Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are My Students Learning?

Everytime I've taught Guam History at UOG, I always end the semester with the same project. I divide the class into three groups, each representing a different future possible political status for Guam (Free Association, Statehood and Independence) and they hold a forum where they debate which is the best option for Guam. They have to conduct research and prepare to answer certain questions on how Guam would navigate issues such as taxes, military bases, citizenship, economy, culture and so on depending on which option is chosen.

Here is part of my usual intro that I attach to my prompt for the project.

The political status of Guam – its existence as an unincorporated territory or colony – is something that affects all aspects of our lives on Guam. From our relationship to the islands around Guam, to our relationship with the United States and the rest of the world, to even simply what we on Guam see ourselves as being capable of, the political status of Guam is central to the character of our lives. Yet this is not something that most people admit to caring about or even knowing about. Those that are interested in changing the island’s political status are often dismissed or reviled by the majority of people on Guam as “activists” or “radicals.” In reality, these activists are simply working to change a colonial relationship between Guam and the United States to something more equitable and fair, and by doing so force us all to confront the harsh reality of our situation on island – namely that while living in a colony may be undesirable, it is easier to deal with so long as no one talks about it.
In every single class, the students loathe project at first, but most of them once the debate starts find themselves getting far more into it than they (or I) would have expected. I encourage students to dress in solidarity with each other and with their choice of status (so statehood usually trots out plenty of red, white and blue, free association is for some reason usually black, and independence brings Hawaiian print shirts or white t-shirts), and also to decorate the room or produce items to pass out. I even encourage them to yell during the forum their support or derision for what is being said. Much of the debate takes place through yelling and overly-simplistic name calling. And although it isn't very helpful in terms of critical thinking, I've found that it helps them get into the spirit of it and take the debate more seriously after someone from the independence group yells to statehood, that they are like a girlfriend who boyfriend who refuses to believe that it is over, but stalks the US hoping that they'll let them back into the house. Or when either independence or statehood admonishes free association for sucking simply because they can't make up their mind and want their kelaguan but also eat it too.

One of the things which is truly amazing and disturbing to watch is how the identities of students shift as they try to take on the rhetoric of supporting either independence or statehood. I often tell my students that free association is the option which the majority of people on Guam as well as students in the class would support, but not the option which they might vocally support or be able to argue forcefully for or against. It is the option which could change very little and remains closest to what Guam is now, but could result in some important improvements (depending on what is negotiated), which could eventually help Guam be pushed towards statehood or independence. It is the most favored option because most people don't want radical changes, but want changes which are more symbolic than anything and don't threaten to rock the boat.

But, the fact that free association could be a political status change which has very meager results makes it hard to argue. The imaginary, the metaphors, the language, the historical examples for free association are harder to come by, because it appears to be so conservative, so in the middle. It doesn't laud the US and worship it so much that it wants to be a part of it, but neither does it detest the US and perceive its racist past and present and therefore want to be separate from it. While free association is the most practical and the most pragmatic it is hard to argue that we should undergo a huge task of trying to move the behemoth that is the US which has long refused to budge on this issue, for such a minute shift? As statehood and independence each lie at the end of their spectrums they are easy to contrast and to invoke very sharp and dramatic heroes and ideas in order to support them, but when it comes to free association, who out there has spoken passionately and bravely, proposing a bold path forward to changing very little? One of the possible questions which the groups might be asked is to name figures who are the inspirations for the movement they represent. Statehood tends to pick Martin Luther King Jr. or Barack Obama and independence groups tend to pick Angel Santos and Maga'lahi Hurao. But most free association groups dodge the issue completely and fail the question.

Returning to my previous point, as the independence and statehood groups argue they tend to assume the identities of who they see those options represent. So the statehood groups start to discuss themselves as being the "real Americans" in the room, and start to take on the perceived history and glory of that position. They start to speak about themselves as having freed slaves, as having liberated Chamorros from the Japanese, and even start to talk about withholding help from Guam should they seek independence, since they would be acting ungrateful if they did.

At the same time the independence group, regardless of what race they are starting talking as if they are Chamorro. They start to passionately accept the history of Chamorros as their own, the language and culture as being things which we have to preserve and protect. This transformation is always inspiring to see, but always problematic as well. For this debate I always try to get my students to understand ahead of time, that while a political plebiscite on this issue will most likely only be voted on by those who are "legally" Chamorro, decolonization and this issue of changing Guam's political status to something more equitable for the island is something all races on Guam should take seriously. So for the independence groups I always try and get them to think clearly on how they would get non-Chamorros to support an independent Guam. Some of them do get to that point and actually offer very touching visions of a future independent Guam, which is both multi-cultural but still has Chamorro language, culture and rights at its center, but most end up just erasing all others and assuming a temporary Chamorro identity.

But as I've already said, my students always appear to enjoy the forum and some even tell me after the class is over and they are no longer my students that they learned alot and the class in whole, but most importantly that project really got them thinking. But you never know. I try my best in my Guam History classes to make things as fun, informative and inspiring as possible, and so I always hope they get alot, but I would settle for at least a little. But its so hard to tell, because students who can't stand you will still find ways of being nice to you, especially if you haven't given them their grades yet. And while students may feel an aura of relevance and inspiration as you are teaching them, does it carry on past the class itself? How could you even tell if it did?

Interestingly enough, earlier this year, while googling my name, I came across a blog which had been started by one of my former students (who later abandoned it) which contained a post about how my class and the political status project had inspired her and changed her opinions about things. She had been put in an independence group, and had honestly never thought of independence as something possible or good for Guam. But after my class and the research she conducted for her group, she changed her opinion about it. During the course of the semester she had mentioned to me that after learning about how Chamorros had been forced to become Catholic, she didn't want to be Catholic anymore.

My favorite part of her post titled "Guahan," which I'm pasting below is the final two lines where she writes the infamous lyrics "Sam, Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam" and then adds "thanks for coming back to Guam." She then crossed this out and typed underneath a line from Fanoghe Chamoru or the Guam Hymn "Fanohge Chamorro, Put i Tano'-ta, Kanta i Matuna-na Gi Todu i Lugat." Unfortunately, the strikethrough isn't showing up in Blogger, so I can't paste it here. But the rest of the post is below:


For one of my classes at the University of Guam, History of Guam to be exact, we are currently working on our final group project “Estao Pulitikat: I chalan- ta Mo’na” which in English means “Political status: Infront of our Road.” The assignment given to us by one of the most passionate teachers I have ever met (Senot Michael Bevacqua) was to receive one of the three different future political statuses for Guam and to represent it– i.e statehood, free association, or independence in a forum where questions would be asked about why that specific status is best for Guam&what Guam would look like if it should achieve the status your group was given. Of course, I would get the hardest one, INDEPENDENCE. For one, I didn’t believe that Guam could be dependent on itself and for two, it just wasn’t realistic enough for me. I could not have been more wrong. During lecture on Wednesday Mr. Bevacqua brought to our classes attention that not only is the Military build up being done WITHOUT our Governments permission but we alsodon’t have the final say on what happens to our land, to our people, and to our culture. Since we are a territory I feel that the Americans use Guam as their first line of defence. They don’t care about the amount of people who are already here on island, they don’t care about our land, and preserving our identity as Chamorros. Unfortunately, once the Military buildup takes place, we the Chamorro people will become a minority in our OWN HOMELAND. What isn’t wrong with that picture? After doing much research on Guam, talking to my family and fellow student about what they thought our role was with the Americans and what our status should be, I also questioned myself and where I came from, I realized, I’m Americanized. I’m actually moving to Washington next Wednesday for more opportunities, better opportunities. WHY? Because I feel Guam has nothing to offer me anymore. I feel as a young Chamoritta my mind should’ve been molded with nothing but CHAMORRO CULTURE instead, I feel like just another person that belongs to the United States. The culture on Guam, sad to say is also dieing. Theres not much thats being done to help kieep it alive. I can literally only think of 3 groups at the top of my head…

•Taotao Tano
•Nasion Chamoru
• Gef Pago

Not many young Chamorros know native tounge The most language spoken here on Guam is English. We hang the American flag above our own Guam flag, we even have a little saying “GUAM: Where Americas Day Begins.” I truly believe we are not being loyal to our island, our ancestors. Since the 1600′s we’ve been colonized by the Spanish, then to the Americans, then to the Japanese, again back to the Americans. When will we be our own people? When will we learn that enough is enough and our culture, our island is much more important than being under someone else’s supervision. We as taotao Chamorros done it before the Spanish why can’t we do it again? Sure, our government has problems, EVERY government is known to have their issues. Our people has suffered for thousands of years under someone elses rule. We deserve our chance at Independence, our own freedom. I’ve been reading some amazing work published by the late Angel Santos, Ben “Sinahi” Del Rosario, Michael Bevacqua, Michael Tuncap, and Julian Aguon. ALL of their work inspired me to believe in Guahan, taotao tano. I know now that our island can make it happen, our people are smart people, and from now on, I support INDEPENDENCE without a doubt in my mind.

1 comment:

The Western Confucian said...

First, let me thank you for the link to my blog over the years; this is my first comment on yours.

This post reminds me of one of my professors of Spanish, at Buffalo State College, a Puerto Rican independence activist, who spoke of his country as "the country that never was." Puerto Rico was always about 48% Statehood, 48% Commonwealth, and 4% Independence. What are the stats in Guam?

I'm from Buffalo, hometown of the great anti-imperialist Grover Cleveland. He advocated for Hawai'ian independence and would have never gotten us into the mess that McKinley, who was assassinated in Buffalo, did.

Anyway, let me express my sincere hope that the Chamorro People achieve self-determination. I'd like the same for the people of my Upstate New York.

Also, let me confess that I've sometimes thought of settling with my family on your island. English-as-a-Second-Language is my field, and I sometimes wonder what are the prospects at the university level in Guam, which would be close to my wife's homeland, Korea.


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