Saturday, May 20, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #3: A Colony With No Name

Being from a colony and engaging with the United Nations can be a surreal experience. It can be intoxicating in terms of experiencing new possibilities, but also feel so grinding and draining when confronted with the networks of power around you, from which you still remain excluded.

I base these notions on my own experiences, but also discussions with others and just a general analysis of what it is like to be a contemporary colony. In 2007 I testified before the 4th Committee at the UN and I have testified at the Committee of 24 regional seminars on four occasions. In my dissertation in Ethnic Studies from UCSD, I incorporated an anecdote from my experience before the 4th Committee that helped inform greatly my analysis of sovereignty and Guam’s colonial status. It dealt with a broken microphone during my testimony. Perhaps I will share it another time.

The surreal nature of this experience derives from loving, representing and fighting for a place that isn’t supposed to exist anymore, and falls into between most of the ways the world is currently organized. The UN and the world is made up of countries or nations who all recognize each others’ existence and right to determine things for the most part within their own borders. What does it mean then to be a colony in a world where there aren’t supposed to be colonies anymore?

Going to visit the UN, which is a metaphor for the world today, in both inspiring and frustrating ways, is surreal because of that lack of a place. You have the chance to go and speak metaphorically to the world. Speak to representatives from dozens to hundreds of countries. As many colonies suffer with crippling invisibility, the prospect of appealing to global conversation in this way is very exciting. But at the same time, you are constantly reminded that you are not a member of this family, you are something below it, at least one level underneath it.

The representative from the Falkland/Malvinas Islands spoke to this during the first day of the seminar. He drew attention to the lack of respect that those from the colonies are given, through the simple fact that the non-self-governing territories they represent cannot be formally identified. At these seminars, each country receives a nameplate with its name. Those from the territories have the names of the representatives on nameplates, but their territories cannot be given nameplates. It is part of the hierarchy of power. Those that are independent and sovereign countries, your name is listed, as it is what you are to the world of nations. But for those who come from colonies, you as an individual can sit at the table, but your home cannot be afforded the same status, cannot be placed beside those who have sovereign.

The same problem persists at the full UN, if you testify in New York before the C24 or the 4th Committee. In this instance, your name as an individual is not included, but neither is your colony name. Instead you testify behind a generic nameplate that says “Petitioner.” Whether you are from the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Atlantic or Mars, you are a petitioner, requesting aid from or access to the family of nations.

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