Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mangal Pandey and Ami Suzuki










You might have noticed a slight change in my blog. For several months I've sported i banderan Guahan as my profile pick, due to the obvious nationalistic and ethnocentric character of my blog. It was also an important strategic choice, since when I started the Decolonize Guam blog, I wanted people who stumbled across it to still connect and feel familiar to it, even if the news posted on the blog might be completely new and strange to them (since the posts on the blog portray the US in a hardly benevolent light).

When I started that blog though my profile pick was an interesting and confusing choice to many, this still from the film Mangal Pandey: The Rising, starring Amir Khan as one of the heroes of the First Indian Rebellion in 1857. Surely only those familiar with my random Nihi ta fanchat gi fino' Chamoru put Hindi Movies would have understood the choice.





















The choice was not only related to my love for Hindi movies, but also part of a much deeper affinity for revolutions and the ability for some Hindi films to celebrate them. Coming from Guam, a colony which is very much in denial of its colonial status, and is determined to protect whatever shred of the colonizer (inamerikanu) it can hold on to, films such as The Rising, Rang de Basanti, Water and yes even the viscerally culturally static Pardes, are like dreams come true for me.

After watching The Rising for example I wrote an ashcan comic book slightly based on it and sort of theoretical musings on how revolution happens. At some point I will set aside the time to scan it and then upload it onto my blog or the Pump Fake Nation site. But for the moment I'll just share with you the premise of the comic:

The agent of revolution, whether it be a single person, a small group or an entire people requires an element of myth, a flexible excess of meaning, which is precisely what allows the impossible to suddenly not just seem possible, but inevitable. What happens to this pre-revolutionary excess, if the revolution is successful, or worse yet, if it fails?

In the comic, we experience this excess of meaning through the figure of Mangal Pandey, who while waiting to be hung for treason by the British East India Company, is constantly pulled back into the moment of his alleged treason, which each time shifts focus and intensity. Although different versions exist of what exactly happened, no one contests the fact that while serving as a soldier or sepoy for the Company, Pandey attacked and wounded his white commanding officer. This assault, his execution, his fellow soldier's refusal to arrest him, as well as the general disrepect the Company had for Indian and Muslim customs all contributed to what has become known as the First War of Independence in India.

Each time Mangal Pandey returns to his attack on his commanding officer, the scene shifts, gradually becoming larger in scale, more soldiers killed, more carnage brought about by Pandey's rage, until at last the revisiting of his act spills into the streets where farmers strike down Company soldiers and officers with their shovels and hoes.

For me, thinking about wars for independence and struggles for decolonization elsewhere can be somewhat instructive for Guam, even though obviously the rules of the game have changed, and Guam has nowhere near the people or material power India had in both the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What I glean though is often the mechanics of how one relates to those choices, those acts. The ways a fidelity to those foundational acts can be reinvented and not lost in a temporal translation. The recent film Lage Raho Munna Bhai, is an excellent example of this. Although I don't want to go into it too indepth guini, since I plan on posting more about it later, I'll make a quick point.

The film is about Gandhigiri or "Gandhism" today, and is able to communicate different aspects of it in both a humorous and touching way. At one point in the film, the main character is asked by someone this: One day I saw a young child throwing a stone at a statue of Gandhi. I was so ashamed and embarassed, and wanted to scold and punish the child for his disrespect to one of India's greatest leaders. According to the wisdom of Gandhi, what should I have done?

The main character, who has beautiful delusions that Gandhi is aiding and advising him, answers simply, give the boy a larger stone. In fact tear down all the statues of me and all the photos of me everywhere in India.

Hunggan, a paradoxical point given the centrality of elevating Gandhian thought in the film, lao tahdong na punto sinembatgo.

The purpose of this winding path through Bollywood, was to introduce my new profile picture, which features the lovely Ami Suzuki (Suzuki Ami), a famous J-Pop singer whose rise to fame intersects interestingly with my own activist history.



Over the past couple of months I've slowly been collecting every single song I can download of hers, despite the fact that they are all in Japanese save for an occassionally English line like "I need your love, I need your love, All Night Long!" I even picked up a VHS which is a collection of all the music videos from her first album. Some of which are pretty cool by the way, although some are, as most music vidoes from any country go, disturbing. (Gof ya-hu i kanta "nothing without you," lao kalang racist yan ti komprendeyon i video.) So far I haven't been able to find any posters of hers for cheap, but if I ever did find on on ebay or anywhere else, you can bet I'd snatch it up.

Now at least one person has already attributed my liking for Ami Suzuki to a "thing for Asian girls." Which would tie neatly into my limited liking for anime and manga, and create a nice cat's cradle of orientalist affection.

(Otro fino'-ta, ti hu abobona famalao'an Chapones kinu i otro na rasa siha, lao yanggen guaha palao'an Chapones ni' podang, siempre mafoyung!)

To tell everyone the truth though, my affinity for Ami Suzuki goes far beyond her physical appearance (gi minagahet, gof masoksok gui', blech! kalakas!) and interestingly enough right to the center of my learning journey as a Chamorro and the way I experience Guam.

(Just a quick point here before continuing, since I feel the need to address the language I just used, "when I said learning journey as a Chamorro." To all those Chamorros who look down on other Chamorros who express problems of identity and feeling out of place in cultural and psychological terms, and dismiss their claims by virtue of the fact that "I have always known I was Chamorro" please recognize the fact that you use people who admit to having these questions, as the means through which you can basically displace your own identity problems and uncertainty. Being a Chamorro is a constant journey and struggle, to accept or reject a heterogenous heritage, plan for an uncertain and ambiguous future and constantly work to define your own place in the material and ideological limits of the present moment. If the Chamorro was not subject to these changes and questions, then everything would be completely different, and right now we would all be speaking Chamorro, and would absolutely not be patriotic to the United States, and the majority of us would be farmers and fishermen. But since all of these things are not true today and have changed, then it should be obvious that while a Chamorro has existed for millennia, the definitions and conditions for it constantly change and respond to a variety of pressures, reworking what it means to be Chamorro. Take for instance the way Chamorros are supposed to be in terms of "work." As I noted in my article Nihi ta fanagululumi: Inferiority and Activism Amongst Chamorros on Guam, a century ago Chamorros conceived of themselves as incredibly hardworking, as one Chamoritta song indicates, "Chamorro na taotao ya-na macho'cho'." But over the past century, in particular since World War II, this has shifted to the point where we more commonly associate ourselves with being lazy and not industrious. Gagu mas ki butmachachu. All Chamorros constantly question their identities, even if they never every speak of it and so we are all much better off, once we do break down the concepts of culture that require that the true Chamorro be unaffected or untained by such worries and problems.)

The reason I felt the need for that tangent, is because although I am some sort of hotshot indigenous Chamorro nationalist/activist today, at one point I had no idea what any of these things meant. I did not grow up speaking Chamorro, was not that close to my extended family, and knew Guam history only from the times when the power was out during typhoons and that would force us famagu'on to listen to grandma and grandpa tell us taotaomo'na stories.

When I returned to Guam after spending five years attending high school and college in the states, I was already a veteran of being uncomfortable not knowing anything about the place I was from. After not hearing Chamorro for years, I would often times find myself surrounded by it, its unintelligability to me increasing the way I felt the words' intensity, making them all the more troublesome and unwelcoming to me since I did could not understand, but felt I probably should.

I would constantly feel embarassed around relatives and friends who were obviously more Chamorro than I was, whether in terms of i kulot i lassas-ñiha, language ability, acoustic guitar playing capability, chaud ways of speaking. In the first year that I came back to Guam I was always troubled at my lack of knowledge, always uncertain what my relationship was supposed to be to this island, to a people that were mine.

At one point I remember sitting in the computer lab at UOG, during my first semester there, with the lyrics to Jose Marti's Guantanamera beside me, contemplating them and wondering where that passionate and profound connection to one's land was for me? I wrote my own version, lamenting how I was returning to an island which was supposed to be mine, and for whom I was supposed to have heart-swelling, paradisical memories of, but couldn't really find them. Unfortunately I've lost the lyrics I came up with, and sadly I'm one of those people who writes things down precisely to forget them.

Since that time I have obviously changed quite a bit, and become a "radical" Chamorro activist, although I'd be careful here not to attribute this change in me to a simple "getting in touch with my roots."

One thing that truly pisses me off about the ways we Chamorros and so many others conceive of culture, is that rather than being a process of transmitting knowledge which we participate in and help shape, we are just supposed to be passive vessels for the "preservation" of knowledge and history, and not supposed to play any role in actually owning and embodying said culture. The one disgusting exception is when there is some sort of colonial contact or intervention and we become cultural agents because of the way we have to "let go" of some things in order to emmulate that culture, while keeping the things which won't "hold us back."

The moment that that my relationship to Guam shifted and changed, was not when I accepted the staticness of the past, and dug deep beneath the latte at Ritidian and discovered the root I had sought for so long! Instead, everything changed when I realized that rather then being a mere cheerleader or benchwarmer in cultural/historical transmission, learning, description, embodiment, I was supposed to be an active agent, and seize not with the cautious, pretension of someone craddling a fragile artifact, but rather the intense, fiery, passionate commitment to something which is never complete except with my intervention. Something which I myself help shape and have a commitment to perpetuate and help form.

One can never truly love something which they perceive as being seperate from themselves and existing in a world unto itself. In love there is always a dimension of ownership, or as I've said before, an element of possession. And so once I realized that a positive and meaningful relationship to Guam or to the concept of Chamorro depended upon me, not just seeing it, recognizing it, or finding ways to buy it and consume it, but instead feeling responsible to it, then the rest as they say was history.

A crucial, but kind of strange spot in this passage for me was Ami Suzuki's song and video love the island. When I first arrived back on Guam in 1998, this song which was Ami Suzuki's first released single was also just arriving on Guam. The Japanese Government, Sony Music Japan and the Guam Visitor's Bureau, all negotiated an arrangement to use Ami's first single love the island as part of a summer ad campaign for Guam in 1998. In addition to the live concert on island that the singer gave that year, the music video for her single was shot on Guam, most notably at the Guam International Airport, the Megaplex in Tamuning and Tumon Bay. It was shown for a while almost every half hour or hour on the Visitor's Channel, which was #28 I think.

Not speaking Japanese the only part I understood was of course the line which starts several of the verses, love the island. guaiya i isla.

In a weird and necessarily makeshift way, I connected my own arrival on Guam (and my feelings of being lost in translation and transition) with the visual images from the video most notably Ami Suzuki wandering around Guam's airport. As I found myself constantly questioning what "my island" meant and what its relationship to me was supposed to be, this song was constantly in the background, unintentionally (since it is a simple J-pop song) instructing me on what I was supposed to do.

And after a little while, guaiya i isla became a much more determined and committed guaiya i islå-mu. Which I later placed in the poem I Am Chamorro that runs along the side of this blog.

This affinity I have for Ami Suzuki, has a sort of historical dimension to it, because not only does it mark a turning point in my life, but also represents an object which helped to shift my focus and change my direction in life.











Pues put i inagradesi-hu nu este na kakanta, bai hu na'setbe i litratu-ña para i matan i blog-hu, pues bai hu na'chetton magi, i palabras i kantå-ña "love the island" gi fino' Chapones yan fino' Ingles. Sen magåhet na si yu'us ma'ase.

Love the Island
Este na link gumuhayi i palabras

love the island
sugite yuku chiisai mainichi ga
kimagure to zutto asonde itara
konna ni toki ga sugite ita

love the island wasurenai
hajimete yozora no shita de dakiatte itai
yatto wakatta
anata wo omoidashisugite iru

yukkuri to shizuka ni
kizukarezu wasuretai

kirei ni yakete yuku hada to
kawaiteru kokoro wo
nagusamete kureru no wa
machinami no irumineeshon

mata kondo tte jirasarete
namida mo nagashita ka mo ne
nan datte oshiete kureta
ano natsu wo wasurerarenai

love the island
shinkokyuu shite iru suwarikonde
ai wa kekkyoku deattemo
fuan de nanimo raku ni narenai

hontou wa anata no me no mae de omoikitte
naite mitari waratte mitari
okotte mitari sasete hoshikatta

azayakana ichinichi mo
anata e no omoi wa tsunoru

umi wa sanjikan chotto
hikouki de tobikoeta
kuukou de hakikaeta
sandaru ga chotto tereteru

mata denaoshi dakara
ikura demo dou ni naru demo naru
tabi dachi no kisetsu ka na?
sukoshi dake yume wo misasete

love the island sugite yuku
chiisai mainichi ga
kimagure to zutto asonde itara
konna ni toki ga sugite ita

love the island wasurenai
hajimete yozora no shita de dakiatte itai
yatto wakatta
anata wo omoidashisugite iru

yukkuri to shizuka ni
kizukarezu wasuretai


Love the Island
(translation by TK & Marc, sukne siha an lachi)

Love the island
As these small days pass by
Playing with you capriciously for so long
That's how I've silently passed my time

Love the island
I won't forget the first time, beneath the night sky
That I realized that I wanted to hold you
I'm remembering you too much

Slowly and silently
Without realizing it, I want to forget you

My skin that's tanned nicely
And my thirsting heart
The thing that will comfort them
Is the illumination of the city streets

You teased me by saying "I'll see you again"
I might have been crying, too
The things that you've taught me
I can't forget that summer

Love the island
Sitting down and taking a deep breath
Even if I meet someone else and love, after all
Because of my unease, I can't be happy

The truth is with all my heart
When I was in front of you
I wanted you to let me see you upset
Or crying, or smiling

Even on a peaceful day
My love for you will grow

For about three hours
We flew over the ocean
The sandles I changed at the airport
I'm a bit ashamed of them

Because we can start again
No matter how many times we try, or how things turn out
Is it the time to start our journey?
Just let me see a bit of your dream

Love the island
As these small days pass by
Playing with you capriciously for so long
That's how I've silently passed my time

Love the island
I won't forget the first time, beneath the night sky
That I realized that I wanted to hold you
I'm remembering you too much

Slowly and silently
Without realizing it, I want to forget you

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