Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yobimizu

Earlier this year in May, I helped organize and participated in an event called Chule' Tatte Guahan or Reclaim Guahan. It took place on May 23rd and was an all day event at Skinner's Plaza, that featured music, art, information and activism. For me personally, it was an important event because it represented the first time that I was working on an event such as this on Guam. I've helped organize big and small conferences or activist events in the states, but never something like this on Guam. For most of the organizers, who became known as "Guahan Youth," they underwent a similar experience.

Some had returned recently from living or going to school in the states. Others had been involved in different grass roots or activist groups locally but never been on the frontline, never the main faces or the main voices, or most importantly those whom the main responsibility would fall upon. I was very involved early on, when the original idea was to try to lobby the Guam Legislature and get them to walkout of session in order to protest Federal interference in Guam's goverance and the military buildup. When this fell apart, our efforts soon evolved into holding some sort of public event, where people could get involved or learn more about issues affecting Guam today, I was still there, although I had to step down a little bitm in order to try and finish my dissertation.

The spirit of the event was just as the name implies, it was about reclaiming Guahan. This name had many different definitions or meanings, even amongst the organizers themselves, and so the theme wasn't oppressive in any narrow sense. Reclaiming Guahan was about empowering Guam in a variety of ways. Some used the rhetoric of social justice or democracy. For some such as myself the framework was more about decolonization. For some who came this and should be a Chamorro only or Chamorro-mainly event, since they are the only ones who can truly claim the right to take back Guam. For others it was about developing a Guam consciousness, a progressive and empowered Guam spirit. For most however, the task was finding a way to blend these two together, to find a way to reach out to Guam in general and to Chamorros in particular, but not subsume one within the other, or to not reinvent the colonial wheel by reinvigorating the notion of everyone on Guam just being Guamanian.

This is one of the key tasks which I am ashamed few of the Chamorro activists out there are taking seriously, its how to you build a coalition or a progressive movement on Guam, which can appeal to Chamorros in particular and also the island of Guam in general? How can you find a way to talk about empowering Guam's indigenous people, but also at the same time empowering others on the island? There are ways of doing it. Its not an impossible task by any means, but it is a difficult one, which will require some flexibility and some creativity.

In the months since the debate over the Indigenous Fishing Rights Bill emerged, I find myself talking over and over about the same basic point, and that is that Guam needs to give up on the stupid American facade its invested in. The facade is all around us and we all spend large chunks of our days maintaining it. To describe it more concretely in a few ways, we can find it in all the bolabola about the US Constitution being the limits of our lives, or that American examples are what we should always follow and emulate, and that we need to work hard to be a proper American community. Guam is unique and our political status means that we shouldn't overstate our Americaness, especially if it means blinding ourselves to the reality of our situation. The central point of this, in the midst of Guam figuring out its identity is determing what the relationship of Guam's indigenous people, Chamorros, are with non-Chamorros.

Or to put it in more pratical terms, what sort of community is Guam? Is it the kind where, like so many others, the indigenous people are nothing but recepticles of culture, which we draw from and steal from in order to support a tourism industry, but allow nothing else? Or is the understanding that Guam has indigenous people, require that certain laws or policies be put in place to ensure the respecting of that right or that place? These are the questions we should all be asking ourselves, Chamorro or not. I hear all cultures on Guam talk taifinakpo' about respect, but how does this then translate into law or political rights? Is this talk from Chamorros pointless, since they live to be disrespected by the United States, and seem to relish in giving up their culture and language in order to be more comfortable Americans? Is this sort of talk from non-Chamorros pointless as well, since the respect isn't meant to translate into anything? They are just empty words, meant to try and fill in the lack of respect? Like speaking well of something or someone as you do nothing while they fade away before your eyes.

The tangent derives from the fact that these issues haunt me all the time, and they haunt me so ferociously, for the same reason that the Reclaim Guahan rally was such a formative experience for me. These issues haunt me, because although I think about them academically and abstractly, I can't really act as if these things are somehow outside of me and outside of my realm of affecting.

While I am never one to ever overstate my own influence, I am told enough on a daily basis, that much is expected from me in terms of Chamorros and Guam. That I am one of a handful of young Chamorros today, who could have a significant impact on the future of our culture, our communities and our islands. I will admit that most of these statements or expectations come from progressive, radical or liberal minds, and so most would dismiss me the way most commentors on the PDN website dismiss facts or knowledge when they comment, or in other words, very quickly and easily. But nonetheless, as I have gotten older, become more public in what I do and what I say, the things I feel or think may not have changed necessarily, but my relationship to them has, especially in terms of how they might or might not, or worse yet, how they must affect the island around me. When I conceive of decolonization and work to effect it, either in my classrooms, in conferences, on this blog, I cannot enjoy the comfort of most ideologues. I cannot take on the position of some activists who feel that so long as I am doing what I want to do, or what I've always done, then I am doing my part. I cannot accept that the game of activism or social change on Guam can or should remain the same, and that I should just merely pick up someone else's babao or banner and start waving it as high as I can. Being who I am, I feel that not only do things have to change (everyone feels this), but that I have an obligation or some role in helping change it.

For me decolonization is not something which only "crazy" activists are out caring about, or some abstract idealized spiritual/cultural process, its not even some kernel of consciousness which you can claim to have through the retelling of Angel Santos stories. It is something that I not only play a role in bringing about, but that I play a role in shaping, and its for that reason that I take it very seriously. And one of the issues which I feel is so important in making different kinds of decolonization a reality, is confronting those questions of Guam's political identity and where the island's indigenous people fit. As I'm sure I've talked about before on this blog and will talk about again, political decolonization rests on carving out that place for non-Chamorros. And by place I don't mean letting them vote in a plebiscite or simply coming up with a good argument as to why someone from the Philippines or Korea should support Chamorro self-determination. It means actually building a new community, it means reclaiming Guam in a radically different spirit, not on bred through the apathy of American colonialism and dependency, but something else.

The rally itself, was exciting and fun, but for some organizers didn't meet their expectations. Over the course of the day we had more than 500 people attend. I took regular counts througout the day. At one point, 323 people were at the rally itself, listening to music, speakers, painting, writing poetry or picking up flyers. By the time night fell, there were still 150 people left for a candle light vigil. For an event dealing with empowerment and decolonization, the crowds that we had could be considered to be a miracle. But still, I could understand how people could be disappointed. You put weeks and months of your life into making something happen and then you don't get the crowds you hoped for, and you don't instill as much consciousness as you thought you would.

I wasn't as frustrated or upset as most, first because in the pantheon of potential Guam events, a crowd of 500 is fantastic for something which did not feature free food, political candidates running for office, the Pope or a band visiting from off-island. But second, because the most important aspect of the event for me wasn't about the amount of random people showed up, simply to be counted and added to a tally to make an event seem imposing. What was more important to me was the quality of people who came and also the quality of the people who helped organize the event. I got glimpses of the next generation of Chamorro progressive, grassroots and political leaders, and hopefully this event will help nurture them along those paths.

It is almost a frustrating and taifinayi na sinangan nowadays, to say that Chamorro activism on Guam is undergoing an identitiy crisis or trying to figure itself out. Groups like Nasion Chamoru are splintered and diffuse and don't seem to have any coherent message or strategy anymore. Many more groups simply don't exist anymore, as members become burned out, fight with each other, or eagerly join the system they spent so long criticizing. Some new groups like Famoksaiyan, still haven't figured out what exactly they are and what they want to do. The death of Angel Santos is one of the main points of reference for this discourse, and so often times this discussions either begin or end with the idea that everything got messed up or fell apart when Angel Santos died. Then, if you have any knowledge of activism on Guam, you might follow this up by commenting on the fact that the older generation of activists just fight with each other and can't work together and that there is no one who can unify everyone.

Discussing a figure like Angel Santos is always a delicate thing. On the one hand you want to honor and respect and recount his achievements, to tell his story and those who fought alongside him for Chamorro rights (pi'ot put i tano'). But on the other, you never want to overstate the importance of a single person in any struggle. You never want to tell the whole story of a movement or a people through a single person, you never want to reduce what people were fighting for or experiencing to that sort of simplicity. Firstly, you don't want to do this because it weakens your story, it makes takes the reality out of it and turns it into fantasy or stale legend. It means that the whole balance of your history and your destiny as a people depends on whether charismatic figures emerge to make people move and without them, you are taiesperansa. Second, you don't want to say this because it means that social change and movements move from being one of Obama's election mantra's last year, "we are the one's we have been waiting for" to the customary, "you (whoever you are) are the one that we have all been waiting for." Or in other words, we all have to wait until a figure appears on the scene, who can bring people together, who can make them see past their petty differences and personal conflicts and organize them into a revolutionary, well-oiled social-political force.

First off, I want to note that no such figure has ever existed, so much of that unity or that stability is engineered after the fact, by media in order to simplify a complex issue, or by the people in the movement themselves in order to integrate that experience into their own life and also express why a movement might have stopped, stuttered or failed. It is also an effect of those who might oppose any such social change, because if you reduce an entire movement into a single person, then it is very easy to neutralize, both in your minds and in practice.

I often talk to other people who are working towards decolonization on Guam about the need to establish ourselves, meaning to have spaces that are ours, to have websites where we can send out information and have phone lines where people can call us. We need to ground ourselves, because if we are working towards the betterment of the island, then we need to be accountable, we need to have places where people can contact us, to join us or to argue against us. But ultimately we need to be more than just a handful of personalities, a couple of young or old activists, some with signs by the road, other with angry rhetoric. By remaining at that stage of just a handful of people and nothing more, we are easy to dismiss. We are easy to write off, even by those who might want to know more or sympathize with us. Even if we get 500 people to attend an event, or if we pack the lecture hall at UOG for our forums (as we have done many times), we still appear to be small and minute, because if you take away three or four people, you don't have much of a movement left. I don't mean that there is on one left to think the things that they think or believe the things that they believe, but that there would be no one left to organize the things they do, or to try and do the public work of critical or decolonial thinking.

The title of this post, is a Japanese word, yobimizu, which I've come across in reading the mangas Samurai 7 and Berserk. It refers to the "water that calls" or the water that is used to prime a pump, to bring more water. It is meant to be a special water that can produce beyond itself, beyond its initial state. In Berserk, the term is used to refer to things which can open portals to other dimensions or create a tear in the fabric of reality and lead to another place. In Samurai 7 one of the characters is referred to as yobimizu, or the force which brings all seven of the Samurai together to fight off the Nobuseri bandits and protect Kanna village. Without that character as the force which calls the others, they lose some of their power, their unity.

Alot of times, I see an unwillingness to move to this next stage of activism as stemming from the fact that there really are no true leaders out there. Angel Santos was the last real leader, and since then we just can't get anything together. We just can't come together and we are simply waiting until the next magahet na ma'gas comes along to organize and mobilize us. But the truth of the matter is, that no real leader ever comes along. No human has the magic that we attribute to great historical figures, at least not inherently. They rise up and emerge as famous or infamous through so many different factors, very few of which have anything to do with those figures themselves. Whether they are intellignet, articulate, beautiful can be a factor, but I don't believe that anyone is predetermined to be a great leader, but rather that certain people at certain moments, simply fit. These things can't be figured out ahead of time, you can make educated guesses, you can strategize, you can see what are the ideological or political tendencies out there. But waiting around for The One to show up and bring everyone together is just about the worst thing in life, especially political or activist life that you can do. Life is about choices, and tough decisions, especially if you are working to change things, and the aura of the ideal leader is all designed to keep that choice out of our hands, to pretend as if someone else, someone who is perfect for the task should be the one making the choice, the one who decides what we do.

There are those who wait for the yobimizu, they wait for those who have the power to call others and to bring everyone together. There are others who see that the potential for leadership can be in anyone, that anyone holds within them that quality of yobimizu. My hope for the Reclaim Guahan Rally is that there were at least a half a dozen people who attened that event or helped organized it, who through that experience started to understand themselves as potential leaders, who aren't going to be content to wait around for the next Angel Santos to come and save us, but will see that they have the same power and potential that he did, ya ti sina un usa ayu na fuetsa, kontat ki matata'chong hao gi i daggan-mu yan munanangga.

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