In just 50 days, more than two dozen Pacific Island nations will gather in Guam for the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts or FESTPAC. Although geographically Guam's presence in the Pacific cannot be questioned, culturally and politically due to its history of colonization, the island and its native people, the Chamorros are regularly treated differently. As if they are a part of the Pacific, yet also exist apart from it as well.
There’s a great website out there for those who are colonialism and political status geeks such as myself called Overseas Territories Review. It features regular updates on different currently-existing-colonies out there in the world (most of which are small islands like Guam in the Caribbean or the Pacific) and some commentary on what sort of challenges they might face as they try to change their colonial status. The website is run by Dr. Carlyle Corbin, an expert on decolonization and the various remaining colonies in the world, who has visited Guam several times.
It is interesting when I periodically check up on other territories and colonies to see hafa guaguaha guihi. Sometimes it is an experience akin to looking in the mirror and discovering that the reflection, which looks so much like you, is in truth somebody else! Other times it feels like reading a book which everyone around you tells you that you will love, that is totally everything you look for in a book, which will truly connect with you, but which ends up feeling like a gross invasion, a horrid misrepresentation of who you are or what you like, when you reach the end.
Stalking other colonies can sometimes create in me, feelings of jealousy and envy at how much better they have it, how much stronger they seem to be, about how much less strategically important they are, or how much more-together the activists or the progressives there are about their issues. And of course, in the cases of some colonies, which are now states, (although their indigenous people might rightfully claim otherwise), I have to look at them and emit a sigh of relief that I am not in their position. Although there may be a mountain of racist, exceptionalist and self-serving American legal balabola which keeps Guam as a possession and something owned by the United States, at least I have that shred, that small sliver of possibility that its unincorporated status gives, where Guam might be free again.
With the notion of Guam being free again, I am reminded of an article from the magazine The Nation earlier this year. Titled “Outrageous Fortuno” it was meant to provide an update to the people of the United States, about what the current state of affairs in Puerto Rico, and what prospects the island has in terms of its own struggle for decolonization. “Fortuno” in the title is meant to refer to Luis Fortuno, former non-voting delegate from Puerto Rico and current governor of the island, who has according to the article’s author Ed Morales, helped turn Puerto Rico into a “political powder keg,” through a combination of merciless slashing of government programs, the laying off of thousands of government employees and various strategies meant to coerce the island towards becoming the 51st state. The article ends with the following passage, the final sentence of which struck a chord with me.
For many Puerto Ricans, the current problems stem from a deeper, much more long-term malaise: the island’s unsettled political status. Yet another plebiscite proposal, which critics say is stacked toward getting Puerto Ricans to vote for statehood, is creeping through the House in Washington. Now more than ever, it’s time for a strong coalition of Puerto Ricans on the island and the US mainland to come up with an alternative–a people’s movement, perhaps seeking stronger economic ties to the Caribbean and Latin America, to demand social justice for 4 million effectively second-class US citizens.
As Residente [a Puerto Rican rapper] said on MTV, “Latin America is not complete without Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico is not free.”
Para bei tulaika este didide’ ya i humuyongña: The Pacific is not complete without Guam, and Guam is not free. I like the sound of that. It is a great way of arranging together a dream, a goal and a problem into a fairly poetic phrasing.
That relationship that Puerto Rico has to the world of Latin America applies to Guam and the Pacific. We are, in our own way, an island eternally trapped between worlds, fitting into neither and pulled between two forms of impossible belonging. This island was the first in the Pacific to be colonized by Europe, and there is a very good chance that it will be the last to ever be decolonized. Just as Puerto Rico and other Caribbean colonies represent the horizon of their decolonization, the challenge in their building a stronger regional future, Guam and other tiny island colonies represent the same for the Pacific. What lies ahead for the Pacific, what sort of future it can create with its diversity of islands, governments and people will depend largely on whether places like Guam are snatched up in order to complete the region, or condemned to remain colonial footnotes which the world would rather forget exist.