Monday, August 29, 2011

Hafa na Liberasion #20?: Self-Determination is Liberation

I’ve been following closely since the start of the year Governor Calvo’s use of colonialism and self-determination when talking about different, sometimes seemingly unrelated issues. As someone who takes seriously the role of contemporary and historical colonialism in shaping Guam, I’ve been impressed with his rhetoric, but also wary as to how much of it is real and how much of it might be simple posturing.

Every Governor of Guam has the same choices in terms of their approach to navigating the sometimes stormy, sometimes placid seas of Federal-Territorial relations. You can pretend you are just like a state and accept the Hansel and Gretel like breadcrumbs of tokenism that make you feel like you are moving forward when you are really not. Or you can play the colonial card and try to define yourself from your actual position, which is much more difficult in the short term, but does have the aura of possible helping to lead Guam in the next step of its political evolution.

Although the Governor of Texas may have flirted recently with secessionist talk, Guam is the kind of place where if the Governor talks about Guam being outside the political union or about Guam becoming independent, that isn’t just rhetoric but the facts of the matter. This sort of talk about colonialism is one of the tools every governor has at their disposal. Governors of ole always sought to skirt the issue and play the role of smiley and complaint natives, but more recent Maga’låhi have enjoyed the appearance of being strong and standing up to Uncle Sam, the punkish satisfaction of speaking truth to power and of course trying to shame the Feds when they don’t leave their bases to come and visit the people.

For Calvo and any Guam Governor the importance of this tactic is always how much action to you put behind the rhetoric. Are you just name-calling or are you pushing concretely for self-determination or for Guam being more self-sufficient and take better care of itself? One of the main downsides to this approach is that if you take this strategy too far, you can quickly appear to be ungrateful or too radical. Although Guam is a colony, it is first and foremost a colony that lives in denial about its status and so the Governor takes a risk by reminding people of things which they would rather forget and not deal with. The importance of playing the colonial card is local, giving the island a gentle reminder, but doesn’t do much elsewhere.

Calling the US a colonizer in both a contemporary and historical sense is in truth far from radical and is something which can be proven over and over. The problem that most people have with this sort of calling out is not that it’s untrue, but rather that it might upset the US. Too often Guam lives in fear of not wanting to distress the overbearing, all-consuming American father figure, who the island may loathe one minute, but feel desperately dependent upon the next. We sometimes resist speaking the truth since there is a fear that it’ll make Uncle Sam mad and it’ll make him withdraw funds, withdraw troops, leave the island and take everything that he has given us. This is however, barely true and barely a real issue.

Politicians in D.C. can posture in ways to make it seem like they have been wounded by offensive rhetoric, but it rarely has any effect on policy. Every once in a while the self-determination rhetoric will reach the ears of a clueless Congressperson and some statement will be put out screeching that the people on Guam are ungrateful and that maybe they should just be let loose like the ungrateful achakma' that they are. This response is always there, but it has little effect, it has never actually led to anything. What an interesting world it would be if this threat actually came true and suddenly Guam found itself one day independent or sold off to China to improve the debt rating of the US.

The real problem with calling the US a colonizer is much worse and much more banal, it is just that it doesn't care and worse doesn’t know enough about itself to even understand what the implications of this label are.

Centuries of building up mental defenses against the sins of their past, still leads Americans open to the wounds left from slavery, but is still pretty secure and safe from the sins of indigenous displacement or genocide. You can call America racist, which is for the most part, a mistreatment of individuals, but calling them something more and involving the use of land which was taken and which the US never ever wants to give back, is something else entirely. The people of the United States are colonizers in so many senses of the word, but the process of forgetting and denying and believing themselves to be the best hope for the world has kept from safely from ever understanding simple things such as this.

But this is always a problem with the past. If it is something which can be solved through frowning or feeling bad, then something can and will most likely be done. But if the cost of admitting to that violence is too great, if it requires more than empty gestures and simply saying "We see that you suffered and recognize your pain," then those things are avoided like a plague which will wipe out the descendants of anyone who has ever owned a slave in human history. A perfect example of this is the famous Apology Resolution passed by the Congress and signed by President Clinton. While it acknowledges that wrongs were committed and that the US is sorry for what happened, when this resolution was used by Native Hawaiians in order to actually seek some sort of restitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the resolution was not binding and has no legal meaning or effect.

The greater a nation is convinced it is, the less likely it is to ever actually do anything about the sins of its past or the injustice that is carried out in its name. The United States, which has moved to the top of the world through ingenuity, innovation, the promotion of human freedom and liberty, but also genocide, slavery, imperialism and overthrowing alot of foreign leaders who didn't support their military or economic interests has almost too much baggage to ever even want to open them up. It is for that reason why it remains a nation which above all can forget things as quickly as they happen, and can have a terrible history in almost every corner of the globe, which has almost no ability to affect how people feel about themselves or their country.

The height of this cluelessness was of course the 911 attacks in which Americans firstly felt as if this sort of violence was somehow a new occurrence and that this attack was so unique and different because while this is violence they had meted out to so many countries over the years, it was the first time in generations that they felt its sting. And second, the idea that after so many years of destroying peoples' movements, overthrowing democratic elected governments, fomenting fake revolutions, instigating civil wars, and just causing a global tsunami of human misery, people in the US could not fathom that anyone would want to attack them.

The US has to ability to unconsciously dust off their shoulders so much guilt, how minute and insignificant is it to be called "colonial" by the governor of a tiny faraway colony.

But locally, this shift in rhetoric could be very important. Under the previous governor the island regressed in terms of political status. Gains which had been made on so many levels were lost because the governor for whatever reason lived in fear of the issue and ensured that nothing would happen while he was in charge. The Government of Guam can be the key piece in the island moving on this issue, since even if it is maligned regularly for everything it does, it still has the aura of being a legitimate leader on issues, which is something diffuse groups of activist don't possess and therefore have trouble creating a significant force around. This change in rhetoric can be the start of something much more significant, but so much of it will depend upon how focused the Calvo administration is on this issue, and how serious they are not just about a decolonization vote, but the issue of self-determination in general.

Decolonization has long been feared by people on Guam as a concept which always means going against the United States, as a sort of brutish form of independence. This is the way in which I most properly identify it as, but as a concept in terms of political status change it does not mean independence only, but that is simply just one of the options available. Decolonization could also mean free association or statehood as well. But this assumption that decolonization tends to mean independence means that people associate it with being anti-American or that to seek political status change means to go going against the US and what it stands for. In a very important way, decolonization is precisely that. It is a challenge to the colonizer, it is a challenge to the US and so it is not necessarily "hateful" towards it, but it is sustained by an idea that what it offers is not enough or that the people of Guam want something more than the US is willing to give.

But at the same time, seeking self-determination or decolonization for Guam is something which you could argue as being very American. I have pasted below the testimony of Governor Calvo at the UN earlier this year to see how he argues (using the context of Liberation Day) to say that self-determination and supporting it is actually no anti-American, but at the heart of what America is supposed to stand for.


Self Determination is Liberation

Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
The Pacific Daily News
June 17, 2011
Editor's note: The following remarks will be delivered on Gov. Eddie Calvo's behalf to the United Nation's Special Committee on Decolonization.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the United Nations, the people of Guam need your help. We are bearing a great burden. Colonialism has weighed down upon our people for nearly 500 years. This half millennium of external rule has taken its toll.

Our Chamorro ancestors came to Guam centuries before the Polynesians arrived in Hawaii. Our chiefs held law over the land before the kings of Europe. Our latte stones were built as the Mayans built their pyramids. Yet the only written history of this advanced and unique people are the accounts of foreigners -- of Spanish conquistadors and priests.

Our island suffered over 230 years of Spanish colonial rule. Chamorros were devastated by new diseases, war and oppression. After the Spanish-American War, the United States claimed Guam, and rule began under the naval government. Once again, Chamorros had no representation, and no say in their future.

Japan's foray into imperialism during World War II was especially brutal for Guam, when Chamorros suffered atrocities from the Japanese army. Our women were raped. Our men were beheaded. Chamorro families were marched into caves and exterminated like vermin.

After three years of pain and suffering, America finally stormed the beaches of our island on July 1944 to take back the island. The occasion is known as Liberation Day, but while we were liberated from slavery and war, the Chamorros were still suppressed under colonialism. One of Guam's liberators, a brave American, Darrell Doss, said it best:

"Fifty-nine years ago, on July 21, 1944, I and more than 57,000 Marines, soldiers and sailors came ashore on the beaches of Asan and Agat, and were honored to be referred to as 'liberators.' But in the end, we failed to accomplish what we had come to do -- liberate you. More correctly, our government failed both of us by not granting the people of Guam full citizenship. Another injustice is not allowing Guam to have equal say, as we in the states do, in governing your island home. Please remember, we men who landed on your shores July 21, 1944, shall never be fully satisfied until you are fully liberated."

Worse yet, the Chamorro people have yet to even receive reparations for the atrocities they suffered. The United States has already acknowledged the need to address wrongdoings during World War II, which is why Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes during the war have been compensated. These reparations were justified.

Thousands of Japanese-Americans underwent forced internment, the motivations racist and ignorant. But what of our greatest generation on Guam? The Chamorros of World War II endured slavery, occupation, murder, and genocide. Yet the U.S. government is silent in its obligations to war reparations. Our island anxiously awaits the day when our people can receive the same amount of respect as fellow Americans who endured unimaginable evil during that time. The silence from the administering power on this issue reinforces the point that Guam can no longer remain a colony in perpetuity.

Ladies and gentlemen, for nearly half a millennium the Chamorro people have been unable to reach their full socio-economic potential because of our political status. Now, more than ever, it is important to move forward, while there are still Chamorros left to express our right to self-determination.

I am thankful our administering power, the United States, recognizes this right and need. The Obama administration has agreed to match local funding I have allocated for our decolonization efforts. The government of Guam is committed to a plebiscite. I personally would like to see a vote taken in the next General Election or the election after. What's most important is to make sure our Chamorros make an educated decision on the political status they want to move toward.

To say, "exercising this human right is long overdue" is a gross understatement. For far too long, the Chamorro people have been told to be satisfied with a political status that doesn't respect their wishes first. For far too long the native people of Guam have been dealing with inequality of government. We have been dealing with taxation without full representation, with quasi-citizenship and partial belonging.

Now it is time for us to realize our full political destiny, so we can take control and lead and live the way that is best for our people. I am urging this body to support our human rights as citizens of this world, to help us become citizens of a place -- of our place in this world.

Kao siña un ayuda ham ni' manChamoru. Siña un rikoknisa i direchon-måmi para dinitetminan maisa. Ayuda ham humago' i guinifen-måmi. Manespisiåt ham. Mambanidosu ham. ManChamoru ham.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Guam.

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