Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lina'la Sin History yan Prop A

Last week I taught my first classes ever.

I've guest lectured and substituted for people before, but this was the first time that I had my own classes and that I was the one in charge. Thing went pretty well.

I'm taking over four History of Guam classes for November, since the professor is off-island for medical purposes. At first I wasn't quite sure how to approach the classes, since I'll be the third teacher for them (their real professor, another sub and then me), and what I might want to do, will no doubt conflict with what the others have taught. Also, since I have a dissertation that still needs to be written and finished, I have to find a way to be creative and get my students thinking, without taking too much time away from my writing and research.

For my first round of classes, things went pretty well. At least from my perspective.

I gave some background on myself, gave a little lecture on what I see as being the importance of history, and also talked about how history affects our lives, how different strains, discourses or stories of history end up in our bodies, in our minds, in our being and they set the limits, the points of contention and possibility in our lives in what we see as being necessary, wrong, right, possible, what we are capable of on Guam, etc. Estoria gi i lina'la'-ta siha, ti fakto, fecha, fina'pos ha'. Estoria yan kuttura este dos na DONGKALU na idea siha ni' muna'diside hafa i chi'-ta gi lina'la'-ta siha.

So history isn't about events, facts, dates, famous people etc. At least that's not what history is when we feel it and act upon it. That's not the history that flows in and out of us and enables and disables us. History is images of the world skewed in different ways, to say different things, to make certain claims always towards a representing of the present and a claim to who should direct us towards the future. I tried my best, and I'll admit I was pretty abstract as I was explaining, to explain that history is all about dictating value, so of all the universe of things that happened, which are important? Which gives us a clue as to what we should do next? Which tell us who we are or where we've come from?

In order to illustrate these points, I divided the students into different groups and provided them several dozen newspaper advertisements for and against Prop A, the casino gaming proposition which failed to pass earlier this month. Prop A was something that unless you literally living under a rock, meaning living a monk-like existence without television, radio, internet or interactions with other people, you knew something about the proposition. Maybe you knew that it would help the island, grow some jobs, help give the educational system and the arts more money. Maybe you knew that it would hurt the island, by bringing unsavory elements to the island, by destroying families, or giving the Calvo family and John Baldwin a monopoly on the island.



Regardless, everyone knew something about it, and that week if they were registered, they had an obligation to go out and vote either to be as Prop A. claimed to "be part of the solution," by helping fix Guam's problems, or vote against and side with groups who wanted to "keep Guam good," by keeping casino gambling illegal. I decided to use this base level of knowledge, to have them analyze the ads they were given, from the perspective of the definitions of history that I had provided them. I wrote on the chalkboard the following questions to help guide them:

Who is Guam?
What is Guam capable of?
What is going on in Guam now?
What on Guam works? What doesn't?
What does Guam need?
What can you do to help?
Is Guam made better by insiders or outsiders?
What does Guam believe?

Each of these questions was meant, in different ways to help the class connect the definition of history that I had given them, to the words, images, promises, warnings and ideas that the ads were showing. What were the histories of Guam that these ads were building themselves upon? How did these ads connect or disconnect Guam from ideas like progress, dependency, social breakdown, corruption, responsibility, control, improvement, sustainability, development? Who represents Guam? Who is the subject of Guam? The Guam that when laws or passed, development takes place, who should it benefit and who knows what improvement is best?

My hope was that the class could analyze past the surface of the issue, "gambling good" or "gambling bad," and not get caught up in the arguments for or against the issue, but look at the images of Guam both were proposing, arguing against, arguing for, seeking to change, seeking to keep the same. Because when you look at things from this perspective, they are very different.

For instance. The anti-gambling coalition is primarily known by the names Lina'la Sin Casino (or Life Without Casino) or amongst the less elite Catholic Chamorro crowd, "Keep Guam Good." The base argument from these coalitions is that Guam is already great and fine, and that it doesn't need the addition of casino gambling because it will turn Guam bad. Families will fall apart, people will lose their homes, their jobs, their cars. So again, their argument is that Guam is already great and fine, and that by making this change we will ruin it.

But in the arguments of societal decay and death, that Guam will be overrun with greed and immorality, we can see that the core of Keep Guam Good's argument is that actually, Guam is a fundamentally bad place. Casino gambling will release the truth of Guam's being, that it is an evil place where fathers if given the chance will gamble away everything, and mothers will eagerly abandon their kids in the car while they risk everything inside the casino. The only things that keep Guam's evil at bay are the lack of a casino on Guam and religion. Although the surface of Keep Guam Good's position is that Guam is good place, there is this dimension that drives their arguments which depends upon people on Guam believing the exact opposite, that Guam is a horrible place, and that their families are full of horrible people.



Most of the students had trouble getting to this point in their discussions, leaving their comments about whether or not Prop A is good or bad. Some however did dip somewhat below the surface, and I was happy when I heard some of their comments.

In general this exercise was interesting, since the discussions showed that at least amongst my 130 students, the Prop A campaign which focused on trying to get young people and youth motivated to support it through slogans on change and seizing their role in improving and developing the island, did not make any headway in their target demographic. The overwhelming majority of students in my class were against Prop A, and I even held elections in which they were to vote, for or against Prop A and then write a sentence or two stating why.

In trying to figure out why this was the case, I came up with different ideas, but one of which struck very close to home for me. Guam is a Catholic island, the majority of both Chamorros and Filipinos on Guam are Catholic, and the church is a very dominant social, political and cultural force on the island. But the dominance of the Church in today's Guam is nothing like the impact its dominance would have meant prior to World War II or in the centuries prior. Whereas 80-90% of my students are probably Catholic, the level of their commitment and worship in the church is probably very limited.

In speaking to my students and in listening to their comments and debates, I was struck at how so many of them were apathetically or weakly resisting Prop A, and weren't necessarily using religious arguments to mount their resistance (some did though), but one could guess that their resistance came from some Church or anti-gambling resistance source, whether whisper campaigns, the pulpit, a family member, etc. It seemed that Prop A was gaining a huge amount of Catholic support, through guilt, through a sort of tokenistic Catholic gesture, meant to make up or fill the gap where a much larger and more time consuming commitment to the Church should be.

I say that this touched close to home for me, because as I am a Seventh Day Adventist who doesn't really do much in the way of practicing my religion, I regularly found tiny, tokenistic ways to make up for my lack of faith and commitment. These are largely symbolic ways, but they put me at ease, make me feel better. The main way that I personally do this, is that while I don't really follow much else from the SDA church on a daily basis, I am firmly and "religiously" devoted to following the dietary restrictions of my church, such as no pork, no shrimp.

As I saw many of my students invoking similar tokens of devotion it definitely opened up my mind, in perceiving my own behavior.

I'll have more on my classes later, I have a political status group assignment that they are working on right now. But in closing this post off, just thought I'd share some of their votes for the Prop A vote and discussion:

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Against Prop A
Anyone could easily book a flight, print an itinerary and then cancel. Then use the itinerary to get into the casino.

For Prop A
Because it will open more jobs at the Convention Center, which will also be used for cultural activities.

Against Prop A
Because I don't know how to gamble and if I ever learn, I'm scarred it's going to decome an addiction like it is for one of my relatives.

For Prop A
A convention center will attract big promotions to Guam which might give Guam more recognition.

Against Prop A
I feel that gambling in general can and will ruin our children's future.

For Prop A
YES! Because it will help with the financial crisis the government is facing right now, especially DOE.

Against Prop A
Because only the Calvos will be able to monopoly for the whole 40 years. No one else will be able to profit off Prop A.

For Prop A
I am for Prop A because it will create more jobs.

Against Prop A
Prop A. is only giving 10% of profit, but casinos in the states give 30% of profit back to the community.

For Prop A
Prop A will bring much needed educational funding to Guam.

Against Prop A
Because there are already many problems on Guam and until we are financial stabled, we can't consider it.

For Prop A
It might make Guam's economy better.

Against Prop A
I don't know what Prop A would bring to the island. Why vote yes on it when people have been voting no.

For Prop A
They envision that Guam will be a better place for everybody.

Against Prop A
It may bring more jobs to the island but overall I don't think it would be good for local people.

For Prop A
While Prop A is probably not the best answer, the revisions made on this version make it palatable to everyone but the Catholic Church. And I would rather have some change be made, rather than remaining at the current status quo with no solutions.

Against Prop A
Gambling is gambling whether it is controlled or not. From a religious view, the word gambling is mentioned in the Bible, when the soldiers were gambling for Jesus' clothes while he was on the cross. It is sin.

For Prop A
Because change is not bad and it doesn't have to be scary. Gamerooms and gambling have been around for longer on the island. Let's regulate it!

For Prop A
It will provide funding for the island.

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