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.