Thursday, January 14, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #5: Guamanian

I wrote a letter to the editor of The Pacific Daily News about why it seemed that only Chamorros are the one's on Guam who care about things such as decolonization, militarization, colonialism, imperialism, human rights and so on. My response was a pragmatic one, no real suprises there. This is the homeland of the Chamorro people, it has been there home for centuries, for millenia, and so regardless of how much you love the United States, and sleep with caressing your US passport each night, the cold-hard truth is that this land was taken from the Chamorro people in the 17th century, and different colonizers have come up with different claims to owning the island, but they all just try to cover over or legitimize the same old colonial wound. Just like with Native Americans and their various forms of loss and colonial trauma, they may find everyday ways to act like it doesn't matter, or it was all for the better, but it still hurts and there will always be a way in which the current colonial moment (whether its the US or China or anyone else in charge) will never fit completely, and always feel like its just an ugly rug covering over a stain that will never go away. The most overt forms of colonialism by the United States in the past century have been directed at Chamorros, their language, their lands, and so even if they argue, with tears in their eyes, and a Chamorro version of "Proud to be an American" in the background, that America is the greatest country in the universe, that legacy, that collective trauma is still in them. They can never truly get rid of it. Or at least not anytime soon.

The past two weeks of discourse around the DEIS public hearings have been a vivid tapestry of that trauma and the variety of ways in which Chamorros feel it, suffer it, embody it, hate it, and of course sometimes choose to deny it or erase it. As people have been more and more critical of the military buildup, we've seen the most vocal and vibrant forms of Chamorro nationalism since the 1990's. Young and old, those who speak, those who don't, those who know the history, those who don't, those who have served in the military, and those who haven't; Chamorros from all across the spectrum of however you might define a Chamorro have come out and expressed themselves.

While this fact is very much worth celebrating, and shows a vitality and power amongst the Chamorro people that has been taigue for too long, it creates it own gigantic ethnic elephant in the room. And ayu na dongkalu na elefante is, as these Chamorros seek to reclaim Guahan or take back Guahan, or argue that We Are Guahan, what happens to the rest of the people on island? What does this mean for non-Chamorros on Guam who are also concerned about the buildup or don't want the buildup either?
Losing Guam's natural resources, more traffic, rising costs of living, an overall competition for resources will effect all on Guam, and so is there are a way that the heavy Chamorro nationalist sentiment means either implicitly or explicitly pushing those people out or not giving any space for their voices? I said "implicitly" or "explicitly" to give a more nuanced picture of this issue. In "explicit" terms, there is a very very very small minority who sees these issues as Chamorro-only, and thinks that for most issues on Guam, non-Chamorros should stand aside and let Chamorros determine things for themselves. Or that if non-Chamorros want to be involved they treat them in very crass or casual ways, telling them, sure you can help, but always know that this is not really your fight, just as this is not really your land. In "implicit" terms, there are those who don't say these things outright, won't tell any Filipino or Micronesian to their face that they shouldn't be involved, but still, in their rhetoric or tactics, forget that any struggle for decolonization today, must have a place for all sorts of people. They become accustomed to the Filipino or White or Korean friend who does believe in these things, and forget that the majority of each of these populations either don't support these sorts of progressive/critical issues, or don't know anything about them. They forget, that while it might only be those who are legally considered Chamorro who vote in a political status plebiscite, the whole island must still be engaged, and while you don't need to convince everyone to support it, you at least have to provide that appearance that the cause in question whether it be decolonization or demilitarization or the revitaliztion of Chamorro culture, is everyone's task, and in everyone's best interest.

I'm pasting a video below of a UOG student, John Sarmiento, and his DEIS testimony on Saturday at the UOG fieldhouse. Sarmiento is not Chamorro, but makes a very compelling and creative argument for why non-Chamorros should care about the military buildup and why they should resist it as well.

One of the biggest problems with these sorts of pan-ethnic or cross-ethnic allainces in the past is that they tend to only be possible through feelings of shared Americanization. So the people of Guam seem themselves as one big, lovely brownish melting pot, all through their relationship to the United States, and not really a shared love or respect for Guam. In these sorts of coalititons, the unique position that Chamorros have to this land either gets reduced to nothing but cultural spice for tourism or erased completely to make way for American dominance and multiculturalism.

But a truly powerful movement on Guam, would be a para Guahan or a "for Guam" movement which is not just Chamorros, but meant to bring all people together in a shared love and defense of Guam first, not the United States. At the center of this would be a unifying love for this island and a desire to protect it, empower it and improve it, but also a necessary respect for the fact that it has indigenous people and that their unique claim to this land should not be erased or forgotten.
If we begin to see more like Sarmiento joining and just participating, but also helping shape these sorts of movements, then this might truly be a possibility.

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