Friday, January 11, 2013

Uniku

For a person of any ethnicity undergoing an identity crisis, there are various stages that you must go through in your search for answers. Some of these stages you may move through quickly, others you may spent more time in, you may find your way to a new space and then decide you don't like it and then turn around and return to a previous point in your journey.

For those who feel that they have been deprived of a cultural identity one stage that they must pass through, but which can be fairly dangerous, is the "uniku" stage, or unique stage. Their feelings of loss can come from many sources. They can be from the diaspora and feel like this barrier of oceans or continents stands between them and their identity. It can be an issue of dominant society blocking cultural expression and making them, their parents or their community feel like their cultural has to be neutralized or sterilized before it can be passed on. It can even be a railing and rallying against history itself. A angry sort of tirade at how history has cursed you and deprived you for your culture where as so many others get to enjoy their culture freely and happily. The particularities for how you interpret your loss aren't really that important. What matters is that you feel a need to fill yourself and then represent not just yourself, but the larger cultural collective that you feel you need to belong to.

As you seek to collect whatever fragments of your culture that you can, whatever pieces that are appropriate and seem to fit, one of the first instincts that you'll feel is towards hunting uniqueness. You are looking for answers to hayi mismo hao? yan ginnen manu hao mismo? Who you are and where you really come from? The answers you are searching for must of such an intimate quality, that they must feel as if they are special to you, made solely for you, made only for you and the community you are a part of. As a result your search will often be based on levels of acceptable purity. You will look for things that are strictly Chamorro. Things that are unique to Guam, to the Marianas, to Chamorros, that no one else can justly claim to be theirs. You will hunt for that which no one can claim to be "maayao" or "mestiso" or "ti magahet" or "ti mismo." You will sift through whatever you find for the fragments that carry the most purity, the most ability to represent who you are supposed to be with as little stain of any other culture or any other history as possible.

Part of that initial exploration of external and internal discovery is finding something to be proud of that is iyo-mu ha', yours alone. But what unfortunately gets conflated in this endeavor is the notion that what is yours must be unique or must be pure. At this stage what you find couldn't be shared with any others or couldn't belong to anyone else as well.

This stage is natural, but it is not healthy to remain at this stage. It is something that is necessary early on in order to start seeing things associated with your culture as being valuable, but treading too deep into ideas of purity and uniqueness will end up hurting you in the long run. If you remain in that position too long, you are not longer a native searching for your identity, you become a native trapped in the gaze of the anthropologist. You aren't searching for what is true to you anymore, but you are instead searching for something that is true to a long disproven notion of cultural purity.

Anthropologists traveled the world looking for primitive, backwards and different cultures, they searched and wrote about things based not simply on what they found, but what they found that was “unique” to this culture. One of the reasons that Chamorros have been largely left out of the history of the Pacific (made by both native peoples and non-native peoples) is because anthropologists and historians deemed them (because of colonization and change in culture and language) as not existing anymore, and not possessing anything which would either make them unique or make them Chamorro.

For Chamorros and for other indigenous groups, it is important that we do not continue this colonial game by only embracing the things which “make us unique” but rather confront all aspects of Chamorro culture, and then make decisions based on what should stay, what should be changed, what should be fought for and defended, and what should be rejected. You shouldn't stay at this stage of cultural purity because it is something that reflects in very limited ways your history or your experience. Cultures, even those that are "isolated" are still very diverse. There are no cultures where everyone does the same thing, believes the same thing and so on. To restrict your search in such ways means that you may only "discover" a tiny fraction of yourself or where you come from. To be enamored by such purity you will also end up creating the identity you seek as being a very fragile and weak brand. Because it is only comprised of things that are pure or unique, it means that the potentiality or the possibility for Chamorros are limited as well. When confronting the challenges of life or seeking ways to express yourself or articulate yourself, can you only use those things that are unique? Does that meant the Chamorro is prohibited from learning, growing, adapting?

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