With the upcoming Famoksaiyan conference fast approaching (April 20-22, 2007 in Berkeley and Oakland), I thought I'd post something I wrote up last year and later presented in Guam at the Decolonizing Our Lives Forum.
Over the past few years, I am often asked "what exactly is decolonization?" This is a question I am always seeking new ways to answers and to open up for larger discussion. In Guam, from nearly all points in the political spectrum decolonization is one of three things.
First: it is a formal process of political status change, and comprised most prominently of political status votes in which those who have been historically denied the right to self-determination, are allowed to vote to decide the island's political existence. If you go to the office of the Commission for Decolonization in Anigua', this is the type of decolonization that they will describe to you and give you pamphlets about.
Second: it is suicide. It is a risky and careless weakening of the "glorious" presence of the United States in Guam. Because of the ways (through colonization) that life in Guam is to often structured around elevating America to the status of being responsible for the creation, maintenance and importation of nearly all positive/desirable things in life, decolonization because of the way it either implicitly or explicitly contests that dominance or that monopoly of all things good in life, weakens the American aura in Guam, and can appear to those who cling to that aura for their identities and for their meaning in life, like suicide. If you ask most random people on Guam what decolonization is, then their frightened responses such as "how can we run a government with loincloths?" is basically a fearful invocation of this form of decolonization.
Third: it is a primarily cultural endeavor, which involves a re-balancing, harmonizing and re-ordering of one's cultural life. From this perspective, colonization was basically a shattering of the native culture, a breaking of it to pieces and then a scattering of them to the winds. Decolonization is therefore the concerted and determined collecting, recovering and re-learning what was thought to be lost or per the orders of the colonizer, meant to be lost. You can find this theory in action in different cultural/performing groups in Guam, but also invoked throughout everyday life when making claims about which "culture" owns what, or where the origins of "culture" lies. The problem, as I often discuss with this form of decolonization is that it can leave unattended to to the structures of colonization, by basically claiming that the Chamorro only belongs in this particular realm, this cultural realm, and that it is free within that realm. By default, so long as it is loyal and true to this cultural realm, it can do whatever it wants elsewhere, so in terms of its politics, it can say the most insane things or have completely unproductive positions, but it doesn't matter to long as there is a fidelity to that "cultural" Chamorro. (you find this manifested in the simplistic and stupid argument that Chamorro is my ethnicity and American is my nationality)
The scary part is that this "cultural" realm is too often produced by anthropology and other less than friendly discourses to indigenous people and natives, and so if you accept this premise for decolonization, you accept, regardless of how passionate you might be, that Chamorros are always already dead.
My intent for writing this philosophy for Famoksaiyan was to sort of straddle, draw from, combine and contest in different ways each of these, and try to bring them in such a way that a theory of decolonization is clear, but also that what I am proposing already mirrors what people are doing and what people know needs to be done. Often times what holds people back is simply the label and the limiting notion that "decolonization" is so horribly anti-American, and so we can't do that! The "anti-Americaness" of decolonization is irrelevant to me, what matters to me is ultimately the interests of Guam versus the interests of the United States and its military. Sometimes they might be the same, others times night, and decolonization within this framework is a commitment to placing the interests of Guam first, and breaking the idea the future is possible only through the subservient begging and hitching of ourselves to the ship of American manifest destiny.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Famoksaiyan Mission Statement Draft
September 1, 2006
An invisible minority in the United States, their island of Guam one of the world’s last “official” colonies and recently christened the tip of America’s military spear in Asia, with the proposed transfer of 8,000 new Marines, the future of Chamorros and their islands seems inevitably entangled with that of the United States and its strategic military interests. Is this the fate of Chamorros and the Marianas, to be forever linked to the United States in this way, and do little other than follow and attempt to live up to as well as within its mandates, its examples and its dreams? In seeking to improve their lives and communities, is the only hope for Chamorros to follow the advice of the Bush Administration and “let go” of their cultures that hold them back and at last seize the American dream?
Derived from the diaspora and dispossession of this socio-political existence, Famoksaiyan is a grassroots network of activists, scholars, students, community leaders and artists who seek to push a progressive political, economic and social agenda for Chamorros and their communities at the local, national and international levels.
What does this progressive agenda entail? At its core is a commitment to the decolonization of Chamorro lands and lives.
Decolonization of land refers to the altering of Guam’s current colonial status as an “unincorporated” territory of the United States. The impact of Guam’s colonial status and the inequitable and exploitative status it creates range from stifled economic growth, no control over American military increases in Guam, the poor situation of all Federal laws applying to Guam without it being given so much as a vote in Congress or for President, and also the rejection of Guam from international and regional communities because of their ambiguous political status. Whether it be at the United Nations, in the local or national media, mayor’s offices or internet message boards, Famoksaiyan is dedicated to pushing for an improvement in Guam’s political status and an end to more than 300 years of colonial rule.
The decolonization of Chamorro lands and lives also extends to the changing of perceptions and possibility with regards to space, place and geography. A mix of US policies and Chamorro dreams of American opportunities has created a diaspora whereby more Chamorros can be found scattered in the United States and its network of global military outposts, then in their home islands of the Marianas.
As more Chamorros leave the islands and more and more Chamorros grow up in the States, their islands, culture, language and history often kept cruelly from them, diasporic interventions designed overcome and rethink these distances are vitally necessary. To this end, Famoksaiyan is dedicated to decolonizing notions of geography and home, by decolonizing the mentality of smallness and un-sustainability that plagues most Pacific Islands thereby leading them to believe that development and the future is dictated merely by landfalls of destiny. To do this means reversing the longstanding colonizing gaze which perceives the oceans around us as barriers that divide us and instead asserting the Pacific as a sharing of consciousness and history that has tied islands together in both time and space for millennia. Along these lines we must develop networks of information and solidarity exchange, which through the production of shared political wills and power which in the movement across oceans and continents can help us rework the meaning of “home,” to include those who cannot physically be in our islands, but wish to continue to fight for our lands and our people.
Furthermore, the decolonization of Chamorro lives entails a radical re-telling of Chamorro histories and a re-directing and self-determining of their futures. Crucial to this re-telling and re-directing is the work of our artists, whose most important task is the positive and critical shaping of our history and our memory through their work.
Multiple generations of American compulsory education, a century of economic underdevelopment and 32 months of occupation by the Japanese in World War II has Americanized the memories of Chamorros and pushed us to conceive of ourselves as eternally dependent upon the United States for progress, for comfort, for existence. Helping to preserve this ambiguous colonial existence is the fact that for more than three centuries Chamorro history has been the purview of Guam’s colonizers, who have produced dull, barely perceptible almost skeletal outlines of where we have come from, which through their incredible historical gaps and silences, indicate that if Chamorros exist at all, we are not going anywhere.
Famoksaiyan is meant to be a space where the creativity, passion and political commitment of Chamorros can come together to reverse these trends and work to forge new means of connecting Chamorros to their islands, their histories and each other, by actively participating in the processes of cultural preservation and re-vitalization. To this end, it is the task of Famoksaiyan to promote Chamorro creativity in theatre, visual arts, music, poetry, fiction, traditional arts, etc. which refuses to accept the themes of cultural death and anthropological loss which have long haunted our people, and instead paint the long history of our people in vibrant and lively tones that testify to our strength, our struggles, our endurance and our persistence in the face of three different empires.
Central to this aesthetic impetus is a commitment to the revitalization of Chamorro language. The process of decolonization is the re-invention of a form, an identity, or a place in relationship to something once conceived of as lost or gone. Over the past two generations the language loss amongst Chamorros on Guam has been terrifying. Anti-Chamorro language policies propagated by both emissaries of the United States and Chamorros themselves have both linked speaking perfect English and ridding of the Chamorro language and accent to better chances at economic prosperity and therefore happiness. As Chamorros of the most recent generation contend with their own language loss, which was either forced from their mouths when they were children or kept hidden from them entirely, what is to be the relationship we define to that loss? Do we accept this loss as American education planners perceived it, as natural death and the only route to progress and the future? Or is decolonization the reversing or the disrupting of this very natural flow by which the path forward is followed? A redefining of what the future can and should be, based on in this instance, what language we will use to meet it, to describe it, to live it?
As the importance of language goes beyond communication alone and extends into the realm of expression and beauty of a world view, the overall process of decolonization is not complete without a revitalizing of Chamorro language, whether in public discourse, everyday conversations, or the arts.