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.