Monday, May 19, 2008

From a Footnote...To the Democratic National Convention

Sorry I won't be posting much for the next few days. This weekend is the 2008 Famoksaiyan gathering, Guma'Famoksaiyan: Gathering Strength for the Journey Ahead, and so I've got plenty of things to do to prepare for it. I'm actually writing up right now the roles and rules for an activity were going to try out, called "Decolonization Roleplaying." I'll have more to say about it later.

But I figured I had to post something today, because I've gotten a rush of new traffic over the past week.

Last week I was chosen to be one of the 55 state (and territorial/colonial) bloggers to be represented at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August. A link to my blog has been floating around the internet, on all kinds of Democratic, liberal, progressive and yes sometimes conservative sites, which has been driving a lot of new readers here.

So I now have, for at least the new few months, a new audience for this blog, and new obligations in terms of writing and commentary. Usually my blog is aimed at people from Guam, with Chamorros both on the island and in the diaspora being my audience. But my blog could be just as useful for others, who are interested in learning some critical information about Chamorro language, history or culture. The use of the world "critical" means not just as a simple introduction or depoliticized presentation, but as something which is written and communicated in such ways as to either illuminate or impact different structures of power or meaning. So for instance, while I am regularly using the Chamorro language in my posts, I am also constantly talking about the politics of language, or why the Chamorro language is being lost, why its not being spoken, what is keeping us from learning it, speaking it and sharing it.

But as can be gleaned from my previous paragraph, another audience for this blog is academic. People interested in having very real, concrete and active conversations about things such as American militarization, imperialism and colonization. This list of "isms" is something which we find very clear examples of in the 110 year political history between Guam and the United States, and so I am committed to sharing (again critically) this historical and contemporary reality with others.
My new audience, and one which I am definitely happy to engage with is a liberal, Democratic, progressive one. There is so much terrain, so many issues and so many ideas upon which there is a strong affinity between what I believe and what these other bloggers believe, but I know that given my political status, there will be very fundamental divisions and distinctions, that cannot be simply explained away as "politics" or simple differences of opinion, but stem directly from the ambiguous and colonial status of Guam.

I wrote last year a post called "Are Liberals Taking Over Chamorro.com?" where I discussed this very issue of obvious affinity between "liberals" in Guam and "liberals" in the United States on certain topics, and how this affinity collapses in particular around the issue of sovereignty. I came up with this post in response to a number of rude emails that I was receiving which were questioning why the website I had recently taken over, Chamorro.com, was becoming more liberal, as I began to change many of its links to provide information on the military build up in Guam, and about the need to decolonize the island.

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.

So, although I do anticipate more problems over divisions such as this, I feel it is nonetheless very important to engage with liberals and progressives from the US, since the critique that Guam can offer about American imperialism, colonialism and militarism, is one that everyone here should know.
Several years ago I wrote a poem called My Island is a Big American Footnote, which basically explored this idea of what Guam, as an exceptional piece of America, one of its most formal colonies, says then about the rest of this big overwhelming text we call America.

See, a footnote always poses a question, or supplies an answer
Is an excess or an extra thought,
Always articulates something that just doesn’t fit into the regular text
So what does my footnote do?
Among other things it calls for American people to reconcile their proud to be not colonial not imperial existence with the fact that what they keep off their margins of
layouts/maps/discourse proves blatantly that they are.

By attending the Democratic National Convention, by sitting in the center of where the Democratic party will be making history this year, and will be theoretically turning the next page of this progressive and always improving American story, I can not only help news of Guam's issues reach a larger national audience, but also providing an important reminders about the limits of American democracy, its failings, it exceptions. And as liberals are often those most willing to see the wrongs of their country and try to fix them, then I see going to the convention as an even more hopeful and exciting opportunity.

As part of my new commitment to this audience, which is still struggling with the Obama v. Clinton issue, that, after tonight looks to last a few more weeks, let me share some Democratic Primary news from Guam.

As part of the nominating process, Guam gets a total of 9 votes. Five superdelegates and 8 pledged delegates, each of which (by virtue of Guam's colonial status) only counts as half of a delegate. The same goes for the delegates from the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Americans Abroad. Today, there was some surpising news, that Guam's most visible current superdelegate Non-voting Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who most expected (Guahu lokkue') would go for Clinton, came out in support of Obama.

I don't agree with much that Bordallo does, especially since 2005 and the announcement that the US will be moving several thousand Marines (and their dependents) to Guam from Okinawa, and Congresswoman Bordallo has become one of the most vocal cheerleaders for this "transfer." But I have to say that I agree with this, I hope that she is doing this in the spirit of Democratic unity, and at last coming together to make sure that John McCain doesn't win in November.
An excerpt from the press release regarding her endorsement can be found below:

“Today I have pledged my support as a superdelegate to Senator Barack Obama. Senator Obama offers us the leadership needed to address the challenges Guam and our nation will face in the coming years.
Senator Obama is working very closely with Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and other Senate leaders to secure more support for H.R. 1595, the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act. Senator Obama fully understands and supports the efforts to seek full recognition for the patriotism and suffering endured by the people of Guam during enemy occupation in World War II.
Senator Obama has also pledged to help improve Guam's economy, including through opportunities with the military build-up—an issue I have worked very hard on since taking office—and I believe he is the right candidate to help move Guam and our nation forward given the challenges we face in our world today.”
Senator Obama said, “I thank Congresswoman Bordallo for her support. Senator Bordallo has been fighting to ensure that the people of Guam have a voice in Washington. I look forward to working with her to ensure that young people in Guam have the education and opportunities they need to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.”

2 comments:

Ian said...

Congratulations on being selected for the State Blogger Corps.

My blog (iLind.net) will be representing Hawaii. I was looking for your email address to contact you directly but didn't find it.

Please get in touch so we can share ideas for the conventionl

-Ian Lind
Kaaawa, Hawaii

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