Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three Decolonization Discourses

I just to Okinawa a few hours ago, had dinner and meant to quickly fall asleep in my hotel room, but this has not happened yet. I spent much of the trip today thinking over my various talks that I'll be giving while here this weekend. I was trying to map out my strategy for talking about decolonization in Okinawa. In Guam, I already have several ways of introducing and broaching the topic, as the history of the island has given us a couple of esta listo discourses that you can use.

For example in Guam today I would say there are three basic ways in which decolonization is discussed. You can break them down as follows: Unincorporated Territory, Non-Self-Governing Territory and Nasion Chamoru. Each of them begins from a different point in Guam's colonization and although they may overlap, they often evolve in opposing directions.

Unincorporated Territory: The basis for understanding colonization is the lack of incorporation with the United States. Guam is a possession of the United States, a piece of property, etc. Part of this discourse is also a feeling of not being properly recognized or respected by the United States and generally a desire to become one with it. This is the most commonly used way that people discuss colonization and decolonization today. It is not the most effective or nuanced way, but the most seductive one since it is most closely aligned with the average colonial experience of someone on Guam.

You articulate your injustice or your unjust position in relation to being excluded from a magical fullness. You tend to see things as being better if only you were included. You see your trauma as being tied to your exclusion and your minagof yan minalulok as being tied to your inclusion. As the late Carlos Taitano said during the run up to the Guam Congress Walkout in 1949, "We are outside of the family now, how can we ask for anything when we are outside of the family?" From this perspective the crappiness of colonialism isn't necessarily what it has done to you, but what it has excluded you from. It does not necessarily tamper with colonial desire but can actually enhance and valorize it.

This is a very limiting place to start from in terms of decolonization and that is why although this is the most common it is also very counterproductive. Decolonization is a process which is supposed to emerge from a place of self-determination and self-definition. It is about identifying what the colonizer has tried to engulf and obscure and giving life and power to that spirit, sovereignty, essence, whatever you would like to call it.

Even if you love your colonizer and really want to be with them, decolonization is supposed to be a process whereby colonial desire and logics are challenged and not automatically given into. The colonizer may call you "unincorporated" and establish a teleology that you are "supposed" to feel chained to, but decolonization is supposed to provide a means for breaking out of this mindset. Should your life truly be one of eager and enthusiastic subordination? Is this Americanizing teleology really what we are and what we should be? Is there any real truth to this teleology or is this just another colonial lie?

When you think within this discursive context you keep the United States at the center of the process. Decolonization becomes a conversation about the United States and making it recognize Guam, making it treat Guam properly, finding more ways of fighting colonial ignorance and seeking inclusion. Decolonization from this vantage either becomes about seeking Statehood as Guam's next political status or seeking no real change, but only superficial symbols of inclusion. Integration can be considered a legitimate form of decolonization, but the question from a theoretical perspective is, why are you seeking inclusion? Do you want this because you feel that this is what you are supposed to be? This is all you can be?

Non-Self-Governing Territory: This one is a bit more abstract, but also provides more freedom as a result. When you conceive of yourself through the discourse of being an unincorporated territory your vision is always crowded by the United States and the way that is perceives you. You see the future primarily through what the United States can offer and what you want from it.

When you see Guam as a non-self-governing territory, you see your future as you see the world, full of options and possibilities. You don't see yourself as a disrespected, ignored and forgotten fragment of America, you see yourself as a territory that has been stripped of its ability to self-govern. The naming of your status if much less teleological and much less colonial. You are representing yourself through the United Nations framework, which while acknowledging the sovereignty of over colonial power, also acknowledges the inherent and inalienable rights of those who have been colonized.

Despite the fact that people speak in universals all the time, most see themselves as beings in national frameworks and so the United Nations has great power as a symbol of internationalism, but has little practical value. Nowhere is this more true than for those 16 territories that the UN recognizes as still being colonized and still requiring a process of decolonization for them to join the contemporary world. Most of these non-self-governing territories are entangled in crippling colonial desires and see the UN as being a threat to completing that desire. On Guam your average person can sound like the most ignorant, paranoid Fox News viewer when the topic of the UN in relation to Guam comes up.

Because this discourse isn't as seductive, people don't use it very much and understand it even less. There is a small place for Guam at the UN. It is not a seat in the General Assembly where all nations gather. It is instead a place for the Non-Self-Governing territories, where they can testify on what is happening in their lands and politely request that the United Nations act to assist them.What I find very interesting is the way that many people ascribe the failure of Guam to decolonize already as somehow the United Nation's fault. I regularly hear people tell me that the UN route is not the way to go since they haven't done anything for Guam even though we have been testifying there for more than 30 years. They argue for the supremacy of the Unincorporated Territory discourse, and that Guam should just work directly with the United States and not bother with the corrupt and inept UN.

This might make sense if it had any bearing on reality. It is so intriguing to see the multiple ways in which people see the UN, as both a terrible, gathering threat and a pointless and wasteful bureaucratic hydra. The UN infringes on your sovereignty and tries to legislate how everyone should live their lives. When the US wants to invade or bomb a country if the UN supports this, then it is an important vehicle for international diplomacy and cooperation. If the UN does not support it then it is a dinosaur that serves no purpose and is simply corrupt and trying to hold back the US on behalf of other sometimes dangerous nations.

One chapter of my dissertation was on the United Nations and Guam's minute place there. One of my favorite quotes to help understand the UN was from former US Ambassador to it Henry Cabot Lodge Jr, "This organization is created to prevent you from going to hell. It isn't created to take you to heaven." The UN is can only do as much as the nations that comprise it allow and some nations hold far more sway than others. If Swaziland wants to dominate the UN agenda it might be pretty difficult to accomplish this. But if nations like the US, Russia, China, France or the UK want to, there is a good chance that they can prevent anything substantive from taking place. If the powerful nations don't want anything to happen or change, the majority of the world's countries can do little to stop them.

In terms of Guam's decolonization the problem is not with the UN process or with the UN. Every year the UN makes recommendations about Guam and other non-self-governing territories. The problem is that the US ignores them. The UN process assumes that the colonizing country, or the administering power is willing to work with the colonized territory in order to help them decolonize. The US has shown a very clear unwillingness to support any such change. Every administration whether Democrat or Republican takes the same basic position. Guam's decolonization must follow the Unincorporated territory route, namely it can either stay where it is at, marginally improve or attempt to become integrated. All options leave the US in charge in one way or another and do not allow Guam to choose more autonomy or more independence.

The UN process is not biased towards any particular status, but it does require cooperation and this is why it has not been effective. The United States clear does not want to give up even a shred of its sovereignty to either the UN or Guam.

Nasion Chamoru: The final way decolonization is commonly discussed on Guam is what I would call Nasion Chamoru. There are many names that you could give it, but this is the one that fits best given the way it has emerged in contemporary Guam. The other two discourses focus on Guam's status today, the Nasion Chamoru discourse identifies the need and possibilities for decolonization as lying in the past.

This discourse lay dormant for several hundred years of Guam's colonization. Chamorros rose up to fight Spanish colonialism in the 17th century, but then accepted Catholicism in their lives and adapted accordingly. Chamorros continued to exist and continued to survive, but what they were missing was a politically sovereign component. They had abdicated in most ways the governing of their lives, that abstract layer that gives political meaning to life to the church or to the Spanish. Chamorro kept much of their ancient heritage, even if it was changed and melded with Spanish, Mexican and Filipino influences, but they did not keep a strong political identity that connected them to their ancient past.

This does not mean that Chamorros had no agency or sense of radical identity. In the 19th century while revolutionary movements were popping up in all the other remaining Spanish colonies, the same was true for Guam. Chamorros were slowly developing their own national consciousness which could not be accounted for in their ancient past or in their Spanish colonial present. That is why  if Chamorros were not colonized by the United States in the 20th century, we would have most likely become an independent country. The consciousness had already started by that time, however it was eventually subsumed and diluted by American colonization and World War II.

The Chamorro sense of nationalism was a similar sort of nationalism to that of other former Spanish colonies. It was a mestizo hybrid identity that drew some inspiration from its ancient past but ultimately was contemporary and Hispanic in flavor. If you had asked Chamorro nationalists of the 18th century like Jose Salas or Luis Baza about if they thought that great Maga'lahi like Hurao or Mata'pang were their heroes, they most likely would have stared blankly at you and thought you racist for associating them with their primitive pagan ancient ancestors. Some men such as Luis Torres might have found their ancient past fanciful and interesting, but most Chamorros felt that a massive and obvious gulf existed between them and their ancient past.

As Chamorro nationalism develops again in the late 20th century it does so with an explicit attempt to reach back to the ancient, pre-colonial origins of Chamorros. The group Nasion Chamoru for example make clear that what drove them to form their collective was not recent laws or resolutions, but rather their 4,000 year old heritage. They had been created independent and sovereign and that should be their natural state, not the colonized and subordinated way they exist today.

This is a discourse that more and more people will play around with and use in small ways to give a dash of indigenousness to their lives, but primarily only hardcore Chamorro activists will take as their approach to decolonization. It is one thing to be inspired by the words of Hurao, Agualin and Hula, it is another to use the lives of our ancestors of hundreds of years ago as the basis for a political project today. As a cultural discourse this idea of Nasion Chamoru is very strong, because it allows Chamorros to join their native brethren from around the world. Two generations ago Chamorros looked at Native Americans and Pacific Islanders as being peoples that belonged to categories that Chamorros were clearly not a part of. That has since changed where now most Chamorros will identify that they are indigenous.

While this Nasion Chamoru can be potent in terms of making people imagine themselves different in some ways, it does not do much to inspire people to imagine their future or the future of their political community. To paraphrase Frantz Fanon, the glories of the Aztec past do not fill the bellies of Mexicans today. The glorious claim to an ancient and awesome past can get peoples' attentions but it does not give them much hope for the future. It is ultimately a discourse that roots them, but as a result it makes them feel like what you are offering cannot truly take them anywhere. Indigenous people after all serve two basic functions in the modern world. They exist to remain stuck in place, stagnant and unmoving. They also exist to disappear and to be something to lament as they dissipate as peoples, languages and culture.

The Nasion Chamoru discourse can go far in terms of preparing people for decolonization or making them see that it is not something new. Our people struggled for it long ago and we continue that fight today. To capture the future you need more. You cannot offer only Chelefs, Mata'pangs and Huraos. You have to be able to articulate decolonization in a contemporary context in ways which resonate with the Chamorros of today.


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