Friday, June 09, 2017

Mensåhi Ginen i Gehilo' #24: The Old Man and Decolonization

In December of last year, I met with a friend for breakfast at Shirley's in Hagåtña. The central topic of our meeting with current pushes for Guam's decolonization. This breakfast was happening at the start of a two-week period of activity around educating the island around the issue.

The Commission on Decolonization and the Office of the Governor was about to start a series of three village meetings to help educate the island community about political status change. After not meeting since July, the Commission itself was set to meet earlier that week. Through my own political status task force, the Independence for Guåhan Task Force, we started a podcast series named Fanachu! and also held one of our monthly General Assembly meetings.

Despite the flurry of recent activity around the issue, my friend wasn’t convinced that anything had really changed. That all of these activities whether they be teach-ins, coffee shop conversations, debates or forums were all sermons for the converted. It was only reaching those who already cared about the issue, whether they be crazy activists or radical idealistic youth. I disagreed with this assessment, even if I could acknowledge there was some truth to it.

I provided a number of examples to show him that things were definitely changing or at least shifting in directions they hadn’t before, especially in terms of people being more open to my preferred political status, independence. I mentioned the decolonization debate held earlier this year at Tiyan High School where 34% of 800 youth polled chose independence. During the political season, in questionnaires for senatorial candidates, more then half expressed either an openness for independence a Guam’s next status or outright support for it. Both of things were previously unimaginable to most people on island. Even just last November, when most of the island was shocked to see Donald Trump win the Electoral College vote (although lose the popular vote by almost 3 million), rather than talk about moving to Canada, I tracked hundreds of posts on social media musing over Guam becoming independent given the new possibly dangerous direction the United States is heading. While not all may be hard-core independence supporters, it shows a clear shift in how a part of the island imagines possibility.

None of these things seemed to dissuade my friend. Not even the conversations that spilled into our conversations seemed to make a dent in his opinion. As we ate breakfast and talked, a half a dozen people stopped by to ask me questions. One was about recreational marijuana if Guam became independent. One was about why the Statehood Task Force isn’t doing more in the media. One was about student aid. Another was about possible cuts to social welfare programs from the states under Trump. It was interesting that even after this random assortment of people approached our table to ask me questions about decolonization, this wasn’t counted as evidence to indicate that people want to know more about this issue.

The last visitor to the table was the one that changed my friend’s mind. It was an elderly Chamorro man, who had spent most of his life in the US military. He approached the table in a way and with a particular type of visage that made me brace for a potential typhoon of angry accusations about me being anti-American or anti-military. Instead he politely asked to sit down and once he did, he thanked me.

He told me about his background, spending most of his life in uniform serving all over the world, including during the Vietnam War.  He listed off the countries he was stationed in and said that I had changed the way he viewed his entire life and that he was angry because looking back it felt wasted. He explained that when he visited other countries he would always look down on them because they weren’t as advanced as the United States. But he never made the connection to Guam being a possession and the Chamorro people being colonized. If he had, he would have understood that those people would have looked down on him if they had known he came from a Pacific Island colony. That they elected their real leaders, they fought for the real direction of their country, not like Guam that is just a pet on a leash of the Feds and forced to follow them around.

He said that if he had met me when he was younger and I said Guam could be independent he would have punched me out. He would have said I’ve been around the world and seen how bad it is out there and why would we want to end up like that? As he was leaving he said, he felt bad now, because he’s an old man, too old to travel, but instead of looking down now, he would want to visit those countries again and learn from them, get help from them so that Guam could find its own way.

Even my friend, with his insistent resistance could not argue with that. Things are changing and the minds of both young and old are opening up. It is crucial that we continue the education as we move ahead towards decolonization.

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