Thursday, April 26, 2012

CHAMORRO INFORMATION ACTIVISTS

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 http://www.minagahetzine.com

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.


1 comment:

alex1618 said...

That would be very helpful. I'm currently reading over your old articles and noticed that some of those linked were måtai. Ya-hu i manpuntan-mu, yan ga'o-ku tumaitai i manåmkon chinetton.

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