Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This banner was used by fans during a soccer match between Japan and South Korea.

It reads "There is no future for a race oblivious to history."

It was meant to reference Japanese colonization and brutality in the Korean peninsula prior to and during World War II. Japan has struggled since World War II with its memory, often times opting to forget large chunks of their history in order to remake themselves and reimagine themselves and their history. Japan was once a nation of aggressors now it thinks of itself as a nation of victims. It was victimized by Western powers in the war, had two nuclear bombs dropped on it and today is forced to shoulder the humiliation of having so many US bases in their territory. This matrix of "humiliation" is helpful in keeping history at bay and preventing people from being reminded of it.

Japan is often pointed to as being somehow unique in terms of its "minaleffa." In some ways the 180 degree turn that Japan did after the war in terms of forgetting, reimagining and rebuilding was breathtaking. But in truth, all nations suffer from memory lapses and losses. Most nations and most people think that this is the only way to move on and to keep going. You must forget who you were and what you've done and replace it with something that you can smile upon and feel fantastic about. Nations, unfortunately perceive more vibrantly their future through their obliviousness. They feel like they can do anything the more oblivious to their history they are.

What that future is however is an entirely different story. While people may wish it to be bright and glorious, it may truly be one of decay, decadence, excess and paranoia. To imagine yourself without sin, means to imagine all others with sin. Anggen taiisao hao, siempre todu i otro gaiisao. The brightness of the future is fake and does not comfort. It instead fades and dulls everything that is washed in it. It seeps in and hollows out that which it touches. A better quote might have been that a race oblivious to history has no soul, but that sounds a bit too overdramatic.

Monday, July 29, 2013

End the Korean War

After 60 Years of Suffering, Time to Replace Korean Armistice with Peace Treaty

Sixty years ago today, the United States, North Korea and China sat down to sign the Korean Armistice Agreement to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities.” Several provisions were to guarantee a peaceful settlement, including a permanent peace agreement, withdrawal of all foreign troops, and no new arms introduced into Korea. Six decades later, none of these have been honored. As such, war, not peace, defines the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang.

Official commemorations are now taking place throughout Korea and United States, mostly honoring veterans who sacrificed their lives to fight the Forgotten War. Missing from this sanctioned remembering are the nearly four million Korean, mostly civilian, lives lost in just three years. Also missing is the central question: what are the costs of maintaining division and a permanent state of war? The costs are indeed enormous.

"For six decades, the Korean peninsula has been marked by tragedy and war, a pawn on a global chessboard determining its fate. Yet much of this human suffering could be resolved through one action: replace the armistice with a peace treaty."

The most obvious is the threat of war, which would result in 1.5 million casualties within the first 24 hours, according to 1994 Defense Department estimates, well before North Korea possessed nuclear weapons. We came dangerously close this spring after Washington responded to Pyongyang’s satellite launch and nuclear weapon test with another round of UN sanctions, followed by nuclear capable B-2 stealth bombers and nuclear power submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. Washington was “within an inch of war almost every day,” said former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Another major casualty are the millions of families separated by the DMZ, who by no choice of their own, are unable to see, embrace or communicate with their loved ones.

Unending war means bolstering up militaries to prepare for war. In 2012, the United States spent nearly $665 billion on its military, South Korea $32 billion, and North Korea $6 billion. North Korea recently acknowledged how they had “to divert large human and material resources to bolstering up the armed forces though they should have been directed to the economic development and improvement of people’s living standard.”

North Koreans are also struggling with food and energy shortages because of another weapon of war: U.S.-led sanctions, which have for the past 60 years had deleterious effects on the daily life of North Koreans. On his last trip to North Korea, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter remarked how “sanctions have deprived the North Korean people from adequate access to trade and commerce which has been devastating to their economy” and that “the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer the least.”

The costs are also of repression on both sides of the DMZ in the name of national security. Every government, including the United States, justifies violating human rights on the grounds of national security, whether it is the NSA’s spying program or systematic torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. We often point to North Korea’s prison camps, but rarely do we critique South Korea’s antiquated Cold War-era National Security Law, which is still used to silence and imprison political dissidents.

The partition, however, has very real consequences for North Korean women who make up the majority of migrants leaving North Korea due to poverty and hunger. According to estimates by aid workers, 80 to 90 percent of North Korean female refugees are trafficked and survivors of sexual violence. One 19-year old North Korean woman recently shared among a circle of women her experience of being raped four times during her journey to Seoul: once by the Korean-Chinese man who promised her work; twice by a Chinese man who hid her from authorities; third by a South Korean man who smuggled her into Seoul; and a fourth time by a South Korean agent.

The Korean War lives on. For six decades, the Korean peninsula has been marked by tragedy and war, a pawn on a global chessboard determining its fate. Yet much of this human suffering could be resolved through one action: replace the armistice with a peace treaty. In June, Pyongyang requested direct talks with Washington, but the Obama administration has not yet responded, even though there is a wide political spectrum of U.S. voices calling for peace with North Korea, including former U.S. ambassadors to South Korea from both political parties.

In Korean culture, 60 years represents an entire lifetime. It’s time to end 60 years of war and hostility and begin a new lifetime of peace, reconciliation, and hopefully, reunification. Central is replacing the Korean Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty.

Christine Ahn
Christine Ahn is a founding board member of the Korea Policy Institute and the National Campaign to End the Korean War.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Celebrating Liberation Day in a Colony...

Lately I have been so busy that I don't have as much time as I would like to write up my thoughts on this blog. I spent an entire week in Taiwan and did not write a single post. I was too busy with meetings and traveling and found that by the time I would return to my room, I would immediately collapse onto my bed without typing a single word.

The month of July is one of the strangest for Guam. It is the month where the most talking about remembering takes place, but the commemoration is naturally very selective and very uninformative about Guam's history or contemporary state. I was trying to write up my thoughts before Liberation Day, but life intervened and so I'm not finished yet. I was at least happy to see that the Liberation Day coverage was not uniformly taihinasso. The usual stories were trotted out and the usual narratives were stuck onto poles and waved about for everything to salute. But amidst it all an unexpected article from Japan emerged to provide a far more truthful perspective on Liberation Day than just about everything locally produced.


On Guam liberation day, ‘colonial’ U.S. riles

Rule of island contrary to democratic principles: locals

by Ronron Calunsod 

Guam this week marked the 69th anniversary of its liberation from wartime Japanese forces, holding a parade at the historic Marine Corps Drive in the capital.

Several war memorial activities across the U.S. territory were organized in the runup to the liberation day last Sunday, with residents holding religious services to pray for those who fell during the war.
“(But) it’s not total liberation. It’s only liberation from the Japanese,” said Robert Underwood, University of Guam president and the Pacific island’s former delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Guam was under Japanese control between 1941 and 1944, a period marred by abuses against local people.

“It’s been 69 years since our liberation. Seven decades since our parents and grandparents survived the worst of war. They were slaves, forced to work, they were starving, beaten, raped and murdered,” Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo said recently.

Antonio Sablan, a resident of the island, said that July 21, 1944, was not just the day when his family was freed from Japanese rule but also the day when U.S. forces recaptured the island. According to Sablan, American forces seized private property and land, including that of his family.
And he is upset that Guam remains practically a U.S. colony.

“If I was liberated, how come you have my kitchen and my living room? How come you have my house?” Sablan asked, citing the U.S. military’s ownership of about a third of the island.

Sablan is just one of the many local residents who protested after the U.S. military was allowed to take over private land after World War II.

“The entire Andersen Air Force Base is sitting on my family’s land. In my heart, that is still our family’s land,” he said.

Sablan further said that he and many other residents feel like second-class U.S. citizens.
Guam’s official political status is that of an “unincorporated territory” of the United States, “where fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available,” meaning residents cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections if they are based on the island, despite their American citizenship.

“Guam is a colony. The federal government has the final say on everything. It’s a colonial relationship,” Underwood said. “Of course, in the end it’s not healthy.”

In fact, the way the U.S. administers the island is contrary to the principles of democracy, he continued.

“The whole notion of representative democracy is about consent of the governed. The people who are being governed give you consent in order to govern them. So, you vote for somebody. And that person makes a law. That law affects you,” he said. “Well, we don’t have that here.

“So when the U.S. Congress passes a law, we still have to obey that. We can’t say, ‘We’re not obeying it because we never gave consent.’ That’s an indicator that this is a very undemocratic, very un-American system,” he said, noting that the people of Tahiti, a semi-autonomous territory of France, enjoy full political and civil rights.

By agreeing with the U.N. classification of Guam as a “non self-governing territory,” the United States, as a signatory to the U.N. Charter, recognizes that the island’s indigenous people, the Chamorros, deserve the right to self-determination, Guam Sen. Vicente Pangelinan said in an interview.

With many residents, especially the Chamorros, desiring political self-determination, Gov. Calvo has impaneled the Guam Commission on Decolonization to determine which status people would prefer: independence, integration, or a relationship based on the Compact of Free Association pact, which would turn Guam into an associate state of the U.S.

“That is a decision that needs to be made by our people. We are hopeful that we can work with the U.S. Congress in achieving that aim,” Calvo said, adding the process could take time due to a number of financial and bureaucratic obstacles.

Pangelinan said that so far, only 8,000 or so people have signed up for the Decolonization Registry, which requires 20,000-plus signatories.

When Underwood was asked about the low number, he responded: “If somebody puts up a fence in your neighborhood, at first, you think that’s an awful thing. But after 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years, you think the fence is normal. That’s what happened.”

He added that many underprivileged people, Chamorros in particular, benefit from government subsidies for health care and education and thus prefer not to become actively involved in seeking change to the status quo.

Proactive residents like Sablan, however, said reform is still possible.

“I believe that no matter how long it takes, even if it’s just a little man with a small chisel or ice pick to break an iceberg, as long as he continues chipping, maybe not in my lifetime, but in the future, something will happen,” Sablan said, urging his fellow residents to “decolonize” their way of thinking.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Learning to Fly

When Pale’ Diego Luis San Vitores came to Guam to Christianize the Chamorro people he had one very important secret weapon. I Fino’ Chamoru. Prior to his arrival in 1668, San Vitores had enlisted the aid of a Filipino named Esteban who had been shipwrecked for many years in the Marianas and had learned to speak Chamorro. While sailing towards Guam to start their work, San Vitores worked diligently with Esteban to become fluent in Chamorro, even writing the first grammar work and several Chamorro religious texts.

When San Vitores arrived, Chamorros were amazed at his ability to speak their language, something that no newcomer had ever achieved before. The Spanish often came to Guam in two distinct groups. There were those who stopped for a very brief period primarily to take on supplies, slaves or kill a few Chamorros. For them the local people spoke gibberish. The other group were shipwrecked sailors or people who had jumped ship, like the infamous Fray Juan Pobre in hopes of evangelizing the people in these islands without the light of God. If they stayed they would generally become fluent in Chamorro and integrate in many ways into the Chamorro culture of the time.

But for a newcomer to the island, such as San Vitores to arrive speaking Chamorro fluently, and discussing such abstract and different things, it created an incredible novelty around his presence and his words. People flocked to him to hear his words. It is difficult to believe that he was truly fluent and able to speak with the ability of a native speaker, but this is one of the miracles that is attributed to his journey. I’m sure that many Chamorros who came to hear him nonetheless had a good laugh at the strange ways that San Vitores pronounced certain words and perhaps some Filipino dialect from Esteban had been mixed in as well.

Regardless of all the silly like errors he might have made, they don’t overshadow how momentous an occasion for Chamorros to hear their language used by an outsider in such a way. In his speech on how the Catholic Church has saved and promoted the Chamorro language, Archbishop Anthony Apuron provides a possible version of what San Vitores might have said the first day he set foot in Guam to say mass:

Mañe’lu-hu malago’ yu’ muna’tungo’ hamyo ni’ Mañamoru na matto yu’ magi para bai fa’nu’i hamyo ni’ chalan i langhet. Lao gof impottante na en fanmanhongge gi Yini’suan misteriu siha, en kemple i Tinago’ i Lai Yu’us, ya en fanmanmatakpangi. Maila ya bai fanå’gue hamyo ni Sinat i Kilu’os: Gi na’an i Tata, i Lahi-ña yan i Espiritu Santo. Amen.

This was literally the sermon of a lifetime for San Vitores and would be for many missionaries. He spoke before a crowd of thousands, who appeared to be eager to convert and sign away their souls and the souls of their children to God.

The excitement that Chamorros felt had multiple sources. The priests were handing out gifts of iron that Chamorros desperately wanted. Chamorros also fundamentally misunderstood what they were getting into by agreeing to convert and follow the missionaries.

One of my theories as to why San Vitores would have been treated like such a superstar and why Chamorros would have flocked to the new religion comes from the choice of words that Apuron uses. “I Chalan i Langhet.” In contemporary Chamorro we would easily translate this to “the way to heaven” or “the road to heaven.” Although San Vitores and other missionaries tried to argue that Chamorros believed in “heaven” in the same way that Christians at the time did, this was most likely not the case. The use of “langhet” was San Vitores was strategic since most Christians consider “heaven” to be up there in sky, and “langhet” is the Chamorro word for it. But at the start of their mission in Guam most Chamorros did not know about this, and so to use “langhet” like that would have confused many Chamorros. They would have interpreted San Vitores’ words to mean “the path to the sky” or the “road to the heavens.” In other words Chamorros most likely believed that San Vitores was offering them the gift of flight, that he could show them how to fly into the heavens.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Back to Subic Bay


US warship being serviced yesterday at the former US Navy base at Subic Bay
By Bruce Gagnon
Organizing Notes
My wonderful host and guide Corazon Fabros organized another great day for me on Sunday.  Five of us loaded into a van and headed northwest towards the beautiful green mountains near the former US Navy base at Subic Bay.
Once on the MacArthur Highway we again passed miles of rice paddies and I saw many workers planting the rice in the wet fields.  As we got further into the rural areas thatched roof houses became more common alongside those with the rusty tin roofs.
I learned that the Catholic Church currently owns many of the rice fields.  One veteran activist told me that after the US defeated Spain and took control of the Philippines in 1902; one negotiated point was that the Catholic Church could hold onto their vast land holdings they had obtained during Spain’s 300-year rule.
The US had replaced one colonizer with another.
Writer Mark Twain was one of the most prominent opponents of the Philippine-American War and an outspoken anti-imperialist - an aspect of his biography that is rarely mentioned in high school English classes.  In 1901 he wrote about the US-Philippine war: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.”
The US bases at Subic and Clark were finally returned to the Philippines in 1991 when a majority in the Filipino Senate voted to force the Americans out.  By 1992 the US was gone.  But things are rapidly changing back to the old ways.
Today, under Obama’s “pivot” of 60% of US military forces into this region, the port at Subic Bay is getting up to five US Navy warships a week making port calls under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.  During an interview with a newspaper reporter while visiting Subic he told me that the VFA allows the US to even avoid paying any docking fees.  In a way it’s a better deal, he said, than when the US had to maintain the huge Navy base at Subic.
An American ship maintenance corporation is now permanently stationed at Subic to service the US destroyers, supply ships, and frigates that are regularly arriving.  Just last November there was big controversy after one US warship dumped human waste into the bay rather than pay to have their on-board sewage tanks emptied.  Fortunately they got caught.
During our tour of the enormous former Navy base at Subic our guide, a long time security official at the port, took us to the far side of the bay to see the former Naval runway that will soon be buzzing again with US military aircraft. 
Near this spot, where we saw monkeys and fruit bats hanging from the trees in the thick jungle, were more than 300 weapons bunkers that the US had used to store their nuclear weapons and other ordinance.  One of the former bunkers has been converted into “Bob’s Bunker Restaurant” and we couldn’t help but stop in to take a look.  Just inside the door was an orange steel drum marked “Agent Orange” that is used to hold the menus.  Just a reminder of the massive toxic legacy the US left in Subic Bay after 50 years of occupation.
Our next stop was to pick up three activists near the former US Clark Air Force Base that left a similar calling card – massive toxic contamination – so much so that children and adults were catching cancers and other diseases at alarming rates during the years of US control. 
Today Clark has been converted into an international airport and foreign investors are moving in big time to build casinos, call centers, plastic and steel factories, and garment and electronics factories – all in pursuit of cheap labor.
I learned that the average monthly wage at a call center is about $500.  At wages like that you can see why the greedy corporations have left the US and moved overseas.  Even Korean corporations like Samsung are exiting their countries due to the presence of strong unions and setting up profit-enhancing production in the Philippines.
It was just getting dark as we headed back toward Quezon City last night.  As we approached the urban center we noticed an incredibly long line of police trucks, full of well-equipped men, stopped at a highway tollbooth.  I asked Cora what was going on.  She replied that police are being brought in from the outside provinces for the big protest that is set on Monday in Manila.  President Benigno Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be delivered then and the police will set up along the highway to turn activists away who try to come to the protest from the rural areas.  They will be easily identified she said because they will be riding in the converted “jeep” taxi vehicles that are seen all over the country crammed full of people.
The Filipino judicial system has denied the request of the protest organizers to have a permit to rally near the Congress building where the speech will be given.  Instead the march and rally will have to be held in the middle of the hot paved street that leads toward the government center – but we will be kept a good distance away.
Cora also told me that the presidential address would be a high fashion show.  The wives of the elite will present themselves to the nation in their most expensive gowns and jewelry.  They consider themselves royalty and have used their powers to keep the unruly rabble far away while they celebrate their control over “democracy”.
The protest march will be addressing the growing economic disparity between rich and poor.  The protest will also highlight the return of colonial status for the Philippines as the US military returns to Subic and drags the Filipino people into the coming US conflict with China.  The US wants the Philippines to spend more on “modernization” of its military so that it can be “interoperable” with US forces. 
In this age of space satellite directed high-tech war that means that the US would ultimately control the military forces of the Philippines.  (The Filipino military has no satellite capability to direct the "modern" weapons they would purchase from the US.)  The days of Filipino national sovereignty will be over if the US can pull this charade off. 
During my time here I’ve tried to plant some seeds about how the US Space Command coordinates all warfare on the planet on behalf of the corporate interests.  Activists and organizers have appreciated the information.  They seem to understand the connection.
Time will tell if the people here can hold onto their democracy – what little of it that still exists.    

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sky

In a few weeks it will be the anniversary of the dropping of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I recently picked up a book, titled White Flash, Black Rain: Women of Japan Relive the Bomb, which features poetry and testimonials from Japanese women who survived the bomb. The language and imagery are haunting and chilling in the way writing about such an inhuman experience should be.


The Sky
by Horiba Kiyoko

I want you all to know how blue the sky was
the sky toward which the millions of rain-struck
and sunburned eyes were turned

How blue the sky was
the sky
silently embracing
moans of the inflamed earth
a hell more cruel than hell
instantly imprinted for eternity on the retinas of
dead embryos

How blue the sky was
after the white parachute clouds
flew away far beyond the mountain range
their poison mushrooms floating away
on our Acheron


August 6, 1945
The day that stains humankind
that day the blue sky
bloomed splendid crimson and purple
a mandala of old folk tales
that swirling and roaring rose of damnation

Between mountains a narrow delta fills with the debris of incinerated bodies...

A hand grasps stone in pain
crumbles, remains on stone
clothes burn away on corpses with
skin no longer skin
on others flesh gathers around wrists
like beautiful orange-colored gloves

and intestines red and purple hang
outside bodies
babies starving and bloody and
heads smashed with stones
parade, ghost monsters
marching to a place without destruction
to a world of green and of life
marching as long as their breath lasts

The Second Day
Pus runs blue-yellow

The Third Day
Maggots fall off living bodies

Day after day
behind the butterfly of death's wings
corpses increase, laid like eggs one on another

Human grease
shines in the night
in the city of ruins

Daylight and along the hollows of riverbank sand
ashes of the unknown pile up
burned again, the burned alive
become pale blue vapor and bloody smell
giving off an invisible plea
to survivors' nostrils

Day after day
smoke rises thinly
like a grove
like vain prayers
along the river Ota
each rivulet of smoke sways and melts into
the cold, clear sky

How blue that sky was
the sky
nurtured all summer by
the smoke of corpses

This afternoon
in a suburban hospital a woman
wraps her big belly with
a borrowed yukata
its thin sash hangs limp on the straw mat

A crowd of the severely injured is taken away. Stench and moans saturate the walls and straw mats. The footprints and signs of death are everywhere...

And a woman alone
looks motionlessly
at the sky

 A nurse whispers, "She has a wound in her belly and has lost all her water." "She and the baby will not live," the doctor says.

Blue-black the woman's face
already enters the circle of death
her eyes staring
at the blue sky

What does she see
over the ruins and corpses, over the ashes and rubble
in this cobalt blue sky?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Road to Nowhere

"The Road to Nowhere"
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

Last week I wrote about “decolonization stagnation” on Guam and how for a variety of reasons the quest for decolonization, at the level of the world, the UN and the United States isn’t moving very quickly. This week I wanted to discuss more about the role of the United Nations and the United States in decolonizing Guam.

Despite the fact that most people have become accustomed to speaking in universals, and speaking about this world that we inhabit, most on earth see themselves in a national framework, as attached first and foremost not to this planet, but to an imagined territory upon its surface. Because of this the United Nations can have great power symbolically, representing the world’s international potential, but has little practical value.

Nowhere is this more true than for those 17 territories that the UN recognizes as still being colonized and still requiring a process of decolonization for them to join the contemporary world. Although the world has come to a consensus that colonialism was and is wrong, there is little international effort to decolonize these places. There is even less understanding about the role of the UN in decolonization.

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. They portray it as hopelessly corrupt, inept, wasteful and useless, but also potentially evil in the way it interferes with what the United States is doing in the world and doing with its colonies.

The UN has to balance a contradictory role in both protecting the rights of sovereign nations, but also pushing for the rights of those who are marginalized, stateless, colonized and without voice or sovereignty. It has to push for the rights of colonized peoples, but also has to respect the rights of the nations that claims 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 that this is something we should leave up to the US and trust them to carry out.

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.

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. But if nations like the US, Russia, China, France or the UK want to, they can. They might not be able to push through any resolutions or actions they might want, but they do have the power to prevent any substantive change 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. What Lodge’s quote implies is that the UN can never solve all the problems of the world, but if countries can cooperate and set aside some of their own interests, they can prevent the worst from happening.

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 for decades, whether Democrat or Republican takes the same basic position. Guam is ours to determine what we want for it, the UN and the people of Guam have no right to interfere with this power. This position means that Guam isn’t going to heaven or hell, it will just remain stuck in the road going nowhere.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Decolonization Today

Decolonization today

(First of a two-part series)

ON JULY 21, Marine Corp Drive will be filled with parades to mark the day the U.S. Marines took Guam in a bloody 1944 battle that liberated the island from the Japanese forces during World War II.

Sixty-nine years since Guam’s liberation, political leaders are again seeking liberty – this time for self-governance.

“Our journey will never be complete unless we undertake to resolve our political status and to decolonize Guam,” Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said during her congressional address before the 32nd Legislature on May 30.

“We must renew our determination to take the necessary steps that will define our political relationship with the United States, and to give the people of Guam the political dignity that they deserve,” she added.

17 colonies

Guam is one of the 17 remaining colonies in the post-colonial period.

“The [United Nations] made an aggressive statement this year – that they want to rid the world of colonialism,” said Decolonization Commission Executive Director Edward Alvarez, who attended the UN decolonization meeting in Ecuador in May.

“For the first time in over 20 years, a U.S. delegate showed up at the decolonization meeting,” Alvarez said.

That’s a good start, he said, but Guam can’t get too excited too soon, Alvarez said.

“When we see the UN and the U.S. send a delegation to Guam, that’s when we get excited. Hopefully, that would start the whole process,” he added.

Guam looks to its sister territory, Puerto Rico, which is a step ahead. It held its own political status plebiscite last year and is now awaiting the next process. The action taken by its fellow colony has given Guam new impetus to calls for self-determination – a recurring buzzword that always hangs in limbo.

When he ran for office in 2010, Gov. Eddie Calvo set a goal to hold a self-determination plebiscite by 2012.

But the efforts toward decolonization are marred by a tortured process, challenged by a lack of information about what the yet-to-be scheduled plebiscite entails. The existing challenges are compounded by a pending appeal of a federal court’s dismissal of a lawsuit that seeks to nullify a public law that defines a “native inhabitants” vote.


“There has been a lot of misinformation about this whole issue,” Alvarez said.

“People have the impression that Chamorros are fighting for their right to self-determination; the right has already been given by the United Nations through the UN charter, which the United States signed off on, agreeing that places like Guam have the right to choose what kind of political relationship they want with the administering power (the U.S.).”

Guam has three political status options: statehood, independence, and free association with the U.S. – similar to the compacts with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

The plebiscite has been postponed indefinitely, pending completion of the Chamorro Registry which is the subject of the lawsuit filed by Arnold “Dave” Davis.

No funds

“Although a lot has been done, we are not yet at the level where we should be at. We need to start the education process,” Alvarez said.

But the Commission on Decolonization, which is in charge of public education, is financially handicapped and thus unable to perform its mission, he said.

The commission operates on a barebones budget, allocated for salaries and other necessities.

“We have no money for a public education program and governance study,” Alvarez said.

Besides, the education campaign would require at least $1 million. Alvarez also said the commission needs $30,000 for the governance study that would provide the United Nations with a complete overview of Guam’s situation as a Non-Self-Governing Territory.

“When you talk about totem pole responsibilities in GovGuam, decolonization is not up there with health, public safety and education,” Alvarez said. “It should be just as important because political status sets forth the ground rules of engagements for our political relationship with the U.S. Otherwise, we will continue to be subjected to federal mandates.”

In his State of the Island address delivered Jan. 31, 2012, Gov. Calvo noted the limitations imposed by Guam’s colonial status, which he said restrict the island’s ability to acquire self-sufficiency.

“It is insane for the federal government to levy the most liberal immigration policy in the U.S. history on Guam, then throw peanuts to offset its impacts, then strangle us with penalties and takeovers when our capacity is breached by the population increase, and in the very same breaths, prohibits us from building jobs and growing our economy with onerous regulations that keep paying-visitors out,” Calvo said.

“My message to the federal government has less to deal with the financial assistance Guam has requested in the past; rather, it is this: We can be more self-sufficient if the U.S. government allows us to grow,” he added.


August 2015 self-determination plebiscite possible

Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Decolonization process requires multi-party effort

(Second of a two-part series)

IF A public education campaign begins soon and everything falls into place, a self-determination plebiscite is likely to happen in two years, according to Edward Alvarez, executive director of the Commission on Decolonization.

“Realistically, if we have the money and the money is given to us now, I can say comfortably that August 2015 will be the date,” Alvarez said.

Currently, the three task forces under the Decolonization Commission are drafting their individual position papers, each explaining and advocating the three political status options for Guam:  statehood, independence, and free association.

“These choices were set by the United Nations and based on the UN format that we are following now,” Alvarez said.

Prior to adopting the UN-based arrangement, Guam was following the congressional format that required engagement with the U.S. Congress to get a political status established for the island, Alvarez said.

In 1997, then-Sen. Hope Cristobal introduced a bill, now Public Law 23-147, which eliminated the requirement to seek congressional action.

Choices can expand

But choices are not limited to the three political status options, Alvarez said.

“There is nothing in the law that precludes voters from choosing any other status on the ballot,” Alvarez said. “They can start a drive for other options, such as commonwealth or incorporated status. They can start a petition and they must get a certain number of people to sign to get it on the ballot.”

Inclusive process

Alvarez said the plebiscite is exclusive to “native inhabitants” as set by precedents that upheld indigenous peoples' inalienable right to choose a political status for themselves.

But once the political status is selected, Alvarez said, the subsequent process, such as the ratification of a Guam Constitution, will involve everyone on island.

“People who have migrated to Guam, those who have made Guam their home and raised their children here, those who pay their taxes and contribute to the economy will not be left out,” Alvarez said. “Everyone will have the right to participate in a vote on the Constitution.”

Where does it begin?

The path to decolonization is not a one-way street, Alvarez said.

Instead, the process requires multi-party efforts – the local community, the United States and the United Nations.

“We need to work together. The UN needs to work with us, the U.S. need to work with us,” Alvarez said. “The UN cannot demand the U.S. The UN does not have the enforcement powers. Everybody needs to come to the table.”

On the local front, Alvarez said he has been conducting information campaigns in schools and public forums to educate the community of all aspects of the self-determination process.

The education campaign, he added, also requires a marketing strategy to expand the advocacy for Guam.

On the national level, he said, the plan includes teaming up with fellow territories and networking with Chamorros living in the U.S. mainland, who will lobby their senators and congressmen on behalf of Guam.

“I think if you have hundreds and thousands of voters calling their senators and congressmen, we will get some attention,” Alvarez said.

The local and national efforts must also be complemented by international support, he said.

“We are at the day and age when we should be partners with the U.S. and not anything below, which is the kind of relationship that we have with the U.S. now. We do not control much.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Okinawa Independence Movement

In Okinawa, Talk of Break From Japan Turns Serious
The New York Times

Chosuke Yara, the head of the Ryukyu Independence Party, last month. “Independence is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

In a windowless room in a corner of a bustling market where stalls displayed severed pigs’ heads and bolts of kimono silk, Okinawans gathered to learn about a political idea that until recently few had dared to take seriously: declaring their island chain’s political independence from Japan.

About two dozen people of all ages listened as speakers challenged the official view of Okinawa as inherently part of homogeneous Japan, arguing instead that Okinawans are a different ethnic group whose once-independent tropical islands were forcibly seized by Japan in 1879. Then, to lighten the mood, the organizers showed “Sayonara, Japan!”, a comedy about a fictional Okinawan island that becomes its own little republic.

“Until now, you were mocked if you spoke of independence,” said one speaker, Kobun Higa, 71, a retired journalist whose book on the history of the tiny independence movement has become a hot seller online. “But independence may be the only real way to free ourselves from the American bases.”

Mr. Higa and other advocates admit that few islanders would actually seek independence for Okinawa, the southernmost Japanese island chain, which is home to 1.4 million residents and more than half of the 50,000 American troops and sailors based in Japan. But discontent with the heavy American presence and a growing perception that the central government is ignoring Okinawans’ pleas to reduce it have made an increasing number of islanders willing to at least flirt publicly with the idea of breaking apart in a way that local politicians and scholars say they have not seen in decades.

In May, a newly formed group led by Okinawan university professors held a symposium on independence that drew 250 people. A tiny political party that advocates separation from Japan through peaceful means has been revived after decades of dormancy, though its candidates have fared poorly in recent elections. And on his blog, a member of Parliament from Okinawa recently went so far as to post an entry titled “Okinawa, It’s Finally Time for Independence From Yamato,” using the Okinawan word for the rest of Japan.

“Before, independence was just something we philosophized about over drinks,” said Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa, who is not a member of the movement.

“Now, it is being taken much more seriously.”

The independence movement remains nascent, with a few hundred active adherents at most. But Mr. Ota and others say it still has the potential to complicate Japan’s unfolding contest with China for influence in the region.

That struggle expanded recently to include what appears to be a semiofficial campaign in China to question Japanese rule of Okinawa. Some analysts see the campaign as a ploy to strengthen China’s hand in a dispute over a smaller group of islands that has captured international headlines in recent months. Some Chinese scholars have called for exploiting the independence movement to say there are splits even in Japan over the legitimate ownership of islands annexed during Japan’s imperial expansion in the late 19th century, as Okinawa and the smaller island group were.

Okinawa has long looked and felt different from the rest of Japan, with the islands’ tropical climate, vibrant musical culture and lower average incomes setting it apart. Strategically situated in the center of East Asia, the islands, once known as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, have had a tortured history with Japan since the takeover, including the forced suicides of Okinawan civilians by Japanese troops during World War II and the imposition of American bases after the war.

For years, Okinawans directed much of their ire over the bases at the United States. But that changed four years ago when the Japanese prime minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, reneged on campaign pledges to move the bustling Marine air base at Futenma off Okinawa, rather than to a less populated site on the island as previous governments had approved. After that, many Okinawans shifted much of their anger toward the rest of Japan, which wants the United States military presence to offset China’s growing power, but is unwilling to shoulder more of the burden of bases for fear of crime, noise and accidents.

Local leaders and scholars say the last time Okinawans spoke so openly of independence was during a period of sometimes violent unrest against American control before the United States ended its postwar occupation of the islands in 1972.

“There is a growing feeling that Okinawans just exchanged one colonial master in Washington for another one in Tokyo,” said Shinako Oyakawa, 32, a doctoral student at the University of the Ryukyus and a co-founder of Okinawan Studies 107, a group promoting research into Ryukyuan ethnic identity.

Such discontent has helped nurture groups like hers, which seek to promote the idea that the islanders form a distinct ethnic group. It has also led to the creation of places like Ryukyu Hall, a privately run school that opened last year and offers classes on Okinawan language and culture.

On a recent weekend, about 30 people gathered at the school, a small, sparsely furnished two-story building, to hear accounts in the Ryukyuan language by survivors of the American invasion of Okinawa in 1945.

“Regaining our identity is the first step toward regaining independence,” said Midori Teruya, 41, a co-founder of the school in Ginowan, the site of the Futenma air base.

The talk of independence has grown enough that it is being heard in Tokyo, where some conservative newspapers have begun calling the Okinawan independence activists “pawns” of China.

Whether or not the activists are pawns, there is certainly some discussion in China about using the independence movement. Recently, an editorial in The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, said China could pressure Japan by “fostering forces in Okinawa that seek the restoration of the independence of the Ryukyu chain.”

Few believe China is about to pursue ownership of Okinawa. But Japanese analysts see the informal campaign as the latest gambit in China’s attempts to take over the smaller group of islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, by essentially warning that China could expand its claims beyond those islands if Japan ignores its arguments.

“It will create problems for us if the Chinese government tries to use this issue,” said Masaki Tomochi, a professor at Okinawa International University who helped organize the symposium on independence in May.

Mr. Tomochi and other activists said that in the remote event that Okinawa became independent, they felt little fear of a Chinese takeover because the Ryukyus had held friendly ties with China for centuries before the Japanese takeover.

Mr. Tomochi’s group is planning a second symposium to present research on how Pacific island nations like Palau could serve as a model for a future Ryukyu republic. The idea is to try to overcome what he sees as the main challenge his movement faces: winning over Okinawans who seem content with their Japanese-style living standards.

“People are talking independence now, but how realistic is it?” asked Yoshinao Hiyane, 22, an economics major at Okinawa International University. “My generation has grown up Japanese.”

At the movie screening in the market, independence supporters tried to bolster the notion that their idea is more than a fantasy by handing out color-copied “currency” of a Ryukyu republic. They stood before a blue banner with three stars that the organizer, Chosuke Yara, called its flag.

“Recently, the interests of the Japanese people and the Ryukyu people have clearly diverged,” said Mr. Yara, 61, the head of the tiny Ryukyu Independence Party. “Independence is an idea whose time has come.”

Monday, July 15, 2013

Minagahet yan Dinagi Siha

I invite you to tune in to Beyond the Fence which airs every Friday at noon on Public Radio Guam-KPRG 89.3 FM, immediately following Democracy Now.  This one hour locally produced program features interviews with diverse individuals and coverage of public events offering analysis and personal perspectives on the local impacts of US global militarism in the Asia-Pacific, especially in Guam and the Northern Marianas.  It provides accounts of different forms of resistance, decolonization and sovereignty  struggles, and the challenges of building community beyond the fence.  Audio podcasts of most episodes are available for free and may be downloaded within five days of the original broadcast by going to and clicking on the link to Beyond the Fence or by going directly to

Ep. 154 “Minagahet yan Dinagi Siha: The Revitalization of the Chamorro Language” (hosted by Rosa Salas Palomo with production assistance of Joy White ) was recorded by Michael Lujan Bevacqua in Okinawa in March 2013 and airs 7/12/13. 

This episode features two presentations from Guahan that were recorded at the March 2013 Island Language Revitalization Conference at Ryukyu University in Okinawa. This conference was organized by the Institute of Island Studies and Institute of Okinawa Studies at Ryukyu University by Professors Yoko Fujita and Masahide Ishihara. Language activists and linguists from Ainu, Chamorro, Maori, Hawaiian, Welsh and Okinawan communities were invited to share the state of their language revitalization efforts and learn new strategies for tackling this increasingly important issue for indigenous peoples.

Two Chamorro representatives, Edward A. Alvarez (, the executive director of the Guam Commission on Decolonization and Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua (, assistant professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam, presented at this conference.  

Mr. Alvarez speaks about the history of Government of Guam efforts since 1964 to revitalize the Chamorro and of the difficult “minagahet”or truth that, despite these efforts, you can live your entire life on Guam and still not learn its native language. He also discusses the impact of the planned military buildup on language revitalization and political self-determination efforts. 

Professor Bevacqua speaks about the “gefpago na dinagi” or the “beautiful lie,” meaning the gap between positive language attitudes and the fact that Chamorros and many other indigenous people are still not passing on their languages to younger generations.  He examines the Guam experience in relation to the four stages of language colonization and decolonization (cultural self-destruction, recognition of loss, celebration; and return to sovereignty). 

Music selection:  “Fanohge Chamorro” or the “Guam Hymn”, written by Dr. Ramon Sablan and translated into Chamorro by Tan Lagrimas Untalan.  Implicit in the phrases, “Para ta onra, para ta gloria” is respect for the indigenous language and culture. 

The 32nd Annual International Pacific Islands  Bilingual Bicultural Association Conference will be held July 21-24, 2103 at Okkodo High School, Guam.  The theme is “Indigenous Rights: Sacred and Secret ---Direchon i Taotao Siha;  Sagrad yan Sikretu.”  For more  information, contact Peter Onedera at 477-4234 or Rosa Salas Palomo at 735-2193. 

Please forward this announcement to your respective networks and encourage listeners to submit their comments on line. Suggestions for future topics and guests or requests to be removed or added to this contact list may be sent to  

Thank you for listening to and supporting public radio for the Marianas --- and for promoting Beyond the Fence, locally and abroad.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lone Ranger

Not many people remember who Guam's version of the Lone Ranger was.

He was someone who in a time of terrible crisis and injustice, with great risk to himself, stood up for the Chamorro people.

Juan Mala or Juan Malo might be someone you would consider to fit this category. In some of his stories he does wear a mask to hide his identity when he is tricking and defrauding the Spanish on the island. But alas, Juan Mala stories were popular long before the Long Ranger even existed.

Agualin could be a wishful candidate. During a time of terrible warfare and atrocities he worked to organize the Chamorro people to fight against Spanish colonization. He did not shy away from a fight but in the speech attributed to him he called on them to rise up, and that he would lead them with his lance that has killed many and will kill them all. Metgot na sinangan. But once again Agualin lived long before the Lone Ranger was created.

If you were a drinking man than someone from prewar Guam who was kind of a folkhero amongst the people was Juan Aguayente. The Navy during that period had banned the making of aguayente and also taxed the making of tuba. Chamorros would hide their stills deep in the jungle, far out of the regular routes that the Navy or the Insular Patrol marines would travel. There are plenty of stories of Juan Aguayente, who is most likely an amalgamation of several different bootleggers, evading and eluding the Navy in the jungles and cliffs of Northwestern Guam.

The prewar period was a time of injustice and racism, and Chamorros would have truly appreciated a Long Ranger type figure standing up for them, but a bootlegger hardly meets the criteria to be a true people's hero. He was definitely someone to cheer for and feel vicarious power through, but to see him as a Lone Ranger figure would be have been more a joking connection.

The answer for those who haven't guessed it yet might surprise you.

It is Pale' Jesus Baza Duenas, the second ever Chamorro priest.

During World War II, I Tiempon Chapones, the Chamorros were very much in need of heroes and inspirational figures. Tweed was a symbol in hiding. Someone who represented the chance and the hope that the United States would return some day and kick out the Japanese. He did not offer much on a daily basis however. He did not make rounds in the villages telling people to keep watching the skies since American planes would be flying over anyday now.

Most Chamorro resistance to the Japanese happened through underground networks and in invisible ways. They hid American flags, secreted food away to the American holdouts, built radios to listen to news and vocailized their hatred for the Japanese only when it was safely cloaked in Chamorro. Few Chamorros ever dared to publicly admonish the Japanese in the name of the Chamorro people. To do so would mean to court torture, imprisonment or dearth. As the Japanese beat people, stole from people, lied to the people and committed other terrible acts, Chamorros could do little but watch and endure.

Pale' Duenas however did not back down. Many of the stories of Pale' Duenas are not doubt exaggerated, and they are exaggerated in different directions. While all point to him being reckless in terms of how he dealt with the Japanese, all nonetheless point to him being an outspoken protector of Chamorros. While other cowered in the midst of the Japanese, he spoke his mind to them. Telling them the truth of how he or the Chamorros felt about the Japanese. On several occasions he rejected the orders of the Japanese to their faces, refusing to bow to their will. He chastised both Chamorros and Japanese who acted immorally during the war, incurring the wrath of the Japanese and the Chamorros who collaborated with them.

He was called the Lone Ranger however, not solely because of his fight against the Japanese. In truth, him being referred to as the Lone Ranger was primarily about the mode of transportation that he used during the war. Sometimes he would have the luxury of being driven around in a car. Sometime he would get around by walking or by taking a bicycle. But his most infamous ride was horses. He would borrow horses and ride them from village to village in the Southern half of Guam.

When he would ride into town people would cheer him and wave at him. He would seek out those who needed help, guidance or religious rites and sometimes he would move on to the next village within a couple of hours. One of the horses that Duenas rode was white akin to the Lone Ranger's horse Silver.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Colonial Mention of the Day

'Not Your Colony': Bolivia Threatens Shutdown of US Embassy

South American leaders flank the Bolivian President as he rails against US air piracy in manhunt for Snowden

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Bolivian President Evo Morales Threatens Closure of U.S. Embassy (Photo: Zuma/Rex)Bolivian President Evo Morales threatened Thursday to shut down the U.S. embassy in his country after a forced re-routing and downing of his plane earlier this week on suspicion that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales was flanked by the heads of state of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay as he announced the possible embassy closure at a special meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He declared:
Being united will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States. We do not need the embassy of the United States.
The South American government leaders blasted the 'kidnapping' of the Bolivian president as an act of brute power, revealing that the U.S. and European governments still view themselves as the colonial rulers of Latin America. Uruguay's president Jose Mujica declared:
We are not colonies any more. We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pointed out:
If this had happened to the president of the United States, it probably would have been grounds for war.
Washington is widely believed to have applied the political pressure to France, Portugal, Italy and Spain that led to the forced downing of the Bolivian president's flight. European countries acted on a tip that Snowden was on board the flight, the media revealed Thursday, but they refused to admit where the information came from.

Snowden was not found on the flight.

Morales said Tuesday that he would grant political asylum to Snowden if asked. Critics have slammed the U.S. for the global manhunt for Snowden, declaring it retaliatory against whistleblowing and bullying of countries that do not participate in the crackdown. Guardian writer John Pilger had harsh words for the incident:
The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane – denied airspace by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to "inspect" his aircraft for the "fugitive" Edward Snowden – was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.
The U.S. remains silent about the 'kidnapping' incident.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Wild Western Pacific

For the very first showing of The Lone Ranger on island, I took my kids. I have been excited about the film for a long time, for a variety of reasons and was eager to watch it as soon as possible. The previews looked exciting and ridiculous like so many Pirates of the Caribbean movies. There were several key differences however that made me more excited and more intrigued to see The Lone Ranger. 

 The Lone Ranger wasn't going to be another one of those ridiculous ensemble films where the last 40 mins are just endless resolutions to the mess that the writers and directors have created by having so many famous faces. I'm also a fan of Johnny Depp, even some of his less than popular or weird roles I still find interesting. I have for the past few years had a weird fascination with Westerns. I hated the genre for most of my life because the films weren't very well made and the politics involved were sometimes terrible. I had a few films such as Dances With Wolves or Support Your Local Sheriff, that I enjoyed, but in general it just wasn't a universe of storytelling and scenery that appealed to me.

This changed however, interestingly enough through my study of Guam History. You might think that Guam History would have little connection to the Wild West of American history. But in truth, in the second half of the 19th century Guam experienced its own period of Wild West uncertainty. This was a period in Guam's history where many people walked around with knives or guns. They didn't necessarily use them very often, but men were at any moment armed with one, the other or both. The most common place that you would find violence would be around the cockfighting pit.

During this period there were different types of gangs on Guam. Alot of these gangs are lost to history, but we can assume their general scopes. The gang culture most likely started in response to the Filipinos that were coming to Guam as convicts. While much attention is paid to the political prisoners that ended up on Guam from the Filipinos and Spain, who were fomenting revolutions or at least moderate reforms, not as much is said about the convicts that were brought to Guam from the Philippines.

Their presence on Guam was not appreciated by the Chamorros. The convicts themselves didn't see Guam as an island paradise but as their tropical prison. They did not like Chamorros and did not like the Spanish. They did not assimilate into the culture the way other political prisoners or migrants did. They would instead keep their distance and survive by forming gangs. Chamorros in turn responded by forming gangs of their own. Fights would break out between these two groups, especially after cockfights and in particular when someone was accused of cheating in a cockfighting match.

The Spanish government was considered to be corrupt and Governors were known to abuse their power in order to line their own pockets or punish those who challenged them. While this makes something very relevant in terms of telling a "wild west" story, what really gives it that feeling is the way in which people felt a clear disconnect from the government. While the Spanish clearly held control over the island and Chamorros didn't, for the most part challenge that, it does not mean that they lived their lives according to what the Spanish wanted. The wild west is lawless because of the lack of a government and the lack of a stable society, since in so many ways it straddles various types of worlds. The typical Western lawman (such as the one the Lone Ranger starts off as) is someone we see as coming from "our" world. A world where for the most part law and order function and there is a social and political infrastructure that we can rely on. That lawman is our guide as we explore a world where money rules, power rules, violence and vengeance operate based on different rules, and there are borderlands between cultures, usually where a native people are always on the verge of being wiped out or disappearing.

The wild west is ultimately a thematic borderland where so many of the things that people feel are normal and take for granted are opened up and the structure of their own everyday dependency can be revealed. Chamorros in the 19th century lived in a similar way. There was a government but Chamorros existed to find ways to escape it or elude it and its gaze. A similar dynamic took place after the arrival of the Americans in 1899. But ultimately the majority of Guam existed as a place where the power of the Spanish didn't touch. From the bays, to the jungles, to the ranches, to the mountains, Chamorros imagined themselves as being ruled by the Spanish, but operated in their own independent ways. For Chamorros at the top however this was different since they drew much of their privileged and elevated identity from the Spanish presence, but for most Chamorros Spain existed in Guam only in certain moments, and the rest of the time the island was a political wilderness they inhabited.

The forced evacuation of the Northern Marianas Islands in the 17th and 18th century also provided Chamorros their own experiences of discovering grandeur and wild lands to be tamed. Although Chamorros had inhabited some of the Marianas Islands for thousands of years and other smaller islands for several hundred years, they were forced to leave them because of Spanish reduccion policies. For example Saipan was abandoned for more than 100 years, and Tinian was abandoned for close to 200 years. Only on Guam and Rota did Chamorros continue to live.

The 18th century is a time when Chamorros start to slowly and tentatively reconnect to these islands. Unfortunately they use Carolinians to travel between the islands since they had lost their open ocean navigation culture, but nonetheless Chamorros began to visit the islands again. For them these islands with their long abandoned latte stones become and histories lost to the winds become a new wilderness for Chamorros. With the arrival of the Japanese in the Northern Marianas what starts as tentative sort of dreams and sporadic visits, becomes something with economic incentive behind it, when the Japanese actually start to encourage the settlement on the long abandoned northern islands.

The type of migrant presence in the Marianas also contributes to Wild West possibilities. The Japanese had started to settle in Guam during the Spanish period and were already successful in conneting Guam to Asia in economic terms. The Carolinians had settlements on Guam and in Saipan and represented for Chamorros a look into their possible past, one that they for the most part didn't want to admit to since they had become Catholics. But at the same time they also represented a way of Chamorros moving themselves up the racial hierarchy. By looking down on the Carolinians and seeing them as savage and primitive, they could feel more modern and more civilized even if they were seen as primitives and savages and without culture by almost everyone else in the world.

The story of Jose Salas, the Chamorro serving in the local militia in 1884 who assassinated the Spanish Governor is a key piece in understanding the "wild" possibilities of Guam. While there was the same types of petty crime during this period that you find in every community, the possible conspiracy that surrounded Jose Salas hurls the emerging "nationalist" element into the fire. Chamorros were starting to see themselves more and more as being a distinct national group, although not in an ancient sense, but in a modern context alongside the nationalist building that took place in the same century through the other Spanish colonies in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.While some Chamorros resisted the Spanish in a general sense, others resisted because of their anti-colonial and oppositional identities.

If I ever get more time on my hands I would love to write a creative story set during this period.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Guam is a Dirty Word

“Guam is a Dirty Word”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

When I wrote my dissertation in Ethnic Studies I ran into several methodological problems. The chief among them was how to write about Guam’s colonial status in a world where countries pretend it doesn’t exist anymore? How do you write about it when most people on Guam don’t want to admit to it and neither does the United States? As a result most of the discourse that is produced about Guam doesn’t admit to its colonial truths and pretends it doesn’t exist. For me this doesn’t mean that Guam’s status is any less colonial, but it means that because of the nature of the world today, the evidence of Guam’s colonial status is never formal, it has to be found in other ways.

Joe Murphy used to joke that Guam was a “dirty word” or a “four letter word,” and in one sense he was right. Guam today is something that is obscene, in the same way as other small places beset by militarism and colonialism. The Marshall Islands, Diego Garcia, Okinawa, Guam, all of them have histories and contemporary realities that you could call obscene in the sense that they don’t fit in with the narrative of how just and right the world, and the United States are supposed to be. But they are also obscene in the sense that people don’t know how to bring them into polite conversations and would rather they remain invisible, or worse yet visible in only a narrow way.

These places can all be talked about in terms of their strategic importance. They all have US bases from which the US conducts, training, testing and projects force. For people in the United States and around the world, that is primarily what these locations are, islands with bases. These are the “formal” aspects of their existence. Media and governments accept these things and report them without much criticism. Even military officials have no problem talking about these islands in these ways.

If you were to only pay attention to these formal aspects however, you would miss most of the history of these places. You would miss the ways in which the strategic value of these islands is built upon discrimination, displacement and other terrible sins of the past. You would miss the obscene ways that the legacy of these sins still persists in these islands, in some ways more terrifying than others.

These obscene histories hold the truth of these islands, but they are much more difficult to find. The speech and the discourse of governments and militaries are designed to prevent those histories from being heard or being mentioned. In order to see the truth you cannot pay attention to what is formal in their presentation, but what is obscene, what you were not supposed to pay attention to. What was organic and unexpected and deviated from the usual script of focusing on the strategic importance of these islands and avoiding any mention of their unjust histories and realities. For example, you may listen to an entire speech from an Admiral or read the entire proceedings for a hearing in Congress, but you may find little truth there. The truth may come in the form of an off hand remark, a joke or something else, even a laugh.

In 1994, during a press conference organized by the Christian Science Monitor News Service to cover an upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, two of Bill Clinton’s advisors were asked a simple question about Guam. As APEC was designed to be not a cooperative of nations but of economies, a reporter from Gannet, which owns the Pacific Daily News, asked whether or not it was possible for Guam to join this organization. As Ronald Stade notes in his book Pacific Passages: World Culture and Local Politics in Guam, “the response to the question was a round of laughter.” The reporter attempted to explain his question, noting that other “colonies” such as Hong Kong were allowed to join, and Guam’s economy and its population either exceeds or is equal to a number of APEC’s existing members. Clinton’s advisers responded with more smiles, giggles and laughter. After gaining their composure their final “formal” answer was, “I guess I could say that the negotiations have not gotten to that point.”

If you wanted to understand Guam and its political status in terms of this incident, paying attention to the formal would have gotten you nowhere. You would have a press conference filled with statements about economic cooperation, and you would be left in the dark as to whether or not Guam is included in this framework. Once the question of whether or not Guam was included was asked, the response was laughter and a vague statement that no one had brought the issue up yet. The laughter is key in understanding Guam’s status, not the actual statements made.

Keep this in mind for example when you read about the recent scandal over the “plurality” vote for the non-voting delegate. I’ll most likely be writing about that next week.


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