Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fanhokkåyan #5: Chamorro Soul Wound

Fanhokkåyan is my series where I share articles, writings and other documents from some of my previous websites, most notably the Kopbla Amerika/Chamorro Information Activist website and Minagahet Zine. The one I'm sharing today is an intriguing one, as it represents a piece that helped shape alot of my own perceptions as an early activist about Chamorro issues, in particular their relationship to colonial legacies. This piece, which I co-wrote with a friend of mine at the time, built off the idea of "soul wound" a theory that was first popularized in considering the contemporary place of Native Americans in relation to their historical (or continuing) trauma. It is far too easy for us to argue that we shouldn't be stuck in the past by recounting how Chamorros have been hurt by colonizers, that is a common interpassive point. In truth, we need to recount it and we need to understand it, most importantly so that we can change things today, so that we can reshape the present in ways to release ourselves from the system formed on that oppression.

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Chamorro Soul Wound
by Kopbla

Chamorus are an endangered species, and actually have been for centuries. 

Under Spanish domination Chamorus faced extinction primarily at the hands of disease and war. Historical records and estimates put the depopulation of Chamorus at the end of the 17th century, and the beginning of the 18th century at as much as 95%. The culture itself was given a traumatic shock, as Catholicism was forced down the throats and into the homes and minds of the Chamorus. But still, we survived and we persevered, assimilating and adopting what we needed to survive, refusing what we didn't need.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new threat made landfall on Guam with the arrival of US control. But this time, the assault was hardly physical, but operated on a more psychological level, attacking the natural feelings of unity and community that Chamorus have felt since ever since. The 100+ years of Americanization and US colonialism/ militarism on Guam have ravaged Chamoru identity to the point where many Chamorus are convinced of the non-existence of Chamoru culture as well as Chamorus.

The American presence and control of Guam has brought benefits, undoubtedly. Without the American takeover of Guam in 1898, Guam would propably not have the dubious honor of being  a tourist paradise and a military bastion. It probably wouldn't be one of the most modernized and consumeristic islands in the Pacific either. On the basis of short-term progress, the United States has helped immensely by "giving" Guam a government, by assisting economically, and by providing defense. Again, it cannot be denied that the US has done much for Guam. But there are many other things that must not be denied as well. 

On the most basic level, we must remember that colonialism is wrong, and a colonial relationship is an inherently unfair one and unequal one, based on exploitation. I reiterate again, that this relationship although wrong, is not without its positive bonuses. The most effective forms of control and power, are ones which produce as much as they prohibit. This is the premise that the matrix of the "Matrix" films operates on. A system of control which only prohibits, which only dominates can never be effective. The "free" world of the matrix was then created, and it works because of the illusions it uses, the myths it propagates that make the humans of the film believe they are truly free, and truly in control. 

While not nearly as dramatic, but nonetheless traumatic in its own way, on Guam we find ourselves victims to a similar fate, whether we accept it or not. The colonial "domination with benefits" relationship Guam has with the United States is the hub of the illusions that govern our daily lives. And while this itself is something which must be corrected, another dimension of the problem that is hardly realized is the psychological and cultural damage that has come from our colonization by the United States. 

In the spring 1989 issues of Ethnies, Dr. Robert Underwood chronicles the efforts of Chamorus on Guam in attempting to legitimize the teaching of Chamoru in public schools. Underwood discusses this push and analyzes it based on the philosophies and ideologies that are invoked in order to justify the move.  He mentions the "rhetoric of American cultural pluralism, "and how under this multi-cultural umbrella having an ethnic identity and still being an American is allowed. You can still speak your language, still practice your culture, be proud of your heritage and continue to be a proud American. This idea of Chamorus just becoming another thread in the beautiful American multi-cultural, multi-colored tapestry, while holding some promise, holds a far more serious danger. 

Because of our unique history, America has clouded our consciousness for more than a century. The colonization of Guam has left Chamoru ideas of value and culture fairly skewed. If we think about our day to day operations and interactions, how much does America occupy our lives? Far more than it probably should. The position of America as our colonizer has given it a status far greater than it deserves and it is not natural, but all part of a colonial process. When we examine Guam's history, this process becomes apparent and we can see it for what it is, just another form of colonialism and control, conditioning our minds into thinking within certain frameworks. Once this is known, the cracks in our own perceptions begin to show, as well as the cracks in our colonial history and consciousness. 

Take for example, an editorial published in the September 15th, 2001 Pacific Daily News by Tony Sanchez, "So what do we do? We do what America and Guam have always done. We pull together. We do our jobs better. We raise our children better. We help our neighbor more. We argue less; we compromise more. We face the stark reality of the world we live in with eyes wide open. We cannot afford to be divisive. Not today." This dependency on the rhetoric, the discourse of the US comes out in so many ways. In the above quote, we find that nearly everything positive about life is hooked into our relationship with the US. Why is it that a Chamoru alone can't raise their children right, or do their jobs better? So much of our lives and culture has been hijacked by the colonial appropriations. And often times it is so subtle we don't even realize what we've said, what we've done or what we've believed.

The idea of "privatization" of GovGuam is one form in this which is acted out, whereby the process of overvaluing of the US at the expense of ourselves becomes apparent.  It is not that privatization has no merit, or is wrong, but what we need to look at, is the demeaning way we degrade ourselves in asking for it, demanding it, or discussing it. The very public and vocal push for privatization is no doubt a symptom of a colonial disease Chamorus on Guam have been infected with for more than a century; chronic romantic dreams of America. As Congressman Robert Underwood has put it many times, Guam and the other US territories are the only places in the United States that ever call for "federalization," or for "calling in the feds" to undermine local power, authority and dignity.  

The American dream in the form of our conscious reality  hangs over our heads as this pristine ideal, that we must live up to, or that we must emulate. Our government, our culture, our way of life are seen as inferior to our American role models. But this is one way in which colonialism works, by creating Manichean, or black/white oppositions, and creating in the colonized the perception that while they belong to the inferior side of the spectrum (the black side), they must desire what is on the superior side, or the white side. And this cultural inferiority complex has led many Chamorus to downplay the importance of their own culture, forsake their language, leave the island in search for a "better life" in the US. 

This is all not to say that a Chamoru cannot have an American passport, or have indoor plumbing, or go to movie theatres. Cultures change, they stay the same, they preserve and they adapt, that is their natural flow (anyone who believes in constantly evolving cultures or constantly static cultures, is only describing the half of the equation which proves their point). In the past couple centuries however, issues of purity in blood and culture have become means by which Chamoru sentiments can be controlled or dispelled. But those feelings were hardly given a second thought on Guam prior to 1898, as Chamoru culture was seen as something that went beyond blood, into feelings of community, unity, respect and care for the island, the land or your family. Any percentage of blood guaranteed you a spot in the family, so long as your mind was rooted in the community, the family (this doesn't mean it was a utopia or paradise, but just that issues of ethnicity weren't so complicated). From Loincloth Envy, by Michael Lujan Bevacqua: 

...the beauty of Chamoru culture as
This wonderfully inclusive exclusive
Where membership is not mired in tired issues of blood quantum quantities
But has something more to do with commitment to culture
Devotion to the island and its people
Respect for each other and the land language love life that binds us together

The presence of America here, has greatly disrupted that sense of identity, by usurping the core being of Chamorus, and replacing their mental presence here, with a desire, a longing for the states, or for the promise of the states. This would be fine if Guam was part of the United States, or had achieved some serious level of equality with their Mother Country. But a central issue here, which cannot be forgotten or denied, is that Chamorus are not truly part of America, especially if they remain on Guam. And the relinquishing of your identity, your offering of it to America on a silver platter, means an acceptance of the inferior status that we have been given. If Chamorus were granted their rights to self-determination as well as self-government, then this shift wouldn't be nearly as polemic, but because it comes with a heavy dose of colonialism it is something we must constantly critique. 

Chamorus have adopted much of America into their culture and we must remember that this is natural for cultures to adapt and to change, but when the identity of a culture comes into question, that is when we must re-examine everything.  

What is also important to note here, is the way in which the cultural argument is used against Chamorus, used against any colonized people. Cultures are naturally both fluid and static, constantly changing, but constantly resisting change as well. For indigenous cultures however, and in particular those under colonial control, the idea of cultural change becomes a hotly contested issue, particularly for those who protect the interests of the colonial power.  For Chamorus, the dynamic has always depended on obedience to America. So long as Chamorus remain loyal and silent and serve American interests, they are externally and internally portrayed as a people with a rich and wonderful culture, with a rich and wonderful history.  But the moment they begin to construct themselves, or see themselves as something other than American, or separate from America, they become a bastard race, an impure culture, they become non-existent. Their very Chamoruness comes into question, the moment they think of themselves as Chamorus first, and American second, or any other context in which the supposedly inferior side of the equation is put as greater than the supposedly superior side. Another form of control comes with ideas of culture as being static. Chamorros themselves are plagued with perceptions of their culture as being more pure, or more Chamoru at some other point in their history, but never in the present. Whether 400 years ago, or prior to World War II, the perception is that the "real" Chamoru culture existed somewhere back there, and what we are stuck with at present is either tainted and hardly Chamoru or not Chamoru at all. 

What this all alludes to is a dire need for us as a people to stop importing ideologies or ideas about culture and about Chamoru, and begin take control of our history, discourse and ideas once again. We are not an inferior people, nor are we an immature people, we never have been. Those discourses are just ways of controlling us. America and Americana can be so oppressive in such completely undiscussed ways, we don't even know how to describe the oppression adequately. Sometimes pieces simply don't fit, and all that's left is a feeling of intense or lingering incompleteness. But on Guam, how do we discuss these things? How do we discuss ideas of oppression when we are oppressed by a country which loudly proclaims to all who will and won't listen that it is the champion of democracy? How do we reconcile all these contradictions? There are no simple answers for such questions... 

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