Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Enough is Enough

In the past few weeks, an image and a short activist meme featuring a black and white image of Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo appeared on Facebook. Bordallo has upset alot of people on island over her pushing to authorize the Department of Defense to create a surface danger zone over Litekyan (Ritidian) a popular beach, historically significant area and wildlife refuge as part of their possibly building a firing range on the cliff above.  She introduced a bill to this effect, withdrew it and has now reintroduced it. 

The memes attacking her were built around this premise, "What Would Ricky Do?" The reference is to the late Governor Ricardo Bordallo, Madeleine's husband. He served two non-consecutive terms in the 1970s and 1980s as the chief executive of Guam. He ended his political career on scandalous terms after being investigated by the Federal Government and convicted of several crimes, most importantly witness tampering. He was slated to serve time in prison off island when he died, committing suicide beneath the statue of Maga'lahi Kepuha in Hagatna. His body was surrounded by signs with Chamorro nationalist messages. 

The question of what would Ricky do is tied to a particular way of remembering him and his beliefs. A key aspect of this is tied to this quote, which was published in the 1980s alongside a short article by Robert Underwood. Both were asked to respond to the question of whether or not Guam is for sale? Bordallo said no, Underwood, in his usual sarcastic way, said yes, and people have been selling off Guam for a quite a while already. Part of that article is this passage, which is powerful and beautiful in so many ways:
Guam is not just a piece of real estate to be exploited for its money-making potential. Above all else, Guam is the homeland of the Chamorro people. That is a fundamental, undeniable truth. We are very profoundly “taotao tano’”—people of the land. This land, tiny as it is, belongs to us just as surely, just as inseparably, as we belong to it. No tragedy of history or declaration of conquest, no legalistic double-talk can change that fact. Guam is our legacy. Is it for sale? How can one sell a national birthright?”
This Ricky Bordallo would have admonished his wife for what she is doing to Guam. The problem however is that as inspiring as this quote is, does this really illustrate who Ricky Bordallo was and what he stood for?

The final stage in the life of Ricky Bordallo. the scene of his death exemplified perfectly the contradictions in his politics and in his legacy. Bordallo had idolized Kepuha as the epitome of Ancient Chamorro representations and their connection to Chamorros today. For those who don't know, Kepuha was the Chamorro named as the first defender of the Spanish presence on island. He gave them land to build their church, was the first adult Chamorro to be baptized and was commended by the missionaries for sheltering them in their first year on the island. Kepuha is contrasted in Guam History by Maga'lahi such as Hurao, Mata'pang, Agualin and Hula, as one who accommodated the Spanish and appeared to recognize their superiority and accept colonization and conversion as the price for becoming a part of Western religion and history. Bordallo used rebuilding funds after a typhoon to build that status, to commemorate a Chamorro who was very accommodating with his colonizers. This Ricky may not have shamed Madeleine at all. This Ricky loved the United States and could be antagonistic to them, but also be very accommodating.

It is later when Ricky runs into legal problems and feels persecuted by the Federal Government that he becomes more and more nationalistic. It is in this phase that Ricky would clearly critique and possible chastise Madeleine. Questions always haunt this part of Guam History. Was Ricky's critical and sometimes anti-colonial consciousness something that was always in him (the way it was always in his brother Paul) or was it something that came from his need to defend himself against Federal oversight and intrusion? Like many Chamorros, even from his generation that survived World War II and was "liberated" I think that Bordallo had all the makings of a decolonial Chamorro nationalist, but needed to bite the hand that feeds him, shake off the colonial common sense in order to become more politically conscious.  In the same way that Angel Santos required something very traumatic for him to develop a critical sense about his and Guam's relationship to the United States, Bordallo required a similar traumatic nudge. 

The quote by Bordallo is very appropriate for thinking about military buildups and the relationship we have to land. It is the type of statement that is so politically charged, because it can lead us in so many potential directions. It can be something that can really, truly challenge the way we use the land on Guam, the way we relate to it, the way we sustain ourselves. It is a call on us to examine the place of land in Chamorro culture, identity and whether it is something that we speak about in profound ways, but really just buy, sell, build, abuse and use like any other capitalist community. 

The quote reminds me of a poem I came across in the magazine Hafa many years ago. It was written by a young girl on the topic of selling land. I thought I would paste it her for people to read:

By Monique Hudgens, 11 Years Old, Agana Heights, written 1989

If you would drive around Guam. what would you see?
You would mostly see hotels, shopping centers, buildings, motels,
big buildings, tourist sites and many other things.
If you think about it some of these things don't even benefit the people of Guam.
The people of Guam shouldn't sell their land or Guam will have over 200 hotels.
In the Bible is says, "Do not sell you land because you may want it back."
In a few more years Guam will look more like a hotel paradise
than a paradise of beauty. Do you want an island of beauty, paradise and nature or an island of big bulldozers hurting our island's soil for some money-making hotel? The answer is "no!"
Don't sell your land. It's worth a thousand words.
It's your choice, decision and island. Be wise. Enough is enough!
We waited too long! The push must come to a shove! Basta ilek-hu ahe'!
If you love your island than say no.
Save our heritage for the next generation of kids.
Who would see Guam as a beautiful paradise.

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