Where Angels No Longer Fear to Tread
Every territory of the US today is different in some ways, but similar in others. All are islands, even if they are in different oceans. All have non-voting delegates. All are US citizenship, except for one and that is American Samoa, where the people there are US nationals. Interacting with people from American Samoa or with ties to American Samoa is always interesting. Those who are elsewhere in the US but have ties to the islands are often very different than those who are still at home. In recent years, alot of this difference has come down to US citizenship. With those who have moved to the US, lamenting that their status as US nationals has limited their opportunities. While those who are still in American Samoa not necessarily wanting US citizenship because they worry it might mean a loss of their cultural and political rights at home.
It is easy to see the territories of the remains of empire of the US and think that the only recourse is to find ways to further include them in the US. But this can and usually is just an extension of colonialism. The lands were often taken without the consent of the people and even if there were movements for greater inclusion, they likely emerged in a particular form, because people felt like their couldn't be any other options.
I am reminded of this through the words of the late Francisco Baza Leon Guerrero or Kiko Zoilo, who was known as the Father of the Organic Act or Mr. Organic Act. While he was known for being someone who pushed hard and passionately for things like citizenship within the US, we have to be careful in how we paint him patriotically. Like many of his generation, he wanted something better for the Chamoru people, but there were not many options. America held all the cards and so the most obvious way to improve things was to be loyal, obedient, sometimes cautiously critical, but just hope that they open the doors a little more.
In the 1940s and 1950s for instance there wouldn't be many who would think about political independence that's for sure. But there were plenty who imagined more home-rule, local autonomy and were independent in their lives in other more everyday ways. You couldn't advocate against the US, because Guam and the Chamoru were so small and it was so large and powerful. Even if it might seem wrong in some ways, just hitching your såkman to the US and hoping for the best, seemed much safer than wallowing in ambiguity as a distant military controlled territory.
With the US not having its own conversation about decolonization or justice for people that it had long oppressed in terms of territory and self-determination and sovereignty, you could only seek more inclusion. Seek more of America to improve your position, it didn't seem possible to argue for less. The US was imagined much more like a King than a rationale government. Better to appear to be loyal and subservient, so as not to anger the sovereign. Chamorus had plenty of experience with this type of government. They saw it under the Spanish and also under the US Navy prior to WWII.
But at the end of his life, Kiko Zoilo changed his tune somewhat. After seeing how difficult things remained in terms of being US citizens who lived in what was still a possession of the US, he acknowledged that they did what they could in their day, but that it still remained for others to be bolder and go further.
"Our contribution was as much as we could do…we couldn’t go any further. But you have everything before you and there is nothing to fear like the old days when even angels feared to tread…I have no regrets."
I sometimes imagine if the conversation in Guam and in the world had been different in the 1930s and 1940s, if those generations of leaders would have still pushed for citizenship and inclusion or would have acted more like those in the Philippines or around us in Micronesia. If rather than developing a position of losing oneself in the US and being reborn as an American, they would instead seek friendship or to become allied with the US, but still retain a measure of distance, so as not to become subsumed.