Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sa' Hafa Ti Manacha?

In recent months I have been hearing more and more rhetoric from Guam, the CNMI, on the internet and even in the diaspora, about a desire amongst Chamorros to reunify the Marianas Islands. I've received some requests for interviews by students writing papers, and alot of emails from Chamorros, who just out of the blue want to know why we are so divided, and to use an already fihu mausa sinangan "why can't we all just get along?"

But these are the questions of people who haven't really asked themselves or their families these questions. All Chamorros, whether they are raised in Guam, the CNMI or in the diaspora have some answers as to why we are divided. These answers may seem faint, like traces of someone else's life or vendettas, and such is usually the case with trauma, but they are present in the being of all Chamorros. There are simple historical or legal answers, about empires dividing up the islands, and laws, treaties and Congressional acts which treat them as different entities. There are wounds from wars and wounds from interactions amongst family members. There are debates over who is more American, who is more Chamorro, who is more colonized, who is less colonized, who is more sovereign. All of these things come in and fill the division that America and Japan have created historically, and make it something which is not just about abstract laws or mandates, but feels intimate and personal. Thus the fact that the Marianas is full of Chamorros and the home of all Chamorros may sound persuasive or powerful in an abstract, sort of empty idealized indigenous nationalist sense, it has no power for those who divide themselves over war memories, personal hurts or feelings of inferiority or superiority.

So although there is more and more discussion about the need to reunify the Marianas as part of Chamorro decolonization, it is admirable, but isn't to the point yet where it means much. The people who are discussing it, aren't really dealing with the past, aren't dealing with the structural relationship between Chamorros in Guam and Chamorros in the CNMI that has created more wounds well after i finakpo' World War II. They are instead looking to the future, but often times in a very shallow way, focusing on the similarities, which are numerous and undeniable, but which aren't the issues that continue to divide Chamorros. Reunification or agondumana' will only take place in earnest through a confrontation with those traumatic things. It will not come through a depoliticized celebration of "Chamorro," but instead through the unpacking or pumupula' of the things that make up that idea, that cultural, emotional and political community we call our own. Agondumana' will take place by rethinking ideas of language, culture, decolonization and American belonging, which have been at the heart of not how governments have divided us, but how we divide ourselves all the time. If we look back on the history of Chamorro Guam and CNMI interactions over the past half century, and note the sources of drama and trauma, they all relate in some way to these ideas. Chamorros from Guam aren't really Chamorros. Chamorros from the CNMI aren't really Americans. Chamorros from Guam can't speak Chamorro. Chamorros from the CNMI are backwards. Chamorros in the CNMI are sovereign and (at least used to) control their immigration. Chamorros in Guam are colonized.

It is how we conceive these issues, that create the hierarchies that we then use to divide ourselves, to conceive of Chamorros on Guam as one thing and Chamorros in the CNMI as another, usually with one being maolekna and the other being babana.

I should note, before some nit-picker comes along that when I say "decolonization" and "reunification" I am not using the terms as a harkening back to the times of old when all Chamorros were united and lived in harmony. No such time ever existed. When I speak of these terms I am speaking to the divisions we confront today, and as these divisions have alot to do with colonial mandates and ideas, the uniting of Chamorros is a decolonial act, and something which is tied to the charting of a Chamorro future.

Another way to look at this is, despite the increasing number of Chamorros who advocate the reunification of the Marianas Islands, there is surprisingly little political will or commitment behind their words. It is not something that they believe in, as something which will require a commitment from them, but rather something they speak of in the abstract, as if some Yu'us who governs the meaning and constitution of terms such as Chamorro will intervene and simply to borrow a familiar phrase from Captain Jean Luc Picard "make it so." There are very few proposals, plans and campaigns out there right now, which are focused on the work of making this possible. One small bright and hopeful spot on an otherwise bleak yet paradoxically hopeful horizon is the Chamorro conferences which have been held each year for the past three years. In these conferences, Chamorros from all of the Marianas Islands gather together to share knowledge and strategies for maintaining and revitalizing Chamorro culture. The next one is coming up in September, siempre gi i otro biahi, bai hu post mas infotmasion put Guiya.

One limit to this gathering though is that it is devoid of those political ideas and commitments, and has been regularly explicitly articulated as a non-political, non-activist activity. I hope gi i mas tahdong na patte gi korason-hu, that this soon changes, and that the conference becomes activist in nature and spirit, because such a shift will mean that the goal that lies at the heart of its planning and participation, agondumana', is one step closer to mumagagahet.

Right now, the increase in discussion and expressed emotion on this matter is important, but still, when we look beyond what is being said it is all basically situated at this level, "Annok na todus hit Chamoru, pues sa' hafa ti manhita pat manunu?" Since we're all Chamorro anyways, why shouldn't we be one? In the abstract this argument is convincing, but when dealing with populations which have been divided in so many different ways for a century, we need a little bit more than that.

But, on the other hand, despite all my criticisms and negative comments, this increased discussion can lead to very real hiniyong siha. The more people accept that oneness of Chamorros, that abstract unity, the more it begins to feel inevitable, the more it becomes something that must happen or will happen. That is part of the momentum, na ta nisisita para ta fa'kinalamten pulitikat este na guinife.

Tomorrow I'll continue this discussion by posting an interview I gave for a student in Hawai'i who is working on a research project on this very issue. Lao pa'go, esta mampos yayas yu', debi di bei maigo'.

Until then, here's some (surprisingly coherent) thoughts on reunification from Guam's Governor Felix Camacho:

Guam ponders Northern Marianas reunification
Tue May 27, 2008
Australian Broadcasting Company

Guam has raised the possibility that the US Pacific territory may consider reuniting with the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas to become the 51st state of America.

But Guam Governor Felix Camacho concedes it would be a long process.

Guam and the Northern Marianas had been administered together when they were ruled by Spain, but were split after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Governor Camacho's spokesman, Shawn Gumataotao, has told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program it is a long-term project but ultimately the decision lies with the United Sates.

"Whether this congress would be up to such a monumental task of having a new state in it, but also in the time frame," he said.

"This is something that would be so different and so unique that many would question whether it could really go through."

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