Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why I Can't Take My Eyes Off of Kelly Hu

Most of you probably know of or would at least recognize Kelly Hu if you see her. She's been on a number of different TV shows such as Martial Law and Nash Bridges, and been featured in movies like The Scorpion King, X-Men 2, and Cradle 2 The Grave. Other than her obvious beauty and the fact that she was in a comic book movie, what would be the reason why I would mention her in one of these "Why I Can't Take My Eyes Off Of..." posts?

There is book called Indians in Unexpected Places by Phil Delora (lahin Si Vine Deloria Jr.), which is an attempted to carve out the space for Native Americans to exist which does not subserviently conform to the frozen stereotype the United States has of these peoples. Deloria therefore works to remap the possibility of seeing and knowing Native Americans by marking (often times to the displeasure of people's lazy imaginations) the incredible traditions that have been developed in responst to, and those that have persisted and survived in definance of centuries of American colonialism and paternalism.

I could write a book myself, which wouldn't be as scholarly or interesting, but would instead sound like one of those Teen Beat or Teen Dream magazines with like eight pasted faces of young dreamy stars gracing the cover. I would probably call it Pacific Islanders in Unexpected Places, and it would be about my excitement every time I encounter or hear of a Pacific Islander in a place they probably shouldn't be.

First, its important to note that my conception of "Pacific Islander" is very different than both dominant perceptions in the Pacific and the rest of the world. The region of the Pacific I come from as been deemed "Micronesia" and we of all the three groups get the least amount of press or respect.

Let me run through the three domains of the Pacific real quickly (and not at all impartially)Polynesia is the site of both positive Pacific beauty and strength, because of the intertwining of Polynesian women's sensuality and as one person called it "the sheer physicality" of Polynesian men. As places like French Polynesia and Hawai'i are the privileged liliths for the colonial paradise imagining of the United States and France, and Samoans appear in the United States as "athletic behemoths" there exists a sort of Hawaiian or Polynesian hegemony over the Pacific, which even those within the Pacific tend to accede. The tendencies in places like where I come from is either to creatively produce our Pacificness as communal recognition of the beauty and therefore appropriate ability of Polynesia to represent the Pacific as a whole, or it means using Reggae motiffs.

Polynesia is the light of the Pacific, even if at times that light is violent (not the emerging discourses on Pacific Islanders and youth/gang violence) we have to pair that negative violence alongside its positive form, which worships the size of Pacific Islanders in sports like football. Melanesia on the other hand is the dark side of the Pacific. Thousands of islands with hundreds of different peoples and languages are bundled together, yet still distinctively different because of the ways geographical features of the region have allowed them to "evolve" differently. This region, because of the way it features these sorts of "lost worlds" is literally your garden variety anthropologist's waking wet dream.

So if the light and the dark are already taken, where does Micronesia fall on this spectrum? Probably as nothing, except for World War II buffs and lawyers for the Department of Interior.

Given this dynamic where Micronesia tends not to hold any weight in the work of "co-signifying" the Pacific, I rarely every invoke some communal "Pacificness" since I rarely ever see myself truly there in its articulations. This is especially so when I am on Guam, and constantly bombarded with discourses or expressions of a Pacific "one love" which even people on Guam omit themselves from because of the ways they merely accept the dominant coordinates of what "the Pacific" means from consumer goods, music, movies, and never think to even recognize the way they edit themselves out of their speech.

When I am in the states however, isolated and constantly battered on all sides by a cringing invisibility, I find myself more and more resorting to labels and categories of "Pacific Islanders" in order to get by, to work with others and yes, to learn and even grow. Just for fun I often tell people that I met and know one of Keanu Reeve's cousins, David Keanu Sai. Its not a lie, I was actually on a conference panel with him at Oberlin earlier this year, titled Refocusing Our Lens: Confronting Contemporary Issues of Globalization and Transnationalism.

At the Famoksaiyan: Decolonizing Chamorro Histories, Identities and Futures conference in April, Victor Thompson who is in charge of the great educational network group NPIEN gave a presentation on Pacific Islanders in the United States. For his presentation he went through the statistics for Pacific Islanders in the United States and then provided a list of Pacific Islanders in unexpected places. Or Pacific Islanders working at high levels in the Federal Government, in state educational systems, in entertainment and so on.

For example, when I was younger, I was a hardcore Chicago Bulls fan, however since Jordan left the team I really haven't followed basketball much or really cared about its ebbs and flows. This all changed however when I found out that there is a Pacific Islander basketball player in the NBA! So now, even though I know absolutely nothing about basketball today, my favorite team is whatever team Jason Kapono is on.

All of this connects to Kelly Hu, because she is Native Hawaiian, so therefore a Pacific Islander in an unexpected place, Hollywood, but also because of a video I stumbled across of hers supporting and historically situating the Kamehameha School in Hawai'i. Prior to viewing this video I had no idea that Kelly Hu was Native Hawaiian, and so this double shock of her being Pacific Islander and her belief in a politics of restorative justice was so inspiring and exciting.

If you would like to learn more about the Kamehameha School in Hawai'i and the current struggles that are taking place there you can head to the Support Kamehameha Schools website.

The United States is extremely forgetful, some would say about the horrors it supports elsewhere, but also more intimately so for the horrors that it has instigated within "its borders" and the colonizing/hiding of those bodies. As the mission of the Kamehemeha School is challenged on the basis of racism and that its policy of prefering Native Hawaiian students violates the "civil rights" of others in Hawai'i, we need to remember that the history of the United States is far from pretty and far from perfect.

Communities have been ravaged, destroyed, displaced, colonizing and then contained within a variety of legal statuses meant to give a benevolent face to what are often extremely violent histories and relationships to the US. But these sins never ever seem to cast a poor light on the United States, never call into question the basis of its legal system or its authority over the futures of Native Americans, African Americans and those of us in the colonies. Because the formal system of the United States is never truly questioned (although it can be admitted to have committed momentary errors), a simple assertion that the existences and programs being developed by indigenous peoples in the United States violate the notion of "civil rights" can therefore erase and dismiss any possibility of sovereignty, on the circular basis of the unquestionability of the formal US system that confers a set of "equal rights" upon all those it holds power over, meaning both citizens and semi-citizens.

Although within the United States, different histories can be admitted to, and can be admitted in limited ways within the national narrative, there is a clear rift, a violent chasm which rebuffs any attempts to make those histories political. To make them the basis for policy or the reconceptualization of "rights."

Out of many, one, is an annoying American phrase, I see cited in history text books, as well as political science articles on the US territories. From this phrase we can see that a number of different histories can be brought together to weave the American narrative. So the conflcits between Native Americans and whites and then between slave master and slave holders can all represent the many which over time have become a beautiful tolerant and multicultural one.

But what is always left out are the historical unequal relationships which rely not just on a simple forced inclusion into American history, but also structure places for said groups in American history. These periods of inequality and forced entrance into the American story are silently passed over or dismissed by the progressivity and unfolding inevitability that this narrative leans upon.

The one is far from a beautiful tapestry where each culture or people can have a place of honor, reflecting the beauty of all others. It is a chaotic image which asserts a particular dominance of whiteness, and whatever "rights" are effectively linked to that dominance, accompanied by a sea of competing claims which have to be effectively structured out of any position whereby they could become a site for articulating a political project.

When I say this however, I am not describing this white conspiracy to keep people of color from power. Everyone in the United States plays a role in making this dominance real and concrete, regardless of their color. It is accomplished by people accepting a strange division whereby their cultural existence is supposed to be separate from their political existence, thereby leaving haole people the privilege of their cultural existence being the American political system. This crucial difference allows a relatively simply and vapid genealogy of American legal and political greatness to not just go unscathed critically, but become right of haole people to determine.

The problem now is simple. If you believe in a ridiculously simple greatness for the American political system, and the idea that it has evolved itself over the years to reckon with black populations, waves of immigrants and indigenous peoples, and has done a pretty good job, then the concept of "justice" for people such as Native Americans or Chamorros is not in your vocabulary. Because if this is what you believe, then what makes America great has nothing to do with multiculturalism, tolerance or respect, but rather the way it can sort of methodically and often times brutally force the many into a deceiving one. This means however that the histories of exploitation, genocide and colonialism that require redress cannot "fixed" or rectified in any way except for the same brutal forced inclusion. Anything else would elicit the moronic outrage of someone like Rice from Rice vs. Cayetano, that in the particular attention given to this history, and the possibility for it to be redressed, "civil rights" (or the way which the one is often invoked in everyday discourse nowadays) is violated or ignored.

Although we hear of justice in the legal system, the transportation of that use into the realm of restitution and reparations is insane. Justice in the case of Native Hawaiians can only be found beyond the limits of "civil rights" and the revealing of the unecessary and racist violence that exists not at the fringes, but rather at the very core of this dubious notion of one.

If there is any trouble playing the video below, you can find it here or here.

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