Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two Articles on Arizona's New Immigration Law

US-MEXICO: Humanitarian Aid Criminalised at the Border

By Valeria Fernández, IPS

Transporting a migrant in despair to a hospital could mean a volunteer is charged with human smuggling. A simple act of kindness like leaving water in the desert can be subject to penalties as well.

"We’re being intimidated and criminalised as humanitarians," said Walt Staton, a 27-year-old volunteer with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group.

Staton knows this firsthand. He was convicted on Jun. 3 by a 12-person jury of "knowingly littering" for leaving unopened water jugs on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Tucson, Arizona.

Arizona, the main gateway for undocumented migration into the U.S., is ground zero to a human rights crisis, according to border activists. In the summer, triple-digit temperatures in the remote Sonoran desert have caused a deadly toll.

Over the past decade, it is estimated that at least 5,000 men, women and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the U.S-Mexico border.

No More Deaths (NMD) has been providing help in the form of water and food to migrants. This June, for the sixth consecutive year, they set up a campsite 24 kms from the border with volunteers from all over the country.

Water can be a lifesaver in some of the most remote areas of the treacherous Sonoran desert, explained Steve Jonston, 64, a volunteer with NMD.

Daily, volunteers set up hundreds of gallon-sized water containers at drop points in some of the most heavily transited migrant trails. Once the jugs have been used, they recycle them.

By the time some of the migrants find them, they have spent from three to four days lost in the desert, Jonston said.

"To ticket Walt Staton for littering would be to ticket an ambulance for speeding," he told IPS.

But not everybody agrees on the approach.

"There’s other ways it can be done," said Michael Hawkes, elected director and manager of the Buenos Aires Refuge. "Just leaving the jugs there is like leaving trash, it is like a McDonald´s happy meal in front of your yard, it is trash."

Hawkes said garbage left by migrants during their trek has been a challenge for preserving the 117,000 acres refuge. He believes Border Patrol beacons, which allow migrants to call for rescue, are more effective than putting water.

The refuge currently allows for at least two water stations set up in the area by another volunteer group. But Jonston argues that’s not nearly enough.

During the summer, temperatures reach up to 115 F (45 C) in the desert. Drinking as much as a gallon of water per hour might be necessary to survive, said Mario Escalante, a spokesperson for the Tucson Border Patrol.

"Most of the people attempting to cross don’t have a clue where they are, they’ve never been here before," said Escalante.

Smugglers lie to migrants, giving them the false hope that they’ll find water in the desert, he said. It’s not uncommon for them to abandon migrants to their own luck, he added.

Camila Chigo, 24, was barely conscious when the Border Patrol found her on a side road. The migrant from Chiapas, Mexico was lost and alone for four days and later spent three hospitalised for heatstroke.

"I almost died," said Chigo, who spoke with IPS in a migrant shelter after being deported to Nogales, Sonora. Her arms revealed scars and scratches from the desert vegetation.

Humanitarian activists claim that the increased fortification of the border through the construction of a fence and deployment of manpower is to blame for stories like Chigo’s.

"The border has been built in the most intentional way to use the desert as a deterrent, as a weapon that has cost thousands of lives," said Staton.

And extreme heat is not the only threat. As the business of human smuggling is getting more lucrative, migrants are often subject to kidnappings and women are exposed to sexual abuse and rape by border bandits.

Yet the Border Patrol in Tucson cites a decrease in the number of arrests this fiscal year –which began in October 2008 - as a sign of success of the border strategy.

Apprehensions are down from 235,800 in 2008 to 164,600 on 2009.

The death toll on the 262 miles of the Tucson border has increased from 79 fatalities in 2008 to 83 this year.

"The migrant death rate is going up. It’s not necessarily the total number of deaths, it’s the ratio of the number of people that are crossing and dying," said Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that provides water in the desert at 102 water stations.

Hoover claims increased enforcement is pushing people into more desolate areas, making it harder to reach them with aid. One of these main points is the Tohono O’odham nation land.

Mike Wilson, a Native American who has been leaving water tanks in the reservation, said that recently, tribal police officers told him to take them down.

"I respectfully declined," said Wilson, only to find out later that somebody had taken them away. Now he’s substituting them with gallon jugs.

Humanitarian aid volunteers claim things have gotten more difficult in the last four years.

In 2005, volunteers Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss were accused of human smuggling after attempting to transport a group of injured migrants to the hospital. The charges against them were later dropped. Their case was the catalyst for launching a campaign to bring awareness called "Humanitarian aid is not a Crime".

Staton’s is not the first case to go to court for littering charges.

In 2008, Dan Millis, another NMD volunteer, found the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador in the desert. Motivated by the tragedy, two days later Millis was leaving water jugs around the migrant trails where he found her and was ticketed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He refused to pay the 175-dollar fine and fought the littering misdemeanor charge on the grounds that humanitarian aid is not a crime.

The U.S federal attorney´s office would not comment on Staton’s case since his sentencing is pending for Aug. 4. He could face one year in jail or up to 10,000 dollars in fines.

Staton is planning to go to seminary school by then to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. He hopes his story brings attention to the human rights crisis on the border.

In 2008, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations issued a report stating that the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of migrants a national priority.

"It’s the responsibility of the people to come out and say we won’t let these people die," said Staton. "Maybe we can’t drive them somewhere, but we are just not going to let them die."


Behind The Arizona Immigration Law: GOP Game to Swipe the November Election
Monday 26 April 2010

by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t Report

Phoenix - Don't be fooled. The way the media plays the story, it was a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans to pass a sick little law, signed last week, requiring every person in the state to carry papers proving they are US citizens.

I don't buy it. Anti-Hispanic hysteria has always been as much a part of Arizona as the saguaro cactus and excessive air-conditioning.

What's new here is not the politicians' fear of a xenophobic "Teabag" uprising.

What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote - and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas.

In 2008, working for "Rolling Stone" with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters . . . directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then secretary of state, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no fewer than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanic, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: After all, they give their names and addresses.

So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

No, not one.

Which raises the question: Were these disenfranchised voters the criminal, non-citizens that Brewer tagged them to be, or just not-quite-white voters given the Jose Crow treatment, entrapped in document-chase trickery?

The answer was provided by a federal prosecutor who was sent on a crazy hunt all over the Western mesas looking for these illegal voters. "We took over 100 complaints, we investigated for almost two years, I didn't find one prosecutable voter fraud case."

This prosecutor, David Iglesias, is a prosecutor no more. When he refused to fabricate charges of illegal voting among immigrants, his firing was personally ordered by the president of the United States, George W. Bush, under orders from his boss, Karl Rove.

Iglesias' jurisdiction was next door, in New Mexico, but he told me that Rove and the Republican chieftains were working nationwide to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria with public busts of illegal voters, even though there were none.

"They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments," Iglesias told me. The former prosecutor, himself a Republican, paid the price when he stood up to this vicious attack on citizenship.

But Secretary of State Brewer followed the Rove plan to a T. The weapon she used to slice the Arizona voter rolls was a 2004 law, known as "Prop 200," which required proof of citizenship to register. It is important to see the Republicans' latest legislative horror show, sanctioning cops to stop residents and prove citizenship, as just one more step in the party's desperate plan to impede Mexican-Americans from marching to the ballot box.

(By the way, no one elected Brewer. Weirdly, Barack Obama placed her in office last year when, for reasons known only to the Devil and Rahm Emanuel, the president appointed Arizona's Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano to his cabinet, which automatically moved Republican Brewer into the Governor's office.)

State Senator Russell Pearce, the Republican sponsor of the latest ID law, gave away his real intent, blocking the vote, when he said, "There is a massive effort under way to register illegal aliens in this country."

How many? Pearce's PR flak told me, five million. All Democrats, too. Again, I asked Pearce's office to give me their names and addresses from their phony registration forms. I'd happily make a citizens arrest of each one, on camera. Pearce didn't have five million names. He didn't have five. He didn't have one.

The horde of five million voters who swam the Rio Grande just to vote for Obama was calculated on a Republican website extrapolating from the number of Mexicans in a border town who refused jury service because they were not citizens. Not one, in fact, had registered to vote: they had registered to drive. They had obtained licenses as required by the law.

The illegal voters, "wetback" welfare moms, and alien job thieves are just GOP website wet dreams, but their mythic PR power helps the party's electoral hacks chop away at voter rolls and civil rights with little more than a whimper from the Democrats.

Indeed, one reason, I discovered, that some Democrats are silent is that they are in on the game themselves. In New Mexico, Democratic Party bosses tossed away ballots of Pueblo Indians to cut native influence in party primaries.

But what’s wrong with requiring folks to prove they're American if they want to vote and live in America? The answer: because the vast majority of perfectly legal voters and residents who lack ID sufficient for Ms. Brewer and Mr. Pearce are citizens of color, citizens of poverty.

According to a study by professor Matt Barreto, of Washington State University, minority citizens are half as likely as whites to have the government ID. The numbers are dreadfully worse when income is factored in.

Just outside Phoenix, without Brewer's or Pearce's help, I did locate one of these evil un-American voters, that is, someone who could not prove her citizenship: 100-year-old Shirley Preiss. Her US birth certificate was nowhere to be found, as it never existed.

In Phoenix, I stopped in at the Maricopa County prison where Sheriff Joe Arpaio houses the captives of his campaign to stop illegal immigration. Arpaio, who under the new Arizona law will be empowered to choose his targets for citizenship testing, is already facing federal indictment for his racially charged and legally suspect methods.

Ok, I admit, I was a little nervous, passing through the iron doors with a big sign, "NOTICE: ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE PROHIBITED FROM VISITING ANYONE IN THIS JAIL." I mean, Grandma Palast snuck into the USA via Windsor, Canada. We Palasts are illegal as they come, but Arpaio's sophisticated deportee-sniffer didn't stop this white boy from entering his sanctum.

But that's the point, isn't it? Not to stop non-citizens from entering Arizona - after all, who else would care for the country club lawn? - but to harass folks of the wrong color: Democratic blue.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

90,000 Protest in Okinawa

Two days ago, close to 100,000 people gathered in Okinawa to protest the US military bases there.

They were calling for the closure of existing bases in Okinawa and a protest against any further bases being built there.

A number of different solidarity protests took place around Asia and the United States. This protests joins others which are taking place around the Asia-Pacific region. The United States has been working towards consolidating and expanding its presence in this part of the world for years now and so its very good to see people from everywhere, at all levels responding and speaking out.

The fact that I can't read Japanese language newspapers or websites makes it difficult sometimes for me to gauge how people are articulating their critiques of the US military presence. Politicians and activists who come through Guam are always very mindful of not saying something which is most likely a central narrative point in these resistance to the US presence. That Guam is the closest and easiest "solution" to their problem. That if they want to decrease the US military presence, they can easily be sent to the closest fragment of the US in the area, namely Guam. But, when I have asked a number of Japanese reporters who came through recently, what the public mood on this issue is, they have all admitted that moving more troops to Guam seems like a perfect compromise. It can maintain Japanese sovereignty and also resolve alot of issues which have irritated local and national governments in Japan, but also keep the US safely in the region should Japan for some reason start fighting China or North Korea.

When I see those images of tens of thousands gathered in Okinawa, I feel inspired and a surge of hope, that so many could come together for democracy and the will of the people. But at the same time, I am haunted by this knowledge which is the eternal glitch in coalition-building. That there will always be things you can unite around or join forces over, but then there will be things which will drive you apart. That the ways in which you overcome your particulat interests are a source of power at one point, but those interests will always end up diverting you or forcing you against each other some other time. So when I see that crowd, I wonder how many of them are speaking out against the bases in Okinawa, and are arguing that the Marines or the bases be sent to Guam instead?

This is not being said in a pessimistic tone, but more as a dose of reality. A part of the struggle which has to be understand and strategized with, and not treated like its some unwelcomed part of the fight. But at least at the levels of different demilitarization organizations across the Asia-Pacific region, this organic awareness, the interconnectness is known and understood. Such is the case with the voices that penned the statement of solidarity which I've pasted below.

If you want to follow along with the latest news in Okinawa, a great website to check out is Ten Thousand Things.


Network for Okinawa Solidarity Statement for the People of Okinawa and Tokunoshima
April 4, 2010

We, the members of the Network for Okinawa, represent many hundreds of thousands of Americans and people around the world who support democracy and environmental protection in Okinawa. Our grassroots network draws together representatives from U.S. and international peace groups, environmental organizations, faith-based organizations, academia, and think tanks.

Today we proudly announce our stand with the governor, the mayors, the media, the Henoko village elders, and the one million citizens of Okinawa; the thirty thousand residents of Tokunoshima, and the hundreds of thousands of citizens across Japan who support Okinawa. From across the Pacific Ocean, we support their demand for the closure of the Futenma U.S. Marine Base and opposition to any new military base construction in Okinawa and Tokunoshima Island.

We appeal to Prime Minister Hatoyama to keep his promise to the Okinawan people and honor their rejection of any new construction in Camp Schwab. This includes a proposal to build a runway within the base already rejected in the 1990’s. The mayor of Nago, Inamine Susumu reiterated this rejection this year. We also ask Prime Minister Hatoyama to reject the U.S.-Japan 2006 proposal to construct partially offshore runways. This expansion would destroy the coral reef which is the home to the Okinawan dugong, blue coral, and other species, It would damage beautiful Yanbaru Forest, home of many beautiful animals and plants, including endangered species.

We call upon President Obama, as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, to honor the Okinawan democratic decision to remove the U.S. Futenma Marine base out of their prefecture and their call for no further U.S. military base construction.

The U.S. military built its first military bases during the Battle of Okinawa to serve as a platform for an invasion into Japan, then ruled by an imperial militarist wartime regime. Over two hundred thousand Okinawan civilians, American soldiers, and Japanese soldiers died in the crossfire between the U.S. and Japan in that battle. It was the bloodiest in the Pacific War.

But the war’s end did not bring peace to Okinawa. The U.S. never dismantled its military bases and began to use them under its own Cold War military regime with a never-ending succession of enemies: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, China and the Soviet Union. Some U.S. and Japanese officials again imagine China a threat—despite détente and ever-increasing economic integration between China and the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other nations that deems war very unlikely.

Former Okinawan governor Masahide Ota stated—that for Okinawans—the war never ended. Many Okinawans still experience anxiety and depression from wartime trauma. The remains of 4,000-5,000 dead Okinawans have yet to be collected. Unexploded bombs remain throughout the island. Over 5,000 Okinawans have been the victims of crimes committed by American soldiers. Mr. Ota, therefore, asks: “Why shall we start preparing for a new war, while the old war is not over yet?”

Network member Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity states, “Destroying the environmental and social well-being of an area, even in the name of 'national or global security,' is itself like actively waging warfare against nature and human communities.”

The US government has repeatedly promised reform in Okinawa. The 1972 "reversion" of Okinawa from the U.S. to Japan did not result in promised demilitarization. Their latest proposal—first made in 1996 and renegotiated in 2006—does not “lighten a burden.” It instead would move U.S. military pollution, noise, and assaults from Ginowan City to untouched Henoko.

How many elections, resolutions, and mass-scale rallies does the Japanese government and US government need before they hear the message of the Okinawan people?

We, the many people in the U.S. and worldwide, of the Network for Okinawa--hear and support these messages for removal, not relocation of military bases from Okinawa.

To illustrate, we would like to share some individual remarks from our supporters:

Gavan McCormack, a professor at Australian National University, states, "An alliance that treats the opinion of Okinawans with such contempt is not an alliance of or for democracy. The ‘free world’ used to be fiercely critical of Moscow for trampling on the opinions of Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians; now, in the name of ‘freedom,’ it is about to act in precisely the same way. Does freedom mean so little to those who pretend they defend it?"

John Lindsay-Poland, Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Latin America program, states: "Military bases in Japan and other countries are material projections of the will of the U.S. to use war and violent force. War is not only brutal, unjust, and ecologically devastating, but unnecessary to achieve legitimate aims.”

Kyle Kajihiro, Program Director, American Friends Service Committee - Hawai'i Area Office, states: "The powerful Okinawan demand is clear: peace is a human right. The Okinawan people are an inspiration to our own movement. We stand with them in solidarity for peace across the Pacific."

In a speech she gave in Stockholm, Japanese Canadian author Joy Kogawa paid tribute to Okinawa’s peace-loving traditional culture that honors the sanctity of life:

“There is a certain small island in the east, where the world’s longest living and intensely peaceable people live.

“My brother, a retired Episcopalian priest, was in Okinawa for a few years in the 1990’s. He told me that in 1815, Captain Basil Hall of the British navy steamed into Naha, Okinawa and was amazed at what he found. The story goes, that on his way back to England, he dropped in to the island of St. Helena and had a chat with Napoleon.

“’I have been to an island of peace,’ the captain reported. ‘The island has no soldiers and no weapons.’

“’No weapons? Oh, but there must be a few swords around,’ Napoleon remarked.

“’No. Even the swords have been embargoed by the king.’

“Napoleon, we’re told, was astonished. ‘No soldiers, no weapons, no swords! It must be heaven.’

“A unique culture of peace had developed in one tiny part of our warring planet…

“When Japan, that once warring nation, took over the kingdom, there was an entirely bloodless coup. No soldiers were found to help later with the invasion of Korea. A disobedient people, Japan concluded. A kingdom without soldiers was clearly impossible. Okinawa, with its history of peace, must surely have had a culture as close to heaven as this planet has managed. And perhaps therefore a special target for the forces of hate.”

Today our world stands at a crossroads between survival and self-destruction. We must transform from a world dominated by a culture of war into a world led by cooperation and nonviolent conflict resolution. Instead of forcing more unwanted military violence upon this peaceful island, the U.S. and Japan would be wise to model Okinawa’s democratic culture of life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

History and Happiness

In my Guam History class this week we’re getting to one of my favorite periods of Guam’s history, but one which my students usually don’t like hearing about. It’s the pre-war American period, from 1898-1941, where the United States controlled Guam and ran it like a Navy base, with Chamorros forced to go along for the ride. The government of Guam during this period was an autocratic Naval regime where a single man, the Naval Governor, had complete control over the island, and whatever he said, went. Most of these Naval Governors didn’t give a crap about Guam and were only here for a year or two and so didn’t do much. Lao despite that caveat, this is still a very screwed up and racist period of Guam history. One where, the racism of the United States is not some abstract thing we hear about as being conquered by Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, but something that was literally scrubbing the tongues and policing the fields and gardens of Chamorros who are still alive today.

For those unfamiliar with this era, I like the way the wife of one such Naval Governor Evelyn Nelson referred to Guam’s political status at the time, “a dictatorship America style!” As a result of America strategic interests, the decisions of the Insular Cases and the general racism, Chamorros were deprived of any rights other than that which the US government or the US Navy gave them. As such, this was a period of, i sinangan-ña i lai-ta. His word, our law. Whatever a Naval Governor or a President or the US Congress said or passed was the law of the Chamorros, and they had no means to real means to participate in the making of that law or avenues through which they could challenge it. Things are different today, as more tokens have been created to give the impression of Guam being a full member of the United States family, but the colonial difference persists in so many ways. One of the most fundamental ways in which it persists, is that the legal precedents which allowed the US Navy to treat Chamorros in such racist ways are still the laws that govern America’s control over its colonies. According to more than a century of US-Territorial case law now, Guam is no closer than it was in 1898 or 1901 to holding any inherent rights other than that which the US gives it. This, despite the fact that Guam is not a full member of the United States.

In my class, when we discuss other traumatic periods of Guam history, such as the Chamorro-Spanish Wars, where horrible cruelty and violence led to Chamorros losing that war and being forced to become Catholics, I can tell that some of my students become uncomfortable. As they listen, they can feel beyond just the spectator view of history, which claims that history is like a movie or a TV show, acted out for your enjoyment of learning. Those students who become depressed or awkward do so because they make the connections between that period and their lives. Whether they like it or not, want to admit it or not, they and this island today is a result of that violence. We are the scars, the scabs, the life which has grown along that ragged wound. Hundreds of years may have passed since then, a trillion decisions made and thousands of lives run their course, but when this is presented to you in a history class, with everything laid bare, you know that you are directly connected to that, and with a simple twist, things in your life today could be very different.

But no one alive today was alive during that period, manmatai esta todu, and whatever feelings you might have that Chamorro suffered and were treated wrongly can be accepted as true, but also dismissed through the passage of time. We can all agree that Chamorros were treated badly and shouldn’t have been treated as such, but we can also all agree that there is nothing that we can do about it. All of those people are dead and long, we are forced to be Spanish and so there isn’t really anything we can do about that today.

But when the focus becomes the screwed up things that the United States did to Guam, and the time frame is just a few generations ago, and there are plenty of people alive who remember that time, the ragged wound of that period is harder to cover over, and is far from reaching the point where all can agree to it being over. This is not something that affected Chamorros 300 years ago and so its ripples today are supposed to be small, this is something where the ripples are massive. We can directly relate the experiences of Chamorros during that pre-war colonial period to the decisions that were made during the postwar period, at all levels. Whether it came to preventing the Chamorro language from being passed on, to how Guam’s economy should be built, to what normal names for children are supposed to be, to how our educational system is run, to what sort of government and health care system we have, to even whether we see Guam as a place capable of sustaining itself or something which needs to be hopelessly dependent on others.

People on Guam don’t consider themselves to be Spanish anymore (except for those who have Spanish parents or some Chamorro families who enjoy that heritage), but they do consider themselves to be American, and so when you are taught a huge laundry list of messed up things that the United States did to your island and the Chamorro people, you cannot help but have the stability or certainty of your identity and your belonging be pierced. Obviously hearing this list of bad things doesn’t immediately transform anyone, it doesn’t immediately turn you into some activist or radical independence seeker. If that was the case my classes wouldn’t be full of students who are put off by the subject matter, but rather animated by it.

Instead, the history complicates things. This is especially so in the colonies. It makes it just a little bit more, or a lot more difficult to keep up that pretense of denying that you do not live in a colony, or that your claim to being a part of the United States is not an exceptional one.

Now a lot of people would claim that this sort of perspective is not helpful or is regressive. They would say that I am focusing too much on the past, or the bad things that have happened in the past, and by doing so I am sacrificing the future, I am keeping us from looking forward to the possibilities that the violence, trauma or abuse of the past has made possible. According to this logic, the Spanish did indeed do horrible things to the Chamorro people, killed many and took their land and their destiny, but by doing so, gave them Catholicism and an advantage over other non-modern peoples in terms of their entrance into the modern civilized world. As for the Americans, they treated Chamorros in horrible, but less violent ways, and stole away any chance at them having sovereignty over their lands again and hijacked as well any possibility for their future. But in return, Guam became one of the most modern and economically developed colonies in the Pacific and Chamorros have most of the rights of US citizens.

Therefore there is no real value or point in looking to a violent past, since it can only cloud your vision from perceiving and maximizing the privileges and benefits you have today. It is pointless to think of America or Americans as colonizer, when the island is for all intents and purposes as American as anywhere else. As many have said to me over the years, if Guam is the model of colonialism today, then colonialism means nothing, it doesn’t exist anymore, since Guam has not apparent reason to complain about its status.

Obviously this sort of thinking is very seductive. As Leo Tolstoy supposedly once said, “Happy people have no history.” The implications of this axiom are that only those who are liberated from the violence or the baggage of feeling obligated to something or responsible for something that happened before, can truly be happy. For those who can erase that history, or be free from it, can supposedly on solely the present, enjoy their free will and determine their own future in freedom.

Most people believe that the axiom that “know your past, know your future” is the saying which defines what history is all about, but this pidasun finayi from Tolstoy reminds us about that obscene dimension of history and of every person’s or nation’s identity to their history. Is that while we may all claim to what to know it in some way or want to research it, learn from it and use it, there is always this impulse to be free from it. To not have to apologize for the racist things your parents did, or the evil things your ancestors did, or to not be stuck with a culture or a past that you feel doesn’t really belong to you.

But as I will explain to my students when we conclude the semester, the feeling of being free from your history has very little with you actually being free from it. Not knowing that history, or avoiding it and dodging it does not affect what elements of that past will determine how your life or the future itself unfolds. It is not as simple as “those who don’t know their past are doomed to repeat it,” but that still does hold some truth. What is in your past is embedded in you, it makes you possible. You can never completely disown it or ignore it, and even if you do, that has no impact on whether you will make the exact same mistakes or not.

One of the things I find most fascinating about psychoanalysis, especially in its Lacanian varieties, is that your identity forms from language and your gaining the social admission to the world of language. And so that world and the history of that world is embedded in the very language you speak. It is irrelevant whether you are aware of it or not, but it is still there. For example, a famous philosopher once recounted how while going through the desk of his father, he happened across an old note which recounted the true story of how his wife (the mother of the philosopher) had met. For this philosopher is was an astonishing revelation to read this note, because despite never knowing this story, the way in which the philosopher and his wife at the time had met, had happened in the exact same way. Obviously this could have just been a coincidence, but there are so many similar moments in all our lives, where similar bouts of serendipity or just plain curious twists of fate occur. Where the pieces of the past are attached to the words we speak and the ways we feel, how we become a subject in the world. We follow the footsteps of our elders, our parents, even if we don’t know it, and from Lacan’s perspective you do that because language is a living changing organism, in which you have some freedom, which you exist to determine, make use of and shape, but which also shapes you at the same time. The same could be said about our histories.

For example, some may claim that to consider this buildup from a historical perspective, or to consider it through the lens of some of the messed up history that I’ve mentioned so far is regressive or not worthwhile. As I said before, things are different now and so to bring out all those old racist stories is simply not acknowledging reality today, or that things have changed and things are better now. Forget what history says about this buildup, previous buildups, buildups which have happened in other places, we should not be chained by that pessimism, we should instead boldly strive forward towards the happiness of not having that history dragging us down, or complicate things unnecessarily.

For obvious reasons, I don’t subscribe to this view. I think that when we look historically at the buildup, both in Guam, but also in comparison to other similar locations such as Okinawa and Hawai’i, there are some potential positives, but also a lot of negatives to look out for. Such is the nature of history, it never neatly gives the impression of any natural or pre-determined flow. That is what ideology and power are for, to try and take the raw materials of the past and create a path to the present which either challenges or reproduces the existing socio-political relations. As I’ve already stated, knowing Guam’s history beyond its “liberation” in 1944, or the weak idea that “more military = better economy” means to complicate things quite a deal. It’s hard to endorse wholeheartedly any military buildup to Guam if you know that history of abuse and how some of its tenants are still considered to be legal and true.

It’s for that reason that, from my perspective, a healthy knowledge and understanding of history is what can empower Guam to make good decisions. Guam’s military buildup was so unquestioned and so uncriticized for so long, precisely because it was discussed in such ahistorical ways. The only history which was regularly admitted to the conversation were two points: 1. Liberation Day, and 2. The closing of Naval Air Station in the 1990’s as an example of what happens if you don’t respect the military. They leave.

If you only build your opinions or your plans on these two historical points then of course you should be uncritical of the buildup, and of course it’ll good and great for Guam.

There is also plenty of history beyond these two points which can also clue us into why the buildup might be thought of as a good thing. For example, in previous generations on Guam, an increase in the military presence has also resulted in an increase of good-paying jobs working to support the increased military presence. These civil service positions worked in tandem with the Government of Guam to create a strong middle class on island. So given that experience, one might be able to assume that this coming buildup will result in a similar boost to the economy. But this is where being critical is necessary. The military has changed its policies since those days, and so now much of those civil service jobs are privatized, contracted out and have actually become low paying jobs. They no longer have the same economic boost and they are not as stable as before. Taking those jobs can make your life just as labile as if you’re in the military. In order to keep your job, you move to where contracts or work is. But as the military admits to itself in their DEIS, the majority of the jobs produced by this increase will not go to any local person, but will be filled by foreign contract workers or by military dependents.

The point however is, as I’ve constantly reiterated to people, for and against the buildup: your opinion on the issue has almost no bearing on whether it is good or bad, and whether or not it will happen. Part of the problem that people who are for the buildup have, is that they infuse far too much latent emotion into their understanding of the buildup. They see what people feel about the buildup as being far more important than it should be. In their minds, the buildup is a like a delicate wish, an illusionary castle made from pieces of clouds which with even the slightest negative thought, can be blown to little bits. Therefore we must all be positive about it, or else it won’t happen, we will curse ourselves. It is for this reason that when I was writing my Masters in Micronesian Studies, I came up with the term emotionationalism for talking about the way people on Guam understand themselves in relation to the United States. It is far less concrete than people think it is, and so they infuse into it a mass of emotions in order to try and compensate. This buildup is one of those discursive formations in which we can clearly see that. It is not seen as something which we should analyze and consider carefully its impacts, its positives and negatives. It is instead something we are supposed to suck up and take, accept as part of our being an appendage of the US, a way we can give back for all we have been given. It is not something we are supposed to have any power over, say over, it is a gift, and rather than question it in anyway, we should just accept it and live with it.

If anything, a clear teaching of history can be valuable in that it can help break the lure of this emotionational link. It can help create the space through which we can rationally and calmly evaluate Guam’s relationship to the United States, or the goods and bads of some of its policies, such as the military buildup.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Otaku Art

The painting above is called "Samehada Strikes." If you are a geek or a fan of the manga Naruto then you may know what Samehada refers to and therefore what this abstract image is named after.
If not, you can still enjoy this somewhat brutal image, which appears like the waves of an ocean, with a geyser of blood emerging from behind them.

I painted this piece and a number of other pieces last weekend in preparation for an event coming up next month called Otaku Recon. Its a manga, video games and anime event which will be held on May 15th at the Holiday Resort and Spa in Tumon. For more information you can check out the website by clicking here. There's plenty of info and links to check out. They'll be cosplay, contests, screenings, and what I am most excited about, artist displays and tables.

For the past few months, because of work, family and dissertation related afflictions, I haven't had much time to create art. I've made a little here and there, such as I painted a portrait of former Congressman Robert Underwood's mother, the late Tan Ester Taitano Underwood, last year. I also created a series of paintings for each of my classes last year, which were meant to reflect the time that we had spent together last semester.
For example, I'm pasting one of the images below.

The title was "Sleeping in Class," because as I told my students who received ut, they were the class which had the most people who regularly feel asleep while I was lecturing. Even though as a class we learned some things, had some laughs, shed some tears together, the memory which was seared most prominently into my mind, was that of people peacefully slumbering while I spoke about the horrors of Guam's colonization. Ai adai, ayu na klasi, puru ha' mangga'mumaigo' siha.

But when I first heard that the Otaku Recon would be having tables for artists who wanted to exhibit or sell their work, I decided that I would push myself to create some new pieces. First, I decided to produce some pieces like the one I began this post with. Abstract imagery which was in some way, because of a line, a form, a color, whatever, was reminiscent of some manga or anime character or theme. Since Naruto is one of the most well-known mangas out there, and one of the few popular mangas that I read regularly, I decided to draw alot of the images from that world.

So for those who didn't know earlier, Samehada is the name of the sword of Hoshigaki Kisame, formerly of the Mist Village, now one of the few remaining members of the Akatsuki, which has been the main source of evil and chaos in the world of Naruto the past few years. Samehada is a giant, living sword, which like its owner has distinctly sharkish features. The sword is covered with rows which look like scales and teeth.

In addition to these abstracts however I'm also working on creating some ashcans to sell at Otaku Recon. For those who don't know what ashcans are, they are comics which artists and writers create for a particular event or venue, and either give them away or sell them there. Sometimes these ashcans are nicely printed and look very sharp, other times they are simply photocopied sheets of paper, stapled together at Kinkos, an hour before a convention opens.

In 2006, my brothers and I had a table at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco. That was the last time I ever made an ashcan comic. Myself and my brother Jack and Jeremy worked on creating four stories that we combined into two different ashcans. We printed up about twenty of each, but only sold about five of each issue at the APE. Considering that the comics were a bit funky, and probably a bit too theoretical and philosophical for any casual reader, we were lucky to sell any.

The last time I bought an ashcan however was in 2008, when I went to Comic Con in San Diego, California. There I got to visit the table of the writer and artist of one of my favorite longstanding comic series, Stan Sakai who makes Usagi Yojimbo. For each convention, Sakai would put together a small sketchbook ashcan, which would collect various sketches and drawings that he had done over the years. Some of the images would be from the comics he had published, others would be sketches he hadn't eventually used in his comic, and finally some would be for random projects that he would do for fundraisers or as favors to friends and family.

Like any "too cool for school" fanboy, I didn't hassle Sakai while he was talking to other artists and fans. I just purchased an ashcan and some other comics that he was selling and then later covertly took a picture of him. It was one of my proudest, "not much of a moment"s.
You can't blame me though, I'm not really one of those fans who would know what to say to a creator, except for perhaps, put fabot, usuni fuma'titinas este na kamek! Please keep making your comic! That's why, if I ever happen to meet Kentaro Miura, the maker of Berserk, I think the only thing I could ask him is, "Why are you so slow?!"

I'm still working out the details now as to what ashcan I'll be making. I've only got about three weeks until the convention so I better hurry. Mungga maleffa! Don't forget! If you like manga, anime, or just looking at crazy people dressed up in brightly colored garb, come to the Otaku Recon on May 15th. Head to the website for more information on tickets.

Before I go today though I wanted to share with you one of the images from the Usagi Yojimbo ashcan that I bought. One of the unfortunate things about being on Guam is that there is no comic book store here, and so its been more than a year since I've read Usagi.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Last week, I finished what was literally a long road in the course of my life, when I officially stopped being a student and completed my dissertation. I've been in college in some form or another for 13 years straight now and so I am very much looking forward to this period of my life where hokkok i umestudiante-ku, or I'm through being a student.

I first started college in 1997, at Cuesta Community College. I spent three semesters there before transferring to the University of Guam. By spring of 2001 I graduated with a double major from UOG in Fine Arts and English/Literature. While I was an undergraduate at UOG, I had two one-man exhibitions of my artwork, the first in 1999 titled "Typhoon: An Island's Intensity" and the second in 2001 titled "I Matan i Kuttura Siha." I was most known during this time for having paint on my clothes all the time, and some people still remember me as "that painted guy."

From there I jumped into the Micronesian Studies program at the University of Guam, spent ti tufung'on na oras siha in the Micronesia Area Research Center, reading and photocopying and learning as much as I could about Guam history, and later wrote a master's thesis titled These May or May Not Be Americans: The Patriotic Myth and the Hijacking of Chamorro History in Guam.

I graduated in 2005, but before I had technically finished at UOG, I was accepted in 2004 into the Ethnic Studies program at UCSD. While at UCSD, I got to broaden my intellectual horizons quite a bit and was exposed to the works of many authors and became grounded in the developments of Western social theory. I got very involved in ensuring that my Ethnic Studies department was seen as a suitable place for scholars and students from indigenous communities or doing work on indigenous communities. For about two years I participated in a podcast called "Voicing Indigeneity" and also helped draft the plan for a large indigenous studies cluster hire, which sadly never materialized. I finished in 2007 my master's thesis in Ethnic Studies titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Guam But Were Afraid to Ask Zizek. The reference to the Lacanian tentago' Slavoj Zizek is indicative of how I had from UOG to UCSD as a graduate student, modelled my approach and voice after the unorthodox, yet insightful style of Zizek.

I qualified in 2007 and moved to the ABD level, and for the next three years worked on researching and writing my dissertation. In June of 2009 I defended my dissertation, but was given some revisions. I finally completed my revisions in February of this year and submitted my dissertation to my committee for their approval. It took about a month and a half to hear back from them, but by the end of March I received their approval that my revisions were acceptable and was all clear to submit my manuscript to the Graduate School at UCSD.

For the past two weeks I was making small revisions here and there, making formatting changes, writing up my acknowledgements and slogging through rearranging my 50 page works cited. Last week however I finally received word from my Graduate School, that they had accepted my dissertation titled Chamorros, Ghosts, Non-Voting Delegates: GUAM! Where the Production of America's Sovereignty Begins.
So ends, my long, winding, academic road.

This hasn't been the only road that I've travelled, but it has been, especially the past three years, the one which tortured me and consumed me the most. As my eyes, my mind, my very cognitive map starts to readjust to take into account what it means to no longer travel that educational road, things naturally seem uncertain, ti fitme, ti siguru. With my dissertation finished I can now focus on other things, and now feel the stress of things which I minimized in order to get the dissertation finished. But at the same time, with that focused gaze gone, the stress of not knowing where I will be working in a few months is starting to hit me. Contrary to what most people think, I do not have a permanent job at the University of Guam, and unless I secure one soon, then I will have to look elsewhere for stable, long-term employment. I have for 10 years wanted nothing but to teach at the University of Guam, and it is disabling to think that if I can't get a decent job, I will have to pursue some other opportunity, somewhere else.
But, as I often write on this blog, the uncertainty that I'm feeling. Este siniente pina'lek, is the feeling of freedom. It is that feeling that a road ends, and that there is no obvious road before me. That now that this dissertation beast has been slain, my schedule, my life, my research can hopeful be reordered and reorganized. That the road of my life is something I can think of again as being open, waiting to be plotted out and travelled.

Puede ha' este na nuebu na chalan gi me'na-hu, ti chago' taiguihi i esta hu fa'pos gi bandan eskuela!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Earth Day Letter to President Obama on Behalf of Guam

April 22, 2010


President Barack Obama

Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)

Cecilia Munoz, Director of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

Michael Block, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs


On Earth Day, April 22, 2010, we—the undersigned environmentalists, scholars, clergy and community leaders—call attention to the severe long-term impacts of preparations for war on the physical environment and, in turn, on human health.

We are extremely concerned about the environmental impacts of the proposed military expansion and build-up in the U.S. territory of Guam , noting the following points:

History of US Militarism in Guam :

Ø The people of Guam have lived under U.S. administration since 1898. Guam remains a U.S. colony, one of 16 non-self-governing territories listed by the United Nations, and represented by one non-voting delegate in the U.S. Congress. Local communities are highly constrained in their ability to influence the political process and were not consulted when the expansion plans were drawn up.

Ø For the indigenous Chamorro people, the long legacy of U.S. and Navy military control includes major land takings that started in the early 20th century, radiation exposure, poor health, and the restriction of traditional practices such as fishing.

Ø In 1954, the entire island was affected by toxic contamination following the “Bravo” hydrogen bomb test in the Marshall Islands . In the 1970s, Guam’s Cocos Island lagoon was used to wash down ships contaminated with radiation en route from the Marshall Islands where they were part of an attempted clean up. From 1968 to 1974, Guam had higher yearly rainfall measures of strontium 90 than Majuro ( Marshall Islands ).

Ø As a corollary, the incidence of cancer in Guam is high. Cancer mortality rates from 1998 to 2002 showed that nasopharyngeal cancer was 48 times higher for Chamorros than among the general U.S. population. Cervical and uterine cancer mortality rates were 3 times higher. Chamorro deaths from cancer of the mouth and pharynx, the lungs, stomach, prostate, liver, breast, and thyroid were all higher than overall U.S. rates.

Ø Andersen AFB is a continuing source of toxic contamination through dumpsites and possible leaching of chemicals into the underground aquifer beneath the base. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency found antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, manganese, dioxin, deteriorated ordnance and explosives, and PCBs at two dumpsites just outside the base at Urunao. Other areas have been affected by Vietnam-war era use of the defoliants Agent Orange and Agent Purple, as planes used for aerial spraying were cleaned in Guam . While there are some clean-up efforts currently underway, it has not resulted in the cumulative clean-up of the island. Rather multiple toxic sites continue to exist, thereby impacting the health status of the island's people.

Current Build-up Plans:

Ø Currently, Guam’s military significance is being redefined as part of a major realignment and restructuring of U.S. forces and operations in the Asia-Pacific region. Thirty miles long and eight miles wide, Guam houses the largest Air Force fuel supply in the United States and the largest supply of weapons in the Pacific. The military controls one-third of the island and intends for Guam to become a power projection hub.

Ø The proposed military build-up of Guam involves the transfer of 8,600 Marines currently based at Futenma Marine Air Station (Okinawa, Japan); the acquisition of 2,200 additional acres for military use, including additional live-fire ranges; and the dredging of 71 acres of vibrant coral reef in Apra Harbor to create berthing for a nuclear aircraft carrier for just 64 days a year. Also planned: a missile defense system and expansion of Andersen AFB. This proposal will increase the population of 173,456 by nearly 47% -- or nearly 80,000 people, including U.S. Marines, support staff, military contractors, family members, and construction workers.

Inadequacies and Objections to the Current Plan:

Ø The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given its worst rating to the DOD Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the proposed build-up. The EPA emphasizes the lack of a specific plan to address the wastewater treatment and water supply needs of the increased population, which will overstretch the already inadequate infrastructure and may result in "significant adverse public health impacts." Low water pressure could lead to increased exposure to water borne disease from sewage stormwater infiltration into drinking water. Also, it could result in saltwater intrusion into Guam 's aquifer. The planned expansion will result in an increase in spills of raw sewage, exposing people to raw sewage in their drinking water supply, through the shellfish they eat, and during ocean recreation. Moreover, the EPA report argues that the build-up "will result in unacceptable impacts to 71 acres of high quality coral reef ecosystem in Apra harbor " and concludes that, "These impacts are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed."

Ø Despite its inordinate length (9 volumes totaling 11,000 pages), the DEIS is vague in places, contains significant contradictions, and scarcely addresses social and cultural impacts to the island.

Ø Even though the public comment period was far too short—a mere 90 days to absorb the implications of the 11,000 page report—there has been an outpouring of pubic testimony, concern, and opposition to the build up expressed at town hall meetings, public hearings, community events, on the internet, and in media reports.

· Many public comments on the DEIS focused on unequal amenities and opportunities inside and outside the military fencelines. As proposed, the build-up plan will exacerbate the reality of two Guams: one inside and one outside the bases.

· Several Guam Senators, including Speaker Judith Won Pat, have questioned the build-up.

· Congressional Representative Bordallo and Governor Felix Camacho have greatly moderated their earlier support after seeing the detailed proposals and hearing the strength of community concern.

Ø The planned military expansion has serious implications for the Chamorro people’s right to self-determination as military-related personnel could outnumber the Chamorro population, who currently make up 37% of the total. Chamorro leaders have taken this issue to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization and urged this committee to send representatives to Guam to conduct an assessment of the current situation on the island’s people.

We urge you to:

1) Halt the current plans for the military build up in Guam ;

2) Demand the DOD rewrite the DEIS to include socio-economic and cultural impacts and mitigation, clearly outlined environmental impacts and mitigation, address the impacts to self-determination, complete cost-benefit analysis, and federal accountability for impacts on local communities;

3) Require the DOD to clean up existing contamination and toxic sites, on and off-base, caused by military operations on Guam , before any base expansion projects are considered;

4) Limit the military’s use of land on Guam to its current “footprint”;

5) Recommend federal funding to strengthen Guam ’s inadequate infrastructure.

The White House press statement, issued mid-March 2010, emphasizing the administration’s commitment to “One Guam, Green Guam,” balancing the military’s needs with local concerns, promoting renewable energy, and reducing fuel and energy costs on the island does not address people’s core concerns. These goals cannot be achieved without addressing the inadequacies and concerns raised about the current build-up proposal.

We look forward to working with you on these matters.



If you want to sign on, email me and I can have your name added to the list

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Solidarity with Okinawa

If you're in Washington D.C. later this month, consider joining this protest...

Yanggen pon gaige giya Washington D.C. gi i otrona na simana, put fabot saonao este na linahayan...

Hassuyi nai gi este na momento, yanggen solidarity hao nu i Okinawans (kontra i bases Amerikanu), gaige hao lokkue' gi solidarity nu i taotao Guahan.


NO MORE US MILITARY BASES IN OKINAWA -- Rally on April 25, 2 p.m. in front of the Japanese Embassy, Washington D.C.

Please come and oppose new US military bases in Okinawa!

What: To protest a new US military base in Okinawa (Japan)
When: April 25th, Sunday at 2 pm
Where: In front of the Japanese Embassy
2520 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20008

The new Japanese government, pressured by the US, seems to be leaning toward building a new US military base on Okinawa, which is a tropical island in Japan. The people of Okinawa, who already host more than 30 U.S. bases, don't want another base that will further destroy the beautiful natural environment of their island.

Okinawans are planning to hold a rally of 100,000 people against the US bases in Okinawa on April 25th. The people of Washington, DC will show our solidarity with the Okinawans with our own rally, in front of the Japanese embassy on Sunday, April 25 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

● For more information about the base issue in Japan:

● Join our activities!

• Sign our petition.

• Become a fan on our Facebook page

Donate to our cause.

● The Network for Okinawa (NO) is a grassroots network that draws together representatives from US-based peace groups, environmental organizations, faith-based organizations, and think tanks.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Military Buildup Bubble: or, I'm Looking Through You...

The DEIS comment period created the impression of a significant amount of people being against the buildup or changing their opinion on the buildup, or being more engaged about it. Since the period ended, much of that feeling of things moving or shifting has changed or evaporated. The comment period did after all provide the perfect space, a window of time and a series of public events where a new image of the island could be forged.

Since that time however, I've heard regular complaints from all sectors of society, that the feel of things moving or changing, or as I've written on this blog, of the buildup "breaking down," was not real, was all just media manipulations and spectacles of dissent. That public opinion on the buildup has always been taihinasso positive, and overwhelmingly supportive. That although the surface of public opinion may have changed from November of last year to February of this year, this is the work of a small minority of people, who staged protests and other pointless actions but didn't really reach the island at large. These points are finally tied together by the notion that the majority of people on Guam always have and still continue to support the planned buildup.

Although this characterization is accurate, the shifting of public focus and discussion was something undertaken by a small but vocal group of individuals (and by this I don't mean We Are Guahan alone, but they were the biggest visible part of it), it’s actually a really stupid point. You can't argue that nothing really changed or happened based on the fact that only a small group of people were engaged on this issue, since that is the nature of all public debates. Furthermore, the fact that the majority of Guam's people didn't take to the streets to oppose the buildup isn't evidence that you can use to claim that nothing happened. The fact that the media coverage changed on the buildup, and the fact that politicians also changed as well are both key points in understanding what took place and what sort of effects the DEIS comment period had on "public opinion."

Now you can argue, as one UOG student did to me the other day, that both of these shifts aren't the "whole island," and that they don't necessarily affect what the rest of the island, or in the speak of people who don't know what they are talking about say it, "real people" think. The student brought this up to complain about how the actions of We Are Guahan didn’t represent what people on Guam really felt and they were clouding the issue and clouding public discourse by appearing to have more impact than they really did.

My response to this student was that he was being very over simplistic. If you think that changes at the level of government and media don't affect the rest of the society, then you are either not paying attention or just being silly. A change in the rhetoric of a governor, or a change in the coverage of a particular activist group doesn't have any predetermined affect, it could have no effect, a large effect, only some could be positively affected, while others are negatively. The media and the government are two of the most frequently maligned ideological nodes within a society, usually because they are two of the most powerful.

The media is the key source of information for a society. People can mistrust it, they can complain about it, but what they hear on the radio, what they glance at in the paper or see on TV all has ways of embedding information and ideas in our minds. Any idea that people who don't consume the "media" are somehow more informed because they don't get the "spin" or the "bias" is stupid. Media is part of the organism of any modern society, you can get your information from many sources, but most people get it from some outlet which exists to communicate to people who might not know, things about the world.

The Government has a similar sort of power. People may loathe their own government and see it as being taibali and horribly inefficient. They may not trust it in the same way and complain that it is full of gagu employees and greedy politicians, but that doesn’t necessarily affect the power that it and its elements have in shaping a society. Even if people might say that they don't trust their government or respect it at all, that spoken discourse, has very little connection to what impact or influence a government has in their lives. For instance you may not trust the Government of Guam very much, but if it passes a law requiring you to do something, then there is a much greater chance that you will comply with it, then if I myself pass a law requiring you to do the same thing. There are a mass of discursive formations and consolidations of perceived power which make this work, but the point is that even if I paid someone to enforce my rules (and created a police force of my own), there would be very little chance that people would willingly obey my order.

So if you admit to some very real shifts taking place at these two points in Guam society, then it is foolish to claim that the rest of the island remained exactly the same. One of the problems with the idea of there being any "real people" in a society is that takes out of your analysis the idea that any society is an organism and that every potential sector holds the potential to change, to mean something different, to feel something different and be affected by others. You imagine a group, a type or a class of people who are not affecting do not change the way others might and therefore hold the key to unlocking the larger society they are a part of. You give a particular group, by default this power of holding that truth, which no group is even close to having.

Just because the "real people," whether they be the grassroots or working people or whichever image of some subaltern class you'd like to invoke, might not believe in Felix Camacho or claim to never read the Pacific Daily News, doesn't mean that they aren't tied to Camacho and the power of the Governor's office or the Government in General in a huge number of ways.

Part of the argument that Guam didn't really change during the DEIS comment period, or that all the changes were just superficial (remember that vocal maladjusted minority?), is also implicit in the "real people" argument. Both miss the point that a society is not solely run by tahdong or "deep" things. That the deep things of a society, those things which are so embedded, as in the personal, true feelings of people, or the parts of society which are supposed to carry the true feeling or true desires of that society are only part of the equation. So for instance, a good poll or survey is supposed to ask people about their deep thoughts, the things that beneath all the balabola and all the dinagi, they are really feeling and caring about. Its a method meant to pierce all the superficial nonsense and get to the core of what is a society, the hearts and thoughts of its people.

The problem as I said is that this is only half of what you need. The deep thoughts of people do not exist in and of themselves, they existing as part of a relationship with all those superficial things, and as such they are not timeless, not set in stone and change on a whim. Even the way that people talk about public issues or concerns changes more so based on what they perceive to be around them, rather than what they feel is their true thoughts.

It is for this reason that I often tell people that the secret to changing opinion or ideology in a society has very little to do with imparting a critical consciousness, or sowing seeds which will produce people who are just like you, and you think and act like you do. In this mindset, you are trying to access that deep part of each person, their core, i korason-ñiha, and help them change at that level. If they don't agree with you, then you have to change their mind, give them a similar consciousness as your own. Most people say that this won't happen because you simply can't reach everybody. Or logistically, there are just not enough days in a year to go out and talk to every freakin person on Guam. But a further problem with this is that it mistakes the way in which the majority of people in a society change, and that is, it is not a part of some magic, inspirational moment, but it happens, usually without them realizing it.

Most people will change their minds and change what they say is that core essence with them on a daily basis, and never account for it as any real change. They will shift as the winds shift. They will shift their depth based on the changes to the surface around them. What they might consider impossible one day, will be inevitable the next. What was unthinkable at one moment for a person becomes commonplace the next. Someone who says they will follow some inane public law, unconsciously ends up complying somewhere along the line.

As the landscape changes, they change as well. Sometimes not much, but a multitude of small changes can create a very significant tidal shift.

If you’ve ever wondered why so many social justice activists are fans of Marx even if they aren’t Marxists or communists? Its because the whole notion of social justice comes from Marx and his social theories. While there is a clear element of consciousness and the interiority of people in Marx’s thought, it is also clear that what gives people consciousness has very little to do with what is inside of them, but is rather what is around them. Prior to Marx, the agency required to change things, to change a society or to change the conditions of existence was something only select classes, usually those at the top could make use of. But what Marx’s intervention establishes is that the type of consciousness required to revolutionize something or to change things is not only reserved for those born into the right families, or those who have a particular education. It is in fact something which can be obtained by the world around you. It is something that can come to you, by how you live and what sort of world you live in. So that’s why in Marx’s philosophy, even those at the bottom or those who we might assume have no power or can have very little effect, are actually those who hold the potential to change everything.

That was a strange little tangent, but still I hope a useful one. The point of this entire post however is that, when taking stock of a community and when trying to gauge something such as whether or not ideas or feelings about the buildup have changed, you have to look at things, the way we look at Chamorro pop music, as deep shallow. That people’s identities are that combination of what they claim is deep inside them and what is always swirling around them, that they draw from to build what they say is deep inside them.

So that’s why, I would argue that things have definitely changed in the past few months, and in my opinion for the better. This doesn’t mean that things won’t regress, they very much can. If the DOD can come up with $50 million for the port like Congresswoman Bordallo said they would, it would be the first step in getting Guam back to being more positive and welcoming about the buildup. Guam’s relationship to its colonizer is one fraught with problems, but like any not so healthy relationship of this kind, while one partner may feel like they aren’t being respected or treated properly all the time, so long as the other appears to make an effort, makes some sort of symbolic gesture of recognition, then everything can quickly become golden again.

But, as it is now, what the activism of the DEIS period accomplished, it that it put Guam into a less blindly supportive position, and therefore a much stronger position. I used the term blind in the previous sentence because that is how Guam was treating this buildup for so long, and unfortunately is likely to again. Those who supported the buildup, made no gestures towards undertaking a real plan for how Guam would benefit from the buildup, simply asserting that it’ll be great and any problems can simply be dealt with. Almost completely moronic public opinion polls and surveys which indicated that the majority of the people support the buildup were bandied about to silence those who were asking questions and making very real critiques. I have to laugh when I think back to how often the PDN would plug into its articles a line about how a Chamber of Commerce survey had indicated that anywhere between 70-80% of island residents support the buildup. When trying to understand the scope and the size of the buildup, its potential negative impacts or the problems it represents, what does any of that have to do with how many people want it to happen? Is it supposed to be some ridiculous argument that the negative impacts would be okay since people want it anyway, no matter what happens?

This is one of the problems with those sorts of claims to the truth of a community, is that even as much as it reveals and purports to create a truth for you, that truth can easily blind you. The fact that “most” people might support a US military buildup in Guam might mean something in terms of how politicians should act if they would like to get elected, but it has almost no relevance to whether or not the military buildup is good for Guam. But since 2005, the idea that Guam supports the military or supports the buildup has led to this sort of haze, which has paralyzed some and stimulated others. It has led to that feeling of inevitability which leads people to not analyze or understand what is going to happen, but instead to just let it happen.

This brings me back to what I started this post with, my frustration with those who I’ve overheard speaking about the fact that the DEIS comment period may not have changed much, or didn’t amount to much because the voices of dissent didn’t represent the whole island, or the real people, or whatever udu na variation you’d like to chose from. It’s frustrating, because I have to wonder what these people are imagining or thinking of when they make these claims. Was the DEIS comment period a storm that had to be weathered and so rather than listen to anything or hear any critical voices, we should celebrate that the people of Guam successfully hid in caves until the storm was over? Were the activists or people who spoke out during that period, or were the criticism that emerged or gained traction such evil temptations which had to be resisted?

Rather than gloat over some perceived imperviousness that the people of Guam have to thinking about the issues their island is confronting, the focus should be on what sorts of ideas and important information did come out during that comment period. Things felt different during that period because frankly they were, there was more information disseminated about the military buildup during those three months than the previous three years. Those three months felt different because things were changing, the stupid commonsensical notions that people usually have about “more military = more money/better everything” were definitely and rightfully challenged. The buildup was no longer that golden ticket that real estate agents, JGPO representatives and Governors of Guam had promised it would be. It had instead become closer to what it should be. Something which has some positives and some negatives. Something which could improve some things on Guam, and something which could destroy and damage some things as well.

Just as the real estate market bubble on Guam was burst recently, that idealized military buildup bubble had to be burst as well. After all, if you’re trying to plan for your future and make decisions about it, the less illusions you have, the better.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Famoksaiyan Fatfat

Para Hamyo ni' manasaga' gi fi'on Seattle, Washington, taitai este. Yanggen manggaiinteres hamyo nu este na klasin asunto siha, put fabot, saonao este na dinana'.

Yanggen yan-miyu tumungo' mas put Famoksaiyan, chek fan iyon-mami BLOG.


Kahulu I Taotao Tasi


4th Annual Chamoru & Micronesian Research Conference
University of Washington, Seattle
April 14-17, 2010

THEME: “Health, Environment, and Human Rights in Micronesia”

“FAMOKSAIYAN” can be understood as the time to paddle forward or to nurture.

In April 2006, a group of Chamorro & Micronesian scholars, organizers and workers held the first annual Famoksaiyan conference at the Sons and Daughters of Guam in San Diego, California. The conference focused on the issues of self determination, education and militarism in the Marianas. In April 2007, a follow up conference was held in Oakland and at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley. The 3rd conference returned to San Diego in 2008. In November 2009, a youth focused version of Famoksaiyan was held in Seattle, Washington.

We are pleased to announce that the April 14-17 conference will be held at the University of Washington and Seattle University. We welcome participants to attend workshops on Micronesian knowledge, health, education, employment, housing and any other related issue. Presenters have the option of writing and presenting papers in Micronesian languages or English. Presentations in a Micronesian language will also have a short summary available in English.

We invite partners with an interest in Pacific communities to attend a conference in Seattle in April 2010. The conference focuses on the construction and maintenance of identities in the Pacific region from political, economic, and socio-cultural perspectives. How has the emergence of such Pacific worlds in motion affected the construction, maintenance, and imagination of identities in the Pacific region? This four day conference will include performing arts celebrations and educational workshops. Our hope is to begin and continue a discussion on these Pacific issues from a variety of perspectives as we seek to understand more fully our present experience of Pacific Islanders in the US.

Some of the major issues that will be examined within the context of a Pacific world include:

Racial identities
Women's Health
Community Organizing
Visual and performing arts
Communications & Media
Native self-determination
Labor Struggles

Advisory Committee:
Michael Tun`cap, Doctoral Candidate, University of California Berkeley
Natalie Santos, UW Micronesian Islands Club President
Jaynina Smith-Prince, Graduate Student Researcher, UW School of Social Work
Ray Duenas, Micronesian 2010 Chair & Chair of the HITA Language Project
Brian San Nicolas, Tacoma Community College, Nasion Chamoru Committee
Chasmon Tarimel, UW Pacific Islander Studies undergraduate & PIPE member
Benjamin Lealofi, Director of the Pacific Islander Commission
Deborah Tugaga, Director of the PIONEER Pre-College Program
Nestor Enguerra, Polynesian Student Alliance President & McNair Scholar

Sponsored by the University of Washington ASUW PISC, PIONEER & Micronesian
Islands Club, the University of California Berkeley Pacific Islands
Studies Group, Mariana’s Taotao Tano Club at Seattle University and the
2010 Guam Delegation to the United Nations

April 14, 2010 PASIFIK VOICES Performing Arts Celebration 7:00-10:00pm
University of Washington Ethnic Cultural Theater

April 15, 2010 Pacific Islanders and the Non-Profit Movement 6:00-8:00pm
UW Ethnic Cultural Center Black Room

April 16, 2010 Brown Bag lunch screening The Marines Are Landing 12-1:30

April 17, 2010 Traditional Knowledge and Culture 10:00-11:00am

Gender, Identity and Social Change 11:00-12:00pm

Breaking Bread & Building Community 12:00-12:30pm

Race, Health and Education 1:00-2:00pm

Micronesians and the Media 2:00-3:00pm

GBLT struggles in the Diaspora 3:00-4:00pm

*Annual Marianas Fiesta & UW Micronesia 5:00-9:00pm
Marianas Taotao Tano Club & MIC
*Campion Ballroom, Seattle University

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Huff Po

I've been living back on Guam for more than a year and a half now, and while I've become immersed in Guam politics and issues, my knowledge of national or regional politics in the states has taken a hit. While I was living in San Diego for five years while in grad school, I eagerly followed the ideological battles between Democrats and Republicans. This following culuminated in the presidential election in 2008 which ended up consuming my blog for a year.

I used to be able to name 90 of the 100 US Senators and close to a 100 of the members of the House of Representatives. Nowadays however, when I try to recall who is the junior Senator from whichever state, I'm pretty sure I'm just making up whatever name I recall (unless its someone who has been there for ages). For instance, I have no idea how it came up in a conversation, but last fall, a student who had gone to school for a year in Pennslyvania asked him if I knew who the Senators for that state were now. I mistakenly said Arlen Spector and Rick Santorum (who was voted out in 2006). I should have remembered that it was Bob Casey who ousted Santorum, (by a pretty wide margin if I remember correctly), I took a picture of him at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008.

In the past few months as I've been frustrated by the fact that I haven't yet been able to get a full-time, tenure track position at UOG, I've found myself (for the first time in a while) thinking about other options, in other places. If I can't find anything permanent at UOG by the fall, then I will start looking at applying for postdocs or other positions stateside. Its not something I'm excited about, but as much as I love UOG and love Guam, I'm not interested in being taken advantage of in terms of jobs, because I can always be expected to be around.

As I've been thinking about positions in the states, such as which departments might be interested in me as a scholar, I've also started to follow more closely again, politics in the states. Everyday I find myself heading over to Crooks and Liars and Common Dreams each morning, just as I used to when I was back in the states. I've also found myself more and more turning to The Huffington Post for progressive news.

In the past I was sometimes put off by the way the Huffington Post was not just progressive/liberal news, but also incorporated entertainment elements as well. So you would have a great piece written by Robert Reich on one side of the page, and then never before seen photos taken from Facebook about a new alleged Tiger Woods' mistress. Since Obama was elected, the Huffington Post has been given a spot in the White House Press room, and I've seen it (at least in my eyes) become much more engaged on issues, and devising great ways of communicating the news in sometimes funny and sometimes serious ways. I say, despite the fact that it still retains all the sensational aspects.

One of the things that I've seen them master over the past year is the art of the informative slideshow. For instance, on the day the House passed the Health Care Reform bill a few weeks ago, the Huffington Post had a regularly updated slideshow, which broke down the drama and the action of the day into images and text updates. Every hour or half an hour, a new image would appear with a new caption, telling in short, but sweet ways, what was going on. Sometimes however these slideshows are meant to be funny, such as one I came across the other day which featured the top ten "hipster schools" in the US.

The other day, Supreme Court Justice John Stevens announced that he will be retiring very soon. The Huffington Post in order to both honor his legacy and also inform people about it, created a 10 slide slide show of the major court cases which he participated in. I'm pasting the images below.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Act of Decolonization #17: Self Determination and the Dead

Thankfully, it has been a while now since a soldier from Guam was killed in the current slate of US Wars on Terror. But as the US prepares to increase its presence in Afghanistan, I cannot help but think back to several years ago, when the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq were in full force and it seemed like someone from Guam or from Micronesia were dying every month. I remember writing several emotional and sometimes angry posts about the way these precious lives were being wasted on imperial ventures.

For obvious reasons, these sorts of posts are very difficult and sensitive, for so many reasons. Malingu un lina'la'. A life is lost. A Chamorro life is lost. A Chamorro life is lost fighting for the United States, which has been and continues to be his or her colonizer. A brown body is lost fighting other brown bodies, usually for the sake and interest of rich white people, or at least rich people. Lastly though we reach the most difficult point, which I articulated several years ago following the death of Kasper Allen Camacho Dudkiewicz in my post Tragedy of Tragedy. The tragic fact that these tragedies, these losses of life are felt primarily and sometimes only through the United States and the Americaness of Chamorros. As if we can and should only understand the meaning of their lives and deaths as un nina'Amerikanu, or through a process of Americanization.

In my article The Unexceptional Life and Death of a Chamorro Soldier: Tracing the Militarization of Desire in Guam USA, which was recently published in the anthology Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific, I discussed how this tragedy operates in creating often times very tangible silences and palpable gaps around the deaths of Chamorro servicemen:

One can see this clearly in the deaths of the three Chamorro soldiers in Iraq. In newspapers and television reports on the deaths, no mention is made whatsoever about Guam’s colonial status. Family members interviewed made no public or spoken connection to the fact that their child, nephew or cousin was sent to war without people on Guam having any representation in the political bodies that sent him there. Instead, thick juicy platitudes about defense of freedom, defense of the democracy and thus defense of the Guam homefront against terrorists were invoked.

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I am constantly talking about theorizing decolonization here. I wrote an entire master's thesis on it while I was at Ethnic Studies at UCSD. In that thesis and on this blog I have asked and continue to ask: What is preventing it from being discussed, preventing it from taking place, what prevents it from being understood in productive ways and instead insists it be chained to markers of impossibility and hellish dangers. What are the ways that it can be furthermore re-imagined constructive to be a part of everyday life, as opposed to an abstract process involving political status votes?

So every once in a while on this blog I write up different Acts of Decolonization, which are all different ideas about how we can make decolonization possible in our lives.

Decolonization is all about acts, most notably in determining one's relation to something, usually a loss such as language, sovereignty, memory, because such a shift will dictate, stimulate or mutilate the possibility from then on. Will my act in this moment break conventions, defy what is for the moment commonesense or obvious? Will it break the current deadlock which mires me in colonizing desires, discourses or dreams and allow me to see the world differently?

My act of decolonization today deals with the deaths of these Chamorros that have died in war, and how we are supposed to relate to them.

If you read my first post ever on the deaths of Chamorros in Iraq War II, you can see an almost desperate plea to think differently about what the deaths of these Chamorros must mean. The desperation naturally derives from my belief that what I believe is far from what most everyone on Guam believes. For most on Guam the death of these Chamorros in war, is a tragic loss, but one which is necessary or worthwhile because this death symbolizes the patriotic and devotional debt Chamorros have to the United States for liberating us in 1944 and continuing to liberate us up until today. This sort of sacrifice is the way we can unquestionably be Americans. These deaths will get us included, even if superficially in the United States, its rhetoric, its spaces and places of mourning.

For those of who you don't like the "Chamorros as patriotic dupes" thesis, these deaths even have power in terms of finding ways to negotiate or demand things from the United States. The patriotism implicit in these deaths can be used to bargain with the Federal Government, as Governors and delegates have done since World War II and Vietnam.

But naturally a colonial difference will always rears its ugly head, forcing an uncomfortable recognition of difference between Guam and the United States, a biting truth that Guam is not really part of America and that Chamorros, regardless of how they feel gi i mas tahdong na patten i korason-niha aren't really Americans.

I collect the ways in which this difference is felt and appears in books, in the law, in popular culture, in the emotionational yearnings of Chamorros to finally be Americans, and use them in my work both academic as well as everyday in just speaking or emailing to Chamorros about political status issues. In searching online for more information for this post, I found a tragically appropriate site of feeling this colonial difference. If you go onto the Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs website you will find a page in which beyond all the flowery rhetoric, cheap American flags and bumper stickers you will see the place of Chamorros and so many others in relation to the United States. On the page Fallen Heroes of the OIA's Insular Areas you will find a collection of the most banal pieces of American empire, its offshore colonies and neocolonies. On this page you will find the names of more than 100 soldiers and private contractors who have been killed in the Iraq War who come from the island territories of the United States such as The Virgin Islands, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Samoa and American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.

Despite the wreath of "fallen hero" that is draped over this shrine recognizing the valor and Americaness of these troops, their belonging is clearly questioned just by the site of their commemoration. Although this banner floats above this page, asserting an American claim to these bodies, the constitution of these page, the distances, peoples and histories that are collected together here are not just any region, they represent much of the territories of the United States which would most appropriately be referred to as discontents, or pieces which do not fit, and clearly, for reasons both obvious or not should not belong.

Looking at this page, I could perceive a delicate way in which it was so teeming with colonial hopes, dreams and still that undeniable difference. There was something in the way it represented both the ultimate recognition of being American and yet also signified that clear difference which is necessary for that very recognition. I saw it as being both representative of the powerlessness of these communities, the feeble ways they depend on the US, but also the way in which they power the US. This was one of the first steps I took towards seeing my dissertation.

I received numerous responses to my posts, from all different political sides, some supportive, others critical or even angry.

For example, when the body of Richard DeGracia Na'puti Jr. was brought back to Guam, I was there, and was working at the time on a documentary with one of his cousins. It was a very frustrating time because I hadn't been on Guam in more than a year and suddenly I was being bombarded with a truckload of patriotic excuses as to why the war is good, why it is okay that this Chamorro died, and ridiculous arguments that the war in the Iraq constitutes protecting and defending Guam.

I received two responses that have stayed with me. The first was from a young Chamorro girl who I believe was serving in Iraq in the Air Force when she messaged me on myspace. She thanked me for my crazy post, because of the things it made her think about, and how it sort of touched on the strange position that all Chamorros in the military seem to feel, not coming from a foreign country, not coming from a state, but rather from a colony/territory. How does one represent that existence in the most patriotic place in the universe? Is it something you can express at all or something you just have to desperately hide? She ended her post saying that like most Chamorros, she wasn't sure about it all, but just felt like serving was the thing she had to do.

It was truly an interesting email since most messages I get from Chamorros or non-Chamorros currently serving in the military are nowhere near as nice or open to these sorts of discussions. They tend to be like the second email I'm going to discuss, which came from a retired Chamorro serviceman who stumbled across my blog and didn't like what he found.

This Chamorro's email was extremely angry and visceral, attacking the parenting of my parents and the quality of my thoughts. In attacking me, this poor soul sounded like he was literally sucking his rhetoric from the tongue of Bill O'Reilly, trying to call into question my non-existent patriotism to the United States, and making it clear that unless I was a patriotic American loving Fox News cheerleader, I had no right to speak about anything. We might have found right here the fundamental problem with United States foreign policy, namely that if you don't love the United States, you don't have a right to exist. This might cause problems however when interacting with both colonies and other freakin countries.

I often laugh at these emails, because it truly shows a weird correspondence between lack of history and stupid opinion certainty. When this Chamorro attempted to attack me on my Guam history he would lose his Fox News certainty and start to wander aimlessly around Carano and Sanchez's A Complete History of Guam, often times just saying impossible or insane things precisely because he didn't know anything about Guam's history. For instance, according to this Chamorro, Guam was liberated from the Spanish in 1898. According to him it is only the fault of Chamorros that we don't speak Chamorro anymore. Furthermore, I can't say that Guam's political status is the United States' problem or fault, since no one on Guam has ever even told the United States that there was a problem with Guam's political status.

After reading this lengthy email which included one of the worst Guam history lectures I've ever read, I became even more convinced that Guam history and political status issues must be taught to people of all ages and in very deep and critical ways. The most obvious reason here being that if you at least know some history or have some knowledge about what has happened in the last century on Guam, then you cannot completely give in to the colonizing impulse of absolving the United States of any negative things. If you know that the United States took more than 2/3 of the island from 1944-1950 in a series of land grabs which were admitted in the US Congress to be "illegal" then it becomes just didide' ha' mas mappot, for claims that the United States is a colonizer to be dismissed.

The one thing that sort of stuck out for me in this email, which I couldn't simply laugh off, was when I was told that because I "obviously" did not love the United States, I could not write about the death of one of its soldiers. I have no right to claim the life of this Chamorro because he was first and foremost a United States Army Specialist.

Naturally, este muna'bubu yu' mas ki todu i otro sinangan-na.

Here was a Chamorro, who loved the United States, had served in its military and could not conceive of there being anything wrong with that country, its conduct or its leaders, telling me what the order of the universe was. To him, the concept of the Chamorro was a secondary thing, something which followed meekly, shadowing the largest concept and identification of American or solider. In my post I reached and felt the death of this Chamorro, first and foremost at the level of us both being Chamorro and having similar histories in relation to the United States, and the patriotic response was that my feeling was wrong, inauthentic, should not exist and should be colonized and obliterated by the fact that Chamorros should love and revere the United States in all its forms.

If we put this in religious cultural terms, then we would find a form of the infamous military line, "your soul belongs to God, but your ass belongs to the Corps!"

As I attempted to claim the meaning of the death of this Chamorro I was rebuked as not knowing or understanding the nature of the world, in that ultimately the soul of this Chamorro belongs not to Guam, but to the United States, to the military. If we think about daily existence in Guam, and how the United States is defended regularly in all spaces as being the means of life in Guam, the means of progress, the means of education or order, of prosperity, of happiness, then we can see clearly that it is not just the souls of Chamorro soldiers that belong to the United States, but rather the souls of all Chamorros.

If we think about Guam and the military buildup in this way, Felix Camacho's general inaction and lack of leadership on the buildup makes perfect sense. In 2006, when then Senator Jesse Anderson Lujan had a column in the Marianas Variety, he became one of the first forceful critiques of Camacho's handling of the buildup. He basically admonished Camacho for engaging in a bold strategy of doing and asking nothing when it came to the massive planned military increases for Guam. If the commonsense argument that JAL put forth is true, namely that Camacho is Guam's Governor and therefore supposed to represent the interests of Guam, then he was clearly poorly performing said duty in his regular offerings of back and foot massages to whatever vague and useless military official comes through Guam next. But, if we follow the thinking of the majority of the people on Guam, where our lives and souls belong to the United States and its interests and its desires for Guam, then Camacho's lack of aggression early on was absolutely acceptable, in fact it was precisely what he was supposed to do.

I always find it very intriguing how the meaning of someone's death works in any society. There are always natural, expected ways in which a death is supposed to mean something, the way in which that slice of the void, that brushing up against eternity is supposed to be translating into something which is not the sheer trauma and hysteria that each and every death holds the potential to unleash. When someone dies, there are a wide array of narratives, ideas, sayings, general ways in which we try to transform that cold, life-defying touch of nothingness into something through which we can still try to feel the warm, nurturing delusions of life. In the case of soldiers, when they die there is an infamous altar which awaits them. Surrounding that altar like flowers and koronas are ideas that he or she died defending their island, their family, their home. Or they died defending freedom, democracy, liberty. These things all try to give a living meaning to that death.

These infusions are normal, we all do them. That is after all, what the symbolic network of our lives is for. A way to give us a sense of order and meaning which can float above the chaos and nothingness beneath it, to give our lives a greater sense of coherency and permanence. But not all claims to what life or death mean are the same. Any community will have hierarchies as to what is appropriate, what is correct, what is acceptable about the loss of a life, for instance the loss of a solider. Offering his life up to the nation, or in the case of Guam, to the colonizer, is the way we are supposed to commemorate this death, the way we are supposed to use it. To authorize the foreign policy or military policy of the United States. We are supposed to use it to enhance and make awesome the United States, by using this death to argue the greatness of the US, as something which people can and should die for. In the case of those who come from the colonies, the death is exceptional and potentially even more important. The reason being, that those who aren't even really American, yet are willing to live and die for it, are the ultimate testament to its glory.

If we do any of these things, you are using the dead, you are speaking for the dead. You are putting words in their mouths, or more accurately in their coffins, on their graves and in their funeral announcements. But you are using their death in a way in which society accepts and so therefore this use is simply natural. This use is just the way you are supposed to react.

But for those who are interested in decolonization and Guam's self-determination, this impulse should be resisted. As a colony, the deaths of people from here, should not be given up so easily. They should not be so eagerly handed over and laid upon that altar of American awesomeness, which ends up being the source of power for American exceptionalism and apologists. As a colony, Guam should not be so eager to do away with the evidence of its colonization, but should rather seek out ways to improve itself and its status, rather than deny its position.

This is not to say that we should transform the life of those who die in war, by portraying them as people who didn't really love the US, or were deep down crazy activists who hate the US. This is not about talking away the patriotism of soldiers who choose to serve or changing what they said or felt in life. But this is about whether or not Guam is a community which is willing to see itself as it is, or see the world around it with eyes unclouded by the interests of another, or shaped by a willingness to be dominated by another. As I've written about before on this blog, these deaths are pieces of that infamous colonial difference. They are potential moments where harsh truths about Guam's relationship to the United States emerge. Where we can argue that these deaths provide the blood to make Chamorros and Guam American, but we also have to confront the fact that the equations that say that Guam is part of the US and that those who come from there are simply "dying for their country" are far from complete. They are rife with errors, gaps, mistakes, they simply do not add up.

Decolonization in this instance does not mean speaking for those dead as in, re-writing their diaries or re-writing their motives for serving in the military, but it means claiming the meaning of their deaths. It means not letting their death be snatched up as fodder to be used for building up the greatness of the United States at the cost of Guam's sovereignty or us understanding its political status.


Related Posts with Thumbnails