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.

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