Friday, March 29, 2013

The Birth of Nasion Chamoru

I am finishing up an entry for the website Guampedia on the activist group Nasion Chamoru. I didn't know much about Nasion Chamoru until I was  student at the University of Guam, and even then I would hear snippets from the media and from relatives and didn't really understand what they represented and what they were trying to do. Eventually after taking a Guam History classes, my artist temperament led me to question so many things about Guam and Chamorros that I had taken for granted or never even considered. This naturally led me to learn more about Nasion Chamoru and their members, their message. My grandfather being a cultural master helped identify me to people who might otherwise question the lightness of my skin or the strangeness of my last name. I spent time talking to members of Nasion Chamoru and I learned about their struggle. By this time Angel Santos had stepped out of the group and was a Senator and was also becoming ill. I would sit next to him at church with my grandmother, but never really got a chance to interact with him.

I attended meetings of the Colonized Chamoru Coalition and the Commission on Self-Determination, now known as the Commission on Decolonization. Eventually in 2003 before leaving island to start my Ph.D. program in San Diego, I officially joined Nasion Chamoru. Along with several others young people, a small ceremony was held at then Latte Stone Park in Hagatna, a site that holds great symbolic significance to Nasion Chamoru. Each of us took on a name as part of our joining, I took on the name "Sahuma Minagahet." It is currently tattooed to my forearms and something I usually conclude my emails or letters with.

Writing this entry has been eerily nostalgic for me. Even though I didn't camp out in front of Adelup on either of the times members of Nasion Chamoru did. Even though I did not join Angel Santos in any hungry strike. Even though I did not protest at Pott's Junction. Even though I did not lose land after World War II. Even though I was not a veteran who had come home after dispossessing people in Vietnam, questioning all the principles that everyone seems to foolishly believe that American stands for. Even though I did not meet any of these criteria, and did not participate in any of those direct actions or transformations of consciousness that help create Nasion Chamoru as a protest group, in the time that I spent with its members learning from them I felt responsible for carrying on the fight, for carrying on their story, for reminding the next generation and the next after, that the fight is not over.

As part of the writing of this article I went back to many of the early articles, flyers and declarations that led to the founding of Nasion Chamoru. By far my favorite is "The Birth of a Chamoru Nation" by Angel Santos. I've pasted it on this blog many times before, but feel the need today to paste it again.


The Guam Tribune, Saturday, November 2, 1991
The Birth of the Chamoru Nation

Tinige' i Difunton Anghet Leon Guerrero Santos

        In the beginning of time, God created man in his own image. He created a universal home for his people. He scattered them throughout the world and gave each of them a language of their own. He gave them land and enough natural resources to live on. He created Koreans and gave them a home in Korea. Then he made the Japanese and gave them a home in Japan. Then he created Chamorus and gave them a home in the Marianas. 
         Who is a Chamoru? A Chamoru is a direct descendant of the original inhabitants of Guam regardless of variations of lineage. A Chamoru is not determined in terms of degrees or fractions. A person who is 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 Chamoru is still a human beings have a God-given right to claim their identity based on the argument that there is no nationality in the world that is pure. Why must Chamorus be subjected to all the insults and alienation? Why must we justify our identities? God knows who we are and that's all that matters. Chamorus have an inalienable right to exist as a nation of people! Our ancestors were placed on this island with a unique culture and language, found nowhere in the world except in the Marianas Islands. Why do outsiders argue that there are no real Chamorus? Is it because these individuals or outside governments have an economic or political interest in our island? Or is it because they have no sense of their own identity? Chamorus know who they are. They are born, raised and proud to be Chamoru. A Chamoru is allowed to keep his clothes, American car, a concrete home, and government job and still be a Chamoru. It is not an immortal sin to be a Chamoru. It is a divine gift from God....
           Today, survival of the Chamoru Nation is threatened as a result of the US open door policy allowing the influx of immigrants into Guam. The United States denied Chamorus their fundamental human rights by taking Chamoru lands (one third of Guam) in the 1940's and 1950's, without due process of just compensation. For any nation to survive, is people must protect the land, water, air, spirituality, language and culture...
...Sovereignty is the right of a people to control their own destiny. All sovereign nations must protect six elements - land, water, air, spirituality, language and culture for the survival of its people. If any of these elements are sold, destroyed or lost, then sovereignty begins to erode and our right to survive is decreased. The influx of immigrants to Guam has an impact on these elements that threatens Chamoru survival.
        Some Chamorus feel its too late to attend to problems on Guam, but while the Chamorus still make up 42 percent of the population it is not too late. While some Chamorus chose not to sell their land, it is not too late. While some still speak the language, it is not too late. While our culture is still being practiced, it is not too late. While our children still depend on us, it is not too late. While we are still alive, it is not too late. Patience, faith and prayer are our only weapons in reversing the injustice and restoring hope for our people.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Prop 8 Chathinengge

The 6 Most Absurd Prop. 8 Briefs

The Supreme Court has managed to attract some of the most outlandish of arguments from some familiar antigay figures.

Nine U.S. Supreme Court justices hear arguments today in the Proposition 8 case and in the Defense of Marriage Act case on Wednesday. For the past few weeks briefs have flowed into the Supreme Court in an attempt to persuade the justices, from both sides of the issue. Gay U.S.A. The Movie has compiled a list of the most absurd amici briefs submitted by the anti-equality proponents:

Citizens United

We all remember the infamous Citizens United case, which robbed our democracy by allowing unlimited campaign contributions to tilt the political process in favor of the elite, opening the doors for shady Super PACs and gifts from the likes of Sheldon Adelson. The Citizens United arguments against marriage equality are just as unscrupulous.

In response to the Ninth District’s finding that gays and lesbians “have been victims of a long history of discrimination,” Citizens United makes the argument in its Amicus brief that gays have not faced a “real” history of discrimination because gays were never slaves and have always been considered members of the human race, however deviant and sinful. From the brief (read the complete brief):

“Unlike Blacks, none of them could be bought and sold as ordinary articles of merchandise; rather all had rights to life, liberty, and property that were recognized and enforceable by law.”

“While homosexuals were discriminated against for their sexual deviant behavior, they were never denied, as the Black freedman was, of ‘the right to make and enforce contracts, sue, give evidence, acquire property and ‘to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property,’ as was enjoyed by heterosexuals.”

“Homosexual behavior, then, while unnatural did not mean that those guilty of it were any less human.”

David Boyle

This random lawyer from Long Beach submitted my favorite brief in terms of absurdity. On a par with antigay Westboro Baptist Church, Boyle’s most ludicrous verbiage includes, from the brief (read the complete brief):

 “‘Gay marriage’ may resemble a houseboat, which despite its name may not be able to perform all of a boat’s functions.”

“… marriage is not always gay in the old sense of ‘gay,’ not always a barrel of fun. This is one reason, moral and Biblical reasons aside, why many Americans may be queasy about taking a gay couple’s relationship and calling it ‘marriage.’ The very word ‘gay,’ which may have been adopted by homosexuals (along with ‘cheery’ symbology such as rainbow flags), denotes a state of permanent happiness which may sometimes have little basis in reality. And what basis there is, may come partially from the status of being able to have endless sexual relations without ever risking pregnancy.”
Judicial Watch

Judicial Watch is another one of those right-wing conservative D.C. think tanks. Their argument against same-sex marriage: that the most critical function of a marriage is to make sure that men stick around after knocking up their girlfriends in an unintended pregnancy. From the brief (read the complete brief):

“When reserved for opposite sex couples, marriage is therefore intended to increase the chances that couples unintentionally conceiving will enter into ‘stable and committed’ relationships when they might prefer to do otherwise.”

Liberty Council

The Liberty Council is run by well-known homophobe, Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty University Law School, which was founded by the infamous Jerry Falwell. They argue that gays and lesbians don’t actually want marriage because Andrew Sullivan, a well-known gay conservative, published the following and other statements. From the brief (read the complete brief):

“DIX1032 at 140, Camille Paglia, Connubial Personae, 10 Percent, May-June 1995 reprinted in SAME SEX MARRIAGE: PRO AND CON, A READER (Andrew Sullivan, ed., 1997)

“My experience is that gay men’s idea of marriage or any kind of relationship is rather open. . . . Gay men—they’re ‘together for thirty years’: what does that mean? That means they go out and pick up strangers every two weeks. That's a very sophisticated view of marriage. Lesbians aren’t like that. Lesbians nest in one big cinnamon bun where they fuse and it's all very sweet and nice. I like the idea of marriage, but I’m not sure that gay relationships have been tested over time. If we can’t convince each other about it, I don’t know how we’re going to convince the greater world.” (Ed., Andrew Sullivan, 1997).”

Lighted Candle Society

The Lighted Candle Society was founded by John Harmer (a former lieutenant governor and state senator of California) and Edwin Meese III (former U.S. attorney general). They argue that if we allow same-sex marriage, brothers and sisters will marry, fathers and daughters will marry, and all the polygamists will come out of the woodwork. From the brief (read the complete brief):

“.. if same-sex or genderless marriage is imposed, the effort to remove the number component of marriage will necessarily include all permutations of group marriage – opposite-sex, same-sex, and bisexual varieties of polygamy, i.e., polyamory.”

“.. of course, if same-sex marriage is mandated, the law will have to allow relatives of the same gender to marry, e.g., a mother and daughter, father and son, two or more brothers, two or more sisters, etc.”

Westboro Baptist Church

Ah, the Westboro Baptist Church. They never disappoint in reminding us of the impending wrath of God upon this nation. Westboro even invokes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of “Every adult, child, suckling and animal – utterly destroyed.” From the brief (read the complete brief):

“The old Jewish writings report that the final offense that brought Noah’s Flood was the making of marriage contracts between men.”

Under the Supreme Court’s rules, a brief from an amicus curiae, “friend of the Court,” is supposed to bring to the Court’s attention  “relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties.”  If a brief does not conform, then the rule adds, the document “burdens the Court, and its filing is not favored.”   While to some extent these absurd arguments may be unique, one can only wonder to what extent such garbage could impact the nine.

Kristina Lapinski
Kristina Lapinski is producing and directing Gay U.S.A. the Movie, a feature documentary, currently filming the events surrounding the Prop. 8 and DOMA cases, at SCOTUS, Washington D.C.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chamorro Public Service Post #24: Nobia Yanggen Para Un Hanao

When I was doing oral histories on Guam, not too long ago, some of the most interesting stories were those of courtship and "dating" in pre-World War II Guam. As many manamko' state, there was no dating before the war, and this is no exaggeration. Young men and women were closely watched and restricted in their movements and activities. Men were given more freedom than women, but both were not allowed to freely associated with any person of the opposite sex to whom they were not closely related. With any such social prohibition there are plenty of sagas of the exceptions. These exceptions for the most part can be found in the tales of mythical others. People who bravely went against the times or were victimized by the times or who seemed to not belong in the time to which they were born. These people always exist, and are spoken about sometimes in disgust/distaste, sometimes with jealous admiration. But even if the person you are talking to may have had similar experiences, they tend to exclude themselves from that topic, and not share their own experiences. 

Although the sexes may have been monitored very carefully, you will always find stories of those who were able to beat the odds and see each other. You will always find stories of parents forced to marry their kids since they had been able to connect in more ways than one, and public decency demanded that they at least be married. You will find stories of secret romances where, where Fulana's cousin was able to meet her boyfriend by the river every night and Fulanu was able to meet his girlfriend when he would sneak away while at the ranch with his dad. These tales of romance warm the heart and inspire us even if by strict Catholic or religious rules they are immoral, because they contain passion, sweetness, courtship in addition to young people having sex next to metates, on riverbanks or behind churches. But while most have no problem gossiping about others, they have a natural blind-spot for themselves. The story of how your Auntie Chai and Uncle Chu got together drips with more teenage passion than all four Twilight books, but if you ask your grandmother how her and grandpa got together, it's like reading an encyclopedia Britannica entry.

This is natural and to be expected, in every culture you'll find similar sorts of gaps between the reality of their sexual activity and the discourse they use to create public meaning about it. Chamorros are no different, although the gulf between what they say and believe about themselves and the way they conduct themselves has been particularly massive since Spanish colonization. Even after Chamorros had converted to Christianity and publicly accepted they were to not engage in premartial sex, stay married and not get divorced and many other things they nonetheless continued to live out their previous ideas of sexuality, albeit in private. They would continue to sing about it in Chamoritta verse, though now disguised in generic metaphors. They would continue to fool around and get pregnant before getting married. They would have plenty of sexual partners even after getting married. Even other Europeans who visited Guam during the Spanish period remarked how blatantly contradictory Chamorros were in terms of sex. They would go to church religiously and were devoutly loyal to their faith. But they were also incredibly promiscuous and would sometimes encourage their daughters to have sex with whalers and other visitors on island in order to make money. It is possible this was just a myth that whalers would tell themselves about Guam, but it could also have some element of truth.

It is natural to not want to spill all the naughty details, and normal to tell parts of your story as if they are G rated, but from a historical perspective it makes things less fun. A less discussed and less celebrated part of our history is that negotiation over sexuality. How we have negotiated the public demands upon our identities, but also developed secret, private spaces for exploring other aspects of who we are. The Catholic aspects overwhelm the Chamorro, but also sometimes appear to choke the Chamorro, and so in terms of finding love, finding pleasure and finding that part of who we are, Chamorros went to great lengths to explore and experience. Although Chamorros had accepted Catholicism as part of them, there were still things, contradictory things that they felt were also part of themselves. It is an interesting dance to see how this could be carried out.

As already mentioned the Chamoritta singing style was one way of exploring sexuality and sexual imagery while still obeying public morays. You could sing about another person sexually while hiding your desire in banal and boring everyday metaphors. Certain spaces and times of the day or periods of the year became more sexually charged. Making tatiyas or doing laundry early in the morning was an ideal place for meeting a boyfriend. When spending the day at the ranch, you could easily spare a couple of hours to visit a achakma' or two. Men who were particularly bad at farming or fishing and often had poor harvest or came home few fish were either bad at their jobs or doing other types of che'cho' lahi. Fiestas were places where religious celebration and devotion took place, but also plenty of fooling around. Parents would beat their own children for having secret girlfriends or boyfriends, sometimes locking them up or hanging them upside down and whipping them. These same parents often had their own secret liaisons and relationships and would have children from outside their marriage. Their infidelity would not however make them more lenient or understanding of their children and their indiscretions.

All of this came to mind because as I was going through some of my files tonight I saw such an interesting contrast between Chamorro wedding songs, all of which deal with love and leaving your family and start a new phase of your life, and the Chamorita songs, which would deal with issues of love, sex and having fun.

I should note before concluding that I haven't discussed the issues of homosexuality. That is something that i whispered about and alluded to through allusions to other things. It is rarely even mentioned, although in many cultures were heterosexual relationships are closely monitored, homosexual relationships often covertly flourish. I'll take about this in a future post I'm sure. 

I've decided to post here tonight the words for one of the wedding songs, a famous one still sung by people today, "Nobia Yanggen Para Un Hanao." There are, like most songs, many different versions to choose from. Some families sung it differently, and different people had their own take on the lyrics, changing some words for other, adding verses of their own.


"Nobia Yanggen para un hanao"

Nobia yanggen para un hanao
Fandespidi gi as nanå-mu
Ya un gagao ni’ bendision-ña
Ya un nina’tunas gi karerå-mu

Dimu pappa’ ya un fannginge’
Si nanå-mu nai fine’nina
Sa’ ti apmam nai na tiempo
Otro nobia un ginebetna

Nobia yanggen para un hanao
Fandespidi gi amigå-mu
Sa’ este nobia na hinanao-mu
Hokok nobia sumutterå-mu

Yanggen un konne’ yu’ gi as nana
Ni’ made’on ni’ mabubuyi
Ministed un pasiensåyi
Sa’ esta hao mana’dungkoluyi

Nobia yanggen esta hao manhanao
Mungga maatan este siha
Lao i guinaiyan i nobiu-mu
Ayu ha’ nai un espiha

Monday, March 25, 2013

Chamorro Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas was by far my favorite film of 2012. It was a film I only saw once, but wanted to watch again immediately after I left the theatre. Part of this is due to the fact that a group of actors play multiple roles in different historical eras. Some of them are obvious, others aren’t so clear. The film becomes a type of game trying to figure out who is who. In the credits they flash on the screen each actor and all their roles. You realize then how many you recognized and how many zipped before your vision but you didn’t recognize them.

The story itself is complicated and so that might also create that desire. You want to see it again because there may be a section you didn’t quite catch or weren’t quite sure about. At certain points the jumping across times can be confusing, especially towards the beginning when you don’t quite have your bearings yet. As one of the characters in the film states, a half finished book is like an unfinished love affair. It is unsettling and unsatisfying. I’m sure many people felt that wanting after their watching and would have wanted to return to the film to resolve any loose ends in their mind.

But for me, neither of these are the real reason I felt so drawn to Cloud Atlas and would want to see it again. I want to watch it again because as an experience it was enriching, enlightening and enjoyable. The movie was put together in such a way that it appealed to something in me, so that I felt connected to the film far beyond the details, the content itself. Instead there was something about the world view, the cosmology, the philosophy of the film, the way that it presents the universe, history, human lives and daily choices.

Most people navigate their lives, their communities and the universe in a very basic way. Most people believe in God, and profess a particular faith, but live their lives in a regular absence of God. Those who see God as constantly being around them can sometimes border on appearing schizophrenic because of how they insist that there is more around us than what we can see, and that we should be attentive to those things that we could just be imagining. Whether it be the illuminati, God, demons, people tend to live their lives knowing full well those things exist, but not actually accepting that as a part of how their generic life enfolds.

A similar relationship exists in terms of history. Everyone has history, most everyone will argue that history is important, but does history, as any sort of active construct play any role in their lives? History may be a word we use to provide an explanation for what happened before and what created things around us today. It is a cord that can tie chaos together and make it seem easier to interpret, but how actively do people engage with things that they say are so incredibly important for navigating the gaps between past, present and future?

There is for most people a generic flow to life. The things that we see are so essential, really aren’t. Things that we see structure the world and how we act and what we believe in, really only emerge when we have something to argue, something to prove, or something that we want to claim as ours.

For example, what does it mean to be a Chamorro? Is it jokes? Is it your immediate family? Your extended family? Is it Ancient Warriors with latte-stone-strength? Is it something to connect you to pan-ethnic identities in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America? Is it the essence that gives your religious experience meaning? We go back and forth between these sorts of central identities that we acquire and that other impose on us. They can be things we cannot conceive of living without in one moment, and things that hold us back and keep us down the next.

Despite all the rhetoric of culture needing to be protected, preserved, promoted and so on, most people have very passive relationships to the idea of inter-generational cultural transmission. They make these arguments but don’t truly live these arguments. They don’t actually accept these things in their own lives. They imagine others doing the preserving, the promoting, the protecting.

This is why I always have a strange feeling when I get compliments from people on Guam. Every once in a while someone will come up to me and thank me for all that I’m doing. Someone will approach me and tell me they are so impressed with my daughter speaking Chamorro, and that I should keep it up and keep fighting. While this swells my ego, este muna’dångkolu i ego-hu, it also muna’triste yu’ didide’. It also saddens me a little bit. It always makes me want to ask those people, what are you doing? Do you speak Chamorro? Why not? Hunggan, sina fumino’ Chamoru hao? Pues kao esta un fino Chamoruruyi i famagu’on-mu? Ahe’? Sa’ hafa?

All humans feel obligations. We feel responsibilities. We are connected to so many things around us, even if we don’t realize it, they can pull on us. Problems elsewhere in the world. Suffering. Violence, war. Natural disasters. Perfect strangers can feel very connected to us. But at the same time they can feel completely foreign to us, in fact those who we are most closely tied to in our lives can also feel like they come from a different planet and cannot truly be from the same source as we are. We create ourselves, the I, that we are, by managing those obligations. We assert that we are intimately connected to this. We desperately need to be obligated to this. We can do without that. Someone else can take care of that. Someone else is taking care of that. Those things are not my problem. That person is not my sister, ti che’lu-hu ayu na taotao, ti obligashon-hu este.

For many Chamorros, their obligation to their language and their culture today comes down to recognizing those who they feel are doing something. They count this recognition as part of the struggle, part of the fight. They may not really be doing anything themselves. They may not really be sharing much genealogy, family history, family trades, language, but their role is fulfilled by knowing that someone else is doing it.

Even worse than this however is when people feel that they are participating or that they are doing something through the act of lamenting how nothing is being done or how everything is dying or disappearing. They are connected to things through their sarcastic and pessimistic detachment. They feel that their realistic and negative assessment is right and so it is work in and of itself speaking this difficult truth and so what else can they really do? We see this constantly on Guam as people who speak Chamorro, lament the death of the language, while simply not using it with their children or grandchildren. There are ways that they could help, small, but productive ways, yet their contribution is that depressing assessment alone.

For most people, not just Chamorros, their heritage is filled with abstract shadows and cardboard cutouts. The reason so many people enjoy consuming or representing their heritage through t-shirts, tattoos or stickers is because that replicates their actual relationship to their culture. Their relationship is not one of intimacy. It may be one of pride. This detachment doesn’t necessarily mean they are estranged from their culture, history, heritage or language. But it means that it is perceived as inessential to their lives. Something they provides the extra meaning to who they are, but isn’t really part of their core being. This is not something you break down to simply Chamorros are too Westernized or Americanized. Everyone has these sorts of identity issues. Part of it comes from the lines that perceive as demarcating what is Chamorro and what isn’t. What is this ethnicity, what is that ethnicity. In Guam a lot of it does come down to that which I see as American, and that which I see as local, Chamorro. Colonization intervenes to make this contrast even more stark, where people loathe the local as being inadequate and insufficient and cling that the things they feel are American in order to survive.

In truth most people I would argue see their ethnic identity or racial identity as something extra and so their relationship to things such as language and culture are always a bit detached. Life is filled with so many things that you don’t feel are directly related to your language and culture. While some people will name things that they do regularly, constantly, daily as being ethnic, most people don’t. Is the way you walk Chamorro? Is the way you check your email Chamorro? Is the way you conduct your job Chamorro? Kao Chamorro i magugu-mu? Kao Chamorro i guinaiya-mu? Kao humahagong hao komo Chamorro? Most people have a limited amount of things in their life that they consider as being connected to their heritage or their identity. One of the paradoxes of life is that those who are seen without “culture” or nice, cool exotic things, often see themselves and the things they do as being more connected to their daily activities. Because they see themselves less as being derived from a “particular” essence, they can therefore assume easier that there is a more universal quality to the things they do.

Others however see their identity has engulfing and absorbing the things in their life. They do things the “Chamorro” way or infuse a Chamorro flavor into everything. These people engage with their heritage in a more active way. They see it as not a thing that they get in small doses, here or there or only when they go to the Fokkai Shop or during Chamorro Month. They see it as something that is always expanding and changing. As new things come across their path, they see ways to make it more Chamorro or make it Chamorro. This can be small or large. It can be as harmless as saying “hafa adai” to people at your work, or it can be trying to build a business that is based on older principles of Chamorro economics and sustainability.

This has been a long way of describing what I loved about the film Cloud Atlas. Although the message there isn’t about ethnicity or heritage, it is about connections across generations and time. It is about how the past and the present and the future are all as connected as we want them to be or will allow ourselves to believe. Although most people deny themselves this truth, the connections are there, and the film illustrates this very well.

As one of the main characters puts it:
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.
 The local anthology Guam Through Our Eyes featured essays and artwork from a variety of local sources. In that anthology you can find examples of my paintings and monotypes, but also an essay written by me about my connection to Guam. One of the questions everyone with an essay in the anthology was asked was, “what is the best thing about living in Guam?” Most people gave answers about the beautiful scenery, the lovely people, the warmth of family. For me, as a Chamorro, who tends to see things very differently than most, this is what I wrote:
The best thing about living in Guam is, for me, the sense of continuing a story that’s been going on for thousands of years, and being someone who can help tell that story, and help write it for the future.
 This is something that the creators of Cloud Atlas portrayed very well in the way they used the same actors to play different characters across time periods. They certainly didn’t do it in order to save money by hiring less people. They did it to emphasis the connectedness of all the players. Separated by social divides, racial divides, decades and sometimes centuries, there are nevertheless ties between them. They make choices that others faced. They make choices that will affect those that come after. The point is not re-incarnation, but that the history, your heritage, your fate all waits beside you in life. Even if you don’t notice it or refuse to recognize it, they are all there.

As a Chamorro, you are part of a story that has been going on for thousands of years. What will be your role in that story? Will you simply do nothing and let others do the writing? Will you let the story end prematurely? Will you soak it in apathetic depressing tragedy? Or will you recognize that role? Recognize what is waiting around you and see that you have a responsibility to keep the story alive and so that it can ripple into the future and inspire, empower and give strength to those who are waiting patiently for us to make our choices, and see what we bequeath to them. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Okinawa Independence #10: Islander Language School

When I visited Okinawa last year I was fortunate enough to visit a language school started by a group of activists who are working towards the revitalization of Uchinaguchi or the main dialect of Okinawa. I had met most of them over the years at conferences in the states or on solidarity trips around the Asia-Pacific region. I was impressed with their grassroots efforts and in the year since they even received a small government grant to provide stipends for the community members who were offering their time to teach the classes. In these classes parents and children would work together to learn the language. Unfortunately when I visited last week the school was on vacation and wouldn't start again for several weeks.

I thought it would be nice to share some of the photos I took last year. Part of the benefit of these types of trips is not only the inspiration you can feel from seeing people who at work who are committed and dedicated. It is also important to learn about each other in order to learn from each other. One thing that I find interesting and saddening about the way that Chamorros have undertaking the saving of their language in contrast to others is how very little grassroots mobilization there has been. In both Okinawa and Hawai'i, the strongest efforts have been low-budget community efforts. In Guam most of what has been done has come from government mandates and although we still have tens of thousands of elderly Chamorro speakers, we have seen few grassroots attempts to utilize them.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Okinawa Independence #9: Revitalizing > Preserving > Promoting

My previous trips to Okinawa revolved around demilitarism and decolonization in a political sense. This trip, because of my participation in the Island Language Revitalization Symposium at Ryukyu University was focused on decolonization with regards to the language in Okinawa. As people have asked me about my trip to Okinawa and what it was like I have developed a sort of easy to use, easy to understand narrative that I rely upon.

Most think of Okinawa and Guam as places that are linked only through the presence of US military bases. Chamorros from Guam know Okinawa primarily through the imaginary of the military, as a place where they once lived, trained or heard stories of how the people there protest the US military. I want to challenge those limited ideas and show that there are more potential connections beyond that, more chances for solidarity. I want to help people see Okinawa from Guam not through the lens that you get by serving in the military, or getting your identity from the military or feeling like you come from an island that needs the US military in order to survive. I want to help people see beyond that.

One of the things that connects Okinawans and Chamorros is that both of them underwent attacks on their language and culture in the past century due to colonization by either the Japanese or the Americans. As a result their languages have been in decline ever sense and either may become extinct in a few generations.

For my talks and presentations during this trip I focused heavily on decolonization in terms of language. The revitalization of our languages is a very important way of dealing with colonial legacies and empowering ourselves again. Note I said revitalizing of our languages, not preserving or promoting of our languages. The difference here can mean universes in terms of what you are actually attempting to do and how hard you are willing to work in order to “save the language.”

Promoting the language is easiest and amounts to very little in terms of decolonization. Promoting something requires little to no knowledge of it. You can promote the language by wearing a t-shirt, getting a tattoo or just knowing a few words and saying them with pride. You can promote the language by saying “Hu guaiya fumino’ Chamoru!” but you can also promote the language by saying it in English “I love to speak Chamoru!”

Promoting the language has almost nothing to do with the language itself. Promoting the language is attending to the social aura that surrounds people. It is about creating positive perceptions of the language. It is about pushing people to say nice things about it. It is about reshaping and remaking it so that you can distribute it easily and in small bites to tourists and other visitors. If Guam was a place where people were still being punished or condemned for using Chamorro then we would need more promotion. But since surveys show that close to everyone says the Chamorro language is impottante yan gefpago this is not the front where we need more efforts. Promoting the language is only decolonization in certain contexts. Promoting the Chamorro language 50 years ago would be considered decolonization since the social context was still very “English ha’ yan Mungga mafino’ Chamoruyi i Famagu’on-mu.” But today it accomplishes little.

Preserving the language moves this a bit further, but still falls short of decolonization. In previous generations on Guam this was the only way in which Chamorros spoke of their language in terms of its future existence or its value. It was assumed since World War II that the language would die and so it must be preserved, collected and written down before it disappears. This drive to preserve was something that is stimulated by an anthropological or outside perspective.

It assumes that a people are detached and divorced from their culture. They that no longer speak their language, no longer practice their culture. It assumes a decay and a endangerment, and a leaking of life. This is related to the ways that an outside culture may see an indigenous people. They may see themselves as adapting and changing, but they will assume the indigenous person to be stuck and stagnant and any change is a mark of their demise. They are not the pure and authentic people they once were, now they are losing their culture and it must be preserved before it is lost. They are becoming too much like us and so we should preserve who they were.

This drive to preserve comes from the way the Chamorro or the native person comes to occupy the position of the fabled anthropologist. In times past anthropologists traveled the world collecting the knowledge and language of people, as a testament to their superiority over said native peoples. They traveled there to save what the native peoples were allowing to be lost. In doing so, they assumed a disconnect between the natives and their heritage and assert their own authority over it, since the native peoples themselves, who are always on the verge of disappearing, certainly can’t preserve it themselves. The idea that the language or culture should be preserved or recorded for posterity, was another way of arguing the supremacy of a particularity in the form of a universal.

This is part of the overall problem with the way Chamorros and many other indigenous people understand themselves today. We should not be striving to preserve our language and culture. We should be striving to live our culture and speak our language.

Preservation can be important, especially if there are parts of the language or parts of the culture that may soon become lost, but it should never be an end in and of itself. We should not be protecting our language and culture in order to prepare it for the museum, or get it ready for some 22nd century Indiana Jones to stumble upon.

One of the most nefarious aspects of the discourse on preservation is that the task easily becomes disassociated from everyone in general. For people who feel disconnected from their culture, the impulse to preserve is something very convenient. It requires you to do close to nothing. You don’t know the language, you feel like you barely practice the culture, so the task couldn’t and shouldn’t fall to you. It must be accomplished by others. The government, the university, activists, they should be the ones to do it, while you cheer from the sidelines. Preservation is a discourse that keeps your detached from the object to be preserved. It does not transform your relationship to it, but instead reifies its dispossession. It does not belong to you, but now belongs to the museum, to history, to the world. Lofty sort of ideas, but ones that doesn’t help to keep cultures and languages in healthy states.

The final form, and the one that is most intimately tied to any conception of decolonization is revitalization. Revitalization is the process of bringing something back to a healthy state. It is built upon the assumption that the language should be spoken and that certain cultural forms should be practiced. It does not mean that you write down all the words of the Chamorro language or that you mandate that everyone on island get a Chamorro word tattooed on them. It simply means that you start to use the language again and make it an integral part of Chamorro and Guam life again.

This is decolonization precisely because it represents an end to the ghostly, always evaporating existence for the indigenous person. As part of colonization there is always a pressure to give up whatever is yours. The more effective the colonization the more people will feel that they have to give up things they consider theirs and take on more of the things they consider to belong to others. I should note that this issue of iyon-mami and iyon-ñiha doesn’t really stand to scrutiny. It doesn’t really make sense. But this is what I studied when I wrote my Masters Thesis in Ethnic Studies. The way that colonization creates certain ideas, beliefs or identities that don’t make any sense, that shouldn’t be accepted as serious by any thinking person, and should be filtered out if only reflected upon for a clear-headed moment. If Guam became an independent country, it is moronic to think that all of the things that have come to the island since the United States occupied it would somehow disappear.  This is a clearly vapid idea, but one that many people take seriously as part of their everyday resistance to decolonization and the idea of sovereignty for Guam.

Colonization establishes a framework for positives and negatives. It is constantly challenged and the logic that it bleeds is sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected and sometimes transformed. But part of colonization is an attempt to push the colonized into a difference sense of time and being. You ban them from the present and cage them into the past, so that they will eternally echo previous eras and never feel appropriate in the present. You at the same time you prevent them from moving into the future and feeling that the things they feel are theirs have any universal value. You make them feel as if they constantly need to give up what they have or represent in order to exist and survive.

This is one of the reasons why the language can be so difficult to revitalize, even when Chamorro still has at least 40,000 speakers. Because even those who speak the language, feel comfortable using it with those who are their own age, but do not feel comfortable using it with those who are younger. They make up a Great Barrier Reefs-worth amount of excuses to not speak the language to their children and grand-children. This is because of that feeling that the language cannot be something to truly go on in time. It cannot be transferred back in time, to previous Chamorro generations, but it is something that can’t continue on in time. It exists to be spoken backwards in time, but never passed on forwards to subsequent generations.

Language revitalization is decolonization because it forces the language to exist in the present and that it be passed on. It creates a life for the language and place for it in the present. It no longer feels like just something old people use. Or something that you can only use for very limited and simple things. The language doesn’t only reflect and give meaning to who your people once were, it also becomes something that you feel you can take with you into the future. It may seem small at first, but once it becomes married with the sovereignty and identity of a people it can become bolder and more powerful. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Okinawa Independence #8: Takae Protest Camp

Although Okinawa is a small island, like anywhere, distances are relative. Although to get from one end to the other is far easier than getting from one end of California to another, or one end of Greenland to another, southern and central areas of the island are distinct and detached in many ways from the less densely populated and more natural northern forests. For the past six years there has been a protest camp in Takae in Higashi village in Yanbaru Forest. The camp consists of several barricades in front of the entrances to US military training areas where they are currently building six helipads. Because this area is "far" away from the island's population centers, the protest gets less attention.

I wanted to help publicize the continuing struggle of the villagers in Takae, and so below I'm uploading several pictures.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Okinawa Independence #7: Island of Protests

Okinawa is well known around the world as a site of protest. Its history has been marked with numerous protests regarding the many US military bases that is "hosts" as well as its colonial and neo-colonial treatment by the Japanese central government. Just last year over 100,000 people gathered for a demonstration.

Okinawa is an island of protests, some big and some small. All protests are not equal. There is a logic to how they are perceived by the public. Some will appear to be more important than others. Some sites of protest will appear to be more essential than others. People will be more easily drawn to them. They will see those who stand along the fence, along the road, holding signs as being heroic. They will see places beside them where others should stand, where they could themselves stand. They will see this protest as representing important things, even if it violates laws and social norms. Other protests will be seen as less important. There will be an ever greater negative stigma attached to those who embody the protest, their messages and their presence. Even if there may be a clear ideal they are fighting for, the inessential nature of their protest will make their fight seem crazy or ridiculous. People will associate them with insanity and "maladjusted" ideas in order to make what they stand for seem foreign.

Okinawa, although known as an island of protest is not spared from this. Some protests are more important than others. Some locations are considered to be more valuable than others. Some ideas are more valuable than others. The way that a certain object of protest relates to the present moment can mean the difference between having widespread relevance or being ignored by most.

For example if nuclear testing was conducted off the coast of New York City, Washington D.C. or any other major metropolitan or financial area then there would no doubt be a huge outcry. People of all political affiliations would see it as being something to speak out against, an injustice, a terrible disgusting decision. They would see every essential aspect of life possibly being threatened by this.

If however you held the nuclear testing on a remote island in the Pacific, or a wasteland somewhere in the desert, the amount of protests you'd see would be minimal, as they have been for decades. Yes there are some very determined activists out there who have protested the testing, but all in all, the imagined distance, the geographic distance, the cultural and political distances all add up to basically create the impression that nothing much is being lost by the testing taking place there, since not that much or not that many people could really be hurt. Henry Kissinger's notorious line about how no one should give a shit about what happens in Micronesia and what Micronesians say since there are so few people there may offend many. But they accept that principle all the time, albeit in less crass ways. Those who appear as less, who appear to have less, who appear to be less essential can be sacrificed or be damaged in ways that others should not.

In Okinawa for example, the burden of most US military bases is something they have to shoulder. If the area around Tokyo hosted all those bases the relationship would be very different. Okinawa is ideal because it is far away from the center of the imagined Japanese nation and its political and financial hearts. The distance was also supposed to provide the US with more leverage since it would be further away from majority of Japanese and therefore be something less likely to be protested or removed. I am always amazed at how many on Guam, and in the US know nothing about Okinawa and its recent history. The type of political relationship that Guam had with the US from 1898-1950 is the same type that Okinawa had to the US from 1945 - 1972. Both were placed under the US military and against all supposed arguments about human rights and democracy, were subjected to modern military rule.

But even within Okinawa there is a hierarchy to what protests matter most. Something that happens in an outer island in the Ryukyu chain is less than something that happens in Okinawa itself. Something that happens in northern Okinawa is less than something that happens in central or southern. Something that is proposed to take place is easier to mobilize around than something that already exists and may be difficult to get rid of.

Takae where there has been a protest camp since 2007, blocking the gates to the Yambaru Forest in the north where the US has been constructing helipads. The building of these helipads happens in dense forest away from the eyes of the public. They happen in the northern part of Okinawa where very few people live and it can take a couple hours to reach from the densely populated south. The protest there is quite small, albeit determined. Although it has been taking place for 6 years now, there are still some people in Okinawa who don't know about it.

This can be contrasted with the protest in Henoko, where a camp has been set up for 20 years now. The protest there was regarding the expansion of an existing base into Henoko Bay in northern Okinawa. This expansion would have led to the destruction of beautiful coral reefs and the habitat for endangered animals such as the Dugong. When construction began activists sailed out into the bay and chained themselves to equipment in order to prevent the destruction of the bay. After two decades Henoko is a buzzword for demilitarization activists around the world. A site of beautiful local resistance.

Henoko may be a word that inspires others, but Futenma is a word that stirs up a great deal more emotions. It is considered to be the most dangerous US base in the world, primarily because flights take off from it throughout the day and sometimes into the night, but this base is not located on some distant isolated part of Okinawa. It is surrounded on all sides by Ginowan City. Maps of Futenma in Okinawa don't just show the land strips and fences, but also mark the numerous homes, hospitals, schools and colleges that are found around it, some of which are directly in the danger zones that are supposed to be kept clear in case of crashes. The base operates despite the fact that the flights there violates the Marine Corps own rules for public safety.

Futenma is a word that unites most Okinawans in terms of their passive or active resistance to the US military. It has a way of bringing together so many of the small things that people fear or loathe about military bases, but aren't generally taken as real arguments. There is a feeling that the military takes up too much space. That it is dangerous. That the military doesn't care about the things that people feel. That it causes traffic. That it is noisy. That the US mistreats the Japanese.

Futenma is a signifier for so much Okinawan discontent, but it also presents strong ideological problems for the US and Japanese governments. Futenma is something that they have to find a way to "solve." Of course the US doesn't want to give anything up, and will only do so if it is receiving something in return. The building of helipads in Yambaru and the expansion of Camp Schwab at Henoko are both results of attempts to resolve the Futenma issues. Futenma had led to such widespread protest and anger that something had to be done about it. The problems of militarization that it presented were to be passed on to other sites, that were further north, less populated and places not considered to be essential to the island.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Okinawa Independence #6: Critical Metaphors

The representative from Hawai'i at the Island Language Revitalizaation Forum this week at Ryukyu University is Noelani Iokepa-Guerrero. She is both a professor at University of Hawai'i, Hilo but also Program Director for the Punana Leo Hawaiian Medium preschools. She is very much involved in the training of Native Hawaiian teachers and the perpetuation of the immersion school programs that have been created there over the past 30 years. Her presentation at the conference was "Hawaiian Language Revitalization: 30 Years of Lessons Learned" and it laid out the approach to teaching the language that Native Hawaiians have developed.

In the early days of their revitalization efforts they simply translated materials from other languages and other contexts. This proved ineffective and so efforts were made to create a curriciulum that was rooted in Native Hawaiian language, history adn culture. As a result of this they came to develop 5 key lessons or insights. These 5 simple points helped them go from less than 40 speakers to 4500 speakers in just 3 decades.

The lessons she outlined are not unique to the Hawaiian context. In fact if you look at the way other people, including Chamorros are mapping out their own route to revitalization, the structure is very similar. But what made her points powerful was the metaphors that she used in order to give social and emotional meaning to the system. Here are the 5 lessons that she offered:

1. E ho'i ka piko. 'O ke kauha ma mua, ma hope ke kukulu.
Return to the source. The foundation first, then the building.

2. I ka 'olel no ke ola.
In language there is life.

3. 'Ike aku, 'ike mai: kokua aku, kokua mai, pela ka nohona 'ohana.
Family life requires an exchange of mutual help and recognition.

4. I maika'i ke kalo i ka 'oha. He lala au no ku'u kumu.
The goodness of the taro is judge by its offshoot. I am a branch of my tree.

5. Ma ka hana ka 'ke.
Through action one learns.

In truth, each of these are somewhat commonsensical, anyone who wants to revitalizae a language might come to similar conclusions and a simialr arrangement. But part of the power is the metaphors that Noelani and other Native Hawaiians have used to give life to these abstract ideas. I don't want to overstate this point since there is no code, no secret for metaphoric envelopment. It is not as if you say something in the right way, all the world will follow.

There is a way to using metaphors that are local or that people accept as part of the fabric of their lives. Noelani uses the taro to make her point because it is something that has long been an essential symbolic part of Hawaiian culture. For Chamorros, stuff such as the latte, the sakman, the karabao, the church all can make a similar connection. If you use a metaphor that isn't considered to be home-grown the results can be weird. Today if you were to use metaphors of snow and winter on Guam most people would accept it simply because our imagined boundaries are so Americanized and globalized to the point where we expect our experiences to match the way others experience things. That is of course why my daughter Sumahi, while only seeing snow in movies and books, tells me every Christmas, "malago' yu' lumi'e' niebes! Sa' dipotis ayu gi Christmas!" Several generations ago this sort of desire would have been strange and foreign. Chamorros who made this claim would have been laughed at by others for attempting to become something they clearly weren't. Attempting to live someone else's life, and celebrate someone else's holiday.

At the same time, using these sorts of metaphors can turn off people. Some people, especially those who don't "feel" that they embody very well any ethnic identity, they may reject this sort of metaphoric illustration. The rejection doesn't have anything to do with the truth or the cultural connection, but more so the way they don't feel connected to that representation. They feel outside of that metaphor. It may seem quaint, exotic, weird, old to them and so to try to make your point in a way that is too cultural or too culturally appropriate can make your articulation less effective. For your average young person today, what would seem more effective in terms of making them more invested and more interested in learning Chamorro? Latte stones or Hello Kitty? Para i haga-hu siempre Hafa Adai Katu.

The creation of these metaphors for your political points is fun. It is one of the things that keeps me active in terms of writing and researching. Even if you constantly make similar points there are always new potential metaphors waiting for you that you can use to give your points meaning and consistency. My problem however is that I tend to use metaphors that are more for my interest and my pleasure as a writer and therefore may just put people off because of how weird or nonsensical they might seem.

For example, last year I wrote an article that discussed Guam's political status through the use of the lyrics to the song "Hotel California" by the Eagles. For most this would be a ridiculous thing. The Eagles probably didn't know anything about Guam when they wrote it and certainly have never admitted to writing it about Guam, and so how you could ever use it to talk about Guam? Metaphors can have meaning because of their origin, as in they share the same source as what you are talking about, but they can also have relevance because they share the same structure. Or the foreign and unrelated metaphor can provide a way of looking at something very familiar, in a new and strange way, which can hopefully allow more room for critical thinking.

In my talk for example I used the metaphor of "self-immolation" in reference to how Chamorros after World War II tried to destroy themselves in cultural and linguistic terms. Self-immolation is lighting yourself on fire, and so as I imagined generations of Chamorros degraded their own culture, language and ancestors, it appeared to me as if they were literally killing themselves. Suicide is a metaphor I used in my Masters Thesis in Ethnic Studies to talk about Chamorro perceptions of decolonization, but in this context it was too simplistic. I used immolation instead because of the way that a fire can sometimes be something you celebrate or dance around.  Something that brings life to the world around it. After World War II Chamorros were not forced to give up aspects of themselves, but gleefully chose to. They were proud and happen to. When I say self-immolation, in my mind I see postwar Chamorros excitedly and eagerly lighting themselves on fire, and then clapping and dancing as they destroy themselves.

Neither of these metaphors are really palatable or inspiring to people. They may make the point I want, but they also can appear to be too blunt or too cutting.

For Noelani's presentation, she found an inspiring balance. She provided a host of metaphors that were both locally relevant and appropriate, but also communicated to even non-Native Hawaiians, the structure of her argument. At the conclusion of her speech she gave a metaphor that should be the goal of all seeking language revitalization, "The Never Wilting Flower." 

After you use the five pillars to nurture a child who is fluent in their language and comfortable in their culture, you come to the end of the process. You do not undertake this project for the individual child, but you do it for the position the child represents. Languages survive and thrive because they are used and because they are passed on. You do not teach the child for themselves, and you do not just teach them the language itself. You try to instill in them that sense of responsibility, so that when the time comes they will pass the language on again. The child you are nurturing is every child today and ever after. So long as you take these tasks seriously it will truly be a flower that never wilts.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Okinawa Independence #5: Beyond the Fence

I don’t know if I ever mentioned this on my blog, but I am a co-host for the KPRG program “Beyond the Fence.” This is a radio show that was started after the DEIS Comment period for the military buildup in 2010. The name “beyond the fence” was chosen because the show was originally intended to bring attention to the issues outside of the fence, so how the buildup would affect the rest of the island. The name also came to mean sometimes that those outside of the fence would be given a peak as to what happens inside the fence. Sometimes episode would deal with things that the military and its employees struggle with.

It has evolved into more of a community program that talks about critical issues.  Episodes were initially focused on the military buildup and militarism in Guam, Micronesia and the Pacific. At present you can listen to episodes dealing with any pertinent local or regional issue. You can also listen to interviews with long time community activists as well as people that are passing through for research or solidarity work.

While I am in Okinawa I would like to create a program that features that voice of the Okinawan Independence Movement. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to since my schedule is all over the place and certain people aren’t on island.

I find their struggle and their fight very interesting and so I would like to introduce it to others, especially in Guam. For many in Guam Okinawa is just another part of Japan or just another place where the US has bases. People can’t imagine that it might be pursuing decolonization. The same is true sadly, for Guam. Japanese think of it as a tropical island vacation spot, the US sees it as a place for their bases. Few see it has a place in need of decolonization, or a place seeking decolonization.

For most people in the world they wouldn’t imagine that either place could possess a movement for Independence. This is part of the struggle. We are both places where our identities are ones that are dipped in the sovereign control of another, and people cannot imagine that we could exist today without that colonial shell.

It is for this reason that I have decided to title my posts regarding my trip “Okinawa Independence.” Even though I may talk about other issues, the overall focus is to understand their movement, learn from it and also share with what I know of Guam’s movement for decolonization.

The tag on this blog for the posts will be “O3” as in Okinawa Part 3, since this is my third trip to the island. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails