Friday, March 30, 2007

What Lies at the Center of American Greatness? Taxes and 650,000 People

I had promised to write a letter to the editor of the Pacific Daily News several months ago, after it was announced that the five non-voting delegates to United States Congress (from Guam, The Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.) had suddenly become voting non-voting delegates!
Although I posted twice about this, I got sidetracked from writing the actual PDN letter because I decided to use the giving and taking away of these "symbolic" rights to articulate one of the ways in which the United States is dependent upon Guam, for the production of its sovereignty. I'm on break from school for a few days and so I've decided to finally get this letter out. I've got a long draft of it done, but just need to ribaha gui' esta ki 450-500 words. This is a very intriguing case which deserves more attention, both in Guam and elsewhere. If you are a patriotic American Chamorro, then your dreams are one step closer to being realized, if you are not, like myself then you have been literally handed another instance in which Chamorros and Guam is slapped in the face yan manmafa'ga'ga' ta'lo. Despite these facts, no one seems to really care about this.
For those interested, here's my draft so far:

In case many of you missed it, several months back, Guam joined Iraq and Afghanistan as another place which the United States has recently spread Democracy too! Through a change of the House of Representative rules, the five non-voting delegates from the territories/colonies of the United States are now voting non-voting delegates! The vote is symbolic yes, but we shouldn’t think of symbolic here as “ideal” “inspiring” or “hopeful” but rather concur with the U.S. District Court which heard the case of these voting rights first in 1993, which upheld the Constitutionality of the rights because symbolic here means “meaningless.”

In the limited way that the delegates are allowed to vote, if their vote affects the outcome, they the vote will be thrown out, and another vote will take place with those whose votes really count. Basically, for those enamored with the flashiness of having American greatness and democracy flashed before you eyes, we have moved from not having a vote, to having a vote that doesn’t count!

Democrats made this change initially in 1993 and Republicans challenged it in court, lost, but removed the rule when they came into power in 1995. Democrats vowed to bring back these symbolic rights if they regained the majority, claiming that they only want to spread a “sense” of democracy to those who are already American. Republicans have vowed to once again take this issue to court, asserting that only those who are truly American, meaning pay taxes or have at least 650,000 people in their districts should be allowed to have a voice in Congress.

Although we generally tend to think about discussions about Guam's political status as divided into two positions (those who heroically and patriotically want the status quo against those who maladjustedly and crazily advocate the island's decolonization), there are in reality three basic positions one can take. You can either want to move close to the United States or further away, or you can take the position that Guam and Chamorros are fundamentally inferior to the rest of the world, do not deserve to be equal among states or nations and should remain a colony.

If you are one of those people who believe that Guam is nothing but a backwater colony, a strategically important dot on the map until the rising tide of global warming swallows the island up, then the recent gift of this symbolic vote in Congress is something worth celebrating. If however, you are serious about Guam's just or ideal future being closer to the US or further away, then this voting rights issues should make you sick to your stomach, it should make you feel outrage and anger.

If you want Guam to move further away from the United States, and want our relationship with it to be less paternalistic, patronizing and exploitative, then this change is an obvious drawback. This change, the symbolic vote, while meaning nothing in terms of our power in the governing of the United States or determining its policy towards Guam (we are still just a lobbyist with no money), will have huge effects on the pysche of Chamorros and others on Guam, in making us think we are more American than we really are, or that Americanization or more America (in whatever form it is perceived to be) is the answer to all of life's problem.

If you love the United States, and want to be one with it, and believe that Chamorros have been historically very patriotic and suffered for the United States, then let me ask you a simple question: Is the pain of World War II, the loss of thousands of Chamorro lives in American wars, and the loss of so much land, language, culture and history worth a fake vote? If you believe in the greatness of the United States, then why can then not recognize that all of this sacrifice for them, why can they not give us not just a simple vote in the House of Representatives, but two Senators as well? Why is all of this pain and patriotism not worth incorporation, or even a real vote in Congress, and how much more pain and patriotism will it take?

And if your response is a pragmatic, we don’t pay taxes or aren’t large enough, then you are making the same arguments as Republicans in the House who have protested this symbolic vote, claiming that voting is only for real Americans. Their criteria for those who count as “real Americans” is simple, you pay taxes and you be a part of a district which has at least 650,000 people in it. If this however is what truly defines both America and Americans, then where is the greatness that we are so interested in having?

If it is true as Bordallo and other Democrats have asserted, that these symbolic votes help manifest and realize the greatness of the United States and its history and tendencies to spread and defend democracy, then we must recognize that this "symbolism" or this meaninglessness that we find in these votes, is not simply isolated in these fake votes that our delegate is to be given. This stupidity, this emptiness spreads to the core of what the United States is supposed to be, revealing the ridiculous character is its "greatness." What were once tales of American exceptionalism and moral superiority, have now been exposed as mere fictions, lies which Americans don't just tell others, but most importantly tell themselves.

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