ALL FEDERAL MONEY "WASTED" on that Island. Remove the USA label so tourist can come back to HAWAII and spend their money there because we all know they go to guam only cause it's U.S. soil. Let them have what they want...REMOVE ALL U.S. support and let them go to the UN to get their aid so they can end up back where they started. They will make their MILLIONS selling COCONUT JUICE since thats all they have on that island. I hope we give them what they want so they can finally see what happends when you bite the hand that feeds you! FREE GUAM!!!!!!!!!!

The interesting thing is that although this sounds so familar to me, it is not from Guam. From growing up on Guam and working as a decolonization activist for Guam, I encounter this type of nasty and vapid rhetoric all the time from Chamorros, but this particular statement is from someone from the United States (buente apa'ka).

Earlier today on the online petition which I mentioned earlier, "Jodi Miller" from Washington D.C. claiming to represent the organization, "Movement to Stop Wasting American Dollars" posted the above statement.

The fact that Chamorros themselves, on Guam, take up this position as their own, when speaking about Guam, shows how the possibility for identities there are disciplined along certain lines, to work within certain parameters of understanding. Note carefully, how EVERYTHING imagineable is attributed to the United States, the stripping away of these things is meant to be death, life is not meant to be possible without all these things. The Chamorro and Guam without the United States is left with nothing, an almost sarcastic nothing, coconuts.

Interestingly enough, people who take this position act as if the decolonization activist is the strongest force in the world, and can, by merely speaking out against the colonial sins of the United States, kick the them off of Guam. Oh, how much I would love such power and authority, but the reality is very very different. First, if decolonization proceedings did begin in earnest, meaning if the United States did not stall or sabotage them as it always does, then it would be a negotiated transfer, with time tables for autonomy, whether it be political or economic.

Let me say this very very clearly for all the morons who argue against decolonization based on the "vanishing overnight colonizer" delusion: Not even the United States has the power to make itself disappear overnight. Even if Dumbledore and Voldemort combined their powers komo Captain Planet and the Planeteers, they probably couldn't make the United States disappear overnight. And this frame of thinking doesn't even address that fact that the idea of "America" and all its wonders disappearing overnight makes no sense! Does America own electricity? Does America own progress? Does America own education?

Second: The value of Guam strategically to the United States means that even if Guam did become "free" the United States, at least until a suitable alternative base could be found and the infrastructure created, would not relinquish their bases on Guam. This value is of course the reason why the United States military and establishment in Washington D.C. continues to deny this possibility, even when they are discussing it, or denying the existence of any problem with Guam.

Returning to my earlier point, what Jodi Miller's idiotic tirade builds off of, in very intimate ways, which sadly we don't seem to pick up on very often, is the very slogans I mentioned earlier.

I posted several months ago about a bumper sticker I hate so much on Guam, because it bears that deadly slogan "Guam: Where America's Day Begins." The reason why I hate it is because it maintains in a very simple everyday way colonization, and the means by which the Chamorro enthusiastically occupies the position of Jodi Miller when speaking on and about Guam. What "Guam: Where America's Day Begins" and "Guam: America in Asia" both imply is that what makes Guam Guam, what gives Guam life, value, what makes it possible for us to see it, appreciate it, know it and enjoy it as a place has nothing to do with Guam, but everything to do with the United States, or America in Guam.

If you don't believe me or need to encounter this on your own, merely have a discussion with a random Chamorro or other person on Guam about decolonizing Guam and wait for the colonizing commonsense which will most likely ravage you. I'll re-quote the intrepid Jodi Miller to give you a taste, "Remove the USA label so tourist can come back to HAWAII and spend their money there because we all know they go to guam only cause it's U.S. soil." This logic will extend to nearly everything about Guam, whether or not it might make sense. Government? Society? Economy? Health? Happiness? Prosperity? Fish? I've heard this logic extrapolated to cover just about everything, all told to me in harsh and nasty tones working to make me think similarly that anything and everything on Guam is possible only because of the United States.

Here, in this place of negativity or subjective destitution, we find a choice in our colonization. Do we Chamorros, or others on Guam accept this second class existence? Do we follow the Liberation Day lead and rejoice enthusiastically over the ways we have been forced into not just economic and political dependency, but emotional dependency on the United States as well? Or, do we reject this status and push for something more equitable? Is the first step on that path, not a demand directed to the United States, but one directed to ourselves, to each other on Guam?

Retuning one last time to this Jodi Miller's poorly reasoned and astronomically dense message, if we reject the United States and its overwhelming awesomeness, then we are stuck with less than nothing, we are stuck with coconuts.

Other than the obvious stupidity of Miller to use coconuts as the example of uselessness when they are the most incredibly useful and resourceful tree in the Pacific, I was reminded of a section from David Halon's incredible book Remaking Micronesia: Discourses over Development in a Pacific Territory. In his text Halon discusses the brazen stupidity of American planners and developers in Micronesia, in that they printed and released posters and flyers for Micronesians on how to "properly" and effectively use the coconut tree. Part of the general cultural knowledge of Micronesians, in particular those living on atolls, was several dozen uses for the different parts of i trongkon niyok. But this obvious fact meant nothing to those who were planning and intent on dictating Micronesia's future. For them, the coconut tree had no value until they are incorporated it, or whatever value it had was pitiful or meaningless, until they are articulated it in such a way that would bring out its "true" value, its true use.

When I say that in decolonization we must demand something from ourselves first, I am rejecting this notion that the United States is the only one who can create and understand value. Without movements towards everyday decolonization, Miller's argument that "Guam has nothing" and that "Guam is nothing" especially without the United States, remain the ideological foundation for what we can and cannot be done in Guam.

An act or an instance of everyday decolonization, is that revolution in meaning I mentioned at this post's beginning. When that moment happens, the niyok no longer is seen as "nothing," or a something which is so laughable as a "something," that it might as well as "nothing." Instead i niyok begins to signify something, else an important strength and becomes attached to a different history, both of these points conflicting with the monopoly that so many think America has on everything fantastic and positive in the universe.

The position that Miller is speaking from states that Guam has nothing without the United States and can do nothing but cease to exist without its benevolence. When confronted with crap like this, it is instructive to remember a quiet truth from Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero's autobiography Jesus in Little America. A prominent figure in the history of postwar economic and political development in Guam, and therefore most commonly associated with the interests of the economic elite in Guam, who are insufferably pro-military and anti-government of Guam, in his text Leon Guerrero nonetheless points out at several points, what those interests refuse to admit to, namely that the United States has actually barely given us anything, and whatever successes we've had, belong to us and not them.

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