Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kopbla Amerika #2: Chamorro Patriotism

One issue that every young Chamorro activist has to deal with, is the same issue that so many on Guam struggle with; their relationship to the United States. Guam's relationship to the US in general is ambiguous, it may be considered very American one moment, but then barely American the next. People from their may be the epitome of Americanness one moment, and then foreigners the next. This is not really an issue of active racism, but just a result of the basic relationship between a territory and its colonizer. Such is the nature of all fundamentally unequal power relationships. When one is supposed to be over another, there is a wide gray area where both benevolence and tyranny and be found. If we recall the era of slavery in the US for example, you could treat your slaves like garbage or you could treat them like members of your family. Either way was allowed. There was no rule that said you have to be especially cruel or that you have to torture or maim them, but there was also no rule that said you have to be very nice and polite to them and consult them about anything dealing with them. Such is the nature of any relationship where one is supposed to be over another. Being nice doesn't change the relationship and neither does being mean. Both of them are possible reactions, and so many times people on Guam make the easy mistake of assuming that because the US is nice to Guam, that means the island can't be a colony.

The absence of that image of the US landing troops in Guam to beat people into submission makes it difficult for people to articulate change in terms of decolonization. It is difficult for many to look at Guam and its relationship to the US today and discern what is so wrong about it. Part of the reason that this is so difficult is because of the way Chamorros have already developed a patriotic relationship to the United States. If we were speaking of the era before World War II, when Chamorros looked up to the US, but didn't worship it or believe themselves to be part of it, patriotism was kind of a joke. It was something that those at the top of Chamorro society used to pretend they were American or get close to the Naval Government, but most Chamorros would laugh at you and mock you if you said you were an American. There was a variety of labels that Chamorros in the past would use

Today that is very different. Guam is a part of the US, and while objectively you should question whether or not it is advisable for people in the colonies to be patriotic to their colonizer, in Guam that patriotism is understood to be the norm. It is very commonsensical in fact. Some people may refer to World War II or I Tiempon Chapones in order to explain why this is so. Others may just refer to the need to be loyal to the US since we need them to survive and prosper. Others may say that they have US passports and so therefore they are supposed to be patriotic. We eat and breathe American media and consumerism, popular culture and so much else, patriotism is something that we should obviously have.

The problem with this is the relationship between patriotism and nationalism. You could call them the same thing, intimately related, or even argue that they are two very distinct things. One of the things that feelings such as these are meant to do is not only give you a way of articulating your love for your nation or your country, but also giving you the means of ignoring or excusing things you don't want to know or think about with regards to your country or nation. Nationalism is a bulletproof vest for you and the country you are patriotic towards. It is meant to deflect ideological bullets aimed at your country, from enemies internal and external, but also meant to protect yourself. The bullet proof vest isn't only supposed to keep you from getting hurt, but more importantly it is meant to keep you from voting differently in that daily plebiscite that Renan describes.

Nationalism is also a self-insulated and self-serving thing. On a daily and hourly basis it keeps you from reevaluating your relationship to the country that claims you, your land, your life, the lives of your children, your rights and so on. Renan states that each of us wake up in the morning and basically vote to remain part of the nation that we belong to. Nationalism is the PR for that re-election. Each day there are always enough things to make any sane person want to burn their nation to the ground. There are enough travesties, enough sins, enough apathy, enough historical trauma, that you could argue any nation would be better off not existing. Even a country like the US that is supposed to be the greatest in the world has a long list of things that you could use to argue pretty effectively that it is really the worst country in the world. Nationalism is meant to help tip the scales towards not perceiving those negative aspects or making excuses for them.

The words of George Bush the First always haunt me when I think of this dynamic. He stated very forcefully, that he would never apologize for the United States, ever. It didn't matter what the facts were, he would just never apologize for it. Such is the purest, most distilled form of nationalism, is that ability to be able to say with a straight face, that no matter what the facts are, my country is still the best and beyond reproach.

You may already know where I'm heading with this. If you are the normative citizen of a nation than regardless of the list of negative things, it is still probably in your best interest to be as patriotic as possible. Even if you are a minor subject, such as a non-white person or even a woman, it might still be a good idea to be patriotic towards your nation. But what about if you come from a colony? Even if you are white, even if you are a man, you are still discriminated against, you are still considered to be different and still considered to be a possession and not an equal partner. The rationale for patriotism is less weighty when you come from the territories or the colonies, and so that is what makes patriotism so much more dangerous.

If you come from the colonies, than much of the aura of greatness of your colonizer shouldn't enamor you. If it touches with its warm and fuzzy glow and makes you feel so special and nice, it isn't because that aura is meant for you, but it is because you are fortunate enough to allowed around its emanations.The greatest that is meant to be the evidence for your "average" American to unconsciously justify their patriotism doesn't prove as much for you in the colonies. Those gifts, that greatness is something that isn't made for you, it just trickles down to you.

Patriotism is something you should be cautious of because of the way it can blind you to the nature of your relationship and how it can end up limiting your possibility identifications and neutralize those which are critical, anti-colonial or decolonial. Patriotism does just make you overlook some minute details, but it can make you imagine yourself and where you come from to exist in a completely different universe. The positive feelings you have towards your colonizer can make it feel as if the circle of belonging is complete, and since you proudly wave the flag of your colonizer, you must be on the inside of the circle and not on the outside! I've referred to this many times over the years as "emotionationalism," whereby you use emotions to overcome the colonial gap, the colonial difference.

I remember when I was doing research for my Masters in Micronesian Studies at UOG. I spent alot of time going through newspapers from the 1960s and 1970s on Guam in order to get a sense of postwar Guam and how Americanization as a process took place in Guam. This is a period of time where throughout much of the US there was lots of discontent and protest directed towards the Vietnam War and alot of energy directed towards changing culture and promoting things such as peace and love. Although Guam was aggressively seeking to Americanize itself, it did not seem to want to do some in this liberal sense. In terms of protests on Guam during that era, there were several. The majority of these demonstrations were directed at supporting the war and proving that Guam supported the military more than anyone else. When LBJ visited Guam he was met by a small protest. It consisted of a single person holding a sign demanding that he "Bomb Hanoi" or further escalate the war.

The problem with patriotism in Guam is that it can transform potential problems that should be fixed into things that the people on Guam heroically endure as Americans. This is why the awakening of activists can always be so difficult on Guam. While some may see Guam's situation as something to be fixed, how prepared are they to challenge the right of America to control Guam, or how prepared are they to articulate that Guam should have an existence that the US cannot absolutely control? There is always the potential for being called anti-American or appearing to be anti-American. So many people will refuse to accept your actions or advocacy as being decolonial and instead see them as being anti-American. Part of what limits speech is the unwillingness of people who have the critique, to accept the label of being unpatriotic.

The article below was published on the Kopbla Amerika website, and was written through a collaboration between myself and a young writer who back then was known as "Tasin Taichina" or "ocean without limits." He was a high school student who had become irritated at the way Guam was discussed in his history class, and also being Chamorro, the way his family talked about the island as well. What he read didn't quite match up to the way he understood the meaning of "colony" or even "unincorporated territory." I first met Tasin Taichina on a message board where he had lots of questions about issues of colonization and activism. We worked on writing the piece below titled simply "Chamorro Patriotism."

  ? !

Guam has been traditionally one of the most patriotic parts of America, and there are several reasons for that. One is the histo/colonial one which places frantic Chamorro patriotism in the reciprocal context of a favor being repaid for the Chamorro liberation during World War II. Another lies in pragmatic economic reasons, in that the military was, for decades after World War II, the largest employer on the island, as well as the source of the most cash inflow. Lastly, the fact that the military provides Guam value in two senses, first as its sole source of global recognition other than tourism, and its sole source of national recognition in the imagined American circle of belonging.
            Therefore, Guam has been traditionally for whatever reason known as a patriotic place, and that is no different today, although things are shifting slightly. For the past 10 years or more, depending on who you ask, Guam has been dealing with a shrinking economy or in dire financial straits. Since September 11th, the economy has been absolutely terrible, with tourism to the island (which is now the #1 industry) dropping to catastrophic levels. The military which has been in a way phased out of the primary economic throne on Guam, has slowly returned into the island’s consciousness as our way out of these tough times. With a poor global economy it seems, no one has money on Guam except for the United States military. Slowly things are de-evolving back into that old colonial mindset, as we need to welcome and support our military, for their construction contracts bring jobs and bring income to our island.
            Following September 11th, Chamorros as well as everyone else on Guam eagerly participated in the disposable patriotism associated with a nation coming together. The increase in military spending was seen by many on Guam as an unfortunate benefit for the island’s economy. But, the patriotism didn’t last in any meaningful form, because despite the media and social pressure to support the nation, the fact of the matter was that the September 11th attack and the American and international response to it, destroyed Guam’s tourist industry. That combined with that fact that while the US Congress was appropriating money to help stimulate the national economy, Guam was left out of the majority of those programs, helped to create a strange contradiction for the people of Guam, as the media and the collective latent nationalism were calling for them to be as patriotic as possible (and therefore not to dissent, differ or critique) and the harsh reality of a colony insanely attached economically to its Master yet constantly ignored.
            This terrible borderland of identity and belonging was best exemplified by the local reaction to the possibility of Al-Qaeda prisoners being incarcerated and tried in Guam. Right after the 9/11 attack, the island was unified in doing our part for the country, chipping in for the national effort, however the tune quickly changed, and the patriotism dispersed when it was announced that the Al-Qaeda may be coming to Guam (for incarceration and trial). Suddenly Guam could be put on the map for international terrorists seeking vengeance. The promise of an economic infusion was not enough to overcome the fear that this participation in the nation could bring terrible things to Guam.
            Guam truly is a buffer zone, or a transition point between East and West, and it has been that way since the Spanish held Guam. Guam has been vitally important to the US strategic interests in Asia, especially as a deterrent to any overt  action. In the current situation with North Korea, Guam is the key to it all. When the North Korean prime minister makes a statement about retaliation if the US attacks or interferes, planes are sent to Guam. Troops are mobilized and so on. During the Vietnam War, especially in the early 1970’s, Guam was the launch pad for the massive bombings in Cambodia and Vietnam, and giant trucks laden with bombs and missiles became just part of the island’s daily routine. When Nixon claimed that the war was over, that there would be no more bombing in Vietnam or no bombing in Cambodia, people on Guam knew differently, for you could still see those missiles being moved from the Navy Yard in the South, to the Air Force base in the North, and onto the planes lifting off daily.
            But things have changed. In peace times, military increases have traditionally been times of celebration on Guam, however now perceptions are shifting. In times of war, military increases give the world notice of Guam’s existence, but in a frightening context, as US military installation. In an interview for a documentary about Guam and its identity issues from 1944 to the present day, a local scholar was asked what he would want to say to the people of America. Others in early interviews had all made a statement hoping to creative recognition in the average American, that "we are here!" But this local scholar said that, maybe he, and maybe we don't want the US to know we're here. A statement with many possible meanings and implications, it no doubt touches on the fear of being publicized as a ripe, juicy US military target, but also on the uncertain identity politics and possible and confusing moral implications of a love of militarism.
            Wishing to be closer to the US has been an integral part of Chamorro identity thanks to the finest hegemony money can buy, and 9/11 gave Chamorros the perfect opportunity to believe even more so in our problematic proximity. By standing proud to be Americans, Chamorros completed this part of the equation, making themselves firmly American (even if no one else in the world cared), however a new colonial conflict was created as patriotism with America, loyalty and so on put Guam into grave danger from the so-called “axis of evil,” and Filipino militants in Mindanao, and also required unconscious approval of the fact that US military action was destroying the local economy, by adversely affecting world tourism (this was especially true, when the US started their terrorist intervention in Iraq).
            It is for this reason that the Chamorro response to the increased military presence, the attacks in the Middle East, and the current calls for patriotism have been tepid, confused and lukewarm at best. Anti-war rallies have been non-existent, but then again so have pro-troops and pro-war rallies.
            The current situation on Guam is a terrible one. The calls from the colonial master for unity in these trying times are difficult to dismiss, critique or overcome. From the national media, we passively seem to be no different than your average Joe Blow Gringo which is why it is so tempting to just grab the flag and defer all dissent. But by grabbing that flag you are also condoning the US ignorance of Guam as anything other than a rock crawling with military personnel, and that the US policies which damage our island by wiping out world tourism, or even economic restrictions which treat Guam as a foreign country.
            The question which needs to be asked daily in this context of (at)tempted belonging is, when someone calls for us to rally together as a people! Ask; are we even the same people? Our overlapping histories say that we aren’t. The ties that bind us are all publicly or privately colonial, our US passports and our centering of ourselves (self-centering) within your shores, your institutions, your values, and sometimes even your very dreams.
            With all this confusion it is difficult to find a Chamorro response in any compact or simple form. Theirs is apathy all about, and that is the most visible residual effect. But in all colonial relationships the push and pull away from and to the Centre is at play on Guam. The economic advantages of being a key cog in American strategic planning interests and the fact that we are US citizens, always pushes the Chamorro closer to the US, however the history of the island, as well as the willingness of the US to forget about Guam when we are in trouble, but willingness to remember it when they need to invade or bomb another country, will always be pushing us away from the US at the same time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Zizek's Infamous Red Ink

Occupy Wall Street: What Is To Be Done... Next?

How a protest movement without a program can confront a capitalist system that defies reform

What to do in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the protests that started far away – in the Middle East, Greece, Spain, UK – reached the center, and are now reinforced and rolling out all around the world?

In a San Francisco echo of the OWS movement on 16 October 2011, a guy addressed the crowd with an invitation to participate in it as if it were a happening in the hippy style of the 1960s:
"They are asking us what is our program. We have no program. We are here to have a good time."
Such statements display one of the great dangers the protesters are facing: the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the nice time they are having in the "occupied" places. Carnivals come cheap – the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

In a kind of Hegelian triad, the western left has come full circle: after abandoning the so-called "class struggle essentialism" for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist etc struggles, "capitalism" is now clearly re-emerging as the name of the problem.

The first two things one should prohibit are therefore the critique of corruption and the critique of financial capitalism. First, let us not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is neither Main Street nor Wall Street, but to change the system where Main Street cannot function without Wall Street. Public figures from the pope downward bombard us with injunctions to fight the culture of excessive greed and consummation – this disgusting spectacle of cheap moralization is an ideological operation, if there ever was one: the compulsion (to expand) inscribed into the system itself is translated into personal sin, into a private psychological propensity, or, as one of the theologians close to the pope put it:
"The present crisis is not crisis of capitalism but the crisis of morality."
Let us recall the famous joke from Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka: the hero visits a cafeteria and orders coffee without cream; the waiter replies:
"Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk. Can I bring you coffee without milk?"
Was not a similar trick at work in the dissolution of the eastern European Communist regimes in 1990? The people who protested wanted freedom and democracy without corruption and exploitation, and what they got was freedom and democracy without solidarity and justice. Likewise, the Catholic theologian close to the pope is carefully emphasizing that the protesters should target moral injustice, greed, consumerism etc, without capitalism. The self-propelling circulation of Capital remains more than ever the ultimate Real of our lives, a beast that by definition cannot be controlled.

"The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work – they are the beginning, not the end."

One should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over? It is at this crucial point that we encounter the fatal weakness of the protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a minimal positive program of socio-political change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

Reacting to the Paris protests of 1968, Lacan said:
"What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one."
It seems that Lacan's remark found its target (not only) in the indignados of Spain. Insofar as their protest remains at the level of a hysterical provocation of the master, without a positive program for the new order to replace the old one, it effectively functions as a call for a new master, albeit disavowed.

We got the first glimpse of this new master in Greece and Italy, and Spain will probably follow. As if ironically answering the lack of expert programs of the protesters, the trend is now to replace politicians in the government with a "neutral" government of depoliticized technocrats (mostly bankers, as in Greece and Italy). Colorful "politicians" are out, grey experts are in. This trend is clearly moving towards a permanent emergency state and the suspension of political democracy.
So we should see in this development also a challenge: it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization, to imagine and experiment with alternate forms of organization, to search for the germs of the New. Communism is not just or predominantly the carnival of the mass protest when the system is brought to a halt; Communism is also, above all, a new form of organization, discipline, hard work.

... it is not enough to reject the depoliticized expert rule as the most ruthless form of ideology; one should also begin to think seriously about what to propose instead of the predominant economic organization...

The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them, but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture. In boxing, to "clinch" means to hold the opponent's body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton's reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are "on balance … a positive thing", but he is worried about the nebulousness of the cause. Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan, which he claimed would create "a couple million jobs in the next year and a half". What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of "concrete" pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New. The reason protesters went out is that they had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the third world troubles is enough to make them feel good.

Economic globalization is gradually but inexorably undermining the legitimacy of western democracies. Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states. In this way, people more and more experience institutional democratic forms as unable to capture their vital interests.
It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, today perhaps more than ever: for Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper. The key to actual freedom rather resides in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not a political reform, but a change in the "apolitical" social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory, etc – all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organizing "democratic" banks under people's control. In such "democratic" procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism is, the solution is sought in applying the democratic mechanisms – which, one should never forget, are part of the state apparatuses of the "bourgeois" state that guarantees undisturbed functioning of the capitalist reproduction.

Due to their international character, large economic processes cannot be controlled by democratic mechanisms which are, by definition, limited to nation states.

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: it reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn't know to what they are answers, and the analyst has to formulate a question. Only through such a patient work a program will emerge.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends:
"Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false."
After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink:
"Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the west, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing unavailable is red ink."
And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants – the only thing missing is the "red ink": we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict – "war on terror", "democracy and freedom", "human rights", etc – are false terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it.

The task today is to give the protesters red ink.

 This article is based on remarks Slavoj Žižek will be making at an event at the New York Public Library on 25 April, ahead of publication of The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012)

Thursday, April 26, 2012


When Geocities disappeared a few years ago it was a depressing time for me. I had several websites that were stored on Geocities and alot of things that I've collected and written over the years just disappeared. Some of them I still have, and have survived the years through various laptops I've had or by being attached to an email I've sent. But I believed the majority of it had ended up in the trash can of nonexistence where so many things of the internet go.

A few years back AOL closed down there community pages, and many websites that hadn't been maintained in years, but were nonetheless an important source of information were lost. One of my favorite sites there was the old Nasion Chamoru page. It had so much info there, I found myself for years going back there to look at pictures, read old articles, and see other info about the group and about Chamorros in general. The webmasters tried to start up a new Nasion Chamoru page on blogger, but never really did much with it.

The Minagahet zine that I started in 2003 was thankfully saved and migrated onto Yahoo. I haven't put out an issue in more than a year, and I've been meaning to for quite a while. But at least you can find every issue of Minagahet safely archived on

Another website that I helped create. sometimes known as "Kopbla Amerika" sometimes known as "Free Guahan" was not so fortunate. By the time Geocities disappeared Kopbla Amerika had been dormant for quite a while. It was still visited regularly, but it hadn't been updated or been given much attention. The website was started by myself and several others who discovered each other on the internet through message boards and chat rooms about 10 years ago. We collected things we'd written and decided to post them online.

I was sad to see the website disappear just because it was like a previous incarnation of myself had been lost somehow. When I think back to who I was at that point I cannot help but feel some very intense nostalgia. So many of the thoughts that are not engraved into the groves of my brain were fresh and new at that point. They were still forming, I was still trying to work out what the best way to talk about things such as language survival, decolonization, Chamorro culture, Guam History, activist, todudu. I had so little confidence back then I remember the slightest bit of hate mail sending me into a frenzy. I didn't know how to respond to negative feedback, I hadn't developed any sort of thick skin. I remember someone telling me that my spelling of Chamorro words was incorrect, and I became so incensed I went through the dictionary and checked every single word, noting that each was spelled correctly according to the best dictionary that existed at that time. I completely overreacted, when all the personal was critiquing was the fact that I was using "Chamorro" instead of "Chamoru" when I was writing.

Initially I wanted to refer to myself as "Kopbla." I was learning Chamorro and experimenting with all these words I was using, and I got stuck on the word "kopbla." It is Spanish in origin, and is something less and less used nowadays, but it can be a very charged word. Kopbla means to ask that something that is owed be paid back, or remind someone that they owe you. In Chamorro culture this is generally considered not a great thing to do. People are supposed to know their obligations, and so even if it appears that they have forgotten their debts, to remind them about it can be seen as a more grave breach of conduct than the forgetting to repay one's debts in the first place. I later abandoned the name and let someone else have it, and adopted the words "Sahuma Minagahet" instead.

In those early days of activism I wanted to function as a "reminder" un na'hasso. I wanted to embody in many ways the things that people didn't want to notice or didn't want to remember. The fictions of the present were falling away around me. I had always thought of Guam as a part of the US, but the more I looked at the relationship, the more I realized that things were much more complicated, and that even if Guam was "a" part of the US, it was certainly not an equal part of it. I had grown up on Guam surrounded by military fences, but I didn't really care about them or think much about them. Most people see them as signifiers of prosperity, honor, duty, defense, and other sort of strong, empowering ideals. At that point in my life I wanted to remind people that the fences signify other things as well. For every fence that might seem to signify the greatness of the US military, it also potentially signifies the tragic and painful history of landtaking. For every fence there is at least one family who lost lands. People should be reminded about that as well.

As a result the first activist website I created was called "Kopbla Amerika" or demand from the US something that is owed. This sentiment was very much tied to the issue of how I was beginning to see the US as constricting Guam and Chamorros. The US has given Guam quite a bit. Guam was able to progress and develop faster than most places in the world because of it's strategic importance and because of how the US sometimes acts as a benevolent master to it. But at some point in either the 1980's, 1990's or even 1970's depending on how you view history, Guam reached a tipping point, where the relationship couldn't really go anywhere else.

For most Chamorros and people on Guam, the postwar period is a time of slow, but steady Americanization and inclusion. American money and influences seem to fall from the sky as if mana from heavens or Marines in a time of Japanese occupation. People feel that the role that they play in improving things or keeping the train moving is not acting, investing, growing, but rather in believing. People think that by showing patriotism, by having faith in the US, Guam will continue to progress, and that is the best way to handle the managing of the island. When the infamous military buildup was first announced, that was how people first integrated it into their cognitive map. It was something, like all the other things, we just have to believe in it, let it happen, follow what we think the US wants, and all will be great.

Robert Underwood described this dynamic through songs, most importantly the Tiempon Chapones tune, "Sam, Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam..." In World War II, while Chamorros at the micro level did so many things in order to survive and get by, they endured so much, the macro frame for giving that experience meaning is naturally heavily drenched in the US and its prowess, its dominance. As are result they began to infuse the "larger" things in life with the US, and ascribe them a sort of divine function. Just keep singing the song of devotion, just keep waving the flag and everything will be ok. Chamorros even went so far as to offer up their micro things, some of their small things to the altar of American devotion and subordination. Most importantly their language.

This is a clear example of how the colonial infrastructure can be pointless at one moment and then given the right circumstances, suddenly emanate as if they are the sources of life. As I've written elsewhere, World War II in my work plays that role of being the catalyst to kicking the colonization of Chamorros into hyperdrive.

But what Chamorros have interpreted as their loyalty and faith that has gotten them so far, is only partially true. The patriotism of Chamorro has helped them get things out of the US Federal Government, perhaps faster than they might have otherwise. The strategic importance of Guam doesn't hurt either. The connections that were made by men such as Won Pat, Blaz and Underwood don't hurt either. But alot of what Guam has benefited from has been incidental and unfortunately not permanent. Guam is included in alot of Federal programs, but it doesn't have any right to be included in those programs, and it can be excluded at a whim by the Feds. Guam has grown and shrunk as the US has grown and as economies in Asia have grown and shrunk.

What Underwood argued in his Thinking Out Loud lecture series, given at the end of his term as non-voting delegate to Congress, was that things had changed so much that the same old song, the same old faith doesn't work. In the past, it seemed as if all Tony Won Pat had to do was go in front of Congress and talk about how much Chamorros love the US and died for it in World War II and money would be airlifted to Guam for whatever it needed. Nowadays this isn't true anymore. Playing the patriotic card is old, times have changed. The war heroes of World War II are almost gone from the Congress, and so telling stories about suffering Chamorros in war isn't anywhere near as effective.

Guam has come far by being a dependency of the US, but it has reached a point where dependency doesn't do us any future good. One of the ideological points that I first formed in those early years was that Guam needs to be able to move on. It needs the ability to take its next steps in its growth, in its evolution, in its development. I have my opinions about what it should become, what it should do, but the most important issue here is that it be allowed to do so. Guam will naturally make mistakes and things may become difficult regardless of which path it chooses, but it should be given that choice and that ability that every people is supposed to deserve.

The Chamorro Information Activists was formed so long ago from people who came from all sorts of perspectives, but fundamentally agreed on this point. Alot of them were young students, on Guam or in the states, who were like me starting to look into these things, starting to find our own ways of explaining reality and seeking means to change it. We collected different things that we had written or had inspired us and tried to collect them on the Kopbla Amerika website.

I thought for several years that this website was lost, but it really wasn't. Somewhere along the way someone had mirrored many Geocities websites and so while doing a random Guam/Chamorro search I came across the saved site. I was so happy to see some articles that I and others had written were still there. I decided to copy and save them all.

For the next few days I'll be posting old articles from Kopbla Amerika, some of them written by Chamorro Information Activists, others were other media that was posted there.  Today I want to post the text of one of the first documents produced by the group Nasion Chamoru publicly. It was a column written by Angel Santos for the Guam Tribune. It announced the intent of this new group, its philosophy and its role in Guam. It is a beautiful thing to ready even if you may not agree with all of it.


The Tribune, Saturday, November 2, 1991
The Birth of the Chamoru Nation

Tinige' i Difunton Anghet Leon Guerrero Santos
        In the beginning of time, God created man in his own image. He created a universal home for his people. He scattered them throughout the world and gave each of them a language of their own. He gave them land and enough natural resources to live on. He created Koreans and gave them a home in Korea. Then he made the Japanese and gave them a home in Japan. Then he created Chamorus and gave them a home in the Marianas. 
         Who is a Chamoru? A Chamoru is a direct descendant of the original inhabitants of Guam regardless of variations of lineage. A Chamoru is not determined in terms of degrees or fractions. A person who is 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 Chamoru is still a human beings have a God-given right to claim their identity based on the argument that there is no nationality in the world that is pure. Why must Chamorus be subjected to all the insults and alienation? Why must we justify our identities? God knows who we are and that's all that matters. Chamorus have an inalienable right to exist as a nation of people! Our ancestors were placed on this island with a unique culture and language, found nowhere in the world except in the Marianas Islands. Why do outsiders argue that there are no real Chamorus? Is it because these individuals or outside governments have an economic or political interest in our island? Or is it because they have no sense of their own identity? Chamorus know who they are. They are born, raised and proud to be Chamoru. A Chamoru is allowed to keep his clothes, American car, a concrete home, and government job and still be a Chamoru. It is not an immortal sin to be a Chamoru. It is a divine gift from God....
           Today, survival of the Chamoru Nation is threatened as a result of the US open door policy allowing the influx of immigrants into Guam. The United States denied Chamorus their fundamental human rights by taking Chamoru lands (one third of Guam) in the 1940's and 1950's, without due process of just compensation. For any nation to survive, is people must protect the land, water, air, spirituality, language and culture...
...Sovereignty is the right of a people to control their own destiny. All sovereign nations must protect six elements - land, water, air, spirituality, language and culture for the survival of its people. If any of these elements are sold, destroyed or lost, then sovereignty begins to erode and our right to survive is decreased. The influx of immigrants to Guam has an impact on these elements that threatens Chamoru survival.
        Some Chamorus feel its too late to attend to problems on Guam, but while the Chamorus still make up 42 percent of the population it is not too late. While some Chamorus chose not to sell their land, it is not too late. While some still speak the language, it is not too late. While our culture is still being practiced, it is not too late. While our children still depend on us, it is not too late. While we are still alive, it is not too late. Patience, faith and prayer are our only weapons in reversing the injustice and restoring hope for our people.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mensahi Ginnen i Gehilo' #3 - I Fecha

Mensahi Ginnen i Gehilo' #3

"I Fecha"

After the Decolonization Commission being called into session last year, things looked to be moving ahead in terms of an educational campaign and a self-determination plebiscite.After eight years lost due to the previous administration's unwillingess to address the issue of political status, the Calvo Administration appeared committed to "un nuebu na direksion" put este na asunto. After quite a bit of hype and hope things have cooled. In 2011, Governor Calvo went on record supporting 2014 as a good year to hold the self-determination vote. The commission and its subcommittee discussed what would be the best date given a variety of factors. These factors included availability of funds for a stand alone vote, changes in administrations, the need for sufficient time to educate people, and also the fear that if the date is set to far into the future, then it might prevent elected leaders today from working towards it. November 2014 looked, according to the discussion to be the best possible date.

Now we are in 2012 and things have shifted slightly. The 2014 looks like it might be a real contest in terms of a Democrat challenging Calvo in the election. People don't want political status to become a wild card and somehow working against them. Political status can be a strange thing in Guam politics. For years it meant nothing and was something never dealt with because of the perception that to talk about it was to be anti-American. Eventually the standard response to any question about political status was the "i taotao la'mon," or it is up to the people, and the people will decide. This was a way of being able to address the issue without taking a stand on it. This apprehensiveness was due to the lack of readability for decolonization conversations. As a leader of Guam you always have to say that Guam deserves more, that Guam should get more of something or be able to evolve and chance, but that narrative always smacks directly into the colonizing assumption that the US should ultimately be in charge of Guam and that if Guam's status will change, it is the US who should be in charge of it. Discussing political status could become a minefield because it intrinsically authorizes a territory or a colony to have some power that must not be shared by the colonizer. The problem with this is that many people assume that it should be the US who is in charge of everything and Guam would only mess things up if it were to do anything.

Today things have changed, but there is still that delicacy to discussing political status. Some candidates have come forward to state what they feel is best for Guam. Many of them argue for free association, a few for statehood. While there are many who appear to support the principles of independence, no one has yet to openly support it and argue for it. A general election can be a crazy thing, to say the least. The rhetoric of a senator, a mayor or a member of the general public receives far less scrutiny, and it is hard to predict what sort of strange, bewildering thing might come to define or defame a candidate.

This leaves the fate of the vote in question once again, as we are unsure how to move forward. I am interested to hear anyone's thoughts on what they think might be the best possible date. Would it be best to save money and have this plebiscite take place during an already scheduled election, such as a primary or general election? Would it be better completely on its own? Would it be better to have it sooner or later? What counts as sooner what counts as later? Should the process wait until funds have been allocated for it. or should it start earlier?

Si Yu'us Ma'ase.

Sahuma Minagahet ya Na'suha Dinagi

Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Chairman, Independence for Guam Task Force

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Si Yu'us Ma'ase?

History is by its nature a troubling thing. Humans tend to want to look forward, especially when there is a mess behind them they would rather not deal with. When something seems too complicated, it is natural to feel like it would be better to leave it alone, rather than think about it or do something about it. This is especially true if that mess has something to do with you or the way your life has come to exist. One very clear local example of this is the complexities and contradictions involved in Guam’s colonization and the forced introduction of Catholicism to the island.
Not many people noticed I’m sure, but a few weeks back we marked the 330th anniversary of the killing of Pale’ Diego Luis San Vitores by Maga’lahi Mata’pang of Tumon. For those who don’t know who San Vitores is, you should take a Guam History class. For those of you who did and still don’t know, you should have paid attention. San Vitores is arguably the most influential person in Guam’s colonial history. If he did not exist, Guam and Chamorros would have a very different history.

San Vitores is the priest responsible for bringing Catholicism to Guam. By the 1600’s Spain had connected Americas and the Asia via the Pacific and established a presence in the Philippines. They had visited Guam many times, but had not colonized it. Sa' hafa? Guam had only “savages” with no precious minerals or spices. The Spanish could stop there to get fresh water or food if they wished, but didn’t need to invest resources in conquering Guam in order to make use of its location.

San Vitores stopped in Guam on his way to serve in the Philippines in 1662. When he saw the Chamorros living in blissful ignorance of God, he swore that he would return one day to save their souls. He lobbied hard for years against multiple levels of bureaucratic inertia before his wish was granted. Luck was on his side, and as the church histories state, so was God. In June 1668 the first Catholic mission arrived in Guam officially beginning Guam’s colonization.

Things progressed well at first. San Vitores had learned to speak Chamorro from a Filipino who had been shipwrecked on Guam years earlier. Chamorros were amazed to hear a Spaniard speaking their language. They were also excited to meet Spaniards who weren’t just interested in taking food and water but actually wanted to give Chamorros things. First and foremost they offered “I chalan i langhet” or the road to heaven. The fact that they were also handing out pieces of metal, which Chamorros were very interested in obtaining didn’t hurt either. 

One interesting thing to consider about those early days of colonization is how crazy things must have sounded to Chamorros. You had these priests going around telling everyone what they thought meant was "the road to heaven," when in truth they were actually telling Chamorros how they could help them get the "road to the sky." There word for heaven today is "langhet" and that is most likely the word San Vitores would have used, but it wouldn't have been charged with the religious meaning we give it today. Instead Chamorros may have felt that San Vitores held the secret of ginipu, or flight.

Once Chamorros realized that the Spanish intended to radically alter their culture and control their lives, they started to resist and fight back. To the credit of San Vitores he was primarily a pacifist. As he was organizing the oppressing of a people and the suppressing of so much of Chamorro culture he did try his best to avoid violence or outright war. Sporadic fighting took place for years until the first large scale battle of the Chamorro Spanish Wars took place in 1671. Two thousands Chamorros, initially mobilized by Maga’låhi Hurao attacked the Spanish in Hagåtña. The siege lasted for weeks before a typhoon and a Spanish counterattack rebuffed them.

Eventually by 1672, one Chamorro, a maga’låhi from Tumon, whose name continues to live in infamy locally, Mata’pang decided to attack San Vitores directly. San Vitores visited Mata’pang’s home in order to baptize his young daughter. Mata’pang refused and threatened to kill the priest if he didn’t respect his wishes. In his zeal San Vitores baptized the child anyway. Mata’pang, with the help of his friend Hirao attacked the priest and his assistant, killing them both. Mata'pang's motivations might be clear to all of us, but they would have been somewhat confusing to San Vitores. Mata'pang has initially converted to Catholcism willingly and according to the Church history, San Vitores considered him a friend. Nevertheless, San Vitores did not feel betrayed by Mata'pang attacking him, but was actually happy to have finally met his hand.

The last words that San Vitores uttered “Si Yu’os Ma’åse Mata’pang,” meant at that time “God is merciful Mata’pang” but today they would be translated as “Thank you Mata’pang.” The historical explanation for this transformation of meaning is that with his attack Mata’pang was granting the priest’s most ardent wish, namely that he be able to give his life in spreading God’s seeds in savage lands. This simple changing in meaning reflect the way the legacy of San Vitores has become embedded in contemporary Guam. Some on Guam hoping to challenge that colonial history have started to use the phrase “Saina Ma’åse,” meaning “the elder is merciful” as an alternative.

For his martyrdom and his role in bringing Christianity to the Marianas San Vitores was beatified and became “Blessed Diego of the Marianas” in 1985. For his role in killing San Vitores, the word Mata’pang has become associated with many negative social traits, such as being obnoxious, uncouth, ignorant or just plain stupid. Despite the fact that Catholic is an integral part of Guam today, one helped oppress an entire people, indirectly leading to the death of tens of thousands by war, disease and other trauma. The other was a brave defender of his people in a time of terrible crisis. History can be so unkind. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Si Jack

Estague i che'lu-hu Si Jack yan i lahi-hu Si Akli'e'.

Mambisita Si Jack giya Guahan gi i ma'pos na mes.

Hu kekekombense gui' na maolekna ha move gui' tatte para este na isla.

Gof apmam desde sumaga' Si Jack giya Guahan ya dos biahi ha' ha bisita desde ki ha dingu gui'.

Para Guahu gof malago' yu' na u saga' mo'na guini sa' sina manhami yan i dos che'lu-hu.

Gof hagas desde na manggaige ham gi i parehu na pidasun tano'.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fina'kuentos #4: Annai i tiempo ti tiempo-mu...

Today's fina'kuentos or as I like to call them empe' finayi is ideal for those who have kids. When I say kids, I mean more than one child of course since having at least two children creates an entirely different home dynamic than having just one.

For example, my two kids, Sumahi and Akli'e' get along most of the time. Sumahi is the captain of the ship, while her younger brother Akli'e' is like the Chamorro Brown Steward. He isn't really the first mate because Sumahi doesn't trust him to take charge if she's taigue. Neither does he man any weapons or hold any real responsibility because Sumahi doesn't trust him to do much of anything. So instead he just sits in the galley of the ship, peeling potatoes and washing pots and pans. Because Akli'e' looks up to Sumahi so much this works out fine for the time being; as he develops more and more of his own personality, I suspect there will be some personality conflicts.

One thing that they do fight over regularly, as most kids do I'm sure, is the possessing of things. In theory the toys on the floor belong to everyone. Akli'e' can play with the Barbie doll, Sumahi can play with the screaming monkey doll, all the toys belong to everyone. Naturally the kids feel ownership over certain toys, because of perceptions of which toy belongs to which gender, and also feelings that I own this because I got it for Christmas or a birthday, but in general in our house we are supposed to share toys.

When I say possessing of things I'm not referring to this sort of pre-given assertion of ownership. Instead what I mean is the desiring of possessing something primarily because you don't have it, but someone else does. One of my favorite moments in all of the many millions of moments that the show The Simpons has created over the years is when Bart has a crush on someone, but doesn't know what to do. He turns to Lisa who tells him that he only really wants that girl because she is with Milhouse, and the fact that he doesn't possess her, makes her all the more alluring. Bart demands that she illustrate her point using objects in the room. She uses Maggie who is waiting in her crib playing with a toy. Lisa grabs a toy that she isn't paying any attention to. Once Lisa has taken it Maggie jumps up trying to get the toy for herself. Lisa tries to explain to Bart that Maggie only wants this toy because someone has taken it, but Bart has also jumped up and is trying to take the toy away from Lisa.

My kids are often like this. A toy that is lying on the ground isn't very interesting. If it was interesting, someone would be playing with it. But the least interesting toy in the world can someone achieve an aura of being the greatest, if someone is playing with it.

In Chamorro there is a saying for describing this, and I've been trying to get Sumahi to remember and say it, but the phrase is long and very abstract.

"Annai i tiempo ti tiempo-mu, taya' oras sipirao. Lao annai esta i tiempo-mu esta ti dimasaio."

Or as I like to say it:

"Annai i tiempo ti tiempo-mu, taya' oras sipirao. Lao annai esta i tiempo-mu esta pumara dimasiao."

It translates to: When the time at hand, isn't your time, every moment is connected to the next (or time drags on so slowly). But when your time arrives, it just doesn't feel urgent anymore.

I use this for my kids when they are so desperate and eager to get something, but then quickly lose interest once they have it. In truth however, the phrase originates as something you use not for object, but for love. It is something that you are supposed to say to someone who, like Bart, has a terrible, debilitating crush.

This was a saying that Chamorros would use to soothe the heartache of a friend who was so terribly in love with someone, who they probably knew very little about, and had perhaps only once or twice exchanged looked. In earlier times, both under the US and under the Spanish, sexuality was very tightly restrained and monitored. Young women and men couldn't interact with each other socially. Dating did not exist. The only members of the opposite sex that you could hang out freely with, were the ones you were closely related to. Anyone else was considered off limits, and most of the time, the only contact you could have is needy glances from across the pews at church or notes secreted back and forth across the village from helpful chule'guagua' or "cupids."

Without being able to talk to your crush, your newfound love, every moment really does feel connected and time drags on as your mind mulls over what she must be doing, what is she thinking about, could she be thinking about you, could she love you, and feel the same as you? When you are that smitten, it can feel as if there is no room to breathe. The thoughts of your love and the possibilities, both positive and negative can overwhelm you. Time drags on as you anticipate when you will see your potential love next. You have Broadway shows full of dialogues between yourself and your love, all without her probably evening knowing or realizing it.

But when you eventually, actually speak to the object of your desire, things usually start to cool down. The ideal that you created in your desire doesn't ever really match up to the person who you are actually after. That doesn't mean you don't really love them, but only that the intensity or the urgency that you sometimes feel in attraction or devotion isn't really real. It isn't part of this world, but something that you feel and hold on to only through absence. Once it is filled, the dinimasiao goes away.

But such is the nature of life. We are haunted, tormented and empowered by the sublime, but we live with the real. That is why, when the toy is not your toy it is special, it could mean everything. But once you get that toy, what is it really? What could it be? Just a toy that you have, nothing more.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fine'nina na Dinemo'

Esta tumunok Si Santorum.

Hagas tumunok Si Gingrich, lao ti ya-na umadmiti este.

Si Paul siempre i humohongge gui' para u kontinuha humahatsa i babao-na, lao gi minagahet esta mapedde' gui' lokkue'.

Gi i bandan Republican Si Romney i uttimo tumotohgue.

Pues para mo'na esta ki i botasion gi November, este un dos na taotao na inacha'igi.

Esta hagas i batkadan Obama pine'lon-niha na Si Romney para u i gayun Republican. Pues siempre esta manlisto siha para i cho'cho' put taimanu na sina ma tachi gui'.

Egga' este na video ni' hu na'chetton gi este na post.

Kalang dnanche Si Santorum annai ilek-na na Si Romney i mas daffe' na kandidatun Republican ni' sina kumontra Si Obama. I mabuena-na Si Romney na i health care na prugrama na Si Obama ha implemente, ha o'osge i hagas na pine'lon Romney giya Massachussetts annai estaba gubetno gui' guihi.

Esta i taotaon Obama siha manlisto para Si Romney, esta ma trutrukus gui' (gi pulitikat ha'). Annok taimanu na sina ma chanda Si Romney gi este na video.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Not a Critique of Confrontational Reason

It is interesting how I am often seen as a very confrontational person by some; how some people see me as an angry aggressive activist who at every moment fights the power and challenges things. I do think of myself as a critical person in some ways. I am very critical of certain structures of power, most importantly Guam's relationship to the United States. I am very critical sometimes of the way power and race operate at the University of Guam, but I am not the type who articulates this at every turn. I do not go around shaming Americans with every chance I get. Even if I have very serious critiques about the presence of the US military on Guam, I do not go around spitting on them. Part of this is simply because of who I am. I am not a confrontational person. I have never really seen the value of it. I have always sought to find more indirect ways of accomplishing things. Perhaps you could call this a cultural thing, as most people tend to articulate Chamorros as being like this.
As I've grown older I've come to see the less confrontational style as being productive, especially in terms of critique and understanding. The lure of ideology is that it doesn't only give you things to believe in and to cherish and give you a political place in the world; it also gives you a screen through which you can filter every possible opposing view. It gives you protection against the world, an insulation which gives you the ability to know much, without knowing anything. When you have debates, whether they be real or imaginary, you already know what your opponents will say. You already anticipate it and are already ready for it. Even if you aren't really ready, ideology is meant to make you feel as if you are ready. It is for this reason that people often feel like winning an ideological battle is primarily about entrenching yourself and re-entrenching yourself. It is about reinforcing your beliefs and staying more pure and truer to your ideological position. The other side is reduced to caricature, shadows on the wall of a philosophical cave and not much else. Focus on yourself, since your opponents don't have anything valuable to say anyways.

From a certain pragmatic standpoint this makes sense. If you are so entrenched on one side, why would you assume that the other side would not be so as well? Why would you assume that for some reason your opponents would be more open than you are?

One of the strange things about life is that truth and understanding are not always found in the same place. Truth can appear anywhere and can be felt in anything. There are after all a multitude of truths, every perspective can have one and anyone can believe in one. To adhere to a truth does not require an understanding of it. To feel like you know the truth does not require that you understand what you are believing in. That is why religion can be such a powerful force, because it can offer you the great truths of the universe, where understanding them is not necessary, only simple faith required. Understanding something or attempting to understand something can make the truth feel mappot, difficult. It can make it move back and forth across the spectrum of possibility. Appearing at one point as if a certainty and the next as an impossibility.

I am committed to truth, but I am also committed to understanding and to knowing. While in any debate it can be easy to just take a side, that provides you answers and responses, but it does not help you to understand the issue. Understanding comes from knowing something from multiple angles and that requires that you open yourself to something, even if just tactically or strategically, to allow its ideological structure to become known or be felt. That requires that you let your ideological guard down or set it aside for a moment. It is something that most people don’t like to do because it does pose a threat to the version of yourself who finds comfort and safe meaning in your current ideological state. It may mean that you have to start to question things about your beliefs about yourself and that generally doesn’t feel nice.

When I meet people I don’t like or whom I vehemently disagree with I sometimes do feel the urge to challenge them, to give them a piece of my mind and to unleash some purist ideological fury. I feel this urge, but I rarely do this. What I usually do instead, is I listen. I let them do most of the talking, and let them kind of say what they would like because I always find that it helps my understanding of the issue. Hearing someone when they feel like they are winning, when they feel like they have a sympathetic audience can be very valuable since you can hear versions of your opponent’s ideology that you might not hear otherwise. Understanding your opposition can risk you developing sympathies, but it can also enhance your understanding of your own position. It can make you better able to counter and critique opposing views.

There are certain people that I critique in the world, and I always wonder how I would act if I ever saw them in person. In the film Frost/Nixon, one hilarious episode takes place that brings this to mind. While David Frost is preparing to conduct an interview with Richard Nixon, he hires analysts to help give him journalistic ammo so that he can take Nixon to task for the crimes he committed against the country he was supposed to lead. One of the researchers is very critical of Nixon, and basically makes it seem as if he will spit in Nixon’s face when he meets him. The day of the interview arrives and when the analyst is face to face with Nixon he “chickens out” and meekly and respectfully shakes Nixon’s hand and referring to him as “Mr. President.”

Even though this is my position I do admire those who are willing to confront and challenge people they meet and force them to reckon with an opposing ideology. What got me thinking of this is when I read the post below from Bruce Gagnon on his blog “Organizing Notes.” It describes the way he respectfully challenges a southern Senator whom he ran into while sitting in the airport at Atlanta.


Bruce Gagnon
"Talking with Saxby"

As I was sitting here in the Atlanta, Georgia airport and posting on my blog I heard a familiar voice sitting next to me. I recognized it from watching Congressional debate on C-SPAN. I looked over and sure enough, it was conservative Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).

I figured I needed to use this chance to say something about Afghanistan since the newspaper he was holding in his hand had a front page story about the U.S. soldier killing 16 innocent civilians in that war torn country.

I introduced myself and told the senator that I am a member of Veterans For Peace. I told him that we needed to get out of Afghanistan right away. He said, "Headlines like this don't help us." But he went on to defend the U.S. military occupation saying that we have to stay until new effective leadership can be developed. He said the people there were not capable of running their own affairs.

I asked him how much we are spending there every month and he quickly replied, "Oh, about $10 billion." I told him we need that money back here at home and that what we spend in one year in Afghanistan could cover all the debt in states across the country that are now in the red.

He kept saying that we are going to be there a long time - and I again pressed him by asking why we have to stay. Was it China? Was it the Caspian Sea pipeline routes through Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Surprisingly he responded that, "It's more about Russia."

I told him he was losing the hearts of the American people on this and he replied, "Yeah, I know that is right."

I then told him that every criminal has an MO - a modus operandi - and that this criminal syndicate called the military industrial complex has one and I'd seen it in operation since the Vietnam War.

At that point he was anxious to move. He thanked me for my service to the country. I responded that I was still serving the country by opposing these current wars.

He got up and left.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Flirting with Disaster

Wrote this last year for the Marianas Variety, forgot to post it here. I almost get teary eyed thinking about how crazy the Republican contenders for the election were. Sad to be down to just Romney, Satorum and the ghost of Newt Gingrich.


“Flirting with Disaster”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

Donald Trump isn’t running anymore for the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 2012. It’s a shame really. Technically, he never was really running, but rather participating in what seems to be the current national pastime of leaders in the Republican Party, flirting with the idea of running for President. It is a lucrative game and one which takes clear advantage of the problem that the Republican party lacks a clear leader or vision for their brand in the next election.

Trump’s candidacy was ridiculous but had to be taken seriously for a few weeks because the media and opinion polls ended up turning the mere idea that someone could be running, into a series of polls and stories which actually made it seem not just that he might run, but that he might win. The idea that Donald Trump could be elected on the Republican side of the ballot had little to do with reality, but rather fantasies of how interesting he would make things. No doubt his temporary surge in the polls stemmed from people imagining that on inauguration day 2013 he would say “you’re fired” to Obama’s face. He is a household name, one loathed far more than loved, but his confidence, craziness and willingness to say ridiculous things to keep him in the spotlight made him unable to resist. Can you imagine him in a debate with Obama and when a question of foreign policy comes up? Obama sarcastically challenges Trump by stating that dealing with Kim Jong Ill and Gaddafi isn’t like dealing with Meatloaf and Gary Busey.

For the next few months we can expect more Trumps to appear, in an attempt for the Republican Party to fill its message vacuum, sort through a huge field of possible candidates and inspire its deeply divided base. In the 2008 election Democrats were faced with a similar huge list of candidates and the electorate was treated to an endless string of debate-o-drome forums, which sometimes, because of the sheer number of candidates were reduced to rounds of yes-and-no-please-raise-your-hand-style questions. The difference for Democrats was that their long list of candidates contained two historic choices, or two contenders who promised to not only change the election but the country if elected. Although the party seemed at time on the verge of imploding at times, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the chance to help make either make history, was still an enviable choice.

Republicans in this election have just as many potential candidates out there, but a list of lackluster options. The exciting and almost forbidden exception to this is Sarah Palin, who is the ultimate Republican Party crush; a candidate that they are so desperately infatuated with, and stare dreamily at, but cannot accept as being real. After losing the 2008 election with John McCain, party insiders told her to start studying, gain some real political experience, develop a good relationship with the Washington press corps and work on being more consistent, and if she did this, she’d have a great shot at defeating Obama in 2012 She did none of these things, and instead became addicted to Facebook and Twitter and has become an almost laughable, winking, talking point machine.

Republicans while high off of their 2010 pulverizing of the Democrats in the 2010 Congressional races now have to contend with the fact that the country has changed without them. In a post-Obama world, where there is much economic uncertainty, the Republican brand, which still has so much residue of being white, male, Christian and against social and ethnic minorities, can only go so far. The rise of the Tea Party has shown that the Republicans can still inspire at the local level and crush Democrats whose message isn’t strong enough for those who want to see some sort of action, but whether this works at the national level remains unlikely. The Republican primary will be an event to watch with some guaranteed fireworks, but the ones who will enjoy it the most will probably be Democrats, in particular the current President.

The problems with the Republican Party may lead to a recent Saturday Night Live skit coming true. In it a mock debate is held between the slate of unofficial Republican candidates who hold power over the party, but who are fundamentally those “you wish you knew less about.” In the skit, Sarah Palin, Trump, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Speaker Newt Gingrich are all reduced to caricatures of why they are unelectable. Once finished, the moderator thanks each for their participation and closes by congratulating Barack Obama on his re-election as President of the United States.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Colonial Differences

I did not post much for a few days because I was getting ready to travel to Japan. I got here yesterday to Osaka and I’m preparing to present at a conference on Friday. I’m looking forward to finishing my paper, it is about the Chamorro creation story of Fu’una and Puntan, and the ways in which we can see the shaping of Chamorro culture in line with the many lessons and morals different versions of the origin communicate.

It has only been a few months since I was last in Japan, since I attended the 2011 Japan Peace Conference in Okinawa last November. This time being in Osaka, things both feel the same, but also very different. The overwhelming presence of Lawsons and Family Marts comforts me, letting me know that no matter where I go in Japan, there will most likely be at least two convenience stores there where I can buy a decent bento, Pokemon cards or a Pepsi Nex. But at the same time, things are very different. It is difficult for someone like me who is so taitiningo’ about real knowledge of Japan to articulate fully this difference, but I have heard others do so. Although when you go to Okinawa speaking Japanese will get you everywhere and even speaking English isn’t so bad, there is a feeling of not really being in Japan. It is something that I felt while I was there, a difference that I don’t detect when I’m in Osaka, Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

I felt a similar experience when I was in Jeju in 2010. Jeju was part of South Korea, but felt different as well. What felt different was based on the fact that it is an island, just as Guam and Okinawa are. It was also different because of the way Jeju, unlike most places I went to in South Korea weren’t economically driven by tourism, and so there was an air of both fake and genuine friendliness in Jeju that there wasn’t in almost everywhere else I visited in the country.
In Okinawa there was a feeling that Okinawa itself was not just different, but that people also felt like they were different. There was a way that history and culture combined to create a rift between Japan and Okinawa, that could be invisible most of the time, but them roar like a guerreron leon at another moment. There was a sense of pride and identity which could not be explained solely through references to regionalism or local love. It was something more, and something very similar to what we see on Guam.

The particularities of history have created the situation where you can stand in either Guam and Okinawa and say with great force that these places are either Japanese or American. Colonialism and imperialism in both hard and soft forms have taken these places and remade them. They might have said they did so for the benefit of the people there, but that doesn’t really mean much since every single colonizer has said the exact same thing. But they imposed their will, their culture and their interests on these islands, and that led to the present we have today, where eventually many of the people have accepted the surface of that colonization. Most people on Guam today don’t see the relationship to their colonizer the way Hurao, Agualin or Hula would have in the late 1600s. In the 1600s you could have called what the Spanish brought to Guam a form of direct domination, with the Spain sparing little quarter in terms of exercising the power they assumed they had over Chamorros, who in the cosmology of the day were supposed with be without rights because of their inferior pagan status.
When we look at colonialism today, we cannot call it direct domination. It could take that form, but it is ludicrous to look at the relationship people in Guam or Okinawa have to their colonizers and say that power is applied or expressed in the same ways as in the past. That difference shouldn’t be interpreted as their being less power, but rather that the forms of the power are diffuse, and that the colonized themselves have accepted roles in supporting that colonizing system. The domination may not be there at present, but the system that was started with it persists. The difference is that today, more people than ever participate in maintaining that colonial framework. At every level of society people take on the role of colonizing themselves and keeping themselves colonized.

This isn’t something that is a simple matter of being duped or that people have drunk too much from the tuban Dinagi that the US brews and imports to Guam. When the Spanish first arrived in Guam, you would have been silly to believe everything they said. They had some things that were better than what Chamorros had, but did that mean that Chamorros should abandon who they were in order to follow them? Of course not. The lure of colonial participation wasn’t strong. There was some small incentive to join the Spanish and abandon your culture and your community, but the perception of a need to join and accept the Spanish didn’t come until after years of warfare and thousands of Chamorros dying from diseases. By then Chamorros accepted colonization, but only as a last resort and only because they saw it as how they could survive.

Today though, Guam exists in a way in which you have to marvel at how effective Guam’s colonization as been. Your average Chamorro today so intimately accepts the colonizer and his fictions it is actually astounding. When you see a conservative South Korean worshipping the US for helping kick out the Communist North Koreas after World War II, and for helping defend them against the “evil” North Koreans today, you can simply say that he isn’t very much in touch with his history, but he is a deluded minority. When you see an entire people who accept such fictions that the US return in 1944 was a liberation or that Guam is not a colony but an full member of the US union, you cannot help but wonder what is going on? Sa’ hafa taiguiguihi? There must be something going on that is more than just a simple ideological leaning or a choice. There is a larger dynamic at play that is causing this or influencing this.

But the fact that people on Guam participate in their own colonization, sometimes in very enthusiastic ways doesn’t make it right. It just makes it something more difficult to fix or correct. Both the colonial histories of Guam and Okinawa justify that this be a place that is inferior, that it be a place where you put lots of military bases, that it be a place where it does not have an equal say over its future compared to others. The colonial participation just makes it harder to get past this point. It makes it harder to fight for a future in places such as Guam and Okinawa where they are not encased in this naturalized oppression.

I constantly need to remind myself however that for all on Guam that signifies American power, the success of colonization and the sad ways in which Chamorros are addicted to the tuban Dinagi, there are also signs of the failure of colonization and pushes for decolonization. The strongest similarity that I see between Okinawa and Guam is the way their marginal and unequal status has resulted in the development of oppositional identities, or a commonsensical and sometimes hardly radical way in which people assert a difference between them and the colonizer. This difference goes far beyond people from Texas saying they are different than people from California, because while ideological parties, such as Republicans may attempt to capitalize that gap in order to assert that their followers are the real Americans, this difference is based on something deeper. Texas and its representatives don’t have the same power over the fate of California that they do over Guam. The difference is much deeper and naturally the critique can be much stronger.

In both Okinawa and Guam there is a willingness to not just critique their “central” or their “federal” governments, but to also see the nation itself as not including them, but that they belong to something else, something that predates the colonizer’s existence or his capturing of them. But in Guam this critique has already taken on an independent strain where Chamorros and others see themselves not just as a minor part of the US, but as a part which need not exist for eternity waiting outside the door of the US, begging to be brought in. I often wonder whether or not Okinawa will move that direction as well. I will be attending a conference in May in Okinawa that covers the reversion issue or the return of Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972. Over the years I’ve heard what was once just a feeling of a cultural or a historical difference transform into the makings of a possible political one.


Related Posts with Thumbnails