Sunday, November 02, 2014

Decolonization Interview


Every week I do a couple interviews, sometimes with media either local, national or international. At least one or two is for research purposes, either for some student working on a project for an undergraduate class or a graduate student working on their masters or Ph.D. Most recently one of my interviews aired as part of a PBS series called "America by the Numbers." The episode was on Guam's percentage of veterans and the poor treatment they often receive in terms of vet care infrastructure by virtue of their being from Guam. I'm not a veteran but was just asked to provide some historical background to help viewers in the states understand why so many Chamorros might join the US military and why people on Guam might get treated like crap by the US Federal government. 

For the past few years the majority of the interviews I do are related to decolonization and political status issues for Guam. A case in point is the interview below, that I gave to a UOG student who was writing a research paper on political status change for Guam. 

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I want to know a little about you, your background, education, experience related to the topic, and workplace. 

I am a professor at the University of Guam, I teach Guam History, Chamorro language and Chamorro culture. I have been a decolonization activist for more than a decade now. I first began as an activist by attending meetings of Nasion Chamoru, the Colonized Chamoru Coalition and the Commission on Decolonization and talking to activist leaders to learn about the struggle. I began creating websites and blogs related to the issue in 2003 and have been writing about it ever since. I became a member of the Commission on Decolonization in 2012 when I became the Chairman of the Independence for Guam Task Force. 

The 23rd Guam Legislature created the Commission on Decolonization, charging it with educating the public on three political status options -- independence, free association and statehood. Which of the three options are you willing to support and think is better for Guam as a political status. Why?

Personally I support Independence as the best option for Guam, although I am also in favor of certain forms of Free Association. All three political status options are better than the current colonial status. Each of them offers their own advantages and disadvantages and appeal to different parts of the consciousness and mindset of Chamorros nowadays. For me Independence may seem difficult in the short term, but is the best in the long term. Guam has been a colony of the US for more than 100 years and a colony of Spain for more than 200 years before that. We, our people and our islands did not come into existence because Europeans found us or claimed us. We should not let our existence be defined by their touch or their interests, their claims. When we look at what exists on Guam today, so much of it is here because we are a colony, because we have been saddled with a particular history and present. We have been modeled after an American way of doing things. We have American bases. We have US citizenship. But rarely have we been asked if we want these things or what we feel is best for ourselves. I like Independence because it will provide us the means to truly take stock of our lives and see what exists today that is truly in our best interests and what are colonial remnants and need to be cast aside. Too many things in our lives are accepted and celebrated because they are the way that things are done in the Untied States. There is little to no critique over whether these things are best suited for us or whether we need to find something more appropriate. From our education system, to our economic system, to our legal system, to environmental protection, the very things we rely on for sustaining life here have more to do with a land thousands of miles away. For example, the way we handle our food security on island is connected to a late capitalist, globalized system of production, which relies on importing food from poorer countries. Why should an island live like this? Why should an island rely on a system whereby 90% of what everyone eats comes from elsewhere? The same goes for education and so many other things. We need to have a conversation about what is best for the people of this place, who live here and no longer accept ideas as being superior just because they seem to come from the United States.

In terms of Independence, I always like to remind people that two of the richest countries in the world are equal to size in Guam or smaller. So many people assume that Guam cannot survive as an independent country, but this makes no sense, many countries are the size of Guam and survive and prosper. The trick is the live within your means and not chase after some American dreams, that could bankrupt and starve your people. 

Guam needs to move forward with its political status quest, but perhaps it's time for elected officials to ask the people of Guam what the next step in that process should be. There has been articles on local newspapers and in social media taking action on informing many residents on the island about Guam’s political status recently, what would you consider being a greater advancement on helping Guam move forward with its political status quest?

For the past two governors, the movement for decolonization received little to no support. Felix Camacho did close to nothing for decolonization. Eddie Calvo held meetings during his first term but did nothing beyond that. Now after many years of waiting the Commission on Decolonization is at last getting funds. Next year we will have $100,000 from which we can produce some educational materials and conduct some public outreach. Education is the most important thing for this process. People have to be informed about the options and what will happen with each of them. They have to know the pros and the cons to them and be able to choose in as rational way as possible what is best for Guam. One problem that I am finding today is that if you poll people on what status they would prefer they will overwhelmingly pick statehood. But when you ask those same people what statehood will mean for Guam, they actually have no idea. They pick statehood through feelings of dependency on the US and through fear and ignorance. They don’t have any sense of why statehood might be best for Guam, they pick it because they are afraid of losing the US, they are afraid of hurting the US, they are afraid of being unpatriotic, they also fear that statehood would mean whatever Guam gets from the Federal Government would just increase. Education is the amot for ignorance and so I am happy that after years of nothing, we can finally start to treat this problem. 

While reading sources for my research about the Independence movement in Scotland, which is very current in the news, I have noticed that with change comes many fears from individuals in that country. For example, lets say Guam becomes independent, the people will loose citizenship under the U.S. and protection from the military of the U.S. may decrease. In this case, if Guam were to carry out the same action of Independence, what advice would you give to help the public overcome their fears

Every option offers new opportunities, but also carries risks. Independence carries the most risk, but also offers the most potential advantages. It means not cutting ties with the United States, but simply understanding that we should not put all our faith and all our trust into one country, but instead work to build relationships to other countries as well. One of the biggest problems Guam faces now is that the US interest for the island is to increase its military presence. But how will this negatively affect the tourist economy to Guam which is actually the main economic engine on Guam? This is also relevant because Guam wishes to pursue mainland China as a new tourist market, but cannot because US interests and rules says that China is a potential enemy. This is a problem because last year 100 million Chinese people traveled abroad as tourists. Imagine if Guam was able to capture even 1% of that? It could potentially double our economy. We cannot pursue this or other courses because of our colonial status. I asked the President of Palau once what was the most important message he, as the leader of a small island independence nation had for, the people of Guam, still a colony. He said, Independence is priceless. You can always make excuses that there are risks, there are problems, but those exist with the status quo. The question is, do you want your successes and failures to be your own, or to belong to someone else? As an independent country, you own your failures, but more importantly you own your successes.

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