Monday, November 21, 2011

Act of Decolonization #19: Show Me Your Wound

This was written Saturday, November 19, 2011, before the "We Are Here" protest of President Obama during his short visit to Guam.

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Pau fatto magi Si Obama lamo'na hun.

Supposedly President Obama is stopping in Guam tonight. People estimate he will be here at around 10 or 11 pm tonight, and only stay for at most two hours. He was scheduled to stop in Guam last year, but his pit stop was cancelled at the last second because of the Health Care Reform debate. We Are Guahan led a petition drive requesting that when he come to Guam he hold a townhall meeting to hear concerns about the buildup. They collected over 10,000 signatures in less than a month.

Although the urgent momentum from the buildup process is for the most part evaporated, and now people see it more as stalled than going anywhere, the self-determination process appears to be picking up new speed. Gof likidu este na momento, ya magof hu na gaige yu' guini gi hilo' tano' pa'go. I have read about previous generations of Chamorro activism. The confused and war-weary efforts for political rights in the 1940's. The Legislative pushes from the 1960's. The indigenous, intellectual and environmental awakenings in the 1970's. And of course the last generation, the direct action, ancestral land based activism of the 1990's. Today we see the newest incarnation of Chamorro activism being defined by both a desire for decolonization and also feelings that the US, through previous policies and through continuing militaristic policies, has taken much from the Chamorro people. Estaba manmamaigo' i taotao Guahan. Lao este na mamta' i militat yumahu siha.

At any moment like this, where the people of Guam feel like they are being mistreated or disrespected on the one hand, but also owed something on the other, they turn to symbols of the United States in hopes of receiving recognition to salve and ease their anticolonial feelings. But the question is whether or not the people of Guam will come to define themselves n their own interests and in their own desires, or whether the will continue to live in the nefarious cycle of recognition. Angry and resentful at their subordination, until the moment when the gaze of the colonizer beams towards them, and erasing their discontent through the mere enjoyment of being recognized.

The colonial difference is an uncomfortable thing, and it is more irritating and more unnerving the less visible and less violent it is. In a place where the colonizer is blatant in their machinations, the difference is like a gory open wound. It is one of those wounds which keeps you awake and makes you clear headed and able to defeat every enemy soldier and save your wife and kids in some stupid action flick. The wound is terrible, and hurts like sasalaguan, but it gives you focus, it is a na'klaru na ga'chong, it clarifies things, makes the lines of battle, whether they be literal or ideological visible. Prior to World War II on Guam, the colonial difference was clear. You may learn about the US as this fantastic ideal in school, something you would love to be a part of and have in your life, but while the US made some effort to indoctrinate you with the rhetoric, they worked hard to keep the reality from Guam. That is why, as a people Chamorros did not want to be Americans and did not feel as if they were Americans-in-waiting before the war. They liked some of the things America was giving them, but recognized that equality and belonging wasn't a part of it.

When the colonial difference is less visible or apparent, it can be all the more unnerving and uncomfortable. It is there, but it makes no sense. You can feel it, but you can't find a way to explain or justify it. What is the matter with Guam that it has to be different from everyone else and not be given the chance to either be a state or an independent country? What is wrong with it that it cannot make the next choice in its evolution? Why, with the US supporting so many other places and allegedly supporting their rights to self-determination, can't Guam be given the same chance? There are many answers to these questions, but even if you don't know anything about them or don't really understand the issues involved, they hurt you, and make your life so awkward at points. They constantly force you to live with his overwhelming sense of inferiority, that no matter what you feel, you are different.

You may not always be different, but there are very fundamental ways that you are not part of the one you are breed from birth to crave a union with. No matter what you feel, those differences are not overcome. The only way to fix them it feels like, is to accept your inferiority and accept that no matter what the rhetoric of your colonial relationship is, no matter how many American flags you place on your body, your car or your front yard, you are not supposed to be equal, but exist to be subordinate. And that is the joyous colonial existence that you are supposed to embody.

I have often said that if the White House really wanted the military buildup to happen in Guam, all they would have had to do is have Obama come to Guam, hold a town hall meeting, let everyone state their case, and then they could do whatever they wanted. Obama could nod his head, say "hafa adai," make a joke about who loves Spam more, people in Guam or people in Hawai'i. A more serious Obama would also say something about how he is concerned as well about the potential negative impacts, but that this buildup is going to be good for Guam. Then he would not commit to anything and leave, and most people would feel like their voices mattered, even if they don't actually affect reality or policy. If Obama did that, buildup support would most likely increased dramatically.

For so many people, there were concerns about how the buildup would shatter life on Guam, but what turned people against the buildup, was the ways in which the recognition , the respect was not there. In the sort of banal colonial relationship that Guam has with the US, so long as the US appears to recognize and respect Guam, even if it doesn't actually do so, it can get away with whatever it wants. So long as people on Guam feel like they are seen by the US, like they matter to the US and it appears to care for them, people here will shoulder, swallow and accept close to anything.

The colonial difference is that wound. It can be gaping and nasty or it can be ga'tot, almost invisible, perhaps just the ring left from a chain around one's wrists. It demands that something be done about it. It demands to be healed, to be touched, to be looked at. For most people on Guam, the amot of choice is to be recognized. You cannot be made whole or equal through law or through reality, so you accept the gaze or the look of the colonizer instead. That is the key pillar in the colonial imaginary, is that the colonizer, through his goods, his ideas, his presence and even his look, holds the keys to completing the colonized, and giving them a secure sense of being, a final wholeness. The lie of the colonial world is that the colonizer offers not just the secrets to improving your life, but also to healing that wound. It can come in the forms of citizenship, welfare, Marines from Okinawa, cable television, a new stamp or quarter, but all are potential forms of amot meant to heal large parts or small parts of that colonial wound.

The colonial bind, the ways in which we on Guam are bound into that trap of recognition is that we constantly show the US the wounds of colonial difference in hopes of getting them to see them, in hopes of getting them to heal them. This means that we will always see ourselves as being fundamentally inferior and always requiring that we look up, that we beg, that we meekly accept our status and that tokens that we are given. In the case of the buildup or anything like it, we have trouble even dealing with the subject of the struggle, because we can be so easily deflected or placated, since embody too well, a community trapped in a desire for recognition, rather than a desire to actually improve our lives or fix things.

But self-determination and decolonization start with a refusal to accept the amot. A pulling back of our wounds and the admission that even if the US has a lot, alot of which is stuff that we want for ourselves, it cannot solve all problems, and cannot heal all wounds. These are perhaps wounds that only we can heal for ourselves.

1 comment:

Iris said...

Terrible but true. Thank you for posting this.

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