In Guam, the CNMI and in a variety of other similar indigenous contexts, there seem to be three basic ways in which cultural expressions and assertions are formed and whichever we chose to emphasize and privilege comes to define the limits of our political possibility. These three types are colonial, multi-cultural and anti-colonial. Each of these different types dictates what Chamorro culture is and more importantly what it does, and how it affects the world around it, what positive, negative, dissolving or reaffirming effect it has.
“Colonial” implies a reinforcing of the current order, even if it is damaging to a Chamorro today, as within this intervention Chamorros are small as a people and their culture is narrow and usually negative. It is defined by the gaze of the colonizer, what he perceives Chamorro culture to be, backwards, marginal, dying, impure, stupid, and also is understood as hopelessly dependent. The other aspect of the colonial version of Chamorro culture is that it has become an effect of the colonizer, that it exists as a footnote to the United States, or is just a lucky appendage to it. The “colonial” impulse in expressions/assertions of Chamorro culture are the most negative and fearsome, they basically define Chamorro culture as something disgustingly from the past, which can destroy the present, and also place at the center of Chamorro being, an undying, eternal and necessary loyalty to the United States for all things.
“Multi-cultural” is a step up from colonial. In that Chamorro culture is no longer solely negative things, but is now a thing of beauty and represents a positive, noble essence. Under multi-culturalism, Chamorro culture is not another beautiful part of some larger, usually American whole, a beautiful tapestry of all the different colors, shades and hues that make up today’s American family. Here, certain aspects of Chamorro culture, that which is considered to be more pure or more useful in representing Chamorro history and Chamorro life to non-Chamorros are highlighted. So in this universe, Chamorro culture is mainly those things which are positively unique to Chamorros, or which can help impress non-Chamorros and aren’t too difficult to explain. Chamorro culture here is still very apolitical, as its presence in that American tapestry is dependent upon not rocking the boat. But the Chamorro here is not without agency or activism. The Chamorro, in some ways, now feels equal to others in the United States and is capable of defending itself, even if in only weak ways against cultural death, destruction and some exploitation or racism.
“Anti-colonial” or decolonial is the form of culture that I am most interested in. Its the culture which is not content or static, but exists to challenge the existing order, the existing structure of ideas and value which oppresses or defines what is and isn’t culture. This is the most active and critical form, “anti-colonial” culture is violent, it is like fire, chispas, it does not sit still but constantly wonders around the island. Anti-colonial culture isn’t about dependency or equality, but is a force which pushes the colonized to see themselves not as the same, as a part of the colonizer, or even equal, but as something which can surpass the colonizer, do better than them. We see this most clearly in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, where his plan for decolonization is not some retreat into pre-colonial roots, or one which sees the goal of decolonization as rooted in fidelity to some authentic past or cultural purity. National culture for Fanon is the force which pushes the colonized to see through their colonial present, to break free from the colonizer’s gaze, to see themselves as capable of being independent, self-sustaining, and free, and at the more abstract, global level, as more capable of carrying any universal humanistic legacy. Fanon ends his text with that cry, that the colonized people of the world take up that banner and bring to life the humanistic ideas that Europe gave lip service too, but in their treatment of their colonies, easily forgot.