Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fun With Footnotes Mina'Tres

A few years back, I have a section on my blog called Fun With Footnotes, where I would share some of the footnotes from some of my recent papers. The reason for this (for those who have never read one of my thesises or papers), is due to the fact that I often times have a tendency to choke a paper with footnotes, huge sprawling out of control ones. The reason I most often give for this frustrating habit, is that I come from an "American footnote." The idea of a footnote is an apt one for thinking about Guam's relationship to the United States. As a footnote, we are tiny, riding the margins, basically unimportant for the most part, but once in a while, we hold the key, or carry a secret of something. When I flood the text with footnotes, which can sometimes end up colonizing half of a page, I am doing so to upset the prevailing order of things, which says that the text is the center, the footnotes are the periphery. This is of course the same logis which governs Guam and the United States. America is the text, important, necessary, unquestionablly valuable. Guam as the footnote, holds dubious value, exists mostly to be ignored, and is necessarily subordinate and generally unimportant. Yet at the same time, it cannot be let go or gotten rid of.

The first, Fun with Footnotes that I did was for the paper, "The Exceptional Life and Death of a Chamorro Soldier: Tracing the Militarization of Desire in Guam," which I presented at the AAAS Conference in 2005. It has since been accepted into an anthology on Gender and Militarism across the Asia and Pacific, but there is no word yet on when exactly it will be published.

The second try came for the paper I presented at the Sovereignty Matters Conference at Columbia University in 2005, titled "Everything You Wanted to Know About Guam, But Were Afraid to Ask Zizek: Part 1" which played a central role in making my latest thesis in Ethnic Studies possible. This paper too has been accepted for publication, although I am also not sure when this will be published.

My Fun with Footnotes for today, is from the first chapter of my master's thesis in Ethnic Studies titled "Everything You Wanted to Know About Guam, But Were Afraid to Ask Zizek." I often talk about it on this blog, but for those unfamiliar with it, I'll paste the abstract for the thesis below.



Everything You Wanted to Know About Guam, But Were Afraid to Ask Zizek
Michael Lujan Bevacqua

Master of Arts in Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego, 2007
Professor Yen Le Espiritu, Chair

Despite Guam’s status as one of the last “official” colonies in the world, and one of the United States’ most strategically vital military assets in the Pacific, local cries to decolonize the island, especially amongst its indigenous people, the Chamorros, are far overshadowed by discourses on Guam/Chamorro dependency upon the US. I refer to this local resistance to decolonization as the decolonial deadlock.

The two most crucial structuring points of this deadlock are, first, the positive, “what is good for America must be good for Guam,” and second, the negative, “decolonization is suicide,” or, as will be discussed throughout this thesis, that the Chamorro is impossible. Consequently, this thesis connects suicide and decolonization, through the exploration of Chamorro impossibility, and the way it surfaces around ideas of government corruption, thereby working to prevent any discussions about Guam’s decolonization. Further, per the theories of subjective destitution from theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, I advocate the acceptance of the notion of decolonization as suicide. When confronted with notions of Chamorro impossibility, my choice of resistance is not a simple counter-assertion of Chamorro possibility. Rather, what this thesis seeks to do is occupy the position of impossibility for the Chamorro, as an avenue of positive agency. Therefore, against the nervous reproach that “decolonization is suicide,” my response is not that “decolonization is not suicide,” but that in the way that this act might represent the death of the Chamorro entangled in colonizing desires, Hunggan! Pinino’ maisa decolonization!

Fun with Footnotes: Mina'Tres!

1. The indigenous people of Guam are the Chamorros. The island was first colonized by Spain in the 17th century, with the establishment of a Catholic Mission. As a result of warfare and disease, more than 90% of Chamorros died within the next four decades. In 1898, Guam was taken by the United States as a spoil of the Spanish American War. The island would be run for the next forty years by an autocratic US Navy government. In 1941, the United States abandoned Guam to the Japanese Imperial Army, which held the island for more than two years, resulting in the death of more than six hundred Chamorros. Guam was retaken in 1944 after a massive bombing campaign by the US military destroying the island’s main villages. After six years of continued military rule, in response to protests both in Washington D.C. and in Guam about the island’s political status, an Organic Act was created for Guam in 1950, which gave Chamorros American citizenship and some protections under the US Constitution. To this day Guam continues to be an unincorporated territory, a colony of the United States.

10. One aspect of this existence that is continually mentioned as if to reframe this ambiguous colonial status as a “bonus!” is the fact that Chamorros and others on Guam do not pay Federal Income taxes but are still eligible for Federal monies. There are at least two responses which counter this point. First as a US territory, the military’s use of more than 30% of Guam’s land mass is rent free (although taxes from soldiers stationed on Guam are given to the Government of Guam), and there is no framework for re-negotiating this fact except by begging the United States Congress which has plenary power over Guam. Second, while Congressman and Senators may remark how lucky Guam is to not have to pay Federal Income taxes and how they wish they had that deal, there are no movements at present to change the status of any states to that of territories.

18. Anne Perez Hattori, “Micronesia in Review: 1 July 2002 30 June 2003. Guam.” The Contemporary Pacific. (15:1, 2003), 160. I have attended meetings of the Commission on Decolonization, whose members include the Speaker of the Legislature, the Governor of Guam, island senators and mayors, as well as representatives from the community. I have never seen them get quorum because elected officials and other appointed members generally fail to attend the meetings. According to one member of the commission, “We were having meetings for two or three years, and maybe one of them was an actual meeting when enough people showed up for quorum.” Rufo Lujan, Interview with Author, Guam Commission on Decolonization, Aniguak, Guam. 18 June 2004. Jose Ulloa Garrido, Interview with Author, Office of the Commission on Decolonization, Aniguak, Guam. 18 June 2004.

38. Fulanu, Personal Communication, John F. Kennedy High School, Tamuning Guam, 1 May 2003. Fulanu is the Chamorro term for “anonymous male,” Fulana the term for “anonymous female.” Throughout the thesis these terms will be used to designate people I interviewed and who wished to remain anonymous, following the interview. The topic of decolonization is still considered taboo for many Chamorros, as are conversations which are even slightly critical of the United States. In a number of instances, interview subjects had initially enthusiastically agreed to an interview, but afterwards felt that they didn’t want their name to be associated with discussions of Guam’s decolonization. The majority of the interviews which are used in this thesis were conducted for my previous master’s thesis in Micronesia Studies at the University of Guam. I made arrangements with my committee there to use the Fulanu and Fulana form, and have continued it into this thesis.

46. One of the few public, media recorded voices of discontent was from Guam Senator Judi Won Pat, “"I think everybody is ranting and raving about the economic gains and we talk about infrastructure and lands and rentals and all that…however, I think we've forgotten one very important aspect and that is the social impact to women and children." Won Pat and another woman Senator, Joanne Salas Brown, announced plans for a public women’s meeting to take place to discuss these impacts. Ridgell, “What to do with 8,000 Marines?” The news coverage of this meeting however took an interesting spin, in that it focused on the retired Marines who weren’t allowed to attend the women’s meeting. Therefore, an article which could have discussed the content of the meeting instead became an article on how these Marines were denied their right to free speech in defending the United States Marine Corps against malicious accusations of the social havoc they wreaked in Okinawa. This structuring of the article allowed the Marines interested in defending the Marine Corps to make insane assertions (such as “what rapes in Okinawa?”) which would nonetheless be taken as fact since they were positioned as the “victim” in this article. Clynt Ridgell, “Semper Fi; former Marines defend Marine Corps at women’s meeting,” KUAM News, 8 May 2006.

87. The media is surprisingly upfront about this on, both, the national and local level. Nationally, Guam is “lucky” and “fortunate” to receive so much military attention since it is, as one Los Angeles Times article made clear, just a “dot on the map.” In Guam, the same importance of this value is reiterated daily, through editorials which make it clear, that the best way to prove one’s Americanness, and to improve Guam’s economy, is to support the United States military anyway one can. The fundamental point thus being that Guam’s value and its visibility all depend upon circling, tracing and returning to this link. Tom Perry, “Dot on the Map Retains Large Strategic Stature,” Los Angeles Times, 28 January 2002. Scott Radway, “Guam’s Military Role Endures,” Pacific Daily News, 20 September 2001, 5. Rufo Lujan, interview with author, Decolonization Commission Office, Aniguak, Guam, 27 June 2004. Julian Aguon, The Fire This Time, (blue ocean press, Tokyo, 2006).

90. One need not cite some academic text here to highlight this point. One only need scan the homework of public school children on Guam, and count the plethora of objects of study or instruction that cannot be found on Guam or Micronesia. Even in a supposedly “neutral” subject such as science, the plants, animals, geography used to teach are rarely in Guam, but continue the colonial practice of stretching the Chamorro imaginary to not just include those objects, but to desire them as well. The intersections of instructional presence and absence in pre-war education didn’t create significant resistance amongst Chamorros to these absent objects (“yanggen taigue, pues para hafa!?”) but instead tended to create enchantments and attachments. During interviews conducted for my previous master’s thesis, there was a constant refrain about these objects, a desire amongst these once-students to find these objects. (As my grandfather put it, “I would have given anything to see a squirrel!”) A subtle shift has therefore taken place, so now we are not instructed in American geography, culture and history, which is universally applicable, but instead taught universal subjects such as geography, science and history using American objects of instruction (thus implicitly reaffirming the same universality).

103. The film Gattaca might help illustrate this point. In the film the “secret” of each human has been determined. Science has revealed the life of each person prior to their living it (when Ethan Hawke’s character is born, his parents are told he won’t live to be 30), and this secret allows doctors to manipulate humans into having longer lives, enhanced intelligence and so on. In this world, getting to know someone is no longer asking their friends what they are like, or spending time with someone, but going to an agency which will provide you a DNA breakdown of this person. While in some sense we all have fears of this sort of objectification, (doesn’t this explain modern philosophies need to displace God? Where is our freedom if God knows all?), what the film provides is the localization of this objectification. It becomes manifest in a certain agency, a certain form, which provides the means for carving a space for agency, resistance. After the main character is given a hair by his love interest so that he can test her to find out if she is a suitable match for him, he “accidentally” loses the hair. Gattaca, dir. Andrew Niccol, 101 mins, 1997.

160. These definitions naturally do not encompass all the possible formulations of decolonization. Most notably absent is the fact that decolonization can refer to integration, or statehood within the United States. This absence is interesting because one of the common reasons for Chamorro resistance to discussions of decolonization is the American aspirations and identifications of Chamorros. They loathe the possibility of decolonization because of the way it appears to threaten their ability to be patriotic and pro-American Americans. We approach here another clear manifestation of Chamorro impossibility. If we think of decolonization in the terms that Jan Furukawa mentions, as cited earlier in this chapter, then the desire to be American, and to be loyal to its freedom loving and democracy spreading tendencies, are both in line with decolonization as integration. But as this is hardly the case and, in fact, the majority of patriotic Americans on Guam do not support decolonization in terms of becoming the “51st state,” we find how the attachment to the United States, the thing which pumps life, liberty and the possibility of happiness into Guam and Chamorro lives, must not be threatened, not even in the name of Americanizing. Rlene Steffy, “A Conversation with Eddie Baza Calvo,” GU Magazine, (1:2), 2005, 66-67.

184. Zizek, Conversations…, 114. In an interview with Glyn Daly, Zizek provides an excellent example of this through Goebbel’s infamous “total war” speech during World War II in Nazi Germany. “After the Stalingrad defeat, Goebbels gave a speech in Berlin in the conclusion of which he asks for total war: let’s abolish the last remnants of normal life and let’s introduce total mobilization. And then you have this famous scene where Goebbels is addressing a series of rhetorical questions to a crowd of 20,000 Germans and asking them if they want to work even more, 16-18 hours a day if necessary, and the people shout ‘yes’. He asks them if they want all the theatres and expensive restaurants closed down, and the people again shout ‘yes’. Then, after a series of these kinds of question [sic], which are all about renouncing pleasure and enduring even more hardship, he finally asks an almost Kantian question – Kantian in the sense of evoking the unrepresentable sublime – he asks, ‘do you want a total war, a war so total that you cannot even imagine today how total it will be?’ And a fanatical ecstatic shout comes up from the masses: ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’”

1 comment:

Jess said...

Hi Michael,
Your comparison of the stigma against footnotes with the positionality of Guam within the US national framework is great... I had never considered this point before. I like that you have used your blog to explore your footnotes with what I read as an implicit placement of value on things marginal. I would love to read your entire thesis as well, if that is available online?
By way of introduction, I am the daughter of American peace-corps volunteers who grew up in Saipan and spent most of life there. Just last week I moved to San Diego to begin work in the PhD-track program in modern Japanese history, and as a proficient Japanese speaker/reader I want to focus my research on the pre-WWII Japanese era in Micronesia, which I call the "Nanyo Gunto" era (for more see my blog at
One note of caution, I see in footnote #1 you refer to the Japanese "Army" administration of Guam, it was actually the Navy [kaigun] which administered during the war years... and I'm pretty sure the Navy orchestrated the invasion, not the Army (although Army units were present)...
I will add your blog as a recommended link on my blogsite because I dig what you are doing and I think others should read more about what you have to say....
Drop me a note sometime!
Cheers, Jessica Jordan


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