Friday, August 29, 2008

DNC Day 4 - The Lost Pacific

To say that this convention has been frustrating because of a lack of Pacific Islander presence would be a sen dongkalu na understatement. I've attended this week all of the events which were marked as "Asian-American Pacific Islander" or "Asian Pacific Islander American" and even "Asian Pacific American." I've had little to no luck. The delegates and representatives from these islands haven't been attending these meetings or even speaking at them.

This could be a number of reasons, due to the distance and high cost in getting here, less delegates from these areas are here. Also, because of the great distance and the novelty of being in what is for some a new city or area, touring around or visiting friends has also been keeping people from the convention. Lastly, although the events and the Congressional Caucus may be Asian American Pacific Islander, Pacific Islanders may not see themselves there, both in the sense of their needs not being attending to or spoken of in these fora, and also simply because as one Pacific Islander delegate said to me, they don't look like me.

This has all been very frustrating for me because on the one hand the delegates from the Islands, in particular those who are Pacific Islander have been less interested in talking about their issues or the ways they don't fit in, and more on communicating to me their incredible joy at being included, at being recognized. So on the one hand there is a resistance to being a part of a panethnic group because they don't take my issues seriously, or the people there don't look like me, but on the other their is an almost blinding excitement to be included in a large political group, which doesn't take my issues seriously and is full of even more people who don't look like me.

On the other hand, meeting up with elected officials or activists who can speak to Pacific Islander issues has been impossible. The line up for the APIA events has almost completely been comprised of Asian American political leaders and activists. In some sense I can understand this, because conventions and political parties in the United States are obsessed with voting and getting people to vote. With this in mind we find a multitude of small and large ways in which "swing states" are given priorities and given the focus, such as who is on the floor at the convention, and who is invited to speak on panels, etc. For Pacific Islanders attached to the United States through different forms of colonialism and neocolonialism, this focus isn't very inviting.

In the first case, there are no members from the islands of Micronesia other than Guam at the Convention, and so although each of these islands is tied to the United States in some way or another, they do not have even a symbolic presence here (this will most likely change when the CNMI elects its first non-voting delegate). For Guam, there is no vote in the national elections, so there are no campaigns to get out the vote for Obama there. Guam's zero electoral college votes are not in contention, it is not consider to be a "swing colony." The same goes for American Samoa. Lastly Hawai'i, which does have a large delegation at the convention and can vote for President, is not at all a swing state, if it was, then the votes of not just Asian American Pacific Islanders, but Pacific Islanders specifically would be vital and we would see much more emphasis on Pacific Islanders and their concerns separate from the AAPI Matrix. But since Hawai'i is probably either the safest or second safest state for Obama (in a competition with Illinois), none of this has taken place or will take place.

As my own piece of sad evidence of this I offer up the fact that not a single interview request that I've put through with the Obama Campaign, the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Convention, or even specific Congressional/Senatorial offices to speak on Pacific Islander issues has been answered. When I say answered, I mean that I haven't even gotten a single call back saying that my request was rejected or accepted or even considered, and I've both left messages and spoken to living breathing people.

The only politicians that I've been able to talk to are those non-voting Democratis delegates from America's territories, Washington D.C., Guam, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.

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