decolonization / estoria / politiku

Act of Decolonization: Hugua

We often conceive of colonization as being a formal process involving militaries, governments and treaties. These things all play essential roles in creating a colony, but the process for colonization is always far more complicated than this. Those who are seeking to understand colonialism and also create possibilities for decolonization must not focus solely on what we might consider to be the formal or the concrete forms of power, but also the world of the abstract, conceptual and ideological.

We can see this for example in two former epochs of colonization in Guam; the formal ways in which things were imposed on Chamorros did not necessarily have a significant colonizing impact on the identity and consciousness of Chamorros. The creation of colonial regimes under the Spanish and the US led to great number of changes in Guam, but histories tend to conflate the effect on the outward appearance of the island, with the inner sense of being for your average Chamorro. During both these periods Chamorros were largely alienated, in numerous ways from the colonial governments. They did not identify with them because they did not participate in them in many real ways. They were subject to their mandates, they were employed by them, but they did not take huge chunks of their identity and did not see their inner sense of identity as being attached to those governments.

Contrast this with the changes in religion that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries. While at first the change in religion was a clear political change as well, when that part of life become more associated with the cultural domain, it become something that Chamorros found themselves more easily adapting to and accepting a role in. When Catholicism was initially forced, Chamorros resisted it both actively and quietly. Once it become more naturalized and there was a reduced feeling of threat they find more ways to integrate it, whereby it eventually become the essential part of Chamorro life today.

In terms of the Chamorro become more closely attached to the United States, i Tiempon Chapones played the largest role in making that happen. But in the years since, even if Chamorros may talk about the importance of American forms of education, government and economy, but what has truly brought them to feel more connected to the United States, to the point where they imagine themselves within it, even if US legal precedents say they are not, are cultural forms, media such as films, television, music, fashion, etc.

Chamorros of my generation can refer to commercials from our childhood for stores that have never existed on Guam. Idiomatically Chamorros from Guam tend to code as American, because the cultural, metaphorical reservoir from which we were nurtured is highly Americanized. Even though Guam is thousands of miles away from the United States, most people on island do not follow closely any sports teams in the region, but instead swear their children’s’ eyes on the play of American teams of all types. Our sense of cultural momentum, fads and progress is all mainly drawn from the United States. This is one reason why I have found it difficult at times to cheer for various progressive causes that I personally champion. Because too often the rationale for people on Guam supporting them is not that there is some powerful local critique or argument, but rather merely the colonial peer pressure. The idea that since the United States is doing it, we should be doing it. It is a newer and less pernicious version of the idea that if something is good for the US it must be good for Guam.

These cultural aspects can have a more constant, regular, day to day impact, as they effect more than just the forced articulation of identity, but tend to spend more time in the casual, passive, pleasure sections of the self. The “big” things of life, which studies of colonialism are often focused on, are always humming with power in the background, but on a day to day basis people generally consider the cultural, in its myriad forms, to the sticky substance that gives gluey life to their social identities. It is no wonder that the failures in Washington D.C. to accomplish anything, to bring positive change to any part of the majority of Americans’ lives receives little interest. But the activities of fictional characters, celebrities, the ability homosexual and bisexual people to marry are followed much more closely. Even the presidential elections, which are supposed to be about politics in the political sense, are followed inasmuch as they resemble soap operas or sitcoms. If the internet is cut off in an area or power disappears, the initial worry isn’t that the real world will fall apart and collapse, the feeling is that my virtual, social world cannot be sustained and will evaporate quickly without me being connected to it.

One of the main ways in which we can see the cultural dimensions of colonization appear in Guam in the last century is around holidays, government or cultural. I won’t go into a discussion of all the holidays, but the ones that are celebrated on Guam are a mishmash of locally grown days of commemoration and ones directly imported from the United States. A holiday such as Thanksgiving for instance is strange. It was not celebrated until the arrival of the United States, and even then most Chamorros only learned about it through the educational system, whereby holidays such as that were used as part of the Americanization of the Chamorro, teaching them the proper values of American life. Thanksgiving was something few Chamorro families took seriously before the war, but after the war it became a regular part of life, part of the annual calendar of social being.

Robert Underwood’s groundbreaking argument in “Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting over the Chamorro Experience” about Liberation Day, and how even if the shell or the symbols are American, the celebration itself is indigenous, is local, is Chamorro in nature, only covers so much. This makes sense, especially in the initial incarnation of the holidays, when they are first encountered and some resistance or modification may take place. Postwar celebrations of Liberation Day may have been initially about Chamorro survival and community because Chamorros lacked the symbols needed to express their sense of peoplehood in that large, public, pride-filled sense.

The most significant, most delicate and gi minagahet dangerous part of these holidays is the generational aspects. The critiques of one generation are the secrets of the next, and the secrets of the subsequent generation are the blind spots of the next, and blind spots quickly become common sense, naturalized assumptions, things beyond, beneath and immune to critique. They become as natural as trongkon niyok. We can see this in so many ways around us, although the passage of time and the sedimentation process by which humans form a that feeling of concrete cognitive mapping makes it so that is incredibly difficult to perceive on a daily basis, and even more difficult to change or do anything about. At one point Catholicism was something Chamorros resisted. It later became something they only accepted on the surface while maintaining their own beliefs within. Then it became something that they knew really wasn’t who they were, but still found joy in, and didn’t really know what else to do. Eventually it became something they accepted as natural and normal and didn’t really question very much. Eventually the questioning became reduced to simple qualifiers, minute parts of micro-speech, just words like “not” or “really” or “not really” all buffered by notions that everything fit because there weren’t really any Chamorros or any real Chamorros anymore.

Holidays, perform a similar function. Although at first they seem strange, if they stick around long enough, the critique can become lost and all that is left is its permanence, around which new articulations explaining its existence are formed, which can lead to new deeper forms of colonization. I say deeper because the colonization is now taking place primarily at an internal level. No one is holding guns to peoples’ heads and forcing them to celebrate Thanksgiving. In Guam, Independence Day as a holiday is a peculiar and painfully strange experience, but few challenge it, few make the connection that a colony maybe shouldn’t be celebrating the independence of their colonizer.

 

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