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.


bert said...

Ms Nicole, you sound like an intelligent young woman who can articulate her thoughts rather well. I am an off-island chamoru (I live in California), born and raised on Guam, and I strongly favor U.S. statehood. Why? Because, as a chamoru, I have enjoyed ALL the freedoms that the U.S. bestows on its citizens. I agree that the native Hawaii'ans have suffered as a people and a culture. But, I believe, our situation is different now. There is much international (i.e., United Nations) scrutiny today. And the road to statehood is something that will take decades anyway. And duing that whole time we may continue with the status quo and remain citizens. There are many good reasons to become a state. But, like you, I have always had to, first, wade through the angry anti-American rhetoric before finally hearing the few shreds of reason for being independent or for free association for Guam. I can only say to you to trust your intelligence, ask questions and read a lot, and finally use your obvious penchant for reason when you make a choice.

José M. López Sierra said...

Dear Partner,

Since the United Nations determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity, there is no longer a need for plebiscites. The solution is to give Puerto Rico her sovereignty.

But being the United States government does not want to, it continues to advocate the use of plebiscites to find out what Puerto Ricans want. Even if 100% of Puerto Ricans would want to continue being a US colony, Puerto Rico would still be obligated to accept her sovereignty to then decide what she wants to do.

The only thing these plebiscites are good for is to divide Puerto Ricans. A Puerto Rican didn’t invade us to make us a colony. When will we understand that we need to unite?

This is why we must peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until Puerto Rico is decolonized!

José M López Sierra

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