Sunday, May 24, 2009

8,000: How Will It Change Our Lives?

Currently Listening To: "A Goodnight's Sleep" by The Starting Line

You know what's the great thing about taking classes at UOG?

Once in awhile, you meet awesome people.

So this past semester, I took EN310: Creative Writing. There's a handful of awesome writers in that class, including Charissa Aguon. She was one of the handful of familiar faces amongst the crowd at yesterday's Reclaim Guahan Rally. Anyway, I emailed her to request more information for these upcoming event I discovered via a flyer.

8000, How Will it Change Our Lives: Community Conversations on the US Military Buildup on Guam is an event presented by the Guam Humanities Council. According to the flyer, the project will be using the civic reflection model to stimulate small group discussions. The conversations would be responses to films, poems, readings, or other text within a hospitable environment. When I get some solid dates and times, I will most definately add it on here.

Personally, I think this is an awesome. Currently, the military buildup is one of the many concerns island residents have because of the dramatic changes that will accompany this move; our population will increase drastically over the next couple of years, our economy may experience a financial boost, and there may be some federal job openings for our island residents. However, the Chamorro culture, may not fare as well as the other aspects of our island living.

The military buildup will have a tremendous impact on our island, but does anyone have an idea of how astronomical this event will be? The buildup also calls into mind our colonial status; did anyone ask the People of Guam first "would you like a couple of Marines in a couple of years?" Was there a poll to see whether we wanted it or not? No one asked, but gave an order, and they are coming whether we like it or not.

Now, I'm not anti-military or what have you; I've just been kicking back and observing this for awhile, so don't shoot out those comments. But, let's think about some situations for a second:

Ever get annoyed when you want to watch something on a website's player, but you couldn't view whatever you were watching because you weren't in a state? How about trying to order something, or get into a sweepstakes, or how about entering a contest? Wait, you're not one of the 50 U.S. there may be a chance you weren't able to do any of those things if you were on Guam, and depending on the contest's rules.

One time, I tried signing up for more information from an online school's website; the information I sought for was in regards to transferrable credits, and whether their degree would be applicable in my area. Anyway, Guam wasn't listed. After nearly 10 years of dealing with restricted access because I wasn't living in some stateside land, I emailed the webmaster, explaining that Guam was a U.S. Territory and that I would like to view more information. What was his response?

"We don't cater to international institutions."

Ahh. International. So, we're a part of this thing, but not really.

So I guess Guam's kind of like the new kid in school; he's sort of part of the school (transcript-wise), but socially he isn't. So what do we do about it?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reclaiming GUAHAN

*Image of Reclaim Guahan poster taken from the event's page on Facebook. I don't claim ownership of it.

This afternoon, I had a brief chance to catch an event I found out about via Facebook entitled "Reclaim Guahan: Chule Tatte Guahan." Not knowing much about the event, I made it a point to stop by and check it out after my Godmother's Golden Jubilee Celebration, since Skinner's is right across my Alma mater.

It was about 2PM, but already there were canopies set up, and individuals ready to begin the rally. I met up with Michael Bevacqua, one of the panelists I interviewed for another Women and Gender project, and my History professor Michael Clement (pictured above...and what a coincidence, right?)
What I wasn't too sure about was the intended purpose of the rally. Under the shade of one canopy were people I knew from UOG, all in the group known as Apathy is Easy; Under an adjacent canopy was the Guam Museum, with photographs from their archives. Vendors and their merchandise laid along the sidewalks, getting me even more confused.
And to make matters worse, I left my tape recorder at home.
I decided to ask Mike Bevacqua (in jumbled words because I was still confused) about the event, as Mike Clement asked me if I had a Vietnamese restaurant (it's a common question, and for all of you out there, no I don't own a restaurant, or know anyone so well to get you a discount...but in my opinion, the best Vietnamese lumpia is sold at Hoa Mai's in Harmon, across the Micronesia Mall...just that they add a little MSG).

In a nutshell, the idea of a rally was conceived through discontent with the lack of action within the Legislature in regards to certain issues. Eventually, this rally grew to encompass more causes, and is now this forum for the youth to get informed and their voices recognized.
I must admit though; whoever conceived the idea of this coalition of causes in one jam-packed event must be pretty damn smart. This was an opportunity for the youth to come out and express themselves via poetry [the poetry slam], music [performances from various bands], art [there were boards set up for people to paint their thoughts], or even by just conversing with one of the many committee members for more information.

Which was just what I did. After some hopping around, I was finally able to speak with two members: Selina Onedera-Salas, and Charissa Aguon (one of my classmates for EN310's Creative Writing course). They explained further that this event also included talks with guest speakers that range from University professors to community leaders.

The event was created with almost no budget, and within a month's time. But what was the goal of the entire project?

To showcase that we do have a voice, a say in the matter.

Up to now, people have noticed that there is, to some extent, blatant disregard for the voices of Guam and its inhabitants, which as we all know do not just mean the Chamorro people. Thus, the point of the rally was to provide a pulpit for our voices, and to arm the participants with knowledge of our rights, how the issues of today will shape our tomorrows, and point them to the resources or directions to take in order to do something about it.
I wasn't able to stay long due to prior commitments, but I was able to walk away with the belief that my voice matters.

But with only one individual voice, not a whole lot can be done. A collection of voices, frustrated over a myriad of issues, creates a commotion. The commotion grows louder, gaining more individual voices along the way, and eventually becomes a well-known ruckus. The now infamous ruckus must be dealt with, and goes head to head with the political bodies, this time stronger than just with one voice.

But how do we get more voices? How do we dispense more knowledge, to get this conversation going?

Before conceiving this blog, I presented a certain publication with an idea: to create a column that would showcase within each issue more information about the Decolonization process, the individuals behind it, and what people could do to support it. This was in an effort to try and get more people involved and aware of the plebiscite, and considering that the publication was somewhat popular, it would add a unique feature to it, an idea that no other publication had.

Well, long story short, the idea was shot down, and my other outlet (this blog) was created. And like I said in the previous post, the mission of this blog is to help those who are on the same boat as I am in trying to examine the choices surrounding decolonization in an effort to get some sort of dialogue going, and hopefully figure out for ourselves what our answers would be should the question ever arise.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

And the Conversation Begins

“So Bianca, what would you choose?”

As we were navigating through the never-ending stretch of asphalt known as “Back Road,” my mom and I began a casual conversation concerning the 2ND Chamorro Summit. We were one of the few participants that sacrificed a perfect Saturday morning to confront an issue that, until 2008, had never been resolved. With epiphanies about our disrepresentation amongst the Washington-folk, plebiscites, the three choices outlined by the U.N. Decolonization Committee, and a clear definition of what this movement really is about, we were shocked that an issue as important as this was not being addressed more openly amongst our people.

But enough about that. What was my answer?

“I don’t know what I’d choose,” I replied honestly.

And that answer still sticks with me until this day.

The year is 2009, and since the 2nd Chamorro Summit, my mother and I still don't know what we'd pick, and there is no doubt that we are not the only individuals amongst our Chamorro people to not have an answer.

Before I reached this epiphany at the Chamorro Summit, I was never fully aware of what the concept of "decolonization" entailed; does it encompass a bunch of crazy people banding together, demanding we go back to grass huts and skirts?

Well, before I went to the Summit, that's what I thought, and I'm pretty sure I was not the first nor the last individual to view the concept in that light. So, what is decolonization?

In my own interpretation, decolonization is the process that calls for us to redesign and make clear our relationship with the colonizing power.

However, decolonization is NOT:
  • Some racist, anti-American campaign; the individuals that I've spoken to have not expressed any biased views or stated "down with America," or what have you.
  • Some way for people to gain more federal money, or a platform people use to blame the Feds.
  • Independence. One of the choices is independence, but its meaning is not immediately equated to independence.

According to the U.N.'s Committee on Decolonization, this relationship can evolve into 3 forms:

  1. Immersion with the power (in Guam's case, statehood)
  2. Free-Association
  3. Independence

The relationship would be determined by the indigenous peoples of the area in question, in the form of a plebiscite, and the existing colonies must render a decision by a certain date (in this case, around 2011 or 2012).

However, there is a problem: nothing's happening. Or at least, until now.

There are a few individuals among my island community that have realized the deadline, and want to do something about it. With the military buildup, a strategic relocation of thousands of Marines with no input or say from our island community, the talk of decolonization has evolved from whispers among the outdoor kitchens or the barbeque to full-on forums and gatherings.

This blog will cover the progression towards my final decision on the matter, as well as the events, opinions, and circumstances that contribute to my decision or lack thereof. But that's not my only goal with "The Decolonization Conversation;" I also want you, the reader, to write your thoughts as well, so that we may actually turn this monologue into useful dialogue. Should we try? What if there won't be a chance for all of us to speak our minds in regards to this matter? What if there isn't a plebiscite within the near future?

Perhaps the best thing we can do is just speak out anyway, and let this conversation begin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Initiating the Conversation

*The following was a reflection paper for my Women and Gender course in regards to the 2nd Chamorro Summit. The piece was entitled "The Decolonization Conversation," and served as the namesake for this blog. The piece was written for the Fall 2008 Semester at the University of Guam
"Are you a defeatist,” she cried out.

The room reacted with utter surprise at her statement towards a participant’s observation, and I diligently raised my tape recorder up to capture her words. The participant, Mr. Al San Agustin, was a local farmer, who, similarly like fifty other participants, came to this gathering known as the 2nd Chamorro Summit to begin what I would like to call the Decolonization Conversation.
San Agustin was trying to point out one flaw in the argument that both Trini Torres and Joe Garrido (representatives for the Independence and Free-Association options, respectively) made in regards to feeding the local population after a theoretical movement away from the United States. Fishing and agricultural farming were the proposed main sources of food, however, as a local farmer, San Agustin pointed out that he thought it was an outrageous expectation to say that local farmers and fishermen are to feed an entire population where “95% of the food is brought by ships.” San Agustin also pointed out the Jones Act, a Maritime law that also states in one of its provisions that U.S cargo ships must visit all territories and states owned by the United States.

The 2nd Chamorro Summit was “an event to educate and involve young Chamorros in dialogue on the issue of Guam’s right to self-determination,” according to Beau Hodai of the Marianas Variety. I took my mother to this event in hopes that we would get the gist of the choices and come to the conclusion on which we should choose (should the plebiscite ever be held).

There were some great points, however, in my humble opinion, I felt that the panelists could have been better prepared to represent their choices. In this Women and Gender course, students such as myself have been exposed to the writings of Native Hawai’ian author Haunani-Kay Trask. “Lovely Human Hands” and “Writing in Captivity” both display modern-day Hawai’ians as people suffering in their own native land, despite their status as members of the United States. Such reference to these writings, or to the native Hawai’ians themselves in this Decolonization Conversation were absent from Mr. Ed Duenas’s (proponent for statehood) presentation, however, only the “positives” of the choice were highlighted (such as becoming full-fledged members of the fifty states).

This absence of information is important; we must look towards the state of other Pacific Islanders who have preceded us and took (or in the case of Hawai’i, unwillingly took) the options that are currently presented to us in this day and age. How are the native Hawai’ians faring under statehood? In the Republic of Belau, how are the locals faring as a freely-associated country? How does their current situation compare to their former stances as U.S. territories?
The little argument shared by San Agustin and Torres further shows that proponents for Free Association and Independence must look into the reality of fishing and farming, and to what capacity can fishermen and farmers provide food to the island. Although I am not a farmer, I think it is apparent that unexpected natural occurrences (i.e. typhoons and dry season-induced fires) can possibly obliterate crops.

However, I must debunk Mr. San Agustin’s argument; although the separation of Guam will call forth dissolution of the Jones Act for the island, it is not to say that businesses will stop ordering shipments from off-island altogether. So long as there is a demand for the products a manufacturer provides, I am pretty sure manufacturers will still ship to the island for the sake of profit.

During the Summit, I picked up a “pamphlet” from an Independence activist’s table. Accusations against “Uncle Sam” and a few curse words were written across the pages. No, I was not offended by the occurrences of the words; however, I was bothered by this anti-American attitude that streamed throughout the lines. To call the nation a liar without any substantiated proof does nothing to make the case towards Independence. I actually had a chance to talk to the activist. For years, I have heard of some of these individuals, who screamed at the top of their lungs against the United States with their anti-American posters, and all I wanted to know was the driving force for their protests.
As I perused his binder for possible poetry I could use for my upcoming Cultural Production presentation, I asked the man one simple question: “how long have you been protesting?”

My question, which started out as an innocent inquiry that only asked for one innocent answer turned out to be the floodgates for one crazy man’s emotional tirade against America, the Catholic Church, and my parents. I decided to open the doors to a crazy man’s psyche; how convenient that I decide to do this alone, where he and I are the only ones in the Lecture Hall’s lobby. To perpetuate attitudes such as this does not help stimulate the Conversation, but rather scales the whole movement back a few paces due to ignorance or just plain stupidity.
The Chamorro Summit, whether intentionally or not, has changed my view and challenged my stance in reference to Guam, her political status, and her people. I now have no idea as to what idea I support. Yes, I am for preservation of the culture, since I have come to realize that language is embedded into culture, but I am not a full-on activist for independence due to some concerns that have not been answered.

For example, no one made mention to what should happen to the University of Guam should we become our own autonomous country. The University of Guam is a U.S. land grant based institution, majority of the students receive Federal Pell Grant or some sort of financial aid from the U.S. Federal Government. Should Guam become independent, will these grants be revoked since we will no longer be part of the United States?

Should we switch from an unincorporated member of the United States one day and to an Independent or Free Associated state the next, will our politicians be ready for the shift, since they themselves cannot run a government system without the backing of U.S. funds? This may be perceived as negativity, but in truth, these are the feelings and concerns I am wrestling with as a result of going to the Summit. The Summit has challenged me to examine my stance in this whole Decolonization Conversation, and has helped me realize that there are barriers among the people that prevent this conversation from moving to a state of action.

During the Lunch Break, I asked Senator Ben Pangelinan, head of the Plebiscite Registry committee, about the worst-case scenario.

In 2007, the United Nations issued the “Report of the Special
Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of
Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.” The report basically outlined the concerns of those who currently reside under a neo-colonial power, which includes Guam’s relationship with the United States. The eradication of neo-colonialism’s projected date is 2010, but seeing that there are obvious barriers towards reaching the threshold to move forward with the plebiscite (most surprisingly from the Guam Election Commission themselves), I asked the senator what would happen if 2010 came and went, and Guam was still under neo-colonial rule?

“The deadline will have to be extended,” he said.

The answer proved the reason behind his office’s attempts towards registering voters for the Plebiscite, which currently numbers below the threshold. The Decolonization Committee has almost two years to inform the qualified electorates on what status options are available to them, as well as hold a plebiscite for the People to decide once and for all what our status should be, at least before the United Nation’s deadline. The only good that I saw from this Summit was that there were groups out there who concerned themselves on the process of decolonization, not so much on the choices that people must consider. These individuals were concerned about the informing the potential voters, outlining who the potential voters could be, and trying to figure out what ways to take in which to entice the potential voter’s interest in this Conversation. Unfortunately, I misinterpreted the agenda and was not able to break away from this dramatic panel discussion and into the smaller groups.

In conclusion, there are two feasible ways in which the participants (including myself) of this Decolonization Conversation can move forward: through dissolution of the narrow-minded notions/connotations that accompany the status choices (i.e. the notion that “we will be living in grass huts and wearing grass skirts” once we proclaim independence), and also through thorough research and public education of the status choices, as well as a realistic plan of action for the protection and preservation of the Chamorro culture and the people residing on the island should the status choice be voted for.