Friday, August 29, 2008

DNC Day 4 - Operation New Life

While looking for a seat at Invesco a bit of serendipity took place, as I ran into a freelance journalist in the same section, who was looking for people to interview, and who after learning about where I was from and why I was at the convention, told me that she had spent three years on Guam in the 1970’s.

When I asked what for, she told me that she had worked for Tony Palomo, as a journalist writing for his newspaper The Pacifican. Sadly, the paper didn’t last very long and soon after it was born it was driven out of business by the Pacific Daily News. She asked if I knew Tony Palomo and I said yes, and so she told me some of her life so that next time I see him I could share with him how she’s doing.

She ended up interviewing me and my thoughts on the Convention, and I gave her my usual, I’m excited to be here, but…if you aren't enamored with all the excitement and sign-waving, the specatcle of inclusion, then what you've got is basically friendly American colonialism.

After finishing up, I asked her about her time on Guam. She said that she was there in her twenties, just as she was coming into her own identity, just as America was also rethinking itself and its role in the world. Just a short time after she moved to Guam, Operation New Life, with the evacuation of thousands of South Vietnamese to Guam and other US military installations took place. As a young journalist she was sent down to cover this event.

Her experiences interviewing and covering Operation New Life had a profound impact on her. She went out to one ship crowded with refugees. There she saw packed amongst all the people, farm animals such as goats and monkeys that people had brought on board as one of their few possessions. These animals were sure to be killed before any of them would be let into Guam. When viewing the refugees that were arrived by plane she saw a very different story, with people carrying boxes and sacks of gold with them. It was a stark contrast that even as Saigon fell, the division between rich and poor held firm as the wealth and well-connected were flown to Guam, while the poor had to sits for weeks in the holds of ships.

As we were sitting in Invesco Field, where in a few hours Barack Obama would work hard to established an exceptionalist moral and good position for America in the world, she felt it was a major contrast to think back to those years, where a similar version of America's position in the world had just been challenged, where it had been defeated and the images of its "defeat" or the fall of Saigon were being printed all over the world. She was considering how far things had come, how things had changed, how they hadn't, and how people came full circle. She is currently teaching journalism at Kent State University, and more than thirty years ago, over that war and its expansion into Cambodia had sparked even more protests, and at her current university several protesting students were killed to protect that idea of American exceptionalism, and that it above all has a right to wage whatever war it wishes.

It was an interesting conversation, and I became so engrossed in it, that it didn't dawn on me until the next day, that in a stadium where more than 80,000 people will soon be, I had just randomly bumped into someone who spent three years of her life on Guam. It was a nice bit of serendipity, that definitely helped me put the day of stirring speeches and lofty and vague rhetoric in better perspective.

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