Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chamorro Community Building


This week I am in California meeting with Chamorro organizations in Long Beach and San Diego. When I was in graduate school in San Diego, I worked very closely with several of these organizations. It has been nostalgic coming back and catching up with people and learning about what new projects they are working on and what are new ways that diasporic Chamorros are creating community. All of this reminded me of a question that a friend of mine asked me several years ago about what community building is like from a Chamorro perspective. Below is part of my answer tomorrow.

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It is important to think of community development not from any neutral or abstract stance, but rather take seriously the context that one intends to develop within, and by context I a huge number of things that must be considered both in the past and present. In conceiving this context, and forming it in a productive way, one must be prepared to bring into the analysis data, concepts and perspectives both commonsensical and unpopular or critical.

One of the most frustrating aspects of how we speak about community in Guam today is the way this sort of speech is almost completely detached from the contemporary and historical context of life in Guam. What I mean by this is that, when people speak of how to improve Guam it is almost as if they are possessed by a ghost which has recently arrived on a Continental flight from Washington D.C. or Honolulu. It is obvious, that despite the fact that they may be from Guam, that they may know Guam, that what they propose to fix Guam or to plan for Guam, belongs to someone else, was designed and developed with somewhere else in mind, and not Guam. The proposals they form are either completely detached from the island, and have no concrete relevance (or any relevance is simply accidental), or their proposals are based on the perceptions of those outside of Guam, and tend to treat the island in very simplistic, basic, callous and degrading ways.

This is most clear if we look at the economic literature on Guam, which is almost entirely build upon the dangerous yet pervasive assumption that Guam and other islands in the Pacific, have nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true, these islands have coconuts, but that’s about it. This perception plagues not just Guam but the entire Pacific, and can be found as a fundamental assumption amongst both scholars in the region as well as governments and economic elites. If one accepts the premise that these islands do have nothing but coconuts, then the failing, stagnant economies that are scattered throughout the Pacific make perfect sense. Developing an economy, within this mindset, means that one must import everything in order to develop. Not just labor, not just capital, not just technology, but most importantly ideas, concepts, dreams, goals.

In the same way that education in Guam has historically been a simple importation of ideas and curriculum with little policy-based or structural attempts re-define the purpose or intended community imagination/history that the educational system is meant to teach, we find the same poor planning logic in proposals for community development in Guam.

Community development in Guam, which is meant to be for Guam, means fundamentally stepping over and leaving far behind the principle that “What is good for the United States, is good for Guam.” While at the level of official government discourse and chamber or commerce of elite business speech this is not simply an obvious point, but is either woven into the fabric reality itself or a mantra through which prayers for more military increases are chanted. The scorecard of American intervention and impact on Guam is mixed, despite this sort of ridiculously over the top rhetoric of American awesomeness. Any notion that whatever is good for the United States is good for Guam must be destroyed early on and completely obliterated for any real community development to take place. The reasons for why this principle is so untrue range and can be found in terms of geography, economy, history, culture, colonization and so on. For too long, Chamorros and other on Guam, have accepted this principle for the basis for planning the future of the island, and we can see this in small and large ways throughout the island at the political, educational, economic and social levels.

Wrapped up in this principle, is all manners of American superiority, exceptionalism and colonialism. When these notions spread into different spaces and spheres of life in Guam, they take on the ridiculous, infectious and detrimental edge, that can be summed up by adding just a few more diminutive words to the earlier principle, namely, “since the United States is so much better than Guam, anything which is good for the United States, must be good for Guam.” This was the logic that led the Naval Government prior to World War II to assume that whatever curriculum students in the United States had would be fine for Guam.

This is the key to developing and planning community in Guam, breaking with the assumptions which emanate and invade from the United States, offering liberation from poverty, backwardness, miseducation, corruption and waste. Once one can break this assumption, then one can see the island’s problems, history, future, untainted by colonizing faith that all our problems can be solved by simply adding more America to Guam, by simply taking whatever they have used or don’t want anymore and using it here.

Referring back to the context I began with, this means that when making plans for how to develop community in Guam, one must contend seriously with colonization. One must be cognizant of the unequal power relationships between the United States and Guam, and how this affects either positively or negatively the economy, how this either positively or negatively affects its ability to build solidarity or relationships with its neighbors, how it affects its own ability to manage its resources and social/political and economic infrastructures.

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