Friday, January 23, 2015

Decolonization and God

When the Solorzano skull was brought to Guam there were several events held to discuss the meaning of the skull and also the legacy of the violent time during which the priest Solorzano was killed in fighting between the Spanish and Chamorros. The event that I helped organize at UOG was pretty well attended, with more than 150 people there on a Saturday morning. The discussion never got too heated, with the biggest conflict being over the statement made by Father Fran Hezel that the Chamorro-Spanish Wars was a result of cultural misunderstandings. Religion wasn't touched on much, despite the fact that religion was at the core of the history involved. The Spanish priests were assaulting the religion of Ancient Chamorros. They were forcing them to give up their religion and take a new one. Solorzano himself, as a priest was driven to go into places where he would put himself at risk in the name of his religion and in hopes of dying in the name of his God. But very few people made their statements in an explicitly religious context. They didn't appeal to the status of a God or a spirit or anything else as they were challenging or legitimizing the historical legacy of colonization in the Marianas.

The night before this event however, there was another forum, this time at the Cathedral in Hagatna. This conversation was much more interesting, as more of the politics and discourse around the issue of the Spanish colonization of the Marianas emerged, and it did so in random ways. Often times I end up in rooms or in email chains or just in some everyday conversation with people for whom decolonization and self-determination are serious topics, things they know about and take seriously, even if they may not agree on many points. But what this forum featured was people who knew close to nothing about decolonization, either in its theoretical possibilities or in its political particularities, nonetheless making very aggressive statements, sometimes mixing in a heavy amount of religious discourse. As people attempted to tackle the topic of self-determination in a Catholic context, a local religious context, the results were both inspiring, but in generally frightening.

Some people came out strongly, connecting the Church's history of colonization as necessitating that they now help in Guam's decolonization. They invoked liberation theology, whereby the church may have been a force for violence, colonization and cultural destruction in the past, it could today do the opposite and be something to save and help the unfortunate, the oppressed. One priest for example came out in full force saying, this is something the church needs to take up, especially in order to help get past the colonial history. Others however took a very anti-political and anti-historical perspective in the name of their faith, saying, it doesn't matter what happened then, God must have wanted it to happen, and so we should forget about it and look to what he plans for us next. It was fascinating to see the way people ended up creating a double apex for their discursive points, whereby God and the United States or Spain sat atop of the universe, and as long as one was loyal to both of them, and the way they bless and sustain each other, all would be well.

It was interesting to see this side of the potential ideological spectrum, as it almost never rears its head in my day to day discussions. But given how religious Guam is in someways I should have anticipated it. Below are letters to the editor of the Pacific Daily News which take seriously religious issues but nonetheless support the idea of decolonization. One of them comes from Pastor Steve McManus, who will be working with the Commission on Decolonization this coming year in terms of helping to promote information on self-determination amongst Guam's high schools.


"Guam is in need of a great awakening"
Letter to the Editor
September 21, 2014

In my U.S. history class, we just learned about the Great Awakening. Beforehand, the American colonists lost their faith in God and continued to be oppressed by England. To my understanding, the Great Awakening, quite literally, awakened the American colonies.

I'm a firm believer in God and how truthful his word is. I believe that when the 13 colonies restored their faith, it re-established their understanding of truth and justice and helped them realize the injustices of England, their colonizer.

Now, I believe that for Guam to hold a plebiscite, the people need an awakening, just like the American colonists did years ago. Indeed, there is some doubt expressed by many of Guam's citizens, but I believe that we need to unite as one -- no matter what political status Guam ends up pursuing, to address our future.

It is true that changing our political status is intimidating and not knowing what our future as a nation holds is scary, but the plebiscite simply needs to happen.

The people of Guam must be educated on the three political statuses they are being offered, not only to create awareness, but to help move the plebiscite along, so we can take action.

Gina Santos is a student at Southern Christian Academy and lives in Santa Rita.

"Plebiscite is important to make voices heard"
Letter to the editor
September 14, 2014

What will it take to have a plebiscite? I personally think we have the ability to make it happen. Why? With the help of all the people on Guam, both indigenous and non-indigenous, spreading the word.
How? We can advertise around the island, making signs concerning our political status. Also, we can go canvassing door-to-door, passing out fliers pertaining to the important issues about the plebiscite, in order for the U.S. to be notified and aware of our plebiscite being noticed.

Our voice needs to be heard and it will be. We don't want to be considered property of the United States and want to change our political status through the help of this plebiscite. Thomas Paine said: "Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess."

It is our duty to let everyone know what we want, and that we want it now.

We can't just sit and act like we don't have issues we need to fix. It's very important because Guam needs to get out of being a colony and the amount of problems we face is increasing as we speak. Let's go, Guam! We got this!
Lorenzo Blas is a student at Southern Christian Academy.

"Let youths lead political status discussion"
Steven McManus
September 15, 2014

Let me rephrase a few words from Thomas Paine's Common Sense: "The sentiments contained in 'Decolonization' are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason."
Time will help, but we need to make the most of it now by demonstrating that the current "custom" of things -- status quo -- is, at best, indefensible.

Two years ago, my government students from Southern Christian Academy conducted surveys on the issue of decolonization. The initial response was to stay status quo. But when the respondents were given information on the benefits of a better political status, the majority wanted change. This dramatic change of heart and mind came at little cost. All that my students did was share some facts on political status options in under 10 minutes.

Education really is key. This was also around the time that the same students were building a traditional outrigger canoe as part of a school project. The students appreciated the historic similarities of both assignments.

The following year, my class submitted a proposal to Gov. Eddie Calvo to have all high schools on Guam send student delegates to three islandwide debates, where they would argue the merits of decolonization. The plan was to have the brightest of our island schools compete in five rounds, leading up to a final debate held at the Southern High School fine arts theatre. The media would broadcast these debates over a period of six weeks.

The governor endorsed it wholeheartedly and we now hope to get the debates going in the second semester of this school year.

This plan echoes an article written by Tiara Naputi of Pepperdine University in the Journal of Public Deliberation, where she wrote: "What is needed to improve both voter turnout and deliberation is a broad-based forum, ... where high school students ... participate as debaters in a series of deliberations. Using a debate format, which gathers together both students and adult experts, these deliberations will investigate the three options on a public stage."

The debates will give us what a jam-packed brochure on decolonization can't: clear information, passion and, yes, lots of rhetoric.

The debates will expose the long habit of not thinking that 116 years of colonization is wrong and enlighten people to see that anything is better than status quo.

As the students investigate the merits of these issues, they will discover what is best for Guam, no matter what their initial inclinations.

Let the youths lead this conversation, and us, toward our political destiny. For when it is finally decided, they will be the ones to navigate Guam's outrigger through these tumultuous seas and into the right harbor.

Steven McManus is a resident of Yona.

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