Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Act of Decolonization #7: Filipinos and The Diaspora

I wrote a response to a "Filipino American Guamanian Activist" a few days ago, which you should check out before you read this post since its a continuation of the conversation I started in my response.


To sum up his points however, he basically made two comments on my blog about how I, as a "Californian" should stay out of the affairs of "Guamanians" meaning those who live on Guam and therefore have the right to talk about Guam. For this person, Chamorros being the indigenous people of the island meant nothing, and they should have no connection to the island or rights to the island if they don't live there. Needless to say, this "activist" probably found what me and Famoksaiyan are doing out here very threatening.

Annok na sen kaduku este na taotao. At one point he waffled back and forth between telling me he has lots of Chamorro friends and likes Chamorros, and then warning me that soon there will be more Filipinos and Guam and they will be in charge.

People have told me that this person shouldn' t be taken seriously and that he's just mouthing off or foolish and young. I disagree for a number of reasons, most important being that he is bringing up two very important and difficult issues for those pushing for Guam and Chamorro decolonization, namely Filipinos and the diaspora. It is for this reason that I responded to him in the first place, and also why I'm posting more of my thoughts below.

In order for it to make sense, you might want to read what I wrote over the weekend, it will make more sense. Click here to read it.

********************

After going through all those points, at last the question becomes, “what the hell is this person’s point?” “Hafa hinassosso-ña este na taotao?” And what is to be gleaned from both my rant and this person’s rant? Sa' hafa ha kekechonnek este na na'an "Guamanian?"

In fights between on-island and off-island Chamorros we see these sorts of divides being created very often. Those on Guam argue against the rights of Chamorros from off-island to speak about Guam issues, or to connect to Guam, or to even claim that they are Chamorro, most often in an effort to create themselves as being authentic or real. On the other hand, Chamorros in the states often reach out to connect to Guam, to prove to themselves and others, how incredibly American they have become, how much better they are because they have left Guam.

On both of these sides we see groups working to prove that they are something, by destroying or stripping the other of particular claims, whether it be to the American dream or to Guam and Chamorroness. These are games that will always take place, because of hurts that people feel, or identities that people are invested in, but it is important that we recognize how detrimental they are in general to the welfare of the Chamorro people around the world. The notion that once a Chamorro leaves their “islands” they can never come back, or are never Chamorro again is not a Chamorro notion by any means. It is very much a modern notion of what constitutes a real native and what makes a native fake. Because indigenous people are supposed to be rooted in time, place and history (if they change or move they die or cease to exist), these sorts of migrations mean that once a Chamorro leaves island he or she becomes something else.

In Famoksaiyan, when I was writing my draft for its philosophy and mission, I made sure that there was some reference to this problem of diaspora and distance. I am sick and tired of Chamorros on both sides of the Pacific enhancing and increasing their distances to each other, by making stupid arguments about who is more Chamorro and who can say what and who can’t say what. The survival of the Chamorro people, their presence and their power in the United States and in the world depends upon finding ways of overcoming these barriers. This means finding ways around or through the partition of the Marianas Islands, the diaspora in the states and in the islands, and also the division of Chamorros in the Pacific and to Micronesia. For anyone who is truly committed to either Guam or Chamorros throughout the world, these silly games cannot be played anymore. I just thought I’d share here, my feelings on this, from the Famoksaiyan Draft Philosophy I wrote up:

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.

But, what this person is advocating, while it shares some features, is a very different game. He is invoking the term “Guamanian” in order to create a new Guam identity, which will give him a right to Guam, and the evidence that he uses to build this identity is the ignorance and non-Guamanianness of off-island Chamorros. In Guam, like in most places there is a distinction between “natives” and “settlers.” Chamorros are the indigenous people, i mannatibu siha. Others, whether they be Filipinos, Micronesians, manåpa’ka, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, etc. are all settlers.

What this person is attempting to do is usurp the indigenous category, or in a way destroy it through the evidence that there are some Chamorros who do not deserve the honor of being indigenous to Guam, do not deserve the right to speak about it or be connected to it.

As he mentions “genetics” he is implying that Chamorros, especially those who leave island are not the proper stewards to this island. Once he has made this point, that the category of Chamorro does not mean automatically indigenous or does not mean that they get any “special rights” to Guam, he next moves in with the category of “Guamanian” through which he can argue for his right to Guam. What we see here is clearly another example whereby the settler tries to become the native.

Through the creation of a pan-ethnic “on-island” consciousness, which is produced and developed against “off-island” Chamorros who do not understand this consciousness or cannot have these sets of experiences, which are not indigenous/ethnic, but just created through living in the same place, the idea that Guam has indigenous people is meant to fade from view, along with their rights to the island.

*********************

There are so many places that I can go from here, so many statements to make, but not a lot of time today.

The position of this anonymous person is very black and white, on almost every issue. My points on this are not as clear cut, but there are points which for me are not up for negotiation, but should remain an issue of mutual respect.

I have no problems with Filipinos or anyone else calling Guam their “home.” But when this naming and this belonging becomes gestures to turn the settler into a native, or get rid of the indigenous people and take away their claims to have a different relationship to Guam, that goes too far. The distinctions between settler and native do not preclude settlers on Guam from having very intimate relationships to the island or claiming that they come from there. But too often they make these claims against Chamorros, as if they must destroy the Chamorro or suffocate everyone with annoying little American flags to feel as if Guam is their home.

Colonization is something which affects everyone in Guam, the Chamorro most of all, but ultimately everyone. Everyone is complicit in different ways in keeping Guam a colony, keeping it dependent, conceiving of Guam as pathological, corrupt, useless, luck to be an appendage to the United States. For Chamorros, the notion that the United States has historically been a liberator, leads to the trap that for the rest of time, every problem the island faces (education, economics, societal breakdown, etc.) can only be fixed through another liberation by the United States. Take for instance this excerpt from one email I received from a young Chamorro on Guam:

We were in trouble in WWII. The United States liberated us and set us right and then went home. Now. It’s a war all over again. Except this time its us who are the enemy. Corruption. Ice. Welfare. Suicide. We need them to liberate us again.

For Filipinos and others that have come to Guam and made it their home, colonization comes most nastily through the dynamics I have described above: the desire to displace the native, to kill it, to prove that it doesn’t exist or doesn’t know anything and doesn’t deserve to be the native, the desire to prove that only the settler has worked hard, only the settler has built this place and only he or she has the right to this place. It also comes through the images that people have of Guam that draw them to it, both from the United States, the Pacific and from Asia. That it is a slice of America in the Pacific, that it is America in Asia, that it is a port of entry to the US, that it is where America’s day begins. There is little to no thought before or after they arrive that Guam is also where America’s empire begins, where American colonialism continues to thrive or more crucially that Guam has indigenous people, who aren’t simply natives which are to be ignored and will soon fade away or cease to be.

In the responses we see from Filipinos to Chamorros speaking their language, learning their language, and requiring to all on Guam that Chamorro history be told and known, we see an antagonism or a resistance to the Americaness of Guam being surpassed, decreased, or revealed to not be special or certain. They came to Guam because its just a step away from America or maybe it even is America! The get off the plane at Tiyan, their heads filled with American dreams, and what they get instead of nightmares of angry Chamorros like Angel Santos, who want to do the impossible and the terrifying things of making Guam less like America!

To make this point let me quote from an email I received from a Filipino on Guam last year. The grammar and spelling as been cleaned up to make it more readable, since the way so many young people spell and type emails is tough for me to read:

No one comes here for a Chamorro Island. Why would they since you don’t exist anyways…This island doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the United States. So unless you’re Bush you can’t tell me what to do! WHY SHOULD I LEARN TO SPEAK YOUR STUPID LANGUAGE!

What needs to be done is to bring Filipinos and others on Guam into discussions and movements for decolonization, and not simply position them as people preventing it or since they are not Chamorro, just not a part of it. The reality is that most on Guam are affected by colonization in a historical sense, and all are entangled in colonization in a contemporary sense. This sort of reckoning and respecting of each other, native and settler is part of the decolonization process. Just because Chamorros and Filipinos have different experiences and have different relationships to Guam, one being the indigenous the other being a settler, does not mean that in order to live on Guam they must colonize each others existences, histories or futures. Respect is the key. Respecting that Filipinos have worked hard on Guam and have in many ways made it their own, but also respecting that Chamorros are the indigenous people, and therefore their language, their history, their culture and their rights should be in some ways different than all others.

Multiculturalism in Guam has become so fashionable primarily not out of respect and love for all the many cultures on Guam, but more so because it provides a means whereby we can all be American together, and more importantly displace the indigenous category as something different than all other ethnic groups and transform it into simply just another ethnic group on Guam. Not needing or deserving any special attention or rights, just another culture on Guam.

I could go on for much much longer, but I thought I would just end it here with the statements of a Filipino student from Guam, who is attending graduate school out here in California. After a series of emails back and forth on the issue of Filipinos and decolonization and what will happen if decolonization ever takes place, he sent me this:

“We [Filipinos] come to Guam because of its American status, and we expect to connect to people on Guam as fellow Americans…So we never see our connections [to Chamorros] through racism, colonialism, and military bases and wars… We need to do more to keep ourselves from becoming the next generation of colonizers, by making these connection.”

3 comments:

Alex said...

hi--i've been looking for something like this blog and like your studies for almost my entire college career. i know the absolute minimum about chamorro/guam history, mostly through family oral history. Over the past few years, I've been casually, but consistently, searching for academic resources on chamorro history, and have had very little luck beyond government reports and 50 year-old books. It really just blows my mind that this kind of chamorro scholarship exists. I knew I would eventually find something if I tried hard enough, but I never thought I would find such an intense study with a radical perspective. I'm really intrigued now. Do you think you could email me a copy of your MA thesis (Everything you wanted to know...)? Or point me to some reading good for building a historical foundation to the topics of this blog and your work?

Thanks,
Alex (alexbeemacaroon@gmail.com)

Angie said...

Hey Miget, I loved this post, I love the way you are able to explain these difficult concepts and relationships so clearly.

To Alex who posted the above comment I would say dear Alex, it exists HERE because Miget is doing this work. But I know his words are and will have a profound impact on indigenous studies.

When it comes to respect and that paragraph I think of our recent podcast and the question I asked you. Maybe it is the same as white people learning about whiteness, learning to hear the word and analyze the power and history of whiteness without the hurt feelings, the fear of personal attack. When I read settler I think about the hurt but I think it is a powerful word and a true one, and decolonization, even with mutual respect, will not be comfortable.

muttleyap said...

Hi! I stumbled upon your website while doing some research. I am gathering more information on Guam for my paper on Filipinos living there. I found your points revealing of the situation there. If you have time, I would like to email you about Guam.

Sincerely,

Valerie
yvalerie2@gapps.cityu.edu.hk

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails