Sunday, June 10, 2007

Are Liberals Taking Over Chamorro.com?

I posted several months ago, that I was one of the people being put in charge of running Chamorro.com, one of the most visible and visited Chamorro websites out there. In the future, the running of this site might entail overhauling it and remaking it, but for the past couple months and until I become gumof kapas mama'titinas websites, my helping run it has been relegated to updating existing pages. With the help of i sen mangge na palao'an Charissa Aguon we've been able to keep the Chamorro.com calendar, which I've come to realize is a crucial tool for Chamorros in the states to stay connected to each other through the fiesta, novena and social club networks.

Its been more difficult however keeping up with the updating for the Chamorro.com clubs page and the main page. On the clubs page, you'll find information from/on the different Chamorro social and cultural groups scattered throughout the United States. On the main page, you'll find daily updated information on KUAM for Guam, and the Saipan Tribune for the CNMI. You'll also found a list of featured links and items, which I've been notoriously bad at updating.

In April, in order to help get more publicity for the Famoksaiyan conference that I helped organize in the Bay Area titled "Famoksaiyan: Our Time to Paddle Forward: Summit on Native Self-Determination and Decolonization" I placed a link on the Chamorro.com main page. Here was the description for the link:

Last year's conference Famoksaiyan: Decolonizing Chamorro Histories, Identities and Futures was a great success down in San Diego. The conference this year will be held April 20-22, 2007 in Berkeley and Oakland, California. This year we are interested in strengthening existing networks, building new ones, and more importantly, giving those interested the skills to promote the work of decolonization and cultural and historical revitalization in their politics, their creative work and everyday interactions. The conference is open to the public, and there is no fee to attend.

In response to this description I received a number of emails through Chamorro.com and through my own email and blog questioning what this conference was, who the organizers were, and lastly, why was Chamorro.com becoming liberal? Here is an excerpt from one such email:
I was introduced to your website and having checked it out for over a month, I noticed that the sites that are being placed on your site are a bit too liberal.

After reading this and others emails, a number of thoughts began to rattle around my brain. For these Chamorros, who were almost all I guessed diasporic or living in the United States and not in Guam, issues of decolonization, self-determination and cultural revitalization were apparently "liberal." The most likely reason for this assumption would be that since Chamorros pushes for decolonization and demands for self-determination, implicitly or explicitly critique or contest the benevolence, authority, power or greatness of the United States, then Chamorros who want to change the fact that their island is a colony, belong in the free speech zone cages along with those "liberals" who according to places such as Fox News, "hate the United States."

In this framework the stupidest "conservative" position that criticism of the United States in whatever form equals hatred of it, is derived from two "visions" or "fantasies" of what the United States is. The first fantasy we find best exemplified through a statement of the First President Bush. After a US fighter had shot down an Iranian airliner carrying almost 300 civilian passengers, Bush responded that "I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don't care what the facts are." In this fantasy, the United States simply can't do anything wrong, and so those who can't recognize this simple obvious fact are blind, hate-filled terrorists! The second fantasy isn't too different, but makes the same argument by looking at the rest of the world first. It is a fantasy that the United States isn't the greatest and perfect place in the world in and of itself, but rather if you look at the incredible crappiness and suckiness of everyplace else in the world, the United States is clearly by default the greatest place on the planet. Therefore, whoever says anything bad about the United States should shut the hell up, or else go starve in Africa, or be blown up in the Middle East, or be poor in Mexico.
The annoying and frustrating thing is that, this vast difference of opinion and willingness to loathe, critize or oppose the United States is a figment and fantasy of conservatives. In reality both liberals and conservatives share the same love for the United States, the same acceptance of its sovereignty, its greatness and as we can see in the rhetoric from the majority of both Democrats and Republicans running for President (gi i otro na sakkan, ti hu hongge na esta mangcamcampaign siha!), its right to determine the nature of the world, and how other people's backyards should look.
Liberals may be more willing, thankfully, to say that the United States has messed up, or has wronged someone, but ultimately the difference between these two poles of political opinion are not defined by a "hatred" for the United States. This acceptance of the United States nation/nation-state as the basis for their political identities, and an exceptional point from which they form their political ideas and limits, means that as the communities of indigenous people attached to United States, are either colonies or nations within nations, the positions of liberal and conservative don't translate coherently into these regions, nor imply coherent positions in relations to these peoples. These communities aren't simply other ethnic groups or other people of color, but rather indigenous peoples whose existence is defined by some measure of, desire for, or depriving of sovereignty. It is for this reason that you can't simply turn decolonization into a liberal or conservative issue, both inside of Guam and in terms of how Americans react or interpret or relate to Guam.
For instance, many activists and Chamorros who consider themselves to be progressive were excited at the victory of the Democrats last November, when they triumphantly returned to Congress in 2007 as the majority party. For most of these activists, issues of sovereignty, autonomy, decolonization and the rights to self-determination and determine the political existences and futures of Chamorros are of primary importance. It is interesting however, that although they feel that the Democrats are on their side, or that they are joined in a fight with them against Republicans, one of the first acts of the new Democratic Congress was an attempt to take sovereignty away from the CNMI! Attempts to Federalize the CNMI are being made in the name of economic equality and righting oppressive conditions. The CNMI currently has the right to structure its own economy, whereas Guam must abide by Federal laws and rules. What Federalization will do is basically do is slowly over time dissolve the small pieces of sovereign authority that the CNMI does currently have, and bring it into agreement with Federal laws and standards.

For many in Guam and in the United States, the minimum wage and economic conditions of the CNMI are a problem, but we also need to recognize here the sovereignty and autonomy that the CNMI is supposed to have. For Democrats this sovereignty means nothing, it is simply a barrier that is preventing the spreading of American style equality and economy to the CNMI and also tainting the name of the United States, by legalizing sweatshop labor in the name of the United States, since the CNMI is technically part of the US.

Interestingly enough, the much maligned by Democrats and progressive Tom Delay and his super lobbyist friend Jack Ambramoff were in certain ways, huge allies of the CNMI and its sovereignty. So long as Delay was in power, and the money was flowing, the CNMI could count on Delay to block any attempt at Federalization. So in a sad, tragic way, the idea that the CNMI should have the right to determine its own economy and existence, is not a principle the "liberals" in the United States accept, but was one which "conservative" corrupt politicians were more than willing to accept.
In another way, some "conservative" politicans may complain that Guam is a drain on the economy, because of the special favors, funds or pork that it gets even though it doesn't pay taxes and its eternally in financial crisis and corruption meltdown, and call for the island to "sh*t or get off the pot," in terms of its political status. These calls to "get rid of Guam" are rebuffed most often by other conservative politicians, who serve on any of the numerous Congressional committees or subcommittees, and know that unlike their dimwitted strategically ignorant colleagues, that Guam is crucially important to the United States and its military, and must not be simply gotten rid of!

I always laugh at "conservative" morons who email me about my views and ideas and demand that I get the hell out of their country! Their demands are literally, "take your island out of our land and go back to your island!" Perhaps, in their anger over the fact that uppity brown people from their "spoil of war" are causing problems, demanding equality, freedom, independence and what not they might seek the approval or support of Republican politicians. Well, if these Republicans know anything about the military empire of the United States, then they won't be agreeing with the idea that "Guam should be gotten rid of" or "just let go." If they know anything about the realignment of US forces in Asia and the Pacific, and the way the United States is shifting its military to deal with threats in Asia, then they aren't going to be jumping onto any "get rid of Guam" bandwagon. Instead, you'll see these conservative politicians going along with small gestures such as war reparations, which are meant to keep us on Guam happy, keep us feeling American, and therefore keep us connected to the United States, as its unsinkable aircraft carrier.
I make this point, not just as an effort to describe the ways things are, but also as an insight which those of us from colonies or indigenous communities need to remember. The "liberal" and the "conservative" framework or way of conceiving of the world around us, is potentially just another way that we can be colonized. We imagined ourselves as participants in the political discourse in the United States by picking sides, by feeling that one side of the other is us or represents us. What can be very easily lost in these dangerous and precarious attempts at identification are issues of sovereignty and colonialism.

By accepting the liberal and the conservative divide that is trasmitted into our brains from cable news, from the newspapers in Guam, from the internet, etc, we can imagine ourselves as being more intimately linked to the political processes of the United States then we really are. We can feel as if we are a part of it, and forget that although the President may be liberal or conservative, and we may feel he embodies our ideas well or is a disgrace to them, we still didn't get to vote for him or her. As closely as we may cheer the ushering in of a new Congress, Democratic or Republican, and hope for a new course for the country because of it, we still don't have a vote in that Congress (or at least not one that counts).

As the colonization of Guam continues in this fashion (through its disappearance as a tangible and actionable issue), sovereignty, tied to the notion that Guam has distinct interests, potentially distinct from the United States, can disappear as well. The sovereignty of the Chamorro people depends not just on the recognition of the United States or the rest of the world that we exist, but our own building of a national culture around our particular needs or interests, whether they be anti-colonial, geographic, cultural, economic, etc.

Given the situation of Guam today, to call ourselves liberals or conservatives in our struggles to exist, survive and take hold of our future, is to suffer from a lack of imagination. And what we need now, as we push for decolonization and to make a better future possible, is precisely imagination.

Regardless of what you name the changes in Chamorro.com, they are taking place, and they are for the best. They are part of a necessary shift in rethinking some of the basic assumptions about what a Chamorro is, in the states, in Guam and in the world. First, challenging that the Chamorro is a social animal, but also requiring and demanding that it be a political one as well. Second, the challenging the idea that the Chamorro is created, made, or is solely defined through its relationship to the United States, and reminding Chamorros that there exist islands around Guam, which Guam shares more in common with, has closer interests with and should pay more attention to, instead of persistently looking to the United States for its existence.

In my efforts to start these shifts, ya na'tutuhun este na kinalameten decolonization, let me post below the items I recently put on the main page of Chamorro.com, which I have no doubt will start pissing off a number of Chamorros, but will hopefully educate some and help change their thinking.

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1. Justice for Nuclear Survivors Petition: To sign the petition to help the people of the Marshall Islands get justice for their treatment by the United States government and military Click Here. To read more about the petition Click Here.
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2. Stay Informed About the Planned Military Build-Up on Guam: Click the following link to download documents regarding the military build-up on Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the relocation of thousands of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and the general realignment of United States military forces in the Pacific. Click Here to Download the Documents
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3. Decolonize Guam Blog: Guam, as the “tip of America’s spear” and its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” is making more and more national and international headlines, because of the increased recognition of its strategic importance in maintaining American military power in the Asia-Pacific region. Over the next ten years, we will see a drastic and dramatic increase in the amount of military personnel and infrastructure in Guam, as United States military forces in South Korea and Okinawa are transferred there. While some say that these buildups will make Guam’s economic dreams come true, others say that these perceived benefits will either be for a slim privileged group only, or will cause widespread cultural, economic, environmental, social and political damage to the island. For a collection of news articles on this buildup and other issues affecting Guam, please check out: the Decolonize Guam Blog.

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