Monday, January 29, 2007

The Insular Empire

For the past few months I've been slowly working on narration pieces for a documentary on Chamorros and the Marianas Islands that coming out soon called The Insular Empire. The documentary is being made by Vanessa Warheit and Amy Robinson of Horse Opera Productions, and is a very interesting intervention into the ambiguous political existences of the people in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

Click on the link above to read more about the directors, producers and scope of the film, but there is one section from their synopsis page, which I think sums up well what the filmmakers are trying to do:

"...most portrayals of the Mariana Islands fall back on easy stereotypes of 'paradise' lost or found, or ignore issues of political status, economic realities, or indigenous rights altogether. The Insular Empire: America's Pacific Frontier - intended for national public television broadcast, educational curricula, and community outreach efforts - will tell a different story. Through indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian voices, it will tell a tale of what it feels like to be a colonial subject of the 'greatest democracy on earth.' Americans will thus come face to face with the long, tangled and concrete relationship between US democracy and US empire."

Gof ya-hu este na sinangan, "what it feels like to be a colonial subject of 'the greatest democracy on earth." Estague muna'gof klåru i lina'la' i Chamoru pa'go. Hunggan ti manachaichaigua hamyo yan i magåhet na Amerikånu siha. Lao ti siña en sangan pat prueba na sahnge i islan-miyu lokkue, sa' mandaña hamyo gi lai, ekonomia yan i mas impotante na kosas, militat.

Ya un tungo' hafa muna'puputi i Chamoru i mas atdet put este na estao? I Chetnot Tintanos Amerikånu, kumekeilek-ña na desde famagu'on hit, manmana'malago umamerikånu, umunu yan i Amerikånu siha. Manmafa'na'na'gue hit put siha gi todu i ligat giya Guahan, eskuela, gubetno, telebishon, ya todu tiempo manlisto hit para ta prueba na Manggof Amerikånu i Chamoru siha! Pues bula tiningo'-ta put siha, lao ginnen i bandan-ñiha, hafa guaguaha? Sen didide’ ha’! Pinat taya'!!

I've been writing different poetry/spoken word pieces for Horse Opera, hoping that some of it will help them narrate the documentary. What they would do is upload onto their website, different rough cuts, with notes on them telling me what sections and what images they wanted something poetic or complementary for. The first time around last year, I ended up writing several pages of scattered notes on the archival images of pre-war Guam, pre-war Saipan, Guam being "liberated" in World War II, and Guam undergoing aggressive patriotic Americanization since 1950. The phrase that I quoted above, "a colonial subject of the greatest democracy on earth" stayed with me the entire time. My mind moved back and forth across the Pacific, the historical and contemporary relationship between the Chamorro and the United States becoming a vicious circle of belonging and rejection. Like the exciting ambivalence of the song Guam U.S.A. we find the Chamorro stuck in a frightful zone between assimilation and patriotism, and sovereignty and justice. Guam has its own existence, it deserves its own existence, yet it feels incomplete without the footnote "USA," and yet even when these letters are added, it still doesn't quite fit. As I wrote for the documentary, I felt the position of the Chamorro today cradle and strangle me, with its curses and wounds of colonization and dependency, and its dreams of decolonization and sovereignty.


Over the next few days I guess I'll share some of these pieces that I've written with everyone. At first I was going to call them Dispatches from the Edge of American Empire, but since there are so many places that could also take this name, I'll just call them Dispatches from Guam.

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