Thursday, October 28, 2010

Navigating the Future

For those interested, check out this call for papers below. It's for Storyboard 11, which is a irregularly published creative journal from the English Department of the University of Guam. I was in the last issue for some poems, and also in an issue ten years ago, where I had a poem and a woodcut featured. Here's the info:

Guam and the Mariana Islands are bracing themselves for a tidal wave of change. As the tide rises, we must use our stories as sails and navigate the ocean of our destiny.

Storyboard, the University of Guam’s literary journal, is seeking stories, essays, art and photography, which address the theme, “Navigating the Future.” Some topic areas to consider include:

The Past • Silence • Militarization • Change • Leadership • Power • Violence • Colonization • Self-Determination • Family • Culture • Language • Knowledge • Transition • The Sky • The Ocean • Island Life • Diaspora • Imagination • Love

For more information or to submit to Storyboard 11 please email:
Or call Storyboard Editor Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero at 735-2747.
All submissions are due by November 11, 2010.
I just submitted my piece for it over the weekend, it is a several-page-long essay which discusses something I often refer to on this blog, "Future Fighting."

If I could define future fighting in a simple but not so helpful way, it is something which is at the core of decolonization. It is the hope of it and something which is essential for it.

In every long-term colonial instance, where the colonizer is not just passing through, but intends to stay, the world that he proposes is one built on a tendency to see the colonized and the colonizer as occupying radically different parts of time, space, history, the world, and so on. One of the key ways in which this re-mapping takes place is that the colonizer becomes the avatar of the future, the holder of the keys to it, the person who has the means, in whatever form, law, justice, reason, education, the English language, technology, to give the colonized the means to get to that bright future. When I say that the colonizer is the avatar of the future, I mean that he is the embodiment of it, he is a vessel for it, and everything that he says or does is meant to be the means of helping get you there.

The colonized on the other hand, becomes the avatar, the cursed avatar of the past. A relic, or a collection of relics. A being whose skin is riddled with relics, with oldness, with primitivity. The colonized is like a curse, a stench of a world destroyed, gone or better yet gone. The nagging and never-ending references to indigenous people as "ghosts" or as "whispers" from the past doesn't just touch on this, but chokes on this. In a colonial space, this "pastness," this state of both being "stuck "in the past" and having the "past" always "stuck in you," can move in meaning. It can be something better off forgotten, something better off cast aside. It sees all the colonized as having to offer itself and the world as relics and pointless fragments of culture. Or in more liberal and loving societies, it can be majestic and beautiful. It can be something proud and wonderful. It can be something that we should all be happy survived in some form and wasn't lost to oblivion by the racism and violence of the people who colonized them in previous historical moments.

But there is always a limit to this recognition, a limit to this value, as it rarely ever escapes this diminutive, simple sense. It never achieves the complexity or fullness of being something of the present, or more importantly being something which the future can be built upon. Even if it is beautiful and something everyone lauds and loves, and publicly it possesses this incredible and overwhelming fullness, such is a mirage, a trick of the eye, as it lacks the permanence for that rhetoric, i mina'ok. The fawning talk masks the way in which its value is truly very little, how people still see it as an anachronism, a hollow husk of something perhaps once long ago gaibali or valuable, but so out of place in today's world.

The Chamorro language is one such thing in Guam today. Everyone has to say that the Chamorro language is important, that is it bunito, that speaking it is gof maolek, and so on. But how many of those people speak Chamorro, teach their kids Chamorro, how many people and in how many ways do we see that glowing and shimmering rhetoric manifest into something real? Rarely ever. If anything, as the fanciness of the rhetoric in support of the language has grown, language abilities have gotten much worse. The truth of the value lies in not what is said or what everyone says about it, but rather how much or how little it is incorporated into their lives. How much value they pump into it in terms of seeing it as something that holds power over their future over the fate of them or their children?

That is why it is always a mistake to think of decolonization as being primarily about the past. It is not a return there, or a valorizing of it, or an attempt to relieve it or revive it. Decolonization must always be about the future, and there is no set path for how it takes place or what you have to do, but rather it is the opening up of the future, the making of it possible for the colonized.

As I wrote above, the future always appears to belong to the colonizer, especially if as we see in so many cases, his influence is what gives the feeling of globality or modernity. If the colonizer gives you the ability to be recognized by others or by the rest of the world (Guam USA, or Magellan putting Guam on the map for instance), then it is hard to not see the future and everything that actually does matter, as being in the hands of the colonizer, the taking and accepting of the things he offers.

But decolonization is about rejecting that very owernship. It is about prying the greedy hands of Uncle Sam off of that future, and making your own choices about what it will be and what it will entail. As I wrote about in my Marianas Variety column this week, sometimes that process of opening up the future, can be all about recreating and reconnecting to the past. It can be about making a very conscious decision to take something which was long ago stripped of meaning and value and reinfuse it with value, to fill it up again and insist that it not be some faded and useless relic, but something full of life and energy for the future. That is why I wrote in my column about the sade' or loincloths and how some men on Guam are now taking them up and wearing them regularly again. One form of decolonization would be to literally retake up the sade', begin to wear them again, and treat them the way we treat all other clothes. You can have a loincloth for special ocassions. You can have your clubbing loincloth, you wedding loincloth, your day at the beach loincloth, and so on. The point wouldn't be, that we must wear this loincloth because Ancient Chamorros did long ago (because in truth, they didn't). The point would simply be, is this something that the Chamorro community wants to make an issue, wants to take a stand on, wants to insist that is be something important and vital for the future. You can argue that you shouldn't do this, or that it is stupid, but no serious argument could take the form that this shouldn't be done because its not the way things are supposed to be, or because that is the past.

Future Fighting is precisely that opening up of the future, that seeing it as not belonging to someone or something else, and that your path in life is not to simply always follow the lead of someone whiter or more modern than you. It can be to move in a completely new direction, or it can be to assert ownership over something which you now must insist is yours. And that is why I say decolonization is fundamentally about the future, since Chamorros could just as easily take up something else as critical and necessary and argue its importance or centrality to their lives. Future Fighting also requiers not believing the PR of your colonizers or of the more powerful in the world. It means rejecting most of their claims and slapping their fingers off of things that they claim belong to them. It means seeing that if the future of yours, the present and the world around you is also yours, and so you are not bound by what someone else says is theirs and yours. Decolonization could just as easily mean taking something and making it your own, refusing to acknowledge some narrow copyright a colonizer as made to it. That is also a way of Future Fighting, since one thing which always ensnares colonized people is believing those fictions of the colonizer, that in order to enjoy the gifts we say we have brought you, you must remain in our power, beneath us, an object to us. If you believe this colonizing commonsense, than you will always remain trapped, and feel like you have to be an object to the colonizer's subject in order to survive, in order to have things which have been developed or come to the island during his time. It is for that reason that so many Chamorros and people on Guam feel trapped in a relationship with the US, feel like nothing else is possible, since in their minds, if Guam were anything other than that appendage of the US, it would lose access to things such as democray, education, economic prosperity, security, law, order, the internet, air conditioning, indoor plumbing.

As a result of this, people will feel a need not to have any power over their future, since if they did, it would mean never being able to enjoy all of those wonderful things which make possible a comfortable semi-American existence.

The interesting part of what I am arguing is that it is far from radical in the abstract. Control over one's future, that is something everyone should have. But when filled with specific content, such as the content of your own relationship to your colonizer and your own perceptions about who is in charge of what, the future or the past, it begins to feel too radical and too insane. After all, Chamorros are clearly a people of the past. Like most people who lost the battle of colonialism so long ago, they are more of the past than the present, surely not enough to get by on their own or using their own wits in a world, as Joe Murphy noted after 9/11, full of K-Mart and terrorists? What can the Chamorro offer to themselves much less the rest of the world, when compared to the country which has saved the entire world several times from facism and tyranny, and is the most powerful and most free country in the world? In that context it is easy to see how Chamorros could force their children to spit out their own language. How they would gladly give up their own rights and their own identities in order to keep Uncle Sam in charge.

But the radicalness of decolonization is that it is meant to give you the hope of breaking that dependency, of making it possible to rip apart those chains and see the world in a completely different way. To see the future as something else and nto just the following the crumbs the colonizer leaves in his wake.

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