Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Taotaomo'na in the Tempest

“Shakespeare gi Guinaiya yan Chinatli’e’”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety

Shakespeare’s Hamlet asks, “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?”  Hamlet is paralyzed by the fear of death or suffering, but ultimately moves toward decisive political rebellion.   

Similarly, the African-American lesbian poet, scholar, and activist Audre Lorde speaks of the radicalizing crisis in her life when she faced a diagnosis of breast cancer: “I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself.  My silences had not protected me.  Your silence will not protect you.” 

Most might assume that it is ridiculous to compare a “great” writer such as Shakespeare to an activist like Lorde. One of them so many seem to accept as the height of human achievement whereas the other is generally read only within feminist and ethnic studies circles. There is something problematic about this, something that we on Guam should be very familiar with by now.

A study by Yale professor Harold Bloom is literally titled Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. It is a provocative thesis if one thinks about it, but most people simply do not. You have to read Shakespeare in high school, just like the way you have to learn about Magellan or Columbus. It is easier to accept their importance because an authority tells you so, rather than question is there is any substance to the pedestal upon which it is placed.

It is just as silly to call Magellan the man who “discovered” Guam as it is to say that Shakespeare is the man who invented the “human.” Both were things that clearly existed prior to European intervention. The problem with making these types of assertions is that they strip power away from so many and place it in the hands of a select few, who not surprisingly happen to be male and European. To give Shakespeare that type of credit is to reinvent the colonial game: it is to not just give over land and history, but give over the creativity of people and the sovereignty of imagination and chain themselves to a hierarchy upon which a long dead, white European man sits atop.  

In order to create a cult of greatness of Shakespeare, you have to obscure so much. The perceived authority becomes the excuse for not acknowledging the limits of problems that are also present.

For example, in the plays of Shakespeare there is a clear ingenuity in terms of the language he uses. His “birthday” passed recently and my Facebook timeline was filled with people sharing images of all the phrases and sayings that we owe to the inventiveness of Shakespeare. But when you look at the plays themselves of Shakespeare they are actually quite tame and conservative and seem hardly appropriate for being someone who we should look to as the universal height of human creative achievement. Shakespeare’s protagonists are generally the same: white, privileged men. The stories were not considered very radical in their time and that conservatism is hard to shake. Women and non-whites fare very poorly in Shakespeare’s plays, unlike in those of some contemporaries such as John Webster, which a clear problem if you are trying to establish someone as the epitome of human creativity. Taking on strong, controversial, mold-breaking characters is one of the ways that artists define themselves in a timeless fashion, by defying instead of milking the conventions that surrounded them. 

Shakespeare did feature some interesting characters, such as Shylock the Jew, Rosalind as a heroine, and Othello the African general. In postcolonial studies the comedic and degraded African-Mediterranean slave Caliban of The Tempest is often re-imagined as a figure of radical anti-colonial resistance.

UOG Theater Professor Michelle Blas (currently directing the play Pågat) took such considerations into account when she directed The Tempest at UOG in the Fall of 2012. She made a radical choice of casting female Chamorro actors in the roles of Caliban and Ariel, who are both supposed to be male according to the text.

Ariel is an interesting character. He, or she in Ms. Blas’s production, is the original inhabitant of the island and although she is portrayed as the servant of Prospero, a white male colonizer on the island, Ariel is actually far more powerful than he. It is she who conjures up the typhoon in the play’s title. She is oppressed by Caliban’s family and later manipulated by Prospero through her sense of honor. Throughout the play, Ariel constantly pushes for freedom and the right to self-determination, and in fact finally wins freedom from Prospero, who gives up his claim to rule over the island and returns to Italy. 

No complete study of Ariel as a colonized figure of resistance has yet been done. Today at 2 pm the Chamorro Studies Program at UOG is pleased to present a colloquium that will feature such an analysis. Professor Blas with her colleague Dr. Elizabeth Kelley Bowman have studying the figure of Ariel within the context of Chamorro values. They will be using a Chamorro-centered and islander-focused critique in order to draw out aspects of Shakespeare’s play that many who are focused on his supposed greatness may miss. This presentation is free and open to the public and will take place in the CLASS Dean’s Professional Development Room on the 3rd floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building at UOG.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Christmas 1947

The relationship between Chamorros and the United States has always been stimulated and frustrated by the United States military. When Chamorros were initially promised the greatness of the United States in terms of democracy, freedom and liberty in 1899, they instead met with the US Navy which governed by island for half of a century not allowing any of those three things to exist in any formal sense on the island. When Chamorros began to join the US military as a way of improving their lives and learning the importance of service and patriotism and how the greatest of any community are those who take on the sacrifice of sacrificing for all others, instead they were met with racism that relegated them to only serving in the lowest ranks of the US Navy, being just mess attendants. Even when Chamorros finally felt and learned first hand the liberating potential of the US military when it expelled the Japanese during World War II, they also learned that the US military has a tendency to liberate people from its resources when it wants them and is not above doing it illegally or immorally.

But as Chamorros have become more intimately connected to the US military they have also become more intimately connect to the United States as a nation. They take on more of the patriotism of being a part of the country, even if Guam remains a colony. They use the language of shared community, sacrifice for home territory and defense of democracy and freedom even if as Guam remains a colony each of those things should be ridiculously covered in asterisks. 

In addition to the Chamorros that join the regular US military, there is a list of Chamorros who supported the US military and fought and died but were irregular parts of it. Some examples of these are, The Guam Scouts, The Insular Guard, The Guam Combat Patrol and the Wake Island Defenders. During World War II each of them suffered, but they have often had to fought and wait to be recognized or be commemorated officially for their service. The image above is of members of the Guam Combat Patrol with the late Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo. 

The Guam Combat patrol was a police unit of around two dozen men who specialized in hunting Japanese stragglers (who refused to surrender even though the war was officially over) from 1945-1948. While much of the island struggled to regain some sanity and rebuild, these Chamorro men scoured the island for the stragglers that they knew were still out there, refusing to surrender, keeping the war alive in their minds. 

Below is an account of the Guam Combat Patrol, in an attack that cost them one of their members.


Before Christmas of 1947…a farmer heard someone walking around his ranch at night and saw a Japanese with a big machete…He abandoned his ranch and the next morning came into the Yigo police substation. Guam Police Staff Sergeant Juan Unpingco Aguon sent patrol members to investigate. The patrolmen tracked the Japanese to a rocky cliff area on the coastline and saw a tin shack in which the stragglers lived.

The Japanese laid an ambush for the patrolmen. Antonio Manibusan was pointman that day and he was the first around the rock to the shack. He was killed instantly by a furious fusillade of Japanese rifle fire. The fire was so hot the patrolmen had to leave Manibusan’s body and retreat down the cliffs. The next morning they were reinforced by other patrol members and retrieved Manibusan’s body. They found that his face had been smashed in by rifle butts. 

They destroyed the shack and went so far as to break and punch holes in the utensils they found there. They posted messages in Japanese telling the Japanese the war was over and they would not be harmed if they surrendered. The combat patrol camped a mile away from the shack waiting for signs of the Japanese. Three weeks later, three stragglers approached carrying white flags.

According to Guam Combat Patrol member Felix Wussitg, “I wanted to fire on them, but our officers were very strict about observing the rules of war.”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It Doesn't Remind Me

The title of this article still makes me chuckle. How could anyone imagine that World War II would not complicate the Pacific Pivot or in general US foreign policy making in Asia?

It was a terrible war in which both sides committed terrible atrocities, both sides then used the events in order to create massive amnesia campaigns, one through self-aggrandizement and liberating potential, the other through victimization and unique suffering, and the most enduring material legacy is a string of bases, like a great wall of Asia, upon which the United States gets to project force and protect its interests. From the US nationalist gaze the events of the war should lead to compliant and subservient allies, to the victor should go all the bases and training areas they want. But this is what happens when nationalisms, both Rightist and Leftist clash, is that ultimately being allies is one thing, but having another nation with its hand in the story of how you organize your collective ideological potency is another. 

There's also a Justin Bieber as unintended diplomat of truth in this article which makes it more awesome and interesting.


World War II complicates Obama’s trip to Asia

TOKYO — Seven decades after it ended, World War II still cuts through the conscience and politics of Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalistic fervor and penchant for revisionism, as well a visit to a controversial World War II shrine, anger neighbors China and South Korea. And they alarm the Obama administration, which wants its two closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, to provide a united front to counter North Korean aggression.

President Barack Obama last month orchestrated the first-ever meeting between Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, ostensibly to talk about their common antagonist: North Korea.
Yet two days before Obama arrived in Japan on this week’s trip to Asia, Abe stirred emotions anew when he had a small gift delivered to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 war criminals.

The fealty to the shrine and Abe’s past interest in revisiting a Japanese apology for forcing South Korean women to work in wartime brothels are complicating Obama’s efforts to focus on Asia.
“The notion is that America is going to re-balance in favor of Asia, but the parties have to do more, as well, and Abe’s jingoistic gestures threaten to make cooperation on anything a non-starter,” said Jeffrey Kingston, the director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “Washington has been trying to knock heads together with the thinking that we can’t hold security issues hostage to history.”

Park said Friday at a news conference with Obama that she’s waiting for Abe to deliver on his agreement for high-level talks to address the issue of South Korea’s “comfort women” before she works with him.

“It’s very important we come up with truthful efforts for these victims, because if we let go of this, we won’t be able to do anything about the victims,” said Park, who’s seeking compensation for the 55 women still living.

Obama, who flew to Seoul after two nights in Tokyo, called the treatment of the women a “terrible, egregious violation of human rights,” but said he was convinced that Abe and Japan “recognize that the past is something that has to be recognized honestly and fairly.”

Abe said at his own news conference with Obama that he’d visited a memorial at the shrine that honors all war dead so that “never again people would suffer in wars.”

Analysts say he thinks Japan has a 70-year record of peace to be proud of and is tired of having its reputation tarnished by its wartime activities.

But The Japan Times chastised Abe this week for the shrine controversy with an editorial titled, “When will Abe learn?”

The newspaper warned that Abe’s action would be interpreted “as evidence that he supports the role the shrine played during Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s and that the prime minister is making light of Japan’s aggression against other Asian countries during the period.”

It noted that Abe has said any leader would want to pay tribute to its soldiers but that he ignores the shrine’s history as a “wartime state ideological apparatus to mobilize the Japanese for war.”

South Korea and China have long memories about Japanese atrocities during the war, and analysts say China seizes on Abe’s actions to paint him as a dangerous provocateur.

That’s despite the fact that Japan spends just 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and its military budget has remained relatively stagnant for two decades. China has the second highest level of defense spending in the world, after the U.S.

The U.S. embraces Abe’s economic plan, and he’s helped broker a deal for a new U.S. military base on Okinawa. But he’s never escaped the shadow of his grandfather, a former prime minister who was detained as a war criminal but released.

“It’s part of him,” said Michael Cucek, a Tokyo-based research associate for the MIT Center for International Studies. Cucek said he thought the shrine was an “abomination” but that Abe should be able to pay his respects.

“We really should not ask people to betray themselves as a condition of being a partner,” he said.
Most Japanese do not share Abe’s enthusiasm for reopening the record on their nation’s confrontational past.

The shrine and its gardens in downtown Tokyo are popular with residents and tourists alike. Guidebooks tread delicately on the shrine’s controversial roots, noting its checkered past and a history museum that some say handles Japan’s military past lightly but touting its cherry trees and the towering Shinto-style gate at the entrance, the tallest in Japan.

Tomomi Fujimara, 32, who was visiting the shrine Friday with her husband and sister, said it remained a place to pay respect to those who fought during World War II, including her grandfather, who served on a battleship.

“It’s unfortunate to see it always talked about as political,” said Fujimara, who grew up in Tokyo and now lives in Oregon. “Today I am honored to be here, and Prime Minister Abe should be able to visit it just like anyone else.”

Abe wasn’t the only visitor sparking controversy. Pop heartthrob Justin Bieber set off a virtual firestorm in China and South Korea this week when he posted to Instagram a picture of himself at the shrine.

“While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine,” Bieber later wrote. “I was mislead to think the Shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”

The complex crosscurrents at play underscore the delicate nature of Obama’s attempts to forge alliances in the region and illustrate how fragmented Asia remains decades after World War II, said Charles Morrison, the president of the Hawaii-based East-West Center, an independent, U.S.-government funded center that promotes better relations among the United States, Asia and the Pacific.

“A lot of these issues, instead of going away after 70 years, seem to be getting worse,” Morrison said. “It’s very frustrating for American leaders who want allies to build constructive relationships with each other.”

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Racial Enjoyment

I am in Saipan this weekend for the Flame Tree Festival. I am so excited for this opportunity to travel here and take part in what is the CNMI's largest cultural celebration. I have heard about the Flame Tree Festival for years but never attended it before. It has been intriguing after spending a few hours at the festival this evening, to see the it is similar to a festival like the Guam Micronesian Island Fair, but still different. I'm sure I will be writing more about it later.

But as the day is long over, my mind for irritating reasons is stuck thousands of miles away on the comments of Cliven Bundy. With his comments on blacks and slavery, his anti-government rhetoric and the way conservatives rallied around him and then quickly scattered, there is so much to write about, even if it is such a pathetic little thing to talk about. It is frustrating to the way people celebrate improvements in race relations and in race conversations by making it about policing speech and all eagerly piling on anyone who dares to violate the lexical prohibitions. Anti-racism is reduced to not using certain overly racialized terms, but a variety of terms which carry almost the exact same meanings, but still tinge with the pleasure of racial enjoyment, are all acceptable in terms of politely establishing the ideologies of different political factions. These conversations are so irritating because it becomes a great chorus of noise, voices all pouncing atop the sound that isn't not supposed to be said, to be heard. The eagerness of the voices hides the relief and pleasure that is being voiced as the signifier of racist is stapled crudely atop someone like Cliven Bundy and therefore the pressure and the potential critique is taken off those around, doing the pointing. That is of course the ultimate initial way of deflecting any blame or suspicion from yourself, by being the one who calls upon others to look and to seethe with righteous fury.

When figures like this pop up their purpose is not so much to show how racism still exists, even if they do show that. This will be the surface of the discourse which flows out and forth from this wound in the social binding ideology. The problem is that in the response of nearly everyone else, they attempt to neutralize these comments in an effort to show very quickly that things have changed and that their is no substance to what is being said. In truth, there is a great deal of power in what avowed racists say, but to treat them like artifacts or cavemen running around in GEICO commericals misses the point. If Bundy just used the appropriate racially acceptable codewords that white conservatives and Republicans have developed than he would be a darling of their party. He would keep aflame their pathetic racial fears, which drives so much of their ideological effectiveness with a part of the United States. But by going too far and being too literal and too direct he threatens to reveal so many as the sated, fat ideologically happy racists that they are.


Cliven Bundy: Are Black People 'Better Off As Slaves' Than 'Under Government Subsidy?'

Posted:  The Huffington Post

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a tense standoff with federal rangers in a dispute over grazing rights, didn't hide his racism in an interview with the New York Times published Wednesday.

The Bureau of Land Management claims Bundy has let his cattle graze on federal land without paying since 1993, saying he now owes more than $1 million in grazing fees. When federal agents came to confront Bundy about the fees, they were met by an armed militia, a move that has fired up conservatives.

Bundy is attempting to use his newfound fame to spread more than just his views on grazing rights, telling the Times he planned to hold a daily news conference. During Saturday's conference, Bunday shared his views on "the Negro":
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Bundy's comments, published Wednesday, led Republican lawmakers who had previously shown their support for his cause to back down. A spokesman for Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who had previously hailed Bundy and his supporters as "patriots," rebuked the rancher's racist remarks, saying the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said he supported Bundy in an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren earlier this week, denounced Bundy's racist remarks Thursday, Business Insider reports.
"His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him," Paul said, according to a spokesman.

For more on Bundy, visit the New York Times.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. ET -- On Thursday, Media Matters released video of Bundy's comments.
Watch the video below:

UPDATE: 1 p.m. ET -- According to TPM, Bundy told Alex Jones he would appreciate it if The New York Times retracted their story. Mediaite reports Bundy appeared on The Peter Schiff Show Thursday to further explain his remarks in the Times piece.

Below, a transcription of Bundy's remarks on the Schiff show, from TPM:

I'm wondering if they're better off under a government subsidy and their young women are having the abortions and their young men are in jail and their older women and children are sitting out on the cement porch without nothing to do.

I'm wondering: Are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were when they were slaves and they was able to their family structure together and the chickens and the garden and the people have something to do.

So in my mind, are they better off being slaves in that sense or better off being slaves to the United States government in the sense of the subsidy. I'm wondering. The statement was right. I am wondering.


Cliven Bundy Stands By Pro-Slavery Comments In Rambling Press Conference

Posted:  by Amanda Turkel
Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy doubled down on his controversial remarks about slavery Thursday, insisting that perhaps the "Negro people" were better off as the property of white owners because then, at least, they had gardens and chickens to tend to instead of being dependent on the government.

"Cliven Bundy's a-wondering about these people," said Bundy, referring to himself in the third person. "Now I'm talking about the black community. I'm a-wondering. Are they better off with their young women aborting their children? Are they better off with the young men in prison? Are they better off with the older people on their sidewalks in front of their government-issued homes with a few children? Are they better off, are they happier than they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them, and their man having something to do? Are they better off?"

In recent weeks, Bundy has become a hero to some conservatives for his anti-government attitude. He and his armed supporters chased away Bureau of Land Management rangers this month who tried to confiscate his cattle that had been illegally grazing on public land since 1993.

This standoff made prominent politicians such as Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) into Bundy fans.

But on Wednesday, The New York Times published comments that Bundy made Saturday at one of his daily news conferences. The rancher seemed to reminisce fondly about the days when blacks were slaves.

"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked, referring to African-Americans. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

His comments set off a firestorm, with those same politicians now distancing themselves from him.
Bundy insisted Thursday that he does understand slavery and isn't glossing over what it was like.
"I might not have a very big word base, or vocabulary, I guess. But let me tell you something: When I say slavery, I mean slavery. I understand what slavery's all about, and there's no question in my mind about that I don't know what slavery's about," he insisted. "Slavery's about when you take away choices for people, and where you have forced labor and you transfer people and sell them and all of those kinds of things. Do you think that's what America's all about? Do you think that's what I'm about, America? If it is, you're sure wrong, because I don't believe in any of that type of stuff."
But there was widespread agreement Thursday that if Bundy is even wondering if blacks were better off being enslaved, he probably doesn't understand what slavery was. From Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic:
Enslaved black people were, with some regularity, beat with cowhide whips, tongs, pokers, chairs, and wooden boards. Nails were driven through their palms, pins through their tongues. Eyes were gouged out for the smallest offense.

When people like Cliven Bundy assert the primacy of the past it is important that we do not recount it selectively. American enslavement is the destruction of the black body for profit. That is the past that Cliven Bundy believes "the Negro" to have been better off in. He is, regrettably, not alone.
"Today, Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who last week called Bundy's supporters "domestic terrorists." "But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land, he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite."

During his press conference, Bundy also talked about how scared he was during the Watts riots of 1965, recounting how relieved he was when a group of "black boys" didn't kill him.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Play Called Pagat

A Play Called Pagat
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
Later this month, the University of Guam will be holding a series of special premiere performances of the locally written and produced play, “Pågat.” This play and these performances are made possible through a collaboration with UOG’s Theater and Chamorro Studies programs and the cultural dance group Inetnon Gefpago. The play will focus on the complexities of contemporary and historical Chamorro identity, through a cast of four modern young adults and the memories of a cast of spirits who share with the audience key moments in the history of the Chamorro people.

Full disclosure, I am one of the playwrights for this play and so naturally I am biased in terms of its awesomeness and its potential. This play was originally written by Victoria Leon Guerrero and I for the dance group Inetnon Gefpago. In 2010, their leader Vince Reyes asked Victoria and I to write a play that would celebrate their ten-year anniversary. The play was titled “Guahan: Fanhasso, Fanhita, Fanachu” and was performed for two packed nights at the Sheraton Hotel.

In this form however, it wasn’t so much of a play in that dramatic style, as it was in truth a musical meant to celebrate the many dances and chants that group had performed through their 10-year history. There was a cast of characters, but not much time was spent on characterization because the main focus for the night was to be on the dances. Like other Chamorro dance groups, Inetnon Gefpago creates dances for different eras in Chamorro history from the ancient to the colonial to the contemporary. This performance focused on showing Chamorro history, its humor, its tragedy, its vibrancy all through the creativity of the dances.

Last year, Michelle Blas, a professor in the Theater program at UOG approached Victoria, Vince and myself about taking that original concept but transforming for the stage at the UOG Fine Arts Theater. The three of us were very excited about this possibility and quickly agreed.

Victoria and I worked for months rewriting the script, spending more time on developing characters and bringing out through dialogue certain sensitive and difficult issues that Chamorros struggle with today in terms of their culture and their place in the world.

The original play was written during a time of controversy on the island, the infamous DEIS period for the military buildup. The possibility of losing access to the Pagat area of northeastern Guam had upset many people, young and old, Chamorro and non-Chamorro. As writers Victoria and I did our best to try to tap into that moment of our recent history and build upon the way people have rediscovered a sense of sacredness around the Pagat area.

The story takes place years into the future when the Pagat area has been taken by the US Federal government and closed off to the public. Four young adult Chamorros travel there in the middle of the night after having dreams where a voice calls upon them to “Fanhasso, Fanhita, Fanachu.” (Remember, Unite, Stand) They are joined in Pagat by a group of “aniti” spirits of their ancestors. While the contemporary youth debate and argue over issues such as the militarization of Chamorro culture, the authenticity of Chamorro dance, the revitalization of the Chamorro language, the spirits of those who came before also debate. They look at the youth, arguing and feeling lost and disconnected from their heritage and also debate as to whether they should lend their guidance and protection to the Chamorros of today or just abandon them. This provides a very interesting reflective experience, what would Chamorros from different points in our history say about us today? As time has passed our people have changed, and so if you were to ask Chamorros from 1940, 1840, 1540 and 1140 what they thought about Chamorros today theirs answers might or might not surprise you. Would they see us as being completely different from them? Or would they perceive the ways in which continuity and a sense of peoplehood have remained intact? Would they perceive Chamorro identity in a narrow or broad way? How do people today follow the same narrow or broad patterns?

Earlier this year, as director of the play Michelle Blas submitted “Pagat” to be considered for the Kennedy Center for the Arts Theater Festival. If chosen, “Pagat” would be performed next year in Washington D.C. as part of their annual festival. We received word that the Kennedy Center is interested in the play and will be sending out a representative to watch the play and talk to the cast.

The dates for the play are April 24, 25, 26 and May 1, 2 and 3. All shows are at the UOG Fine Arts Theater, and start at 7 pm, with doors opening at 6:30. Tickets are $10 general admission, $7.50 for seniors and youth. Admission is free for UOG and GCC students with their IDs.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Okinawan Protest Music

Okinawa's musicians provide a focus for Japanese protest against US bases

With Barack Obama visiting Japan in April, resentment at plans for the US Futenma military base is finding a musical voice
If an island of 1.4m people can be summed up in a sound, it is that of the sanshin. Where there are people on Okinawa, a Japanese island almost 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, the distinctive tones of the three-stringed instrument are never far away.

Music is deeply rooted in Okinawa's tragic place in Japan's history and the conduit for its modern grievances against the glut of US military bases on the island. As Barack Obama prepares to visit Tokyo to meet Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, later in April, the anti-war message of sanshin players such as Shoukichi Kina and Misako Oshiro is back in vogue as the subtropical island confronts its biggest political challenge since it reverted from US to Japanese rule in the 1970s..
In his mid-60s, Kina cuts a controversial figure as spiritual leader of Okinawa's activist musicians. Since the release of their first single Haisai Ojisan (Hey, Man!) in the 1970s, Kina and his band Champloose have done more than any other artists to secure Okinawan music against competition from mass-market Japanese J-pop and the more innocent musical motifs of the mainland folk genres minyo and enka.

"Our job as musicians should be to celebrate the good and do something about fixing the bad," said Kina, who some have called Okinawa's answer to Bob Marley. "That's why I hate the military bases here, but I love Americans."

Though it accounts for less than 1% of Japan's total area, Okinawa is now home to about 75% of US bases in Japan and half its 50,000 troops. Military facilities take up a fifth of the island. Obama and Abe are expected to discuss the controversial relocation of Futenma, a sprawling US marine base, from a heavily populated part of Okinawa to an unspoiled location on the island's northeast coast, as the allies attempt to lessen the island's military burden. The move is opposed by most islanders, including the residents of Nago, whose city lies near the proposed site for the new base.
The spirit of resistance pioneered by Kina is to be found in the more eclectic music of Tatsumi Chibana, a quietly spoken 33-year-old university graduate and perhaps the most visible of Okinawa's new generation of rebel artists, fusing traditional sounds with rock, reggae and hip-hop.

After a US military helicopter from the Futenma US marine base crashed into Okinawa International University in 2004, Chibana was moved to write his best-known song, Tami no Domino (People's Domino), a collaboration between his band Duty Free Shopp and local rapper Kakumakushaka.
The incendiary lyrics reflect the feeling of many residents towards the ever-present threat to safety posed by the island's 27,000 US troops and their hardware: "Surrounded by weapons in the land of disorder; what the hell can you tell me about peace in a place like this?"

Most of Chibana's music eschews the sanshin and other traditional instruments, but his background looms large, he said. "I'm always aware of my Okinawan identity when I make music. OK, so I wasn't brought up listening to folk songs, but the spirit of that old music is in mine. It doesn't matter whether I play reggae, hip-hop or rock, it's still Okinawan music."

Despite appearances at concerts organised to protest against the Futenma relocation, Chibana is reluctant to be pigeonholed. "The base issue is huge, but my protests songs aren't anti-base, so much as pro-community. I'm not interested in the ideological battles between left and right. The theme I really want to explore through my music is that no matter what happens, local people's way of life must be protected."

Like Kina, Chibana occasionally sings in the Okinawan language Uchinaguchi – an artistic choice that renders his lyrics unintelligible to many Japanese, but which exemplifies the island's historical and emotional sense of detachment from the mainland.

In the 16th century, where the sanshin's origins lie, Okinawa was part of the Ryukyu kingdom, which, while politically independent, had tributary relations with Ming dynasty China. Forced annexation by Japan came in the late 1800s, followed in the 1940s by the carnage of the Pacific war.

Less than a century after it was forcibly made part of Japan, Okinawa was the scene of one of the second world war's bloodiest battles. An estimated 240,000 Japanese and Americans died, including more than a quarter of Okinawa's civilian population, after US forces invaded in June 1945. Japanese troops distributed grenades to civilians, urging them to commit suicide or risk being raped and murdered by American soldiers.

"There are lots of songs about how terribly the Okinawans were treated in the war," said John Potter, the author of the only English-language book on Okinawan music and a prolific blogger on the subject.

Okinawa's return to Japan in 1972 – almost three decades after the war – fuelled the local sense of "otherness" from the mainland.

Not all Okinawan musicians draw inspiration from the island's bloody past, Potter said. "Many songs come back to what a fantastic place Okinawa is. Lots of artists sing about their culture and being island people, and their pride in being different."

Poverty – Okinawa is Japan's poorest prefecture – and the looming clouds of conflict sent many people in search of new lives overseas, creating a diaspora whose youngest members are making their presence felt on the island's contemporary music scene.

Lucy Nagamine, a Peruvian-born singer whose grandparents left Okinawa shortly before the war, learned classical Ryukyu music from her grandmother and picked up her deceased grandfather's sanshin at the age of 10.

Before settling in her ancestral homeland several years ago, Lucy often sang for Okinawan immigrants in Peru who were desperate to preserve the emotional ties with home. "Now I'm here in Okinawa, away from the country of my birth, I know how my grandparents and other immigrants felt," she said in between songs at her regular venue, a restaurant in Naha.

"In those days immigrants had nothing to do except sing and play the sanshin. It was a central part of their existence, and why music and the Okinawan lifestyle are closely intertwined, even today."
Less polemic are Nenes, a group of four whose lineup has gone through several reincarnations since they were formed by the legendary artist and producer Sadao China in 1990. Nenes perform classic Okinawan songs for groups of tourists from the mainland.

One rare departure from their otherwise "safe" repertoire is their stirring version of Keisuke Kuwata's Heiwa no Kyuka, which simmers with resentment over Okinawa's bloody wartime sacrifice. "Who decided this country was at peace," the song asks, "Even before the people's tears have dried?"
"Now that we're confronting the base issue again, this is a good time to sing about peace," said 24-year-old Mayuko Higa. "It's important that the people who come to see us perform know why it's an important subject here."

Nenes' tourist-friendly melodies can seem a world away from Kina's ceaseless quest for social and political change, an artist who implores the world's armies to swap their weapons for musical instruments. His decade-old feud with NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, proves that Japan's mainstream media and firebrand politics can be uncomfortable bedfellows.

"They demanded that I drop any references to peace from my performance," Kina said, his arms in motion again as he recalls his incredulity. "I refused, of course, and they haven't invited me back since. The message for Okinawan musicians has always been that if you want to get on in this industry, then keep your mouth shut. But I'll say what I like."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Please Sink My Battleship

The movie Battleship is critically reviled and if I were a critic of film I would definitely join the party in hating it. It is a children's game that was blown up Jerry Bruckheimer style into a massive, special-effects laden, clunky, chunky and funky action flick. It lacks any delicate touches or even nuances, unless of course you count slow motion shots of epic faced characters with over-saturated color as a nuance.

The story itself should be familiar. Aliens attack the world and they are fought off. One unique aspect of the film is that it takes place in Hawai'i, usually known as a setting for fantasy-paradise jaunts of the Western, American-centered world. Or Hawai'i as a locale is often invisibly inserted into films provided the scenery for ancient jungles, humid alien worlds or lost islands. Many of these films attempt to hide the contemporary nature of Hawai'i and instead film, edit and crop the place into becoming something majestically camera ready for wasted, privileged metropole imaginations. Battleship doesn't give the reality of Hawai'i, because as with most representations, including locally based ones, they have trouble dealing with the Native Hawai'i, or the fact that Hawai'i has natives, who have claims to the land, and the island reeks with layer upon layer of injustice. But what Battleship represents in spectacular, bloated, ridiculous fashion is the militarized nature of Hawai'i. Hawai'i may be a "tourist paradise", but it is also a heavily militarized place. The US military (and to an extent the Japanese military) are the main characters of Battleship. They take center-stage in so many ways, and like a film which lingers in almost ridiculous ways on the yummy parts of their main actor or actress, Battleship is filled with gratuitous military love.

Now to be perfectly clear, I really enjoyed the movie Battleship. But I have a long history of loving terrible films. And when I say terrible I don't mean the way people glorify low-budget indie or obscure films, which achieve an intimate cult status. Battleship had plenty of resources behind it and plenty of chances to find some generally redeemable characteristics, but it is bad in a way which you could excuse as being unapologetic, as in it knows it is basically propaganda, or you could see it as a bull trying to tiptoe or tiphoof its way around a china shop, and failing miserably and destroying everything around it. It is bad in the same way that a film like The Lone Ranger is bad. Like the way Avatar was bad. The politics of it are so ridiculous, you have to marvel at what process formed this train wreck of poor politics?

But for me, these types of films can be important and have lots of critical potential, even if the creators didn't intend it. Such is the joy of discourse and the play of meaning, no matter how much a politically conscious person sneers at a film like Battleship, their assumptions don't control the potential meanings of it anymore than those who spent millions marketing the film.

Battleship is intriguing to me because even if lots of people didn't like the film, it nonetheless represents in lumbering ways, many of the reasons why militarism, militarization and military service are attractive to most societies. I began writing about this last week but had to cut my thoughts short because of other projects. But I'm returning to it now, because the line of thought keeps popping up in my head.

I wrote last week about the need to understand militarism as a complex process not a simple one. For many people who want to demilitarize or resist militarize, they reduce it so something simple and negative. They assert it, often unintentionally as something monolithic, something which has a very clear consciousness and so something you can critique and despise apart from those who participate in it as an institution (as soldiers for example). This leads to assumptions that militarism is all about violence, control, discipline, order, exploitation. Even if it is about those things, this assumption can be problematic because of the way it limits the way you can perceive the agency or lack of agency of those who join. In places like Guam where there is so much participation for the US military and for militarism as being a central facet of society, it is easy to see the reasons why people join the US military as being about the blindness or the hopelessness of people. People join because they are lied to, because they have no other options, because they mis-recognize their relationship to the United States and therefore have colonial patriotism sentiments. All of these things are true, but they are at most part true. The simplicity of this vision of the world leads to natural assumptions that those who serve in the military must do so because of their lack of agency or lack of freedom. In order to both protect those serving but also keep things simple and easier to process, you have to strip soldiers of that agency in order to keep that primarily negative portrayal of the military.

Battleship is of course a positive portrayal of the US military, and it is important because it represents so many of the ways that people see the military, militarism, military service and therefore see it as something important, natural, inspiring and exciting. What I find problematic is that the image that many who want to resist militarization have of militarism, doesn't come close to portraying the way most people see militarism. What I may see for example as a drooling, decaying, disgusting and destructive hydra that ravages all it comes into contact with, will be seen in completely different ways by most others. They may see faint traces of what I see in the ways I articulate this shared discursive formation, but will those traces motivate them to change their relationship or will it motivate them to reaffirm and reinforce it?

Many films with a military focus promote ideas of fraternity and brotherly bonds and loyalty. They show soldiers fighting for freedom and dying for ideals, overcoming incredible odds to save lives, save the day, save the country. Battleship has all these dimensions in it, but it also goes a little bit further in ways I just could not shake.

For example, the human military versus alien forces is a very common trope in sci fi films. This is usually handled very differently though. In the War of the Worlds for example, the dynamic is one of futility. Humans fight and they struggle, but ultimately they are powerless and incapable of defeating their alien foe. Only something which is completely beyond their control, something that benefit from, but cannot take any real credit for, something in their biology or the natural world is actually the true victor, the true defender of earth.

Transformers is an interesting franchise that shows the ways in which the military itself helps to influence the creative process. If you are creating a film that will require military hardware or personnel, if your film falls in line with the way the Department of Defense wants to represent itself, than you will get plenty of resources and plenty of help. Sometimes this can even mean that changes will be made in the scripts of films to accommodate a pro-military message. Some writers and directors will make these changes on their own, but other times changes are made only after the military has made their support conditional on characters being added, taken out, scenes removed or a message shifted. In recent years, the use of private contractors in movies is not only due to their prevelance in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are regularly used because they can provide a bad guy that looks, smells and feels like they are military, but are not actually military. You can tap into the negative feelings that people feel against military culture, violence, power, discipline, while also not challenging their feelings of patriotism and "support the troops" mantras. The relationship that people have to the militaries of their societies is always significantly more complicated than what they say or admit to. Movies which make the military as an institution or even as a set of people as the bad guy can easily turn off an audience, since it might compel them to question certain things they'd rather not. The military stand, to use a familiar movie metaphor, atop the walls of a nation, guarding watching, keeping its enemies at bay. It does not sit well with people to think of them as anything but trustworthy. Audiences tend not to like being reminded of that and so often times alternative characters or groups are created

Alternatively, the military does not like to support any film which makes them appear infective or incapable, even if the threats are otherworldly or overwhelming. For those of us who remember the old school Transformers, the reboot by Michael Bay and company feels completely different primarily because of the heavy focus on militarization. The Transformers work closely with the US military and the US military fight alongside them. In the original Transformers, humans tended to be chaff that was swept aside by Decepticons, but in the most recent franchise the human soldiers fight and do struggle but also overcome the Decepticons and play key roles in saving the world. In essence they fight side by side the Autobots therefore keeping alive notions of camaraderie and fraternity, making the narrative power of the Autobots and the military flow into each other, imbuing both with greater potential strength. It is no wonder that there are so many damn American flags in the Transformers movies. It is like watching a big, long, metallic ad for American militarism.

In Battleship, things are slightly different. It is just humans against alien foes. The power of the foes appears overwhelming, but the military is able to handle it in the end, but only after lots of sacrifice and heroism. One thing that truly makes the ideology of militarism seductive is the level of excitement that is often attributed to it. The slow-motion shots, the pounding rock music, the fast and chaotic visual cuts. It is a way of life that can fill you with so much excitement, but also with fear and with dread. It is something that not all could be cut out for, living with such intensity and with loud, angry noises surrounding you at all times. This contrast between the glamorized, bombastic, intense nature of the world that militarism both offers and keeps at bay is important, especially if you consider attempting to take that style of aggressive representation into other forms of life. If you were to collect together different spheres of social life and then relate the way that they are represented through creative media, and the value that they are ascribed as needing to not be touched, critiqued or even considered in a transformative way, the rule as I see it is that the more violent and the more chaotic something can appear to be, the less likely people are to critique it. These portrayals of militarism that cram together violence, heroism, sacrifice and elite qualities help to create that ideological insulated effect. For those who live quiet lives of crawling desperation, it is easy to see militarism through that fetishistic gaze, where you move between marveling and fearing what is presented to you.

Militarism, like anything is a path in life, a set of ideological choices, that have every real ramifications in the world. Its soundtrack is more exciting than most possible choices. As a choose your own adventure it seems to offer a bigger potential slice of the world, more power, more potential respect. These aspects can't just be dismissed as "not being true," because they always possess some element of truth, and that sliver has to be dealt with, because it most likely connects the person to some of the basic parts of their identity in society.

One aspect that I found very interesting about Battleship was the way in which the old, the antiquated, the outdated comes to save the day. This is a common enough trope in war films. In a high-tech fight, usually all that is high-tech ends up being disabled and rendered useless. But that which is low-tech, from a previous era, supposedly useless is suddenly so important, so essential, it can help save the day. Take for instance one of my favorite sci-fi universes, Dune. In it people have created an elaborate force-field system, personal shields that will protect you from most attacks, but as the saying goes "the slow blade penetrates the shield." A regular blade, without any sort of advanced adornment will easily slice through what the most advanced weapons may not.

In many war films, the ancient tech that is utilized is usually Morse code. With contemporary communication  lines down or compromised down, old networks for communication, the arcane knowledge of it becomes essential in achieving victory. In Battleship the movies goes beyond the ancient being helpful, but it being what drives the final victory.

Battleship flirts with the usual tropes of alien invaders having an achilles heel, in this case sunlight. But as soon as you consider the movie as a whole, you realize that this weakness adds close to nothing in terms of the overall action of the film. If they were not sensitive to sunlight everything with the exception of three scenes, where the weakness plays a dramatic but not necessarily central role, would be pretty much the same. What this creates is a stage where aliens and humans are matched, with the aliens clearly superior, but it does have the effect of making the guts, the bolts, the hard edge of war machines seem that much stronger and tougher.

At the end of the film, all the "modern" ships of the humans have been destroyed. They are forced to rely on using an ancient battleship that has been decommissioned and now sits in Pearl Harbor as a museum. In addition to this, a squad of veterans from previous wars appear to help them start the battleship, man it, and defeat the aliens with it. The final fight is filled with a ridiculous amount of inter-generational solidarity, as the old, the very old and the young all work together, using a 70 year old hunk of metal to defeat an advanced alien enemy. The amount of messages glorifying militarism as an ideal and beautiful part of life in these part of the film are almost too overwhelming it is easy to miss them as they layer atop each other. You are meant to feel, see, taste and idolize the way militarism and militarization creates this heroic solidarity. The weapons, the tools, the ideology, the discipline that one receives now or received then, can bind everyone together, with respect, admiration and precision to vanquish your enemies. The timelessness of the ideology of militarism is double and then tripled in both technology (ancient defeating alien) and human (because of their shared service, sacrifice and commitment, they can all work together and win). The marketing is that the power you receive through this service never expires, will always be useful, will always be needed.

These fantasies are powerful, even if they aren't presented in the most sophisticated ways, that which feels universal, essential, natural doesn't have to be for it to maintain hegemony.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mes Chamoru

During the month of March, my phone rings more than usual. It is Chamorro Month, and so every government agency, school, organization and most businesses look for some way to honor this month and display their support for Chamorro language and culture. Considering how Chamorro culture was stripped of much of its value after World War II because of a rush to Americanize; the renewed interest in protecting and promoting Chamorro culture is a very good thing.
When I ask my students at UOG, what their culture is, or what their cultures are, I always receive interesting responses. For some students, they feel like they are very cultural because they know certain practices, such as fishing, weaving, dancing or can speak the language. For most however, they feel like they don’t know their culture or don’t have it. They see the ways their parents or grandparents are and see them as having so much culture, and they see themselves as having little to nothing. For some this is sad, for others it is just the way it is.
When we think of culture we tend to see it through the things that make it visible, the artifacts, the physical activities, the rituals. These are the surface things which are the boundaries and most tangible parts of the culture, but they are not the core. As the world changes, so do these practices. Ancient Chamorros did not live the same lives for 3000 years. There were changes both big and small, and the same is true today. In truth no one has remained the same over centuries or millennia.
The core of a culture is an unnamed force, a spirit. If you wanted to, you could even call it a story. It is something that each person in that culture participates in and holds responsibility over keeping alive. It is this force that gives a shared identity to people. Even if they may practice that culture differently, the force connects them and gives them the ability to see themselves as connected to others back thousands of years. This spirit can be shared with others, and part of the problem people encounter is whether or not those who love this spirit or know it well, can be included in the culture as well? This is something each culture has to answer in its own way. Some are more open and welcoming, others are more rigid and closed.
For Chamorros, or anyone else, when you are trying to grow the love of your culture into your children, do not plant the first seeds as being the practices or activities. Remember that these change as the world changes, and so to reduce culture to practices means that you attach the culture to that time and that can cause problems. After all, according to that definition, when you change your practices you are adapting, but actually disappearing and becoming culturally extinct. To focus on the practices of a culture means to chain it to a particular form and possibly restrict its ability to evolve or grow.
Instead, you need to teach them that it is more than that, that it is something greater than all, which unites all. Culture is not something that is handed from one generation to the next for thousands of years and never supposed to change. When you teach their children about their culture, you must make clear that you are not giving it to them to keep the way it is and just give to their children. When we think about culture like this, we pretend that it belongs to someone else, and is not really ours. You must remind them that our culture is truly ours, both in ways that inspire us and ways which can frustrate us. Each generation has their own choices to make. They can keep the culture the same. They can change it as they see fit. They can lose it all and throw it away. When our culture is strong we adapt and change to protect ourselves. When our culture is weak, we try to scrub away who we are out of fear of losing something. Since World War II, we have seen in so many ways, Chamorros tragically exemplify this dynamic.
Each Chamorro month should be a time where we celebrate that story of Chamorro culture and we remind everyone, especially the youth, that this story has been told for thousands of years and now it is their turn to help write the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


For Immediate Release:                                                        Contact: Michelle Blas
April 7, 2014                                                                


University Theater Presents:

Pågat: A locally written and produced play about the Chamoru spirit, culture and identity

By Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero

April 24-26 and May 1-3

University Theater closes its 2013-2014 season with the play Pågat, written by local writers Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, directed by Michelle Blas, and featuring choreography by Vince Reyes of Inetnon Gef På’go. 
Pågat explores the complexities of cultural identity and change through the lives of four modern young adults and the memories of a cast of spirits, who share key moments in the history of the Chamoru people. The play is set in a latte site in the jungles of Pågat. The play also conveys the essence of the word Pågat, which means to advise or give counsel, as both the modern characters and the ancient spirits help each other work through personal struggles with identity, culture, and destiny. 
DATES: April 24-26 and May 1-3

TIMES:  Doors open at 6:30 p.m., Play starts at 7 p.m.

PLACE: University of Guam Fine Arts Theater 

ADMISSION:  $10.00 general admission, $7.50 students and seniors and FREE for all UOG and GCC students with student ID or schedule. Tickets can be purchased at the UOG box office on performance nights.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

You Joined the Military to See the World...

One thing that I often try to impress upon people, especially those who want to become activists and get involved in struggles in Guam against things such as militarization or in favor of things such as decolonization, is the importance of understanding the nature of your fight and what you are up against. One of the key advantages to considering social movements in war terms is that it helps you understand better that feeling right or being right has close to no effect on whether or not you win your battles. The only way in which that feeling of righteousness would carry any significance is if you believe that God is the ultimate judge in terms of who wins and loses on the battlefield and so strategy and planning matters little when all rests in his His hands. Sureness in your cause and the need for your fight can help bring you to the fray and keep you there, but if anything it can actually hurt your ability to strategize perceive the discursive field that awaits your interventions. You may end up believing that the best approach is to winning is to remain as steadfast and faithful to your ideology as possible and ignore clear signs around you that you are losing ground or that you are affecting little. Faith and ideological loyalty can end up feeling like it is its own set of tactics, when in truth all it represents is a means of motivating certain people, but little more.

The success or failure of your cause has everything to do with your knowledge of the ideological terrain around you, and your ability to understand those who might be allies and those who might be enemies. Faith and the security of your truth can limit your ability to step outside of yourself and understand the positionality of others. It is not an issue that your truth or cause is actually true, but even challenging the position of another successfully depends primarily on your ability to understand what might give power and dynamism to things that you want to dismantle or discredit.

For example, on Guam one thing that I am very much critical of is militarism, which can be defined in many different ways. Militarism can be the ways in which Guam as a community accepts an incredible military presence as being a "natural" part of island life. Militarism can also refer to the way in which military service is given a very high social status on the island. Militarism can also refer to the way in which there is often very little protest on Guam against American wars and imperialism despite the fact that Guam is the tip of the spear and plays a huge role in the ability of the US to politely or impolitely dominate others. Militarism is a concept that describes the relationship a community has to militarization and how natural or unnatural it perceives those manifestations to be. Militarization is a part of life, it deals with land for bases, resources going to pay soldiers, potential damage done to the environment, how a community relates to other communities, perceptions of peace and conflict. All of these things and more are tied to militarization, and militarism is the ideological framework for how communities accept, reject and adapt those things.

For example, place like Guam and Okinawa are both militarized heavily. Both of them have a significant amount of their lands that are set aside for military bases, both place a role in "defense" in the region for the US and their allies. Both places have histories of their islands being used by the US military and being sacrificed as battlefields while empires wrestle. As I have written about numerous times before there are many many similarities between the two. I even went so far last year to undertake an art project that tried to comment on their shared traumatic militarized similarities.

Two years ago when I stood before a military fence in Ginowan City on the edge of Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, I felt so at home in that moment it scared me. The grass beneath my feet felt like the grass when I stood once before military fences in Tiyan, what was once NAS Agana. The fence that I touched felt so similar to the ones that I have touched in Guam around bases in the north and the south. It even felt similar to fences I felt in South Korea. The sky in its flat blueness felt so comforting to me, I wondered if the military just went around the world taking land where the sky looked like this. It frustrated me to feel so at home in that moment, but know that what made me feel at home is shared militarization. In the same way in which when you travel if those things that are familiar give you a sense of belonging (such as franchise restaurants or domestic media), it means that you may be cheating yourself out of experiences with alterity, the supposed reason most people travel.

This familiarity derived from the fences that have been placed around our islands and our lands is something that has continued to motivate me in my own solidarity work, to try and enhance our imaginations so that we can see ourselves as not only connected through militarization, but something deeper and greater, something that does not only rely on ways we have been displaced or oppressed.

These are connections through "militarization" through the infrastructure of military power. In terms of militarism Guam and Okinawa are very different. Okinawa is a place that appears to resist militarization, where a sizeable part of the population does not want more training, more bases, more troops, whether they be from Japan or the US. There is a strong discourse that due to their war memories and war scars, Okinawa should be an island of peace, a model to the world that war is cruel, war is suffering and the only thing that people should fight for, is to end all wars. The Japanese and American governments try to counter this and argue that the US needs to have bases in Okinawa to protect the world, but people there reject these claims and wonder why their island has to endure so much shame and exploitation to "host" this level of militarization?

Guam is in most ways opposite to this. While there are people who resist militarization we are a minority and clearly so. Guam as a community accepts the bases as far more than just necessary, and naturally sees them as things that provide security, prosperity and a chance to prove loyalty and connection to the United States. Guam is a heavily militarized place, it is a place which does not question much its role in terms of securing US interests and possibly forcing its interests on others. It is a place that doesn't question much about whether it is a good idea to have close to 30% of its total land mass be occupied by bases. Militarism is a very strong ideology in Guam and intimately tied into how people see close to everything. It is important to remember that the presence of a discourse means little in terms of understanding its relevance. For everything that I've asserted in this paragraph there are counter narratives that exist, but in general they matter little and unfortunately carry little discursive weight.

In Guam, a place where militarism is so intertwined with life, you must understand how militarism works in order to neutralize or counter it. You have to understand what about it as a way of seeing the world makes it so seductive on Guam? What about it makes it seem like the ideal lens for understanding mobility in life? Guam's relationship to those around it in Asia? Guam's relationship to the United States? An individual within their community on Guam? The community's relationship to the environment and their natural resources?

I have more thoughts on this, especially through the 2012 Battleship directed by Peter Berg and filmed in Hawai'i, another heavily militarized island. But I have some exhibit text to write for the Guam Humanities Council tonight and need to get working on that. Hopefully I'll find some time tomorrow to continue my thoughts.


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