Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hafa Na Liberasion? #18: Melting Pot Freedom

A great post below from The Drowning Mermaid, titled "Desiree, Be a Lady."
My favorite line is this one:

"The "melting pot," the "my land is your land, from California to blah blah blah blah" (I never bothered to learn that song) is only fun, positive, or happy when you are not the one losing yourself, or if you are not the one acting as the gracious host for someone rich and powerful enough to hit you over the head for not being enthusiastic about "sharing." It's not fun or easy to accept if the brand of "unity" they are pushing always forces you to "accept," while they "come together."

The problem with decolonization in today's "multicultural" world is that there is so much pressure to give in, to let the prevailing powers, prevail. To give in and let the way things are continue as they are, since to challenge things or try to change things would mean making people feel uncomfortable, attacking and blaming people for something, calling someone out for their privilege and how they benefit from the often

Multiculturalism always feels like it is much better than the way used to be. It always feels like it is the answer to all of life's problems, since instead of intolerance and enslaving people, there are now months for each ethnicity and mindless trivia to fill them. Cultures can co-exist and there is the feeling that none are higher than the other. It is a nice dream, but the reality is very different.

After all, the secret of multiculturalism is that, for all cultures in a society to be equal, they have to all be unified through something. For instance humans are all varied and diverse creatures, but they are all unified through a number of things which may not be as corporeal in our everyday lives, may not be the things always on our minds or in our faces, but nonetheless pulse through everything. Death for instance is something which equalizes all. Some would say God is another choice. And so that is the secret of every multicultural matrix, is that someone is quietly benefiting from that, someone and their culture or their power is made invisible through that levelling.

As I wrote in my dissertation, in multiculturalism, formerly blatantly oppressed groups, those who were kept from living in the "house" of the nation, can be let in. You may have a room in house, or get to sleep in an entryway. You can even call that house your home, but part of the deal is that you recognize that the house doesn't really belong to you. In other words, you can redecorate the walls, replace the pictures of Abraham Lincoln with Malcolm X, Angel Santos or Che Guevara, but you can't change the walls. After all, they don't really belong to you. White-wigged, white-male, slave-owners made those blueprints a very long time ago, and they are the one's who actually built the house (or perhaps led slaves in the building of it) and so only those who can truly claim their DNA legacy can have claim to owning that house.

Multiculturalism in the United States, can sometimes have an interesting way of hiding white privilege and power in a way most people would never suspect or imagine. The way it does it however is by reducing the claims of ethnic groups in the US, some of which have very real claims to demanding something fundamentally different or being wronged in very fundamental ways over and over again, to nothing but "culture." So instead of emanating different political projects or demands, you emanate culture instead. You are defined not through things such as the fact that you're ancestors were brought to the US in chains or that your land was stolen and continues to be stolen by the most powerful country in the world, but instead by cultural stereotypes or nationally approved stories about your ethnic heroes. This is the danger that we face on Guam and why Desiree's critique is so crucial. Guam is "multi-cultural" in the sense that there are plenty of different cultures on Guam, but people often mistake that for meaning that Guam should be multi-cultural in the sense that all cultures are equal and nice and none should sit above other. There are two things wrong with this. First, it means that you leave the metaphorical walls of Guam, its structure up to someone who isn't a part of that cultural equation, but instead gets to own everything or own the keys to life itself, the US. Second, Guam, as a place which has long had its history, culture and heritage ignored or prohibited, should not accept multiculturalism as the nature of society, since that means that Chamorros, rather than being a particularly unique group to Guam, become just another brown group, nothing more. Even if Guam is "Tano' i Chamorro" the warm fuzzy multicultural feeling prevents them from seeking anything politically based upon that fact.

But multiculturalsim is not always useless and can have its advantages, but always depending upon how the space that is accorded your group is used or not used to serve your own ends. Multiculturalism has prevailed in the US in order to help keep the US on the same course, to keep most of its foundation intact and without being questioned. To keep some of the more radical grievances or demands which indigenous or minority groups might build up in the background and appear to be too extreme, to ridiculous and so damaging to the new multiracial harmony which has now emerged. When you get that foot in the door, what happens next? What do you do with this sudden newfound power? You have been allowed into the house which was built upon and through your exclusion, and so what do you do once that power relation shifts? Do you tear down the house? Move to a new one? Or simply accept your corner in that house and forget everything that happened before and have a progressively smaller and smaller celebration the first time that one of you becomes something?


"Desiree...Be a Lady"
Desiree Taimanglo Ventura
The Drowning Mermaid
September 24, 2010

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
John F. Kennedy, 1962

I saw the image pasted above (yup, the one with the middle finger) on a car last week. This week, I saw it pop up on a few other cars while on the way to work. It caught my eye on the road. I smiled when I saw it. I laughed and toyed with the idea of whether or not I was gutsy enough to slap it on my car. It summed up the emotions running through the minds of many in our community: the emotions many of us (including myself) have been too nervous to articulate as openly, as honestly. When I logged into my facebook account, I saw it pop us as default picture on several profiles. I saved the image and made it mine. Friends (even those in the military and a cousin stationed in Afghanistan) contacted me, asking where I got it, if they could have one, if they could steal it and use it as their default picture too. I don't really know where the image came from, or who created it; but it's one that has sparked up some much needed conversations within my family.

Let's be honest: the picture can make you squirm in your seat. The middle-finger is ugly. It's not something everyone wants to see, but the sentiment it articulates is also ugly. What is happening here is ugly. The words exchanged in conversations discussing the issue can get ugly.

But we usually pretend it's not ugly. We do our best to act like it's prettier than it actually is.

Our island is beautiful; and our people are beautiful (I guess that's easy to say when you're from here, right?). But, we're a people who have learned to confront situations with patience, fortitude, and a willingness to absorb insult or defeat. We're a people frozen by fears of being called "ungrateful"; we're a people trapped behind a complicated history that makes it extremely difficult to speak as openly as some of our friends from the Continental US. Textbook case of colonization. It is what it is.

The image isn't half as radical or disturbing as the muted, empty language employed by some who have been moving through the island pushing an outdated version of what it truly means to be "American." We increasingly find that when our friends from the states hear of our unique situation, they're confused, baffled that people on the island are so inhibited when speaking against things that are "so obviously" wrong. They explain that no one in their community would ever allow "things like that" to happen to them. After a while, you get tired of explaining and you find yourself saying, "Well, this is not your community. This is Guam."

Unfortunately, our unique culture (like many other colonized cultures) has been forced to operate within a foreign system. The systems of power, processes, and even educational models used are those which lay their foundations in a culture fundamentally different from ours. Complications arise when a colonized people make attempts to retain what is left of their old ways and customs while thriving within the empowered system. A people become prone to exploitation, even elimination, when the foreign structure they operate in is one that easily allows the greater marginalization of them as a people and culture.

We've seen many indigenous peoples fade through acts of colonization. Literally, we've watched them disappear into the footnotes of history. They're the sad stories that lace the histories of all empowered countries. Many who read about them explain that "it's life," "something the people must learn to accept."

It's very easy to accept the fact that a culture or people will fade when the culture or people is not your own. It's easier to accept when it is so far back in your history that the scars have faded to invisibility. It's even easier to accept when you are part of the culture the other group is fading into, being drowned by.

The argument that it is "just life," is convenient for them. The "melting pot," the "my land is your land, from California to blah blah blah blah" (I never bothered to learn that song) is only fun, positive, or happy when you are not the one losing yourself, or if you are not the one acting as the gracious host for someone rich and powerful enough to hit you over the head for not being enthusiastic about "sharing." It's not fun or easy to accept if the brand of "unity" they are pushing always forces you to "accept," while they "come together." Unity acting as a cloak over "move over and shut up."

One of my great-aunts was completely uncomfortable with the image. She worried that by sharing it I would be demeaning myself. I can definitely see where she's coming from; but I also wondered about how much we have already demeaned ourselves by being so accommodating to insult.

My mom, at first, panicked. It's not that she didn't agree with the sentiment; but it scared her. Sure, she felt that way; but she was scared to actually say it that way, even if it was the most accurate way to sum up her feelings. My dad laughed when he saw it, grinning at its loud, strong, straight-forth message. Smiling, because he's one of those guys who gave up on trying to say something is what it isn't a long time ago. Smiling because he figures we've been nice, we've been graceful and "good" for quite some time; and it hasn't really got us anywhere.

I was going to take down the image at my aunt's request (because in truth, she's one of my favorite people), but I had to pause and stop myself. I had to pause and ask myself who it would offend. Granted, Chamorros are the minority in their own home (and we're a measly 30-some percent of this island's population now); but I started to think about how in the process of becoming that 30-some %, we've sucked it up and accepted quite a few insulting, inaccurate things.

I mean, for Pete's sake, we have a statue of a chief who sold us out in our capital, a park dedicated to a guy who left behind documents explaining what incapable idiots we were, and every year, we celebrate the bombing of our island and call it "liberation" (ignoring the fact that if our parents or grand-parents weren't marched to those horrible, violent concentration camps, we would most certainly be dead underneath the bombs dropped on our island by our "liberators"). We've come to define the emotional liberation of our elders (from Japanese violence), to reoccupation by a nicer, kinder master as "freedom." But we ignore the fact that we are owned; we are possessions.

Nothing owned is equal to its owner.

Nothing owned is as free as its owner.

We ignore many things; and we only look at what can be twisted into something more positive. We only openly acknowledge things that "everyone" is comfortable with. We do it because, like I said, we're a beautiful people. We're a people who truly, sincerely do care about the feelings of others who have come to thrive in our home. But the "everyone" on this island is now comprised of a majority who does not take root here; and what is comfortable for them is no longer that comfortable for us.

I really don't know where I'm going with this. But I do know that after thinking about the image and talking about it with relative after relative, I've decided it's not all that scary to leave up. It's probably not the most "lady-like" image to post on my blog. I'm sure my aunt and mother's initial worry of me demeaning myself is grounded; but I don't really feel like being a "lady" right now.

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