Saturday, January 10, 2015

Colonialism as told through flowers

For me the idea that Guam is a colonized place is so obvious that I often times have to atan puyitos anyone who is confused by this comment. There is so much evidence around us and even inside of us at any given moment, that it doesn't seem possible that someone could try to argue otherwise. You could try to argue that it being colonized isn't that bad and that it is actually good since Guam is helpless and pathetic without someone else telling it how to live its life, but this is different than simply denying that colonialism exists. This position is one of apologizing or justifying colonization in the name of helping a poor, tiny island that can't survive otherwise.

Those who act like Guam isn't or can't be colonized usually don't know much about Guam and the fact that they take this position is usually exhibit A in their class action lawsuit of ignorance. But what is hysterical is the way they don't admit to this lack of knowledge and try to pretend that the simplicity in which they see the world just simply doesn't allow for what you must be saying. As more than one person has said to me in terms of Guam's continuing colonization, "I just don't see it." As if somehow referencing their ability to visually process data they don't like is somehow a slam dunk form of evidence.

The other day I had one such encounter. A woman was arguing that Guam can't be colonized because she doesn't believe it or see it. She tried to substitute her love for America as evidence that colonialism doesn't exist, even though I can't see any actual connection between these two points. I did my best not to laugh at her when I argued that Guam is a very colonized place and there is plenty of evidence around us to make this point. I rattled off a list of things to consider, chief amongst them was "history" and the way that Chamorros and their view of history has been colonized.

She countered saying "how can history be colonized?" History is just history, it is just what happened, how can you say it is colonized? In my mind, a deep booming announced voice broadcast across my cognitive map "Challenge Accepted,"

I responded to the woman that proving that our history is colonized and that we are colonized is easy. I asked her a single, simple question. As a Chamorro woman, when you look at our history, of all the possible people, figures in our 4000 year history, who do you think was the most important? Who do you think is the one that Chamorros should really celebrate and honor?

I had in my mind the answer she would probably give, and I was absolutely right. When she responded with "Magellan" I immediately jumped in and told her, "congratulations, you are colonized." That is the ultimate colonized Chamorro answer.

But colonization doesn't only affect how we see history, it can affect the way we see things around us today. A case in point is a poster that I have titled "Flowers of Guam." When we look at the way our island is represented or the way we imagine our paradisical island today, there are always flowers there. In flower leis, on trees, adorning the bodies of beautiful brown people. So many of these flowers were very recently introduced to Guam, and many of them, despite seeming to be beautiful, are actually danger invasive weeds that choke out other plants. Other than their mere introduction, there is another way that we can perceive the colonization of Guam through flowers. Colonization is a process that can disassociate you from the things around you, somehow imagine that things from far away, generally which come from the colonizer are better, more appropriate and better represent who you are, even if they historically have nothing to do with you. It can make the things which have been around you for centuries or millenia appear to be unfamiliar and strange, such is the case of what happened to our ancestors with regards to canoes, latte and so many other things. We have a similar case with the flower the "guasali" or "gaosali." There has been a movement recently to change Guam's official flower to the gaosali, as it has been here probably as long as Chamorros have and so it is a native flower. The Puti Tainobiu is a more recently introduced flower, but was made the official flower for Guam several decades ago. The people who have been pushing for this issue are primarily biologists and scientists, who feel that a flower that is deeply connected to the land, but still beautiful should be the flower of Guam, not an invasive species that arrived recently.

The colonization comes into play because of the general resistance that emerged when this possible change was announced. People with little knowledge of Guam's history or even the flowers that they were discussing, came out forcefully against the gaosali representing Guam. Even when faced with the possibility of reconnecting or learning something that has been lost, that has been made unfamiliar to you, many still resist and don't want to know it or learn it, because of the persistence of colonial desire.

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