Chamorro activists sometimes bring it up. Plenty of non-Chamorros, such as Ron McNinch like to bring it up. Politicians from the US and from Guam bring it up. In the imaginings of decolonization it is a type of panacea, an incredibly dangerous and problematic one, and like all forms of snake or toad oil like this, it is incredibly seductive. And like these sort of talismans, no matter how many times you tell people they don't work, they aren't enough, or its just wrong, generations of people will still find it and "discover" it, and feel like it solves all problems, has all the answers. Every two weeks or so it seems, someone approaches me via email in public and wants to know why Guam, instead of decolonizing, why doesn't it just write a Constitution.
This is exactly what the United States Federal government has wanted Guam to do. And if something fits within the Americanized framework of political ideology and identity for people on Guam, it is generally more attractive or more effective than if it doesn't. There is an internationally recognized process for decolonization and for Guam changing its political status. Although most people have a passing and faint understanding of what it could be, it vanishes and disappears the moment Guam's political status change is offered an approved "American" route. We can see this in terms of the way a segment on the John Oliver show on the American contemporary colonies, the Dave Davis case and a case for the rights of people in Samoa have captured a decent amount of the Chamorro imagination. How people become enamored in these ways that our rights and our destiny is something that Supreme Court justices, lawyers and Senators and Congresspeople are supposed to determine. It is supposed to be something we determine, not something that is fought over by lawyers, to support or to cheer on that process, and to accept it as being the path, i chalan mo'na, means to give up or ignore our inalienable rights. But as the US has been our colonizer for more than a century, we find it so easy to give in to them, to accede to them, to just let go the rudder of the sakman, to let go the reins of the horse, to just let it all go and have Uncle Sam figure everything out for us.
We've been down this path before, decades ago when I wasn't even involved or aware of this issue, because I had just been born. In the early days of the modern Chamorro decolonization movement, the consciousness of those involved here was so limited. As their imaginations and understandings of the world were so boxed in with red, white and blue walls, they were certain that the only possible changes/reforms that exist would be akin to those of the Organic Act or the passage of the elected Governor laws for Guam. They would originate from the benevolence of Uncle Sam and trickle down onto the Chamorro people. These reforms are colonial continuations because they still operate from the assumption that the colonized improves, changes, becomes more free always through the colonizer's largesse and intervention. It reproduces the notion that the colonized has no agency and that its agency is all created through the colonizer's actions.
The idea of Guam simply creating a constitution follow the same logic. Guam should simply create a constitution and then submit it to the US Congress for its approval. How does this fix Guam's colonial status? Doesn't it just perpetuate it? If you exist in a fundamentally relationship such as this, how would submitting a constitution fix it? By the rules here, the US Congress could veto the constitution or change it or simply ignore it.
This is why the issue of a Guam Constitution was dropped for decades. A vote was taken on it, which failed because the public became convinced that you shouldn't put the karabao before the cart. You should pick the status you want first and then write a constitution, or else the whole effort may be fruitless. This is why the process for self-determination, in the formal sense has the character it does. We educate those who can vote. Once they vote and an option is chosen, then we proceed from there and write a constitution that fits. The main tension here is of course the possibility that decolonization could move Guam further away from the United States or lead to a cutting of colonial ties. For most people on Guam this is a frightening idea, as we have been a colony for so long and conditioned to think that this arrangement is supposed to be the best a small island like us could ever hope for. With that seething colonial dependency in effect there will always be people drawn back into the constitution first mentality. To not imagine there is anything in the world other than the United States, to not try to dream of what other reality and possibility the future could hold.
My thinking of this was stimulated by the fact that I'll be traveling to Okinawa next month and, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I've been there multiple times in the past four years working with a growing independence and decolonization movement there. In preparing for my trip there I came across an unofficial constitution that was written for Okinawa by an anonymous individual in 1981. I've pasted it below, along with a segment from a not that great, but still interesting thesis about Okinawan nationalism: "Is It Nationalism? History's Impact on Okinawan Identity" by Matthew Gottlieb.
Is it Nationalism? History’s Impact on Okinawan Identity
By Matthew Gottlieb
Providing an exact nature of Okinawan nationalism…remains dicey, but two-track thesis suggests that it involves any cultural artifacts, widely held beliefs, and other customs that separate the islands’ culture from the mainland. In short, what would have a Ryukyuan say “we” and a northerner say “they.” This fits in with Anderson by placing Okinawa and Japan on an equal footing, and feeds into other theorists since it uses their opinions on nationalism. Paradoxically, the stronger the nationalism becomes the more it places the southern prefecture within the nation-state’s mainstream. As the sports section shows, local nationalism blends into provincial pride and, in the case of the baseball tournament, even outright Japanese nationalism. This definition appears basic, but one imagines that 100,000 Okinawans would offer 100,000 different opinions on what is Okinawa-ness, creating the need for a looser description. A place that serves as a former kingdom, a province, a tourism destination, and an American military outpost offers a variety of interpretations of nationalism.
Tatsuko Yamada, one of nine Okinawan females engaged in Ruth Ann Kelso’s series of interviews entitled Women of Okinawa, lives the life of a Ryukyuans’ “we,” a Japanese person’s “they,” and an “us” by bringing the two places together. Yamada lived through the American occupation with her father working for the Americans in the immediate post-war years as an illustrator, her family was adopted by an military couple, and her little sister was even named Dorothy. As a child, Yamada developed an interest in ballet, and described her instructor as “Japanese,” but she developed into a well- regarded teacher of Ryubu, a traditional Okinawan dance that emerged during the fifteenth century, the “golden age” of Chinese stewardship, and revived in the years after World War II. 68 As the interviewee said, “Aesthetically speaking, it is Okinawa.” She described rampant discrimination from the mainlanders during her days as a student at Tokyo’s Keio University, where signs outside of restaurants even read “Okinawans Prohibited” or her father’s time in Japan in the prewar years. He changed his last name to fit in with northern culture; when he won a highly prestigious wood-carving contest, the organizers stripped him of the title since it was unthinkable that a southerner would win the contest; and when he wanted to return home, his first wife refused. Despite this, there is an implied dream for an equal footing within the Japanese nation. When Okinawans tired of the American occupation, they demonstrated for reversion to the mainland. Protestors waved Japanese flags and referred to themselves as Japanese. After reunification, and islanders felt that they were still treated as second-class citizens, people called themselves “uchinanauchu,” the Ryukyuan term for a person from Okinawa and sheathed their flags. Yamada, despite her clear dissatisfaction with Tokyo’s policies and mainlander’s attitudes, clearly wants more engagement with Japan. She hopes the Americans will leave the bases, despite acknowledging the military presence’s financial benefits, to help spur tourism from the north. She believes the national government is “obligated to pump more money into the economy” and “that a lot of problems here need to be addressed by the Japanese government.” Yamada’s views shows one way in which an Okinawan wants a distinct, but clearly equal, role within the Japanese nation- state.
Yamada’s observations - and others, such as the anonymously written Unofficial Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus - emphasize what Okinawa is not. The islands claims a peaceful heritage, but American bases cover large sections of the main island. It clearly holds an independent culture, but as the constitution states, the Ryukyus have “suffered centuries of exploitation and oppression under the feudalistic and imperialistic rule of China, Japan, and the United States of America,” Citizens vote for candidates in the national government, yet they feel powerless toward Tokyo and Washington. When the victorious Allies revived the Ryukyu name for the region, islanders wanted assimilation with Japan, 74 and the idea of uchinananchu blossomed after reversion.75 Yamada observed that mainlanders saw Okinawans as drunks,76 and Americans often perceive the region as bucolic. If the main focus of nationalism is what makes a people a “we,” then the less-remembered focus of it comes from what makes a people “them.” Nationalism is a two-way street.
Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus
We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, having suffered centuries of exploitation and oppression under the feudalistic and imperialistic rule of China, Japan, and the United States of America, have finally achieved our long-held goals of freedom and independence through a process of democratic revolution consistent with contemporary global political developments.
We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, enact this Constitution for ourselves and for our descendents, with the aim of preventing the tragedy of war, ensuring peace across our land and harmony with other democratic countries, improving the welfare of the people, preserving domestic calm, and establishing justice.
We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, believe that we cannot just concentrate on the affairs of our own land to the disregard of affairs in other countries. We believe that the principle of popular democratic revolution is a universality. We believe further that it is the duty of all countries to set about the establishment of a global league of governments in order that we may ensure the continued duration of mankind.
The citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus vow to do their utmost to uphold the noble principles outlined above and to achieve the objectives set forth in this document for the honour of the Republic.
This Constitution will automatically become null and void the day prior to the Republic of the Ryukyus' full incorporation into the global league of governments, should such a body be successfully established.
The Republic of the Ryukyus is a democratic republic based on the foundations of love and labour. Sovereignty resides with the people in whom love and labour are born. The people of the Republic of the Ryukyus will exercise all powers of sovereignty according to the Constitution.
The territory of the Republic of the Ryukyus, this small island archipelago which forms the Ryukyu arc, is a spiritual land, incorporating the legendary heaven of Nirai Kanai.
The Republic of the Ryukyus is an alliance of nations based on the principle of decentralised authority, and consists of the four main areas of Amami State, Okinawa State, Miyako State, Yaeyama State, along with other islands.
All citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus who live on outlying islands at the periphery of our territory possess the freedom to live in whichever state they may choose. They also possess the full freedom to secede from the Republic if they so desire.
The Republic of the Ryukyus will ensure the complete rights of autonomy to each state within the alliance of nations. The overall authority of the Government of the Republic will be exercised in accordance with the autonomous power of each of the states.
Each of the states within the Republic of the Ryukyus has the right to secede from the Republic, or to establish a new state within the boundaries of a previously existing state. Furthermore, two or more states within the Republic have the right to merge, thereby creating one large state.
Use, or not, of traditional Ryukyuan languages is discretionary and will be decided in accordance with the wishes of the component states of the Republic. Each of the individual states will maintain the authority to decide upon the standard languages of their region. The exception will be the languages utilised in governmental and judicial affairs which, out of necessity, will have to be standardised. The official languages of the Republic will, in general, be a combination of Ryukyuan and Japanese.
The national flag of the Republic of Ryukyus is black, red, and white.
The act of preparing for war, in name or shape, is a violation of the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus. It disturbs peaceful coexistence between the citizens of all countries. Any such deed must be punished. The government of the Republic of the Ryukyus prohibits all experimentation, along with the manufacture, transport, and storage of, all materials and equipment which could potentially be used to produce weapons of war, such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and poisonous gases. This is rooted in the complete opposition of the Ryukyuan people towards war.
All citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus, however many in number, possess the freedom to secede from the Republic.