Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #12: Utaki

After several days of lecturing, presenting and meeting with people for our Okinawa trip, Ed Alvarez (the Director of Guam's Commission on Decolonization) and I were given a rest day. One of the organizers of our trip Yasukasu Matsuhima, a professor of economics at Ryukyu University in Kyoto took us on a tour of various parts of central Okinawa. One of the highlights of the day was when we were taken to a string of islands to the Eastern coast of Okinawa all connected by bridges. On one of the islands Hamahiga, we visited an utaki, a sacred place where one would pray to spirits for various things ranging from having a safe journey, to increasing the harvest for a season, to helping increase the chances of a woman getting pregnant. Women played a significant role in this aspect of Okinawan religion as often the chosen women alone, or uta would be able to visit these places. In the area around Shuri Castle in Naha, there was an utaki which eventually became a private sacred place for the King. Each time he would take a long journey he would stop there to pray. Throughout Okinawa and its surrounding islands you will find many utaki like this.

This utaki is a cave in a limestone cliff that looks so much like Guam, I swore for a moment I was lost in the Pagat area. Hamahiga, as I was told by many is considered to be a very sacred and mysterious place with many sacred places.

When you approach the utaki, whose name I unfortunately did not write down, you will notice immediately a long concrete staircase and two massive arches. The first is at the bottom of the steps, the second at the top. The utaki itself is no longer accessible by the public. A set of metal bars block entrance. Visitors bring shell pieces to lay on the limestone rocks next to the utaki.

You could feel the natural energy of the place as you walk up those steps and peer out at the mountains and forest surrounding the area. Although I couldn't see deep into the cave I imagined women coming here to offer prayers and commune with the spirits. As I was taking pictures, walking around the utaki cave entrance and into the jungle nearby I sometimes felt faint hints of some spiritual force tugging at me.

But the entire time I was there something felt amiss. It hit me the moment I was walking the trail and the stairs to the utaki first came into view. It was the arches, they didn't seem to fit. They were stone and aged looking, and so I don't mean that they were aesthetically out of place. They didn't fit religiously into the area. The arches were very reminiscent of the shinto religion of mainland Japan. They are gates known as torii that mark the entrance to a sacred place.

I was told that before there was just a jungle trail to this utaki, but after World War II a wealthy Okinawan living in Hawai'i had donated money to build the steps and the gates. It was a nice gesture to help preserve and honor such a sacred place. It definitely made the area more photogenic, but it still didn't quite fit. It added an extra layer of meaning, one which actually made things more complicated, by trying to make things look more natural. It was a quiet example of the erasure of Okinawa by the Japanese, one more example in more than a centuries of so many others. The occupation of Okinawa is not just physical with US bases and mainland Japanese interests politely dominating the island, it has since annexation in 1879 been cultural as well. With parts of Japanese culture not just being blended with Okinawan culture, but actually replacing them, taking over and engulfing them.

It reminded me of Robert Underwood's article "Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting over the Chamorro Experience." In it he discusses the ways in which a site that you could consider sacred for Chamorros today, the Tayuyute' Ham Memorial in Malesso undergoes a similar transformation. The memorial was the first modern monument that Chamorros created for themselves, to celebrate themselves. The article was written in 1977 when Guam was somewhat different than today. Today there is a pride in being Chamorro and there is very little shame in celebrating it. Back them things were still transitioning into the identity politics of today. It was still not that great to be Chamorro, the language was still being strangled to death and decolonization was not just a dirty word, but a word never to be spoken or even uttered. Guam was littered with monuments and memorials that Chamorros made for others. The Tayuyute Ham Memorial was important because it was unique, a singular moment when Chamorros saw past the need to celebrate the US or everyone else and attempt to give commemorative and longstanding meaning to their experiences in and of themselves.

The point of Underwood's article though is that in the 20 + years since the memorial was built it has changed dramatically. The brown metal, bought, paid for and written by Chamorros is now surrounded every year by red, white and blue flags and streams. It is framed by US patriotism and in the eyes of some the initial Chamorro intent is lost, subsumed beneath a devotion to the US and celebration of its accomplishments in rescuing Chamorros.

In his article Underwood argues that this interpretation is overly simplistic and that there is far more at play in the hearts, minds and fiestas of Chamorros than what this superficial level would indicate. Underwood's argue is seminal in what we could call the development of "Chamorro Studies" and so I'm not taking direct issue with it here. I have written my own comments and critiques of "Red, Whitewash and Blue" elsewhere. But what struck me was the way in both the Tayuyute Ham Memorial and the Hamahiga Utaki, that the colonizer's presence didn't just seem to take over, but rather seemed to unfairly complete the space.

Without the arches and steps, the utaki wouldn't be a stereotypical mystical Asian space, and so the layering of Japanese elements over makes it feel more authentic even if it isn't. For Chamorros the drenching of their experiences in the red white and blue of American flags seems to natural. So many Chamorros in the military, so many bases on Guam, so much feeling of gratitude for "liberation" in World War II. Just as the US comes to save Guam, the Americanization of Chamorro things seems so natural, as if the Chamorro can't survive on its own but needs the US to complete it. Underwood's article makes a point similar to this, in that after World War II Chamorros lacked the symbols to represent their experiences in and of themselves, and so pragmatically sought to marry them to American patriotism in order to improve their position in the American empire.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #11: The Battle of Okinawa

The Sakima Art Museum in Ginowan City Okinawa is a very inspiring place. When you drive up to the museum you might notice that the fence for Futenma Base is almost too close for comfort, right up to the edge of the road. This is because the land was formerly a part of the base, but returned to the family years ago. In 1989, Michio Sakima, an acupuncturist wanted to start an art gallery but didn't have any land to do so. His family's property, including their family crypt was right on the edge of Futenma, and so he requested it be returned so that he could start his gallery. He was able to do so successfully and open his museum in 1994. His intent was that the museum be a place of reflection on the pain of war and importance of peace. Today more than 40,000 people visit the museum each year.

One can go there and view the exhibits that change very few months, or one can go there and be taken on a tour of Futenma, which is visible from the roof. In one room they feature the works of Iri and Toshi Maryuki, a couple famous for their painting of terrible human tragedies, most notably the destruction from the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The "Hiroshima Panels" were painted over 30 years and entail 15 panels and show the sheer inhumanity of suffering from those, Japanese, Korean and even Americans who were killed in the atomic bomb blasts.

In 1945, days after the bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, the two traveled there to help their family living their. They found their family home, far away from the blast center, still standing, but completely blown out. Survivors were crowded on the floor there. For days they searched for food, helped the injured and cremated the dead. The experience of living amongst the ash, the maggots, the constant death and suffering had a clear effect on them, as they began to roam around Hiroshima in the same manner as those who had endured the blast.

They eventually turned to their art in order to try to come to terms with what had happened:

Three years passed before we began to paint what we had seen. We began to paint our own nude bodies to bring back the images of that time, and others come to pose for us because we were painting the Atomic Bomb.

We thought about a 17-year-old girl having had a 17-year life span, and 3-year-old child having had a life of three years.

Nine hundreds sketches were merged together to create the first paintings.

We thought we ha painted a tremendous number of people, but there were 260,000 people who died in Hiroshima.

As we prayed for the blessing of the dead with a fervent hope that it never happen again, we realized that even if we sketched and painted all of our lives, we couldn't never paint them all.

In 1984 they completed a painting which shook me to the core when I gazed upon it. Titled "The Battle of Okinawa" it occupied an entire wall in the Sakima Museum. It is black and white on paper. with bodies of blue and red representing the violence of both the sea around Okinawa and the war taking place on it. Bodies twist and turn everywhere in the painting. Trying their best to escape, trying their best to survive. Other figures, the already dead are scattered through the composition, some partially covered over by the clumsily painted blue (indicating their drowning), others find peace while scarlet red licks over them, and finally in the bottom right corner a pile of skulls calmly talk stock of everything. The artists added their own faces to the pile of skulls and heads in the corner, an interesting commentary on how they had attempted to recreate the horror of the 82 day long battle where US and Japanese forces clashed in what is known as un pakyo' lulok, a "typhoon of steel" or "iron rain."

The artists themselves researched meticulously for years, interviewing hundreds, attending many lectures, reading over 150 books and naturally visiting battlefield and memorial sites in Okinawa. Iri Maryuki sets up the meaning of the painting (in their own artistic context, but also a larger historical context), in the following way:
All of a sudden, war dropped from the sky and came out of the ground. The enemy landed on the main island of Okinawa and on the smaller islands nearby. Everything turned upside down. No matter how much I paint I can't express it all. We have painted Hiroshima, we have painted Nanking, we have painted Auschwitz, but in painting Okinawa, we are truly painting war.
That idea of somehow in the example of Okinawa, they are truly painting war I found interesting. I thought long and hard after reading that, what the artist could have meant. After painting so many other atrocities in recent human history, what made the Battle of Okinawa a true example of "war?" I have several possible answers, but none of them are satisfactory to me.

One of the things that I found interesting about this painting is the way Toshi wrote about how the artists were influenced throughout their process. She writes:
Putting a tarp down in the yard, spreading out ten blankets on top of that, then laying down four large sheets of Japanese paper -- we have a canvas of four meters by eight meters. Sitting down on the paper and beginning to paint, under my knees coral reef stone -- the sharp edge of the limestone hurts. Cleaning the area first, I had stopped to pick up an old cartridge. We are in Shuri, a site of fierce fighting.

Could the thoughts which people thought as they love their lives on this spot have seeped down into this stone and now be coming back into my body? I have come from far away; it is only here that I can paint it. The sky, the wind, the water, the soil, the grasses, the birds --silent, they move our brushes for us.

I so want to paint the deep blue or the sea. And the emerald green of the reef, dyed orange as young girls sank below its waters. Crimson, vermillion --is it the flowing blood of the youth? Is it the flames that chased those who ran desperately? Either, both are true.
 As I wrote earlier, while conceiving this painting the artists conducted a great deal of research, yet what Toshi is arguing here is that in the actual process of painting, it seemed as if they were constantly influenced by something. Perhaps it was something in the natural world, perhaps it was spirits of those that had died in the battle, perhaps it was a combination of both; the spirits of those who suffered in war, returning through the birds, the surf, the plants.

This passage from Toshi reminds me about the social purpose of artists. Although most people would argue that artists exist to create beautiful things, to make pretty paintings or lovely crafts, there is a deeper and more mystical task that artists fulfill. If you have ever wondered why there is still art in the world even though photographs exist? If art is about representing the world in a faithful way, then why not just take photos of it? The reason is because art is not about representing accurately or faithfully the world around us. It is about portraying the layers of reality that are not immediately obvious or not even visible or perceptible. The artist is therefore a guide to the things you may not be able to see, but things that you may feel or wish that you could feel.

For the Battle of Okinawa, we can see the artists clearly acting as a medium between the living and the dead. The artists are not just trying to show you what the war was like, but trying to convey through imagery, through color, through line and shape, the suffering, the tragedy, the experience of war. Its inhuman dimensions that still persist no matter how many flags, statues or medals you use to try and decorate and obscure the violence. For Toshi to say that she feels as if the spirits are helping her paint or insisting on what she paints is therefore not really a very strange idea. It is after all what her and Iri are hoping to convey, and in a sense they are fortunate to be joined by spirits who are willing to help.

Toshi also writes about one spirit that forces a void that the artists initially want to keep empty, to be filled:
From the sky, the camera crew filmed our painting from all sides. A large empty space on a slant we hadn't touched was impressive -- more painting is not always better.

We must keep this space alive -- I struggled to control my impatient hand and left it as it was. For a while. As the painting went with the currents, it became at last impossible.

Upside down, falling. A young woman under suspicion for spying, pushed to madness under torture. Her life taken by the bamboo spear of the Japanese soldier. Painting her on that empty space -- the horror of it haunted me.
 It is an important thing to remember that just because spirits visit you or talk to you, that they come with their own stories and are not simply an extension of your brush or your words. They have their own purpose and essence, as we can see from this example. The artists had wanted to keep a blank space and not crowd the composition, but were compelled to fill it with not just anything, but something specific, something that they can't really take credit for, as even after it is done and it makes the image all the more jarring, its completeness is not truly there's, but part of that collaboration with the world beneath and in-between the world around us.

For Iri Maryuki he sums up the importance of this painting in this way:
From now one when winter comes, we will go to Okinawa and paint. We will never be able to paint it all -- our painting of the battle of Okinawa will be never-ending. There is not one photograph of it taken by a Japanese person, there is no choice but to draw and to paint. To record and to leave behind that which exists.
It is a very touching way of taking about the amnesia that can sometimes surround huge events. The Battle of Okinawa, the much discussed, much analyzed, much mentioned and much celebrated battle between US and Japanese forces. It is seen as the last battle in World War II. The battle which brought the US juggernaut temporarily to a standstill, but also helped break the back of the Japanese, paving the wave for their eventual surrender (with the help of two atomic bombs). But for all the discourse that surrounds the battle, it is easy to forget the Okinawans themselves. It is easy to ascribe them an existence like the buildings that were flattened, the land that was gutted, or the plants that were set ablaze in war. It is easy, whether you are Japanese or American to forget they exist and thus pretend that Okinawa is just another part of Japan or that it is just another part of the Empire of US bases that circle the globe. It is easy to imagine that just as those two armies ravaged the island for their own interests, that they might continue to determine the island's exist for themselves today.

For the US it is in their best interests to keep a photograph of the Battle of Okinawa, since they won it. And after they won it, they built dozens of bases there, taking some of the best agricultural lands in order to do so. For them, remembering that war is important since it is still their victor's claim to having bases there. But for the Japanese, it is not in their interest to have any memories or any photos of that final last stand of their soldiers. The battle was the final, sorrowful defense of their once vibrant dream of regional domination. In it there was so much hope, but even more dread as all their glorious dreams were nothing but toxic cinders.

But even in addition to this, the treatment of the Okinawans by the Japanese before the war and during the war, is another reason why no one might want a record to exist of that war. During the perceived Japanese ascent to the top of the world, Okinawans were just another inferior, barbarian people to be dominated. They were brutalized in the same way that Koreans and Chinese were. There was nothing unique to this brutality, it was the hallmark of every kingdom which would eventually become an empire. But if the Battle for Okinawa had been the last battle in establishing Japan as the master of Asia and the Pacific, then you can guess there would be billions of pictures of it; it would be so grossly visible, something constantly celebrated and commemorated.

The Battle for Okinawa is meant to be an image of war, in general from the perspective of the people on the ground. Not the soldiers, not the generals, but the folks who are caught in the middle. But in a different sense it was created for the Japanese people as a reminder to who they are. That as much as they might wish to forget it, as much as they might want to pretend that their war for aggression and regional domination was just a youthful period of experimentation, this is their history, this is their war.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #10: Hajichi Decolonization

Most of my trip to Okinawa dealt with explicitly political matters; militarism, base issues, peace, decolonization, independence, self-determination. But this wasn't all I wanted to learn about on my trip, I also had a lot of conversations about Okinawan culture, trying to learn as much as I could about it and how there might be similarities to Chamorro culture and also differences between it and mainland Japanese culture. One of the difficulties in learning about this by simply driving around and seeing things is that the Japanese government attacked many aspects of Okinawan culture long ago, and even if Okinawans kept much of their identity, the practices and symbols disappeared.

For example, most people in Okinawa as well as mainland Japan were intrigued by the tattoos on my arms. Although there is a tradition of tattooing in both cultures, this is something that is done primarily by "low" or "suspect" people, such as gangsters, gangstas and hoods. It is more acceptable for younger Japanese people, but not necessarily for older folks. While looking through a book on Okinawan history I came across pictures of elderly women with simple geometric tattoos on the tops of their hands. I asked some of the people I was meeting with what this tattoos were. There were some stories about them initially being used with poison to prevent Japanese men from kidnapping Okinawan women. The designs were reminiscent of natural things such as islands, birds, animals and some families had their own distinct design that they would use. Others said the tattoos were magical spells to increase fertility or happiness. For some the tattoos were sexist, a way of marking women in the same way in which you might brand your cattle.

After the annexation of Okinawa by Japan in the late 19th century this practice was banned as barbaric. Most women I spoke to recalled their grandmothers or great grandmothers having tattoos, but could not think of anyone who was still alive who had them. They all agreed however that the tattoos were symbol of the strength and status of women in Okinawan life. Okinawa while it was a patriarchy, women held more spiritual and cultural power there than compared to life in mainland Japan. The attack on the hajichi tattoos was only one aspect of an overall assault on the place of women in Okinawan society. Women were religious leaders and healers who found the new government trying to strip them of their power. They also found themselves being told not to wear Okinawan clothes or perform Okinawan dances.

I asked several of the female activists I met if they have ever considered trying to bring back these tattoos that were once prohibited. I saw people using other things that Japan tried to destroy, from language to clothes for example, why not this one. The marking of the flesh in this way could be considered a very strong symbol of one's commitment to a cause and also a determination to not be defined by another. The tattoos were once considered barbaric, but in the way that some accept the once negative and diminutive labels of hate, couldn't Okinawan women try to bring back this tattoo style?

Cultural decolonization sometimes appears to be the easiest since culture in many ways takes the form of just artifacts, clothes, jewelry, and so decolonizing yourself culturally can be as simple as putting on a shell necklace or getting a tattoo with a Chamorro word. But it is never really this easy. Even though we could feel at one moment that our identity is ours to decide or determine, this is never really true. In terms of colonization and decolonization the cultural ways you seek to define or redefine yourself will come in two basic ways. The first form is very non-threatening, harmless, fun, exotic and perhaps even something that you can make money off of. The first form of cultural decolonization can simply be about cultural pride, and embodying some simple thing that doesn't really offend anyone, doesn't get in anyone's way, but is just you filling out some of the space around you, with something that comes from your culture. Food is the most significant, harmless artifact that fits this type. Food is something that everyone likes to share and everyone can enjoy, but comes with very little overtly political charge or productive meaning. Food is after all the ideal multicultural metaphor. In a multicultural space everyone can bring their own ethnic food and have a spot at the table.

A second form is defined through the discomfort it creates, either in others or in the decolonizing person themselves. It is something that doesn't fit neatly into the present, but will chafe against the existing ideological structure, and either be rudely rejected or snap the boundaries and create new meaning. These are usually things that might have once been an intimate natural part of a culture, but now appear to be disgusting, foreign or useless. They are things where there is no place for them today. They were prohibited or attacked long ago and the value was stripped of them, or their meaning was so totally reversed by colonization that they appear to be the opposite of who and what the colonized person is today.

Both Okinawan and Chamorro culture held ancestral worship as the center to their religion and worldview. Prior to Spanish colonization Ancient Chamorros took this to the extent where they would not only pray to and respect the spirits of their ancestors, but they would take mementos, such as the shin bones, the hands and most importantly the skull and keep them in their home as signifiers of that ancestor's spirit. Chamorros would even go so far as to treat these bones as parts of the family, talking to them, offering them food and speaking to them in reverent tones.

Although the idea of ancestral veneration remains in Chamorro culture today, that specific practice of taking the bones of your ancestors into your home and then treating them like members of the family is considered crazy. If you were to conduct yourself in such a manner today people would report you to the police, report you to mental health, and most importantly report you to the Catholic church. In the centuries since the early days of Spanish colonization, an incredible variety of discursive barriers have been placed between you and that practice, to disconnect you from it and to make you unable to see it in any objective sense. Your sense of what is normal and what is abnormal has been so shaped in the centuries since that you cannot see that practice in the way Ancient Chamorros did, and therefore have trouble integrated it into today's world.

When I asked about Okinawan women today tattooing themselves, I received a response similar to that of Chamorros if asked about keeping the skulls of their relatives who have died recently. It was interesting to think about, very creative in away, but ultimately the way the present works makes it impossible or too much. The stigma for women with tattoos was too much, as is the stigma of "grave robbing" for Chamorros.

You cannot fault people for feeling this discomfort, it is natural. History is not a straight line, even if we attempt to arrange our perceptions of it in such a way, it is still twisting, contradictory and painful. But the larger lesson for decolonization is the need to take on these chunks of your history that do not fit in the present, and insist that they be brought into today. It is this insistence that can provide an incredible strength, because of its impracticality. If you already speak English, why bother learning Chamorro? If you already live a capitalist consumerist lifestyle why change to something else? The answer is that there is no strength, no self-strength, no chance for self-determination if you just accept the flow of history that flows against you. You just get carried away by history's currents. You eventually cease to exist and only find form in museum exhibits on lost cultures. But if you push back against that flow, and if you insist that something that was lost or taken from you should continue to exist today, you provide the possibility for decolonial strength. It is the kind of strength that has the power to define what is normal today, what is acceptable, where the limits of your culture and your political power are.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Occupied Okinawa Will Continue

Even though I'm back on Guam I still intend to keep posting about my trip to Okinawa. I met so many fantastic people, got to see so many incredible things and made quite a few new friends. I'm still typing up all my notes and downloading all pictures (I took 3600 over the course of 10 days), but I should have at least five more posts about my trip.

Historical Scavenger Hunt

"Historical Scavenger Hunt"
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
LAST Saturday I took my Guam History students on a historic scavenger hunt in Hagåtña. Right now, we are at the beginning of the semester and learning some basic ideas about both what Guam is as a place and what the nature of history is as a concept. For this semester I wanted to try out a new approach to introducing students to Guam, and thought that giving them a “self-motivated” tour around the historic sites of Hagåtña in order to find the meaning of a vague set of clues was ideal.

I have taken my students to Hagåtña several times before over the years because of the way it provides a very clear example of how history is all about layers. Most people think of history as being something determined by a clear line. What is on one side is the past and what is on the other is the present. It is for that reason that if you ask most people why history is important, they will say something to the effect that, as a record of the past, it holds the keys to understanding the present. In this mindset history is like a museum exhibit laid out before you; it has colorful, well-chosen images and text panels that communicate the most basic and pertinent information.

This is a wishful fiction of history. When you look at the central area of Hagåtña for instance, where we see historic sites such as the Plaza de España, Skinner Plaza, Angel Santos Latte Stone Park you can see that history is not a nice, neatly bound package for you to open at your leisure. History is a sprawling mess. When things become “past” they do not all join this great monolithic thing called “the past.” As history passes, layers upon layers of events,  landscape changes, people, or legacies, all become piled on top of each other. Eventually some are immersed almost completely, while others stick out and stubbornly insist that they are not past.

If we look at Hagåtña, it has many markers of World War II. There are memorials for valor and sacrifice and there is also the destruction of buildings and a way of life during the war. When you look at all of these intentional and unintentional monuments meant to commemorate the war, always there to remind us how much it has affected life on Guam, can you really say that such things are past? The same goes for the markers of the Spanish presence on Guam. Every relic meant to indicate that the Spanish era is long gone from Guam is also a reminder of how it still, in various ways, remains with us. When history refuses to go away like this, people usually resort to only believing or remembering the positive aspects of it. That is why after all there is a statue in Hagåtña for Maga’låhi Kepuha, a Chamorro leader who welcomed the Spanish, but none for leaders such as Hurao, Agualin or Hula, who fought passionately against the Spanish and Catholic invasions into Chamorro lives.

In Hagåtña, there is so much history that often times you can be standing near a historic relic or some forgotten memorial and not even realize it. So many of us have driven through it, maybe even strolled historic areas, but while the place teems with history, most people don’t even notice.

Returning to the scavenger hunt, my students did reasonably well considering the clues I gave them were intentionally vague and were things you might only piece together if you really searched carefully. I divided them into several groups, each receiving the same 10 clues. Most groups struggled and got 3 or 4 out of 10 right. One group was fortunate enough to get 5 out of 10. I thought I might share some with you to see if you can guess what they refer to. If you have some time this week, head down to the historic areas of Hagåtña, which extend from the U.S. Naval Cemetery, to the Chamorro Village, to Angel Santos Park, and then up the hill to Fort Santa Agueda. See if you can guess what these clues refer to. I may provide some answers and explanations next week.
  1. We don’t belong here.
  2. We are very, very far away from home.
  3. Such a cold man on such a hot island.
  4. Your Heritage used to be here.
  5. Paid for by a Storm.
  6. The most religious island.
  7. Picnic with your Father.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #9: Out of Okinawa, Into Japan

One of the people that I’ve really enjoyed talking to and listening this trip to Okinawa is Usii Chinin.

She is a writer and strong voice for both decolonization and independence for Okinawa. She was on a panel with me during the first day of the decolonization symposium at Okinawa International University. The second day she was a moderator for another panel that I was on. Over the course of my time here she has been interviewed several times by mainland Japanese media interested in this idea of “Okinawan Independence.”

During the question and answer period one of the audience members criticized Usii. Every member of the audience was given a sheet of paper to write their questions or comments on. One such sheet asked Usii why she was dressed in such an uncool and outdated way and also commented on her hair looking too old-fashioned. I should note that this phrasing comes from someone who translated for me and so I don’t know exactly what was said or how it was crafted, but the gist of it was that someone was mocking the way she looked.

Usii came to the symposium dressed in traditional Okinawan clothing, with her hair tied up in a traditional style as well. When she spoke she would sometimes resort to using the Okinawan language. On one occasion a member of the audience yelled in the middle of her speaking that she should speak Japanese instead since he can’t understand her. An activist from the audience yelled for her to keep speaking Okinawa as he would translate for this Japanese guy he was sitting next to.

Even though she was discussing very controversial issues, Usii seemed to talk about them in very practical and commonsense ways. For example when speaking about the subordinate status of Okinawa, she doesn’t simply list things wrong with the relationship but reframes it in terms of whether or not Okinawa is unique in this regard (amongst Japanese prefectures) and if so, why? What about Okinawa’s past or present makes this possible? First of all, that is a good way to start to understand what the colonial difference is for Okinawa and how these colonial distinctions therefore affect reality. Secondly, it is an important starting point for thinking about decolonization, a mapping out of the barriers that exist to preventing decolonization.

In another example while many people may think of the base issue in Okinawa as an all or nothing equation, where you either have the bases and enjoy their “benefits” or you have them all close up and every soldier leave, Usii reminded everyone that there was another option. An option that you could consider to be both practical, even-handed and as a result something abhorrent to most people to even be discussed. Usii is part of a group that asserts, in a very strategic way that the answer to the base issue in Okinawa is to move the bases to mainland Japan.

The truth is something that everyone says they want, but in truth don’t generally like when it stares them in the face. Especially when that truth implicates them in a way they don’t want to admit to.

The majority of people in Okinawa do not want US bases in their island. The majority of Japanese people however want US bases somewhere in Japan, preferably just not near where they live. The Japanese government wants to keep good relations with the US and do its best to honor the security alliance the two countries have, and this is one of the reasons why the Okinawa base issue has become to thorny and delicate. Okinawa becomes the warehouse for quite a few things that the Japanese government and people don’t want to admit to or deal with. As a place that is far away from mainland Japan, historically seen as being inferior, and something already occupied by the US prior to Japan’s surrender, Okinawa was perfect for hosting a crapload of US bases. The rest of the Japan would not be inconvenienced by the bases, but Japan could benefit from having a close relationship with the US. Okinawa would even get extra funding from the central government for shouldering this burden. It seemed like a win-win for just about everyone.

But if we get rid of all the particularities of history, then all we have is a grossly unequal burden being shouldered by only 0.6% of Japan. We have all the risk, all the danger, all the taxes upon the land and the environment that bases create being concentrated on one island and the people there. The truth of this position is that if the people of Japan do want this security alliance and do want US bases somewhere in Japan, shouldn’t they be all over the country instead of all in one place? Shouldn’t more communities experience part of this burden instead of one community taking on close to all of it? The fact that the bases are in Okinawa becomes another way in which the twisted course that history takes stands in as a silent excuse for a continued injustice. Just because a base is there doesn’t mean that it should be there, or that where it is at is the best place for it. Every excuse that you could make for why bases should stay in Okinawa and not be moved to mainland Japan can be easily reversed or effortlessly countered. Every argument about how Okinawa gets so much money for having the bases there can be countered by offering the money to whatever prefecture wants to take the bases instead. Every argument that says that the bases are already there and so they should just remain there can be countered with the argument that if they are so good and so important for everyone in Japan, why would other prefectures not want to share in that wonderful hosting? If the bases are so excellent why does only Okinawa get the honor of hosting so many?

In truth, Usii and her allies would prefer the bases to be out of Japan completely, but the argument of US bases moving to Japan is a creatively strategic one, a ploy designed to get mainland Japanese people to confront their own complicity in Okinawa’s colonization.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #8: Naming Nationalism

Naming is necessary in life, but there is always a violence that accompanies is.

When you name something you cut it off from something. You give it an identity and also take away a multitude of other possible identities at the same time.

The most fundamental way in which we can feel this is through the simple assertion of “I.”

To speak, you must presuppose a self who can speak, from which the thoughts, the discourse, the words, the responsibility can originate. But when you do so, you create a barrier that implicitly disconnects you from the world. Language has the interesting quality of both making you feel part of something, but alienating you at the same time. When you speak, you reach out into the word and try to make sense of the person next to you, the things you see around you, but as you, you cannot help but feel as if you actually have no control over things. Language is a terrible lover. He or she can make you feel as if you are truly loved and he or she only serves you and will never leave you, but at any moment can turn on you. The crafting of your language does not determine how it will be interpreted, does not structure its potential meaning. Remember the saying that when the government tells you to calm down and not to panic, it is probably a good time to panic. You have membership in a collective that is language, but not ownership.

To assert yourself, to say “I” means to be alone. It means to accept that you are not connected to those around you, since your connection to them requires an act in other to tether you together.

Think of all the levels in which you identify yourself. All the ways that you connect and disconnect yourself from people, communities, cultures, subcultures, parts of the world. You are yourself, part of your family, part of a village a city, a country, a world. You are also part of subcultures, groups of people who share certain interests, priorities and thus you may sometimes speak on behalf of them. Then there are those you connect yourself to morally. Those who support abortion rights, those who are for the death penalty, those who are pro-war, anti-war.

Even if you argue from the position of blank humanity and attempt to include yourself with as many people as possible, you still exclude some. After all, how many people’s articulations of global humanity today exclude those from countries such as North Korea, Iran, Cuba and a few other places?

In Okinawa this trip these politics of belonging have manifested in an interesting way. Part of the conversation has always been the disconnect between Okinawa and Japan. People have shared stories about discrimination that Okinawa has received. Some of these stories were personal, about interactions they’ve had with Japanese people. Others were set at a much larger level about the way Japanese corporations and the central government treat the island. A common story for older Okinawans was how they reacted when their Japanification proved to be fake or tenuous. The Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed in 1879, but already subverted centuries earlier, and in order to overcome that seizure Japan promoted a Japanese identity for the people of the islands which met with some success. The problem, like so many colonial relationships is that while it appears to be symmetrical and equal, it is never actually supposed to be. They may tell you that you are one, that you are the same as them, but it’s not really true. While it may feel true in some contexts on a larger scale there is a difference that defines you and defines you as inferior or of a lower class.

Okinawans who accepted this gesture of colonial inclusion eventually realized its hollowness when they would interact with mainland Japanese people and find that even if they spoke the same language, even if they looked kind of the same and they were supposed to be the same, the Japanese would not accept a sameness, but always feel compelled to enjoy a feeling of superior difference. One Okinawan shared with me his experiences attending college in mainland Japan. He had grown up in an outer Okinawan island thinking he was Japanese. When he went to Tokyo however, everywhere he went people told him he was different. The way he spoke Japanese hurt their ears. The way he looked was funny. Even the hair on his arms made him seem like a barbarian to them and certainly not Japanese.

This discrimination is one of the reasons I am on this trip, it is because for some, the colonial difference is so strong that it demands not just a band-aid here or there, but it requires that you resolve this problem through separation. If they won’t treat us fairly and have invested so much time and energy in treating us differently and making us feel as if we are different, then who are we to want sameness or inclusion, when it is clear that they only accept us in a inferior capacity? To continue to wait for it or crave it would just be stupid.

There has always been a distinct cultural identity for Okinawans, despite Japanese attempts to stifle it. The political identity is growing as well and the anti-base movement has definitely helped give this shape and form. But as this movement is emerging another question of belonging arises as well. This movement for Okinawa places Okinawa at the center of its articulations, but what is encompassed in “Okinawa?” Clearly Okinawa does not include Japan, but does it include anything else other than the island of Okinawa itself?

What most people forget is that Okinawa is surrounded by hundreds of islands, with thousands of people on them. Some of these islands are used as training facilities by the military and so they are not exempted from the base issue. Also the waterspace around some of these islands is closed to the public and used for military training exercises. So while many say “Okinawa” are they including these other islands?

Yasukatsu Matsushima, a professor at Ryukyu University, who helped organize this trip states that he prefers to use “Ryukyu” when speaking about Okinawa in order to make clear that he is not only including the mainland, but all islands in his assertion of what should be counted as “Okinawa.” For some however, even this broader way of asserting an Okinawan identity presents problems. The Ryukyu Kingdom, prior to annexation, was built upon a hierarchy with Okinawa at the top and the surrounding islands existing in a subservient relationship to it. One man who attended the symposium at Okinawa International University was very forceful in criticizing the idea of Okinawan Independence because of these differences between islands. Coming from what we might call a “lower” island, he did not want to be dominated by Okinawa which is so close, but would rather be dominated by Japan which is so far and also dominates Okinawa as well. Part of this is linguistic, as the Okinawan language has several island dialects and so one person challenged everyone at the forum to think of which version of the Okinawan language will be considered to be the “Okinawan language?” He was certain it would not be the dialects from any of the other islands.

This issue has always been in the background, but it is not one that can never be overcome. I am looking forward to hearing more from the activists and academics that I’ve met, as to how they plan to rearticulate Okinawa to include more than just those who live in the main island.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #7: The Guam Delegation

Usually when I go on trips like this I start with a post introducing everyone and everything. Unfortunately because of time constraints and the hectic nature of my schedule it completely slipped my mind.

I am not alone on this trip, I am accompanying two others as we meet with activists and academics and everyone else we can talk to throughout Okinawa.

Ed Alvarez, the Director for the Commission on Decolonization is the one who organized this trip. He has been working under less than ideal conditions over the past year trying to get this process for self-determination up and running again. For the first year he had no budget, no office, not even a salary. He instead focused on reestablishing contact with the UN at the governmental level, and has travelled trying to get Guam’s message to whoever would listen to him. For his presentations he has focused informing the Okinawans that should they pursue decolonization Guam will provide them with guidance and advice on what we have done so far. Guam has been actively and passively seeking its decolonization for 30 years now, and while we may sometimes seem to be going nowhere fast, compared to some other places, it seems like we light years ahead.

Marilyn Manibusan, a former senator in the Guam Legislature and pioneer in Guam’s self-determination movement is also part of the delegation. Although she has not been active for many years, she began to become involved again when the Commission on Decolonization started meting again last year. Her presence with the delegation has been inspiring to say the least. She acts as the mother hen of the group and during presentations when Ed is very directed in terms of what the Decolonization Commission is doing and I am very philosophical or academic about the meaning of decolonization, she is warm and comforting. She constantly reminds the Okinawans that although their pursuing of decolonization may make them feel as if they are isolated or crazy at times, they need to know that they are not alone; that they have friends in Guam to whom they can turn for advice or even just a shoulder to cry and laugh on.

I am the last member of the delegation. I have been speaking on a ridiculous amount of topics since I got there. I have spoken about Pagat, the Organic Act, Chamorro Language, demilitarization and decolonization. I have been travelling in my capacity as both a scholar and the Chairman for the Independence for Guam Task Force. I have had fantastic conversations thus far with Okinawans who have being pushing for Independence for years, sometimes their own quiet and indirect ways, and others who have been shouting about it for years. So many people have inspired me and I have been inspired by so many. Okinawans in some ways have advantages in terms of laying the groundwork for independence, but they lack a vocabulary of their own to discuss it and discursively create it. I have met many writers and scholars who are working on independence for Okinawa and I hope to continue to be in conversation with them, as both of our islands work towards decolonization.

Occupied Okinawa #6: Coming Home

Every time I would travel to Japan I would be asked several things as to where I came from.

#1: People would ask me if I was Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan who the government and most people pretended to be non-existent for quite a while.

#2: I was from Hokkaido. I have no idea what people from Hokkaido look like, but if I was to imagine myself as some sort of Japanese person, it would be from Hokkaido.

#3: People regularly asked if I was from Okinawa.

I had no idea for years as to why people thought I might be from Okinawa. Even when I was living in the states I would sometimes meet Okinwans who thought I might be Okinawa. I would never begrudge people their mistakes. Being Okinawa sounds pretty cool, and besides when I travel places, it doesn't matter where, I constantly think that anyone around me could be Chamorro.

I've asked some people in Okinawa so far, why people might mistake me as one of them? They have laughed and said I do look Okinawa, and the only satisfactory answer that I've come up with is that I have lots of hair on my arms, and Okinawans tend to have more body hair than mainland Japanese.

It is because I have read about Okinawa for years now and sometimes been mistaken for being from there, that I joked today during a presentation at Okinwa Christian University, that I feel like coming to Okinawa is like coming home. Obviously Guam is my home, but there is such a familiarity to Okinawa, it feels like the place I call home. There is an academic component to this. There is familiarity with regards to colonialism and war. But the connection goes beyond this, it actually becomes very intimate and very quiet.

Yesterday I was taken to see part of the fence surrounding Futenma Marine Corps Air Base. In order to drive there you have to wind through narrow, twisting rounds. The houses are packed together very tightly. You come to a street that leads straight to a towering military fence. The contrast is so stark, you might laugh uncomfortably when if you see it for yourself. Through the fence, the grass is green and looks perfectly cut. There is so much open land, if you look back quickly you might feel as if the city is growing rapidly behind you, shoving you into the chain mesh of the fence.

At a moment like that you can see how the fence might create two drastically different interpretations for people. For some they may see the base, what lies beyond the fence as a breath of fresh air, as a chance to escape, to get out away from the twisted urban labyrinth that they came from. But for others the fences will appear as a mocking tribute to selfishness, to disconnection and displacement. They will be reminders of loss and of oppression and how it doesn't only continue up until today, but that it has been actively built up and buried.

At the site where we visited the fence-line there was several visible crypts and tombs on the other side. They looked like they were maintained and the families are allowed to visit and pay respects there once a year. While someone may make excuses and say that the military is taking good care of the tombs, far better than if the people were responsible for them, others reflect on the meaning of fences as if they are a character from an Okinawa Robert Frost poem. They see the graves and remains of ancestors and the fence doesn't make sense. In order to pay respect you have to walk all the way around the fence, find a gate, and also navigate the calendar of the year and wait for the right date in order to be able to visit them.

While I was there, so many Guam connections came to mind. Places like Fena or Haputo where you find artifacts or hold memorials. But my mind went further than this historical connections and it was in that moment that I began to feel at "home" here.

As I stood outside that fence in Okinawa I realized that I could have been standing outside a fence on Guam. The grass beneath my shoes was the exact same kind I found find in Guam. The trees nearby are found on Guam. The sky looks like the sky above Anderson or Tiyan. Even the fence itself looked the same. It appeared to be the same type you find on the miles of military fence-line in Guam. It looked a little bit taller, but the same construction nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #5: My Unused Pokemon Metaphor

The past few days have involved alot of very interesting discussion about the possibilities for Okinawa to become an independent country or seek greater autonomy from Japan. While at the conference that I attended most people were sympathetic in some ways to an independent Okinawa, some were still very resistant. If you are from Guam, then you may not think that Guam is very close to becoming independent. You may think of it as being an idea that only a few people take seriously. You would be right for the most part, but you would also be diminishing the fact that over the past 40 years Guam has come to accept the possibility of the idea being independent. The majority of people may not like it or may be afraid of it, but they can imagine it, albeit in very rudimentary and crude ways.

In Okinawa people seem not to be able to accept this yet. There is an independent past, but like Guam, the present seems so intimately connected to the colonizer and so independence seems like such a foolish and crazy notion.

I was asked at the conference to promote the idea of an independent Okinawa, based on my experiences in Guam, and use Guam's history or current struggle to help illustrate for the people present, why independence is not only an option, but could be considered necessary.

At a discursive moment like this, you always have a couple different metaphors that you can use. The two most common ones are the child that needs to grow or the mistress that needs to move on. I have problems with both of them since they don't quite fit a colonial relationship. Firstly, the parent child relationship is something that is proposed by the colonizer in order to make more natural and concrete a relationship that is in truth neither. When you think about it, if you use the imagery of the colonizer and colonized being father and child, you have just made decolonization akin to patricide and reformatted the violence of your colonization as being "born" to your parents. It overlays a very "natural" and comfortable experience over something that you should assume as being neither, even if it feels that way right now.

Using the mistress metaphor who needs to either move on or tie the knot has its own problems, of which I'll write about another time.

In order to capture a closer, more objective metaphor for colonization you need to disassociate the colonized from the colonizer and not give them a shared, familiar or friendly origin. 

While I was speaking to a crowd of about 100 people I was very tempted, very very tempted to use the metaphor of Pokemon in order to describe the importance of decolonization. If I was in my Guam History class or World History class or any class at UOG it would be a no brainer. Use Pokemon all the way. I am after all the professor who has said more than once in a class that education was "super effective" in terms of colonizing Chamorros, and when I say super effective I mean like Charizard versus Venusaur. The fact that the room was full of Japanese people made it all the more perfect. 

But thankfully I resisted. Jokes or silly things tend not to translate very well and on trips to both Japan and south Korea I have made the lives of translators and interpreters miserable because of the silly jokes I would insist on working into my presentations. Thankfully the readers of this blog are above such silly propriety and so I'm sure they wouldn't mind hearing my unused Pokemon metaphor.

When the television show first began Ash's go to Pokemon, his ace in the hole is Pikachu. It was the cutest Pokemon and his strongest Pokemon. In the games you can start with different options (for red, gree and blue), but in the show Ash has a Pikachu. As it is central to the story Pikachu comes throw at the last moment sometimes, even when according to the rules of Pokemon it shouldn't be able to. Pikachu is not the only Pokemon Ash has. In fact he has a Charmander who eventually evolves into a Charizard becoming incredibly powerful. 

Throughout the history of Pokemon other Pikachus evolve and transform into Raichus, but Pikachu itself, Ash's Pikachu never evolves. It always remains the same and ultimately should be eclipsed by other creatures who move on and progress and gain new strength and abilities.

Guam is like that Pikachu. It never grows. It is beautiful, it is loyal, but it is left behind as others move on and gain new life. 

There is even more depth to this if you consider the fact that Pikachu once had the option of evolving but chose not to. This is very similar to the way Guam has the ability to decolonize and move on, but it chooses and has chosen not to. It is afraid to change, afraid to become something else and as such helps the Us keep Guam the same. 

Colonization can bring a place to a certain standard of living, a certain level of existence but it will never bring it to self-sufficiency or self-sustainability. Colonization, despite its rhetoric is never supposed to bring the colonized to the level of the colonizer, and is absolutely never supposed to bring the colonized to the point of being better than the colonizer. 

Pikachu and Ash have a beautiful relationship, but it is one that stifles the growth of the poor Pokemon. It does so in the same way that colonialism does. It can take you to a certain point, but by definition cannot allow you to move past that.

Occupied Okinawa #4: Beyond the Base

In Guam we are already very accustomed to thinking about military bases as being essential, safe and secure engines for an economy. This is true to some extent. In Guam, the military presence and strategic importance opened many doors in terms of Federal funding that Guam would not have received otherwise. Furthermore, the local economy is supported by the income taxes payments for Federal employees on Guam, and that gives some stability to the coffers of GovGuam. The military is also a chance for economic improvement and was something that played a very significant role in creating a middle class on Guam.

One mistake that people often make is believing that the military bases on Guam help tourism. The fact that the US owns Guam does help support the tourism industry, as Guam is considered to be a part of America and therefore gains some of its credibility, sense of stability and so on, but the bases are not part of that. If Guam were a colony with no bases, it could still make use of that.

I have spent the past few days in Okinawa meeting with so many people who see military bases very differently than this.  They are not “crazy” activists, but rather government officials, academics and plenty of “ordinary” people.

There are some in Okinawa who sees the bases as being of great benefit to the island. The bases provides jobs, the servicemen provide some spending, and in general they see them as providing security for Japan from potential threats. But more and more people are beginning to see the bases in less than rosy terms. They see them as a form of discrimination where Okinawa has to shoulder 76% of all the US bases in Japan, despite it only being 0.6% of its land mass. They see them as terrible wounds on the land, scars leftover from the most traumatic event in their recent history, the battle between the US and Japan in World War II.

During my visit I’ve come to realize that an increasing number of Okinawans see the bases as an impediment to their economic progress and to their overall growth as an island. This is something that may come as a shock to most people on Guam who believe military bases to be economic boons.

In Guam it is common to accept the formula that more bases = more economic prosperity, but in Okinawa the judgment is more measured. According to the Military Base Affairs Division of the Okinawa Prefectural Government the amount of money that the US bases provide to Okinawa’s economy actually quite small. Despite taking up so much land and resources the bases only provide 5.3% of the island’s gross revenue. It is for this reason that the Okinawan Prefectural Government is very much invested in reducing the US base presence.  In terms of long-term, sustainable growth, they are much better off if the land was used for other purposes.

Areas such as Naha Shintosan were returned many years ago and have since been transformed into new prosperous commercial and residential areas. The Okinawan prefectural government estimates that when the land is returned by the US military and given new purpose the value of it increased dramatically. In the case of Shintosan, which was formerly Makiminato Residential Area for the military, it is now estimated to be worth 100 times more for the local economy.

If you have ever wondered why the Okinawan people might not want US bases in their island and might want to protest them, the infamous rapes are only part of the problem. In truth if you ever want to understand their opposition you need only go to Futenma Marine Corps Air station in Ginowan City. The base sits in the middle of a heavily populated area and the runaway with the long patches of grass flanking it is a stark contrast to the sea of houses and apartment buildings around it. The base is notorious as “the most dangerous” in the world because of the fact that it sits in a densely populated and any accident there could cause a significant amount of civilian damage or casualties.

The danger of having a base in such an urban area alone might upset you and convince you that the American military presence should be protested. But when you look at the amount of land taken up in such a land-starved area, it is easy to see how a base might be a barrier to growth or development. While it does provide some economic benefits, does the amount of land being used and the amount of the people that directly benefit from it really greater than the benefits should it be developed for greater and more wide spread use? In Okinawa the answer is no.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #3: Independence for Okinawa

The symposium at Okinawa International University that I attended and had the privileged to speak at today and yesterday is historical I’ve been told. While speakers and organizers were introducing themselves, it became clear that not only were all of them liberal and critical, they were all openly supportive of Independence for Okinawa. This conference on decolonization and demilitarization is one of the first public gatherings of academics who want Okinawa to become an independent state.

Given my experiences over the years interacting with Okinawan activists I knew that this wasn’t the norm. The first activist I ever met from Okinawa was a trade union leader and although he expressed a clear different between himself and Japan, it was not a political one, but a cultural one. He felt that Okinawans had a right to protect and promote their own culture and what disgusted him, were Japanese attacks on Okinawan culture.

I met Shinako Oyakawa a political and linguist activist in 2010 while we were both on a solidarity trip to South Korea. She expressed a similar, but nonetheless more critical feeling. She did not believe that the political issue was irrelevant, but saw it as central. The base issue was one of her primary concerns and there were clear political aspects to it. Okinawa’s heavily militarized status couldn’t be attributed to a cultural difference alone. But said that talking about self-determination and decolonization with me was interesting because the historical similarities made it seem like both islands would share similar political possibilities. She saw that Okinawa might soon follow the path of Guam and create its own active discussion on decolonization.

Two years later I am at the first conference that is openly organized to discuss the issue of not just Okinawan decolonization, but Okinawan independence! To say that I am inspired or excited to be here is such an understatement it would be like saying I sort of like breathing oxygen. The attendance yesterday was small, with the lecture hall the meeting was in peaking in terms of attendance at 80. Today attendance was much better with 110 showing up when I counted. But I was told that such as understandable because this week is full of events dealing with the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control, and so people interested in these issues, from both the liberal and conservative perspective have too many things on their calendars.

I am hoping that this Independence spirit in Okinawa can inspire people the way it has inspired some in Guam. One of the benefits of this sort of emerging spirit of independence is the feeling of empowerment that it can help create. I have always found it intriguing and very frustrating how colonization can create an unholy balance between believing oneself to be both very fortunate and prosperous and disgusting and chaotic at the same time. The trick is of course where one perceives these traits, these dynamics to come from. If the colonizer’s work is “super effective to borrow a Pokemon phrase, then you will perceive power, success, prosperity, order and the possibilities for the future to come from them. Everything else is part of the tainted life of the colonized. It is no wonder then that so many in Guam resist decolonization and independence. In their minds the US holds the power to grow and improve, whereas the colonized, representing by the stereotypical Chamorro only holds the power to corrupt and to break down.

Believing in Independence can be important even if just as an exercise. It can be an injecting of confidence and certitude into your life. A feeling of mastery whereby you could go this direction or that direction, closer to the colonizer or further away, but ultimately at the end of the day, no matter what you choose, you will be fine. You are not a helpless creature that exists only because some benevolent master forcibly adopted you. You are far more than that.

Occupied Okinawa #2: Life Without Pictures

During my first day here in Okinawa I ended up taking 600 pictures.

When I go on trips like this I often end up taking a lot of pictures so I have plenty of evidence when I go back to Guam that I indeed did travel somewhere else and talk to people, look at things, etc.

When I was in Hiroshima in 2010 for the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs I was methodically taking pictures of every speaker, no matter who they were, even if they weren't really that interesting. I would take at least three pictures of every speaker, each from a different angle. A European at the conference later laughed at me saying that I was Aerosmith for my constant picture taking. Although I smiled in a very friendly native sort of way, I was confused as to why he would call me this. Was it because I look like steven Tyler? (sa' siempre ti duminga ham). Was it because he was crying when he met me and now he was dying to forget me? (lao sa' hafa? sa' kalang ti umatungo' ham na dos)

I eventually asked and learned the reason. Apparently the only thing this European knew about Aerosmith was the song "Don't Want to Miss a Thing" from the film Armageddon. My constant picture taking seemed to stem from my desire, like that of AJ for Gracie in the film, to not miss anything. Unfortunately, I actually miss plenty of things. I am sometimes really slow to get my camera out. With my manual digital camera sometimes when I move from outdoor to indoor settings I forget to change my settings and end up taking a really exciting picture of a dark room. For my manual I also have two lenses and so I have missed many interesting things while struggling to switch them.

Unfortunately there is a slight hiccup in terms of my downloading and posting pictures to my blog. The laptop I'm using (that my girlfriend was generous to let me use) doesn't have a sd card drive. I have a cable for my camera so I can download pictures directly but it doesn't seem to be working. I'm hoping today to be able to download my pictures to the laptop of someone else and then transfer them onto this laptop with a flash drive.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Occupied Okinawa #1: Tinituhun

I will be in Okinawa for the next 10 days. Over the course of that time I will give several academic presentations at different universities to both professors and students about the historical and contemporary connections between Guam and Okinawa. I will also be meeting with some local political leaders and community organizations who are committed to demilitarization on the island. Ed Alvarez, the Director of the Decolonization Commission organized this trip through cooperation with some universities. He will be speaking on Guam's political status and current efforts to decolonize. Former Senator and self-determination pioneer Marilyn Manibusan is also on the trip.

This year represents the 40th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control. One of the biggest blind spots in recent Asia Pacific history centers around what exactly happens to Okinawa after World War II. Although we may see it as very Japanese, from the end of World War II to 1972, the island was not governed by Japan, but rather the United States military. Okinawa was governed in a very similar way to Guam, as its strategic importance made it necessary from the US perspective that it be deprived of rights, or that it become a political black hole. That is the era when the US is doing its best to form the foundation for its position as a global policeman, as a superpower, and so it is interesting as it is attempted to advertise itself as an avatar of freedom and justice, in the case of both Guam and Okinawa it first tries to cut them off from much of the world. 

I will do my best to cover the events that I attend while I'm here for this blog. I decided to title my posts for this trip "Occupied Okinawa" to take advantage of all of the emerging theorizations of occupation from around the world, and also try to shape the possible interpretations of Okinawa's position to the point where we don't just see it as occupied by US military bases, but we can also see it occupied in a more general sense. Okinawa has its own history of colonization, something which both the US and Japan have contributed to both creating and obfuscating. Every corner of the world seems to be using occupation in order to say something critical about the distribution of resources or power there, and so Okinawa, as a place where you could and should use the lens very liberally, should "occupy" a greater part of this conversation. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bai Hu Mahalang

Este i dos famagu'on-hu.

Ti apmam para bai hu hanao para Okinawa.

Gof magof hu put i hinanao-hu, lao esta gof mahalang yu' nu i dos famagu'on-hu.

Sen kinute este na dos.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Families Under Siege

Tonight my grandfather (Tun Jack Lujan) and I will be on a panel at the T. Stell Newman Center near the entrance to Big Navy. We'll be talking about the film Families Under Siege, created by the Guam Humanities Council on the effect of World War II on Chamorro families.

Panel is at 6 pm. It'll begin with a screening of most of the film, followed by reactions from the panelists, and then a question and answer period.

See the flyer for more details.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Occupy Hawai'i

An interesting article on Hawai'i through the framework of occupation.

I was thinking that someone should write an article like this for Guam, but then I remembered that alot of people (including myself) have already written articles like this.


Occupying Hawaii: Paradise Lost and Found

Sunday, 29 January 2012 07:44 
  By Michelle Fawcett, 
Truthout | News Analysis
Ever since the Garden of Eden headlined the Torah, savvy marketers have realized that we all deeply desire a slice of paradise. Utopia is woven into America's national fabric starting with the Puritan ideal of a "city upon a hill" and progressing through the centuries to Shakers, Mormons, Manifest Destiny, socialists and suburbia. These days, paradise is all around us from potato chips seasoned with "harmonic convergence" to bath soaps that "take me away" to Steve Jobs' "quest for perfection."
Utopia has always been half the equation, however, the balance being the extermination of indigenous people, who already inhabited the land, and denial of entry for all manner of people from blacks and women to immigrants and the poor.

This dichotomy is evident in Hawaii where competing visions of paradise blend with dystopian realities. Now, Hawaii would soften even a cynic's heart. I've been visiting Kauai, the "Garden Island," for 20 years and remain intoxicated by the undulating emerald mountains of the Na Pali Coast, the warm, aquamarine waters of Hanalei Bay and the "Aloha spirit" of its people.

The natural splendor of Hawaii draws about seven million tourists a year as well as thousands of transplants, many wealthy, who relocate to the Pacific island chain for the relentlessly balmy weather. At the same time, the tropical Shangri-La barely conceals teeming tent cities, droves of poverty-wage workers and the legacy of the conquest of native Hawaiians.

Hawaii would thus seem both the unlikeliest and most appropriate location for the Occupy movement to appear and Occupy groups have popped up on all the major islands. Like other occupations, Hawaii's occupiers say they are opposed to the concentration of power and wealth that have stripped the 99 percent of a meaningful voice in how society is run. But the occupiers are also trapped in the same boat with tourists, natives and transplants, navigating among clashing visions of a new society. They are grappling with how the Occupy movement is a utopian project, in vision and practice, in a place that is at once a tourist paradise for millions and a paradise lost for many natives and long-term residents.

After the Fall

If paradise offers up an enticing vision of a perfect world prior to a fall from grace, some in Hawaii think a new fall will return them to the lost ideal.

Members of Occupy Kapaa on Kauai, Toni Liljengren, 54, and Andy Fitts, 57, are transplants to the northernmost island they now call home. Toni, a lomi lomi massage therapist, relocated over 20 years ago, while Andy, director of a local Tibetan peace park and a real estate developer, and his wife are more recent arrivals. Speaking over lunch in a sun-washed café, both warned of an imminent global "systems shift."

Andy said a speculative and debt-driven monetary regime has accumulated excessive wealth and power in the top 1 percent. "The amount of debt that has been created is unsustainable. They can try to create these austerities, but the people aren't going to take it." He believes complete financial breakdown may happen in weeks and will cause "chaos, supply interruptions and a real interim period of difficulty until things stabilize."

One would think that in Hawaii - which imports more than 85 percent of its food and ships in every drop of oil that accounts for 85 percent of all energy used - imminent collapse would invoke terrifying visions of the last days of humanity akin to "On the Beach" or "The Road." But not for Toni: "I feel really safe on Kauai. There's fish. There's fruit. This is a very sustainable place. It's probably one of the best places to be at the time of the collapse."

Toni is confident she can survive a crisis because she already barters for food, shelter and chelation therapy. While Andy is more wary, he concludes that a systems shift will "bring out the best in everyone because all the intelligence will be called upon. It will be survival time. Everyone will be scrambling for a new paradigm. But it will be a wonderful time because people will actually stop sleepwalking."

Echoing other occupations, occupiers on Kauai propose a back-to-basics lifestyle - a return to the untroubled paradise of the past. "Sustainability is our main platform," says Toni.

"People have become too dependent on shipments, on pop-tarts and food that we weren't going to be making here in the first place," says Brian Herrick, 34, an Occupy Movement Kauai member. "If we become more self-sustainable, we won't be giving our money to corporations." The movement thus supports local organic farming and renewable energy, which has grown rapidly in recent years, but accounts for less than .3 percent of electricity generation.

Whether Hawaii can sustain itself today is questionable. Centuries before Captain James Cook "discovered" Hawaii in 1778, up to 200,000 people thrived on seafood, native plants and the staple porridge called poi, made from the taro plant introduced by the Polynesians. Brian praises taro as a nutritional powerhouse that islanders should be eating. But to feed the 1.4 million people who call Hawaii home today would mean boosting taro production 100-fold from current levels, using tens of thousands of acres of farmland for one crop. Currently, the biggest cash crop is pesticide-dependent, genetically modified seeds for export. Sustainable food and energy systems will take decades to construct; meanwhile, Hawaii has a seven-day supply of food.

While they share a deep concern for a global system in crisis and its effects on ordinary people, Toni and Andy see Kauai as a safe harbor. Occupy Movement Kauai, which drew about 120 people to its first protest on October 15, and Occupy Kapaa, an offshoot Occupy group, do not yet have encampments. Andy says that's because there is no need to confront a public that already supports them. "We're our own little world. We're all brothers and sisters here, so we're not really in opposition to each other. We're all in love with this place and we all share the good fortune of being here. Most of the haole [white people] are alternative types with like minds ... so we have a totally different scene here."

Trouble in Paradise

At this point, Occupy Movement Kauai sees its primary role as educational. At a recent general assembly meeting on the steps of the Kauai Historic Country Building, Cathy Easter, 57, a social worker and activist, said the group is planning an educational encampment on the large front lawn of the building beginning in 2012 and continuing through the fall elections. Jeff Fishman, 53, a multimedia producer who works on big-budget film shoots on Kauai, envisions tents representing, among other causes, the genetically modified organism-free Kauai movement and Power to the People, an organization devoted to regaining control over the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.
Their encampment won't be the first on the island, however. For long before the camps of the Occupy Movement modeled an idealized future society, tents have housed the forgotten human detritus of present-day Hawaii.

Hawaii lives and dies by tourism, which accounts for 15 percent of the economy and has driven homes prices to almost triple the national average. Yet, when tourism drops, as it did in 2008 when the economy shriveled, jobs vanish from construction to retail. In the leisure sector, low-paid, part-time work is the norm, forcing islanders to take on several jobs to make ends meet. And those jobs are often grueling. Sam Tanigawa, 20, a community organizer and college student active with Occupy Honolulu, claimed cleaning staff at one of the major resorts have a quota of 16 rooms a day and have to work at a breakneck pace to meet exacting standards.

Add in the high price of consumer goods, gasoline that is over $4 a gallon and the result is a homeless population of more than 6,000, the second-highest ratio in the nation after Nevada. Tent cities have sprung up on Oahu, some as large as 50 acres. To address the issue, Gov. Neil Abercrombie introduced a 90-day plan on May 17, 2011, to place homeless in "safe zones" off the streets, but critics called it a cynical attempt to make Honolulu "safe" for visiting diplomats before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last November. While hundreds have been housed in recent sweeps at least temporarily, many more are marooned on the streets, buffeted by harsh economic conditions and unable to grasp one of the few social service lifelines.

Occupy Honolulu's encampment started on November 5 with eight arrests. On a bright Saturday in December, a dozen tents hugged the sidewalk at the edge of Thomas Square Park, which has a 10 PM curfew. Some occupiers were a mile away, engaging in a flash meditation mob at the Ala Moana mall, bursting with holiday shoppers and ringed by densely packed traffic.

A few occupiers held down the fort, each armed with their own causes. Michael Tada, 44, spoke about discrimination against the disabled such as himself. Scott Winfrey, 28, a shaggy, bespectacled transplant and self-described ascetic, focused on income inequality and war. Stephanie, a middle-aged "iPhone artist" and anarchist, said she was homeless. "I have never been homeless on the mainland, it's the third time here. The food is expensive, the rent is expensive, the space is limited, so you see the effects even more."

According to Sam, there are probably hundreds of active supporters of Occupy Honolulu, but only a few camp out. According to posts on their web site, threats of violence by disruptive individuals are driving some away, while others are burning out. And the recent passage of Bill 54, which the ACLU describes as "facially unconstitutional," authorizes the removal of private property on public lands, opening the door to the eviction of the Occupy camp as well as homeless everywhere. "Homelessness is just being criminalized here," Sam fumed. "What are people going to do, if you keep making laws restricting their ways of life until they have nothing?"

Hawaii: Occupied Since 1893

There is another group that has suffered restrictions on their way of life. For there was - and is - another occupation prior to the Occupy movement.

"Hawaii's been occupied all along," said Kekane Pa, 48, speaker of the House of the reinstated Hawaiian government and a construction worker, father and grandfather. Sitting down to talk at an outdoor table neatly covered with government documents (birth certificates, citizenship applications, posters encouraging voting), he launched into the story of Hawaiian occupation, pausing only when a tropical shower pelted the tarp above our heads like a burst of applause.

In 1893, the US minister assigned to Hawaii and non-native residents overthrew the Kingdom, an independent nation recognized by 27 other countries at the time, including the United States. A provisional government of plantation owners, missionaries and financiers eventually ceded the territory to the United States without the consent of the native Hawaiians.

One hundred years later, President Bill Clinton signed the "Apology Bill" on November 23, 1993, which acknowledged the history of the overthrow. The bill renewed the push for the return of native lands, which is often referred to as Hawaiian "sovereignty." The reinstated Hawaiian government sees no need to ask for sovereignty or secession, however, because they claim the land is already legally theirs, so the onus is on the United States to prove ownership with their elected government in place and new citizens repatriated and naturalized. Kekane says the reinstated Hawaiian government plans to reoccupy lands for which the Hawaiians still have title. "We're just using their own laws against them," he said.

Kekane claims 15,000 people support their cause, but other proposals and campaigns exist. Most prominent is the native Hawaiian Reorganization Act promoted by Sen. Daniel Akaka. The "Akaka Bill" offers native Hawaiians federal recognition on par with Native American tribes, allowing them to form a government and provide for the health, safety and welfare of their citizens. But Kekane and other activists claim the bill would foreclose the opportunity to lay claim to their lands.

What Is Occupation?

When asked about Hawaiian "sovereignty," Lonnie Sykos, 57, a sharp-featured ex-merchant marine and a member of Occupy Movement Kauai, blurted out, "I am an American and I don't bow down to any king. Period." He views secession as treason. Andy echoes this position, saying a return to Hawaiian monarchy doesn't seem like a solution because it is "an even older paradigm than the one that's falling apart now."

Nonetheless, they sympathize with the plight of the Hawaiians and acknowledge their loss of land, power, culture and well-being. While he does not support independence per se, Lonnie does support the Hawaiians' right to work for independence "as long as it's constitutional." Andy says Occupy and the Hawaiians are both fighting inequities in society, so there is "a way to work together." Scott in Honolulu sees a dialogue between Occupy and sovereignty as the "main issue." Toni believes when the current world government falls apart, the Hawaiians will "have their land back anyway," which she fully supports.

Kekane is used to hearing reasons for opposing a return to the native Hawaiian government and he patiently provides answers. "If they had been coming to our meetings for the last 15 years, they would know what we stand for." He says the reinstated government has no intention of returning to a past system or way of life. The new government is a constitutional monarchy without king or queen; citizenship will not be based on race; all are welcome to join the nation; property will not be seized, but owners will have to pay taxes to the new government, not the US. And even though the overthrow happened over 100 years ago, it must still be addressed.

"Today, Hawaii is a political question," said Kekane, "but the question does not want to be addressed by the thief."

Some Hawaiians who attended early Occupy Movement Kauai general assemblies balked at the term "occupy" in an occupied land. "It is an unfortunate choice of word," said Brian, "but we wanted to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and also to be found." So they inserted "Movement" between Occupy and Kauai.

Others have also made the linguistic distinction. Occupy Honolulu calls itself (De)occupy Honolulu in recognition of the current occupation in Hawaii. On the US mainland, (Un)occupy Albuquerque, in a region with a large Native American population, states that a "movement to end economic injustice must have at its core an honest struggle to end racism, colonization and all forms of oppression." Likewise, Occupy Seattle has a Declaration of Decolonize/Occupy Seattle that declares, "we are invaders and squatters upon stolen indigenous land that has already been occupied for centuries." Despite the negative connotations of "occupy," the Occupy movement is trying to reclaim the term, just as it is trying to reclaim democratic control over the economy and political system.

Kekane understands the distinction and supports the Occupy movement, but he takes it further. "You're talking about occupying the management of your assets ... But in Hawaii, if you're going to de-occupy, you're not just talking about assets, you're talking about nationality and allegiance."

"The issue here is how to get control over our own destiny," said Lonnie. "We have literally a billion-dollar financial, tourism and real estate industry. Taxes are inefficiently collected and used and they could easily support world-class schools, elder care and first-world wages."

Both are talking about a more just society and democratic control. The question is under what form. Many occupiers are calling for redressing economic injustices within the existing political order. For native Hawaiians like Kekane, who says Hawaiian "hotel revenues, business revenues and tourist revenues belong to the Hawaiian government not the US," the political form takes priority over the economic.

As another rain shower cleared and we concluded our interview, Kekane pored over his documents and I was struck by deja vu: After visiting 30 occupations, it seemed to me that he was just "playing" government the way that occupiers are "playing" society on street corners across the country. What hope do encampments, with their kitchens, libraries, child care centers, medical tents and radical participatory democracy, have of becoming the larger society in which we all actually live? What hope does the reinstated Hawaiian government with its officers, citizens and legal forms have against the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth? But any social change comes from a vision and practice, of a more perfect world, no matter how impossible it may seem. Any social change comes from daring to reach out for paradise.

Arun Gupta contributed to this report.

Michelle Fawcett

Michelle Fawcett Ph.D., is adjunct professor in the Media, Culture and Communications Department at New York University. She is currently traveling across the US covering the Occupy movement.


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