Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chamorro Public Service Post #2: Stupid Identities and Juan Malimanga

Time for another Chamorro Public Service Post. My last great effort to assist the Chamorros of the world in their moves towards language revitalization, critical creative expression and cultural comprehension was the listing of the words to the infamous J.D. Crutch song Apu Magi.

Today's Chamorro Public Service post will be on the comic strip Juan Malimanga.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Si Tun Juan, he can be found six times a week on the comics pages of The Pacific Daily News. Juan was born out of the efforts of I Difunta Tan Ding Castro Gould and an artist for the Chamorro studies program at DOE Ronald(?) Faustino. (Despensa lao ti hu gof hahasso hafa mismo i na'an-na Si Faustino). Juan Malimanga is a comic strip that details the adventures of Si Juan Malimanga and ambiguously related friends Tan Kika and Nano'.

The sources of inspiration for the character of Juan Malimanga are numerous. The most discussed source is the stories of Juan Mala, a Chamorro trickster who in his tales took special delight in messing with the heads of the Spanish on Guam, devising various schemes to relieve them of their money and wealth. In another way however, if you listen to some of the manamko' discuss what Juan Malimanga reminds them of, they might respond "Juan Malimanga."

My grandmother would laugh whenever I asked about Juan, often reciting the following verse. Juan Malimanga ma tago' i batdeha ha chule' i bitanga." Juan was not a real person most likely, but one of those characters who is more real than real people, someone to whom the most insanity array of identities are assigned to.

Today, i che'lu-hu Si Kuri ha faisen yu' put "identity." He has to do an assignment for his citizenship class, and find a newspaper article and relate to the class how identity is a part of that article. A very vague assignment. If I was given an assignment like that, I would end up teaching a class on Laclau and his edited volume The Making of Political Identities.

The newspaper piece that Kuri chose was the front page from last week's primary election, which bellowed out for all the voting public, "DON'T CROSS PARTY LINES." referring to how in the coming election you cannot vote for candidates from two parties, just one. Kuri was going to use this patronizing talk to show how the PDN regularly identifies the people of Guam as retards, who need to have everything spelled out for them.

Although I very much agree with Kuri's point and added that the editorial page is the place where this voice can be found in its most distilled form. Perhaps you might say that editorials in newspapers on proper citizenship duties, civic obligations, proper running of government, economy and society, are not just common, but a necessary part of civil society. Well, when one mixes colonization into this mix, that whole position is meaningless, because then you find a split in the posturing and identity (re)producing of the newspaper.

As the Pacific Daily News is the self-proclaimed defender of American values in Guam, is provides a dual role which is part visible part invisible. Through its instructions on what the government should privatize, what we should think and feel about everything from politics, to liter, to war, we are being instructed on what American values are and how best we can embody and live them. The daily lesson being, you want to be an American, here is how you do it.

This is visible, defendable, mentionable dimension, the invisible, unmentionable dimension can be found by adding a few words to my name for the PDN above, "defender of American values and interests in Guam." This split is of course what allows the Pacific Daily News to take such a patronizing position in Guam, talking down to its voters and people, instructing them the basics in democracy, which despite allegedly originating in the United States, is used by nearly twice as many people on Guam in elections than in the United States (reference to high voter turnout in Guam, low voter turnout in the US).

Because the defense of interests stay invisible, coded within the assertion of identity, but nonetheless meant to be illegible, unreadable, the Pacific Daily News along with others can obssess about the niceties of voting, the deficiencies in Guam, the shabbiness of it here, while leaving this conversation completely devoid of any mention of Guam's colonial status and its lack of voting at the national levels.

Returning to why this connects to Juan Malimanga, when the PDN produces editorials or stories which do infer to the people of Guam as stupid, it does not necessarily produce them as stupid, or make them stupid. Within the particular theoretical framework of hegemony and meaning that I'm using here, it produces instead stupid identities, which run the social network, give it consistency and common reference, but in which no actually person might embody this identity. For example, reading the patronizing tone of the PDN, few people on Guam, Chamorros, Filipinos or otherwise will see themselves as the intended target of the tone, see themselves as the idiots that need to be told these things. Instead, they will attribute that identity to someone who becomes more real than real, the people who haunt societies, holding very clear identities, but which may not actually exist, or no one even those who fit its profiles will readily identify with.

We all know these people who are mas ki magahet, there is Joe Six Pack, John Q. Public, to whom in political speech might appear to be an open category, but is constantly filled with narrow content, whether it be white male, middle class or just white. Think also about how these figures dictate social policy in the form of "the gangbanger" or "the thief" who everyone knows is out there and we must protect ourselves from.

But here is the glitch, the morass of identity conflict whereby those the identity is intended to describe does is not recognized by them as being directed to them. For example, even someone that the state considers to be a gangbanger may not consider themselves to be the object of public security discourse and may actually support the laws intended to protect society from the "gangbangers" out there. He will not doubt be the object of these laws, but does not recognize himself in what they propose. The same goes for nearly everyone on Guam, who do not recognize themselves as the intended recipients of these stupid identities. Instead, these identities are displaced onto other ethnic groups or these characters such as Juan Malimanga or even Jofis from Malafunkshun, so that the only people stupid enough for this sort of hailing must either be Micronesian or some stupid chaud or fob.

Society on Guam thus finds its consistency in this communal displacement, this refusal to recognize the negativity clearly intended for them.

This displacement however is an even more limiting move than an acceptance of this incoming identity, because it leaves the relationship that produces that patronizing position almost completely untouched. If I do not recognize myself or anyone important as the intended target of this stupidity, then what does it matter, this only therefore affects those that it clearly describes. Therefore, Guam continues to be run on racist and colonialist principles, because the majority of its people refuse to see the regular racism and patronizing speech of something like the PDN as intended for them. The newspaper's posturing that the people of Guam are stupid does not really get questioned or checked because of the simple prevailing belief that one I encounter this sort of stupid invoking, it's fine because, although I'm not one of them, there are stupid people out there!

Figure such as Juan Malimanga, or as my grandparents and cousins constantly use, Si Kolas yan Si Tan Kika, are often the creative whipping boys that take the sometimes comical, sometimes serious abuse of society so society can continue to exist as it is.

This post was originally intended to be merely a Chamorro Public Service Post for Juan Malimanga and slowly developed into a piece on identity and hegemony. Despensa yu'.

Estague iyo-ku "original intention" bai famula' kamek Juan Malimanga nu Hamyo.

UPDATE:

Okay, there's something wrong with my computer, it won't upload the images. Bai chagi ta'lo.

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