Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Heart of the Language

I've spent the past week asking several dozen people what the favorite classical music choices were of an 89 year old Chamorro man who passed away last week. It has been a strange experience on so many levels.

Jose Mata Torres, who I spent close to two years working with passed away last week. I assisted him in getting his memoir titled "Massacre at Atate" through the research, editing and publishing process. After learning he had passed away I immediately felt the need to do something to commemorate him and his contributions to the community and to Chamorro history. Mr. Torres was a host on the Guam public radio station KPRG for 20 years. His show "classical concert" pushed the boundaries of Chamorro possibility in ways that I still find fascinating. Torres was a proud Chamorro man, who felt it was very important that Chamorros keep their language alive and also keep alive a memory of their culture even if it has changed substantially from his youth. When I first met Jose Torres I admired him for his actions in World War II, when he joined other men from the village of Malesso' and they fought and killed the Japanese who were guarding them in a concentration camp. I later admired him for his dedication to seeing the story of those mighty men of Malesso' be published through his book. His unwillingness to let that story fade into oblivion, but that it serve as an important reminder to Chamorros for generations to come.

But now, with his passing there is something else that I have come to admire about him, and that is his willingness to sometimes push the boundaries on what is or isn't Chamorro. I've been writing on my blog and in my Guam Daily Post columns for weeks about this issue, about the need to push the boundaries of what we imagine to be Chamorro, and have the language expand and be the force that we use to colonize other domains which we previously thought of as being not Chamorro or the end of the Chamorro, or something which Chamorro culture or language can have no authentic connection or relation to. I have tried to challenge these Chamorro conventions for years, by translating manga comic books, writing about everything from postmodern philosophy to US Presidential politics in Chamorro, and even making a short film Pakto: I Hinekka with my friend Ken Kuper showing how to play the game Magic: The Gathering in the Chamorro language!

For me, the issue is simple, if you somehow imagine that things which are nor normally Chamorro, cannot or should not be talked about in Chamorro, you are pushing the language closer to its death. If you imagine that things which are "contemporary" or come from other countries cannot or should not be talked about in Chamorro, you are limiting the language and hence the consciousness of the people. You are tying it to the past and not allowing it to evolve and move forward. You are not allowing it to change and to find new forms, more durable and relevant forms, as the people themselves change. You are basically advocating that the language be less important and less interesting, less cool, less viable today, and as a result killing its vitality for the sake of some preferred version of authenticity.

We should not be limiting what we use the Chamorro language or culture for, but expanding it. As we become more connected to the result of the world, if we feel our existence is small, is minor, is too rooted, we won't survive the transition. We will silence ourselves and erase ourselves in a casual and pointless manner. Who we are and were and could be will enjoy eternity in the authenticity oubliette.

There was one powerful way that Mr. Torres embodied this idea of the Chamorro not sitting silently as it watched the world of potential wonder rush by. But rather that whatever is out there that strikes us in a very personal way, that we feel connected to and find a meaningful source of emotion and passion as a result, we should find ways to connect it to our language. Hearing Mr. Torres speak about classical music in the Chamorro language was such a treat, it was like nerd prom for my Chamorro nerd sotteru. It was something I would never associate with Chamorro anything, but for him, if there was room for it in his heart, then there should be room for it in the Chamorro language. This is the consciousness, the mentality, that will keep the language alive today. This is the still beating heart of our language.

Even beyond his love of classical music, Mr. Torres and I also discussed ways we could take other things he enjoyed and appreciated, literature and plays and translate them into Chamorro or transform them into Chamorro settings. We were working on a project when he passed away and I am hoping to be able to finish it in his honor.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hita i Chamorro

I collect as many things in the Chamorro language as I can. I have my students interview elders in Chamorro. I try to find everything online in Chamorro and cut and paste them into word documents. I have thousands of pages of photocopies children’s books and informational materials in Chamorro. I also, as much as I can try to write down or remember the things that people say to me. I have countless random pages from minutes of meetings, to the backs of student papers, to even napkins from restaurants, all of which have scribbles of Chamorro sentences on them.

As I was trying to find some materials for my class tomorrow, I came across this excerpt from a conversation I had with an elderly Chamorro man last year. I really like its message. I may someday get this blown up and place it on my wall as a poster
Hu faisen i lahi-hu, sa’ håfa malago’ hao umotro? Håfa na un tatitiyi i kustumbren Amerikånu? Ilek-ña tåya’ dangkolu na bidå-ta hun i Chamorro. Ilek-hu, lachi hao lahi-hu. Atan i estoria-ta. I taotao-ta fuma’tinas i sakman yan hita luma’yak gi i tasi antes di todu i pumalu na råsa siha. Hita sumodda’ este na isla siha. Hita fuma’tinas i acho’ latte yan Hita humåtsa siha sin kosas sanhiyong. Ilek-ña i lahi-hu na puru ha’ antigu ayu siha. Pues hu faisen gui’, “Håyi fuma’tinas i mas mangge na nengkanno?” Siempre hita! Chumålek i lahi-hu, lao ha komprende ha’.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Man from Malesso'

Jose Mata Torres, who I've spent the past two years working with, passed away earlier this week. I worked with him for more than a year in getting his memoir "Massacre at Atate" published. We held a book launch in February of this year and more than 200 people showed up to hear the story of how the people of Malesso' suffered during World War II, and when faced with possible annihilation at the hands of the Japanese, decided to fight back. We had begun work on another project and I am hoping that I can finish it in his honor.

We would meet regularly sometimes three or four times a month and I will miss those meetings so much.

Below is a list of accomplishments and other bio-data for Mr. Torres.


Jose Mata Torres was born November 26, 1926 and died September 28, 2015.

He was born in the village of Malesso’ and was a lifelong resident of the village.

He married Carmen Lizama Torres and they had two daughters, Rita Benavente and Carmelita Reyes. He had seven grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.

Jose Torres was 15 years old when the Japanese invaded and occupied Guam. In July 1944 he joined with other men from the village of Malesso’ who, led by Jose “Tonko” Reyes banded together to kill the Japanese in their village and liberated themselves. This uprising took place at the concentration camp in Atate.

Following the uprising at Atate, Torres joined five others (Jesus Barcias, Antonio Leon Guerrero Cruz, Joaquin Chargualaf Manalisay, Juan Meno Garrido and Juan Atoigue Cruz) who sailed out in a canoe to send word to the American ships circling the island about the Japanese atrocities. The six men were initially picked up by the USS Wadsworth and later transferred to the USS George Clymer.

Torres attended schools in Malesso’ and Hagatna, and after the war attended and graduated from St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester, New York.

On Guam Torres worked for the US National Institutes of Health research team that was studying Guam’s high incidences of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Parkinsonism-Dementia Complex, also known as Lytico-Bodig or ALS-PDC.

In 1995 he began hosting a weekly radio show “Classical Concert” on Guam’s public radio station KPRG. On his show he would share his love of classical music with the island, frequently expressing his joy for it in the Chamorro language. He retired his show in 2015 after 20 years on the air, after being named a “living legend” by the crew at KPRG.

In 2010 he was interviewed as a featured guest on the internationally syndicated show “Exploring Music” with Bill McGlaughlin. He discussed the beauty of Guam, his experiences during the Japanese occupation and his love of classical music.

In 2012 Torres was chosen as a guest conductor for the Guam Symphony during their show The Music and Legends of Guam at the Aurora Resort in Tumon. Torres fulfilled a life-long dream of his when he conducted the Guam Symphony in their performance of Tchaikovsky’s March Slav.

Torres worked for the US Civil Service on Guam and retired in 1986.

In 2015, he published his memoir entitled “Massacre at Atåte” through the University of Guam Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) with the assistance of the UOG Chamorro Studies Program. In his memoir he documented not only his own World War II story, but also the heroism of the men who fought the Japanese and liberated themselves, helping to ensure that future generations will be able to read and appreciate their story. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Para Si Isa

Muna’mahålang yu’
Nu Hågu
Yan i matå-mu
Gaige chågo’
Guatu gi tano’-hu

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Decolonizing Death

People ask me all the time what decolonization means or is. Manhoben, manåmko’, taotao sanhiyong, taotao sanhalom, all hear of this term as they go about their lives, but are unclear as to what it might mean. For most it stirs up fearsome feelings about losing everything that makes life possible and so they are seeking some reassurance that decolonization couldn’t mean that. I have a variety of answers, anecdotes, theoretical lens and concept ready to go, but it always depends on the context. Are they speaking to me about decolonization in a political context? Or is it cultural? Linguistic? Economic? Spiritual? People will conceive of decolonization differently based on their particular interests or their set of phobias. Many will instinctively define decolonization in a particular way because of their fears of feelings of dependency. Others will want to define it in a certain way because of their interest in something changing.

You can conceive of decolonization in a very narrow sense, as either a pointless or useful thing. You can see it as a matter primarily for cultural practitioners, for political activists or for crazy people and narrowly define it so that it is easier to manage, understand or ignore. For me, I believe in the opposite philosophy. As colonization is something that permeates almost all aspects of life on Guam, decolonization must necessarily be something with the same potential scope. As colonization affects the large, the small and all in between, decolonization must be able to work in the same way. It has to be something that we can conceive of as working in a multitude of ways on a multitude of levels. 

To simplify things from this point, I would argue that decolonization can be broken down into two basic ways. The first is when something significant happens that people are aware of and take note of. It can be for example if Guam became an independent country or if it became a state. There is a public, formalness to the event, a feeling that we have entered a new realm of time and that things have changed in earnest. When a previous Governor of Guam wanted to changed the official name of the island to Guahan, he was attempting to facilitate one such sea-level changes, although it did backfire when people realized that emptiness of the intentions and the actions. 

More often than not though, decolonization happens without people even realizing it. Because decolonization is something that ultimately is centered around colonial legacies and what to do with things that are currently attributed to the colonizer’s presence or influence, there are explicit ways that people contend with those things, and people generally fear those sorts of changes as not being possible or advisable. People on Guam lament everything from the economy to the educational system to the government but resist any discussion about changing those things so that they don’t follow the imported colonial models that we have been making minute changes to for decades and centuries. Although people may resist openly these changes, Guam changes constantly, with meaning and identity shifting and people not realizing their own role in the shifting. 
I have plenty of examples to help illustrate this point, but I’ll provide a very personal one today for this column. And as the title indicates, I am speaking about “finatai” or death. Prior to European colonization, the religious framework for Chamorros was centered around ancestral veneration. Upon death, family members would become aniti, ancestral spirits who existed around us and could be called upon for help in times of need. The worship of skulls was a key part of this, and as you can imagine the Spanish priests sought to separate, by any means necessary, Chamorros from these totems and these beliefs.

Later Chamorros became Catholic and adopted a European religious cosmology, although aspects of their beliefs prior to colonization persisted. Belief in the aniti, now rebranded as taotaomo’na is still present up until today, but the dominant framework for belief and for giving the world a spiritual structure is one dictated by churches such as i Gima’yu’us Katoliko. Chamorros began to revere and remember their dead in ways that sometimes hinted at their older traditions, but were primarily reliant on Western religious rituals and beliefs.

When my grandfather, Tun Jack Lujan, the Chamorro Master Blacksmith passed away earlier this year we held a burial ceremony for him and sang songs that reflected a Chamorro Seventh Day Adventist tradition, a religion that was only introduced to the island a few generations ago. But we were also happy to welcome to the ceremony the groups Pa’a Taotao Tano’ and Inetnon Gefpago, who opened and close the service with chants. For these groups, they saw my grandfather as an honored elder, a master artisan who had dedicated his life to perpetuating the culture of the Chamorro people. They sang of him not as a soul to be caught by God in death, but as a spirit who connected us to our ancestors for thousands of generations past, long before the introduction of Christianity. 

Just a few generations ago, having cultural dance groups like this was impossible and unthinkable. It would have been further unimaginable to have them sing at a funeral and to honor the dead through references to ancient elders and ancestral spirits. But this is the possibilities for decolonization. When groups such as Pa’a Taotao Tano’ and Inetnon Gefpago take on the task of changing the contours of our consciousness, it can happen without many people even realizing how what was once made impossible via colonization has now been made normal through decolonization.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Påkto: I Hinekka

The film I made with Kenneth Gofigan Kuper titled "Påkto: I Hinekka" is being shown tomorrow at the Fifth Guam International Film Festival at 7:30 at the Agana Shopping Center Theaters. Below is some information on the film itself and its cast.


PÅKTO: I Hinekka - Film Synopsis

            “Påkto: I Hinekka” pins nerd ambassadors Ken and Miget in the most epic battle of their lives. While playing the popular fantasy card “Magic: The Gathering” they once again battle to the death, only this time things are different, this time things are in the Chamorro language. “Påkto: I Hinekka” is filled with nerd humor, drama and glory, but more than anything aims to show that it is possible to use the Chamorro language everyday, no matter what one is doing. 

The Chamorro language has existed for thousands of years and has recently become endangered as it is no longer being actively transmitted from one generation to the next. Part of this decline is due to the fact that new media through television, books, films and games that are brought to Guam are discussed and integrated into local identity in the English language. This has created a divide where things which are timely, cool or that which people follow or play religiously is connected to English, whereas Chamorro remains firmly tied to the past and not what people are actively identifying this today.

This film represents an attempt to take one such popular cultural text, the strategy card game, Magic: The Gathering and illustrate the possibilities for expanding the use of the Chamorro language beyond what we normally associate it with. We look forward to making more films such as this one, that help us understand that the vitality of the Chamorro language is directly related to how we use it and what we use it for. By using Chamorro to connect more and more to the things which are popular today we make our language more relevant and more likely to be spoken. Anggen ta la’la’ gi Fino’ Chamoru, ta na’la’la’ i Fino’ Chamoru. If we live through the Chamorro language, we give life to the Chamorro language.

Cast and Crew:

Co-Director: Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Kenneth Gofigan Kuper
Co-Writer: Kenneth Gofigan Kuper and Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Co-Producer: Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Kenneth Gofigan Kuper
Cast: Kenneth Gofigan Kuper and Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Cinematographer: Leonard Leon
Production Assistant: Elizabeth Kelley Bowman

Friday, September 25, 2015

Chamorro: The Movie

“Chamorro: The Movie”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Guam Daily Post
September 16, 2015

How many people remember the movie “Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon?” It was directed by cult film-master Albert Pyun and starred Richard “Shaft” Roundtree, David “Kung Fu” Carradine and Carmen “just in one scene” Electra. It was shot in Guam in 2004 lauded locally as “Hollywood coming to Guam!” The filmmakers promised to help create a new film industry on the island and tempted local leaders with the idea that “if we film it, they will come” or once the world sees “Max Havoc” on the big screen, people will be lining up to film their movies on Guam.

Local businesses and GovGuam threw money and support at the film, eager to expedite the Hollywood celluloid rush that was on the horizon. This was all soon proved to be ludicrous. The film made no money and was never even screened in a theater. It eventually became the object of a huge lawsuit between GovGuam and the filmmakers. I’ve long argued that the “Max Havoc” babarias is a cautionary tale, a reminder that we should be critical and careful when outsiders visit the island promising to sell us the moon, the stars and the sky.

Chances of a Guam film industry of culture seemed impossible after this scandal, but just three years later the Muña Bros. (Don and Kel) arrived and premiered their first film, which is now known as Guam’s first feature film, “Shiro’s Head.” With their first film and their second the documentary “Talent Town” the Muña Bros. were chiding the political and economic leaders of Guam that, yes, we can throw obscene amounts of money at anyone coming to Guam to play a concert, hold a workshop or make a film, or you can use that money to invest in your local talent.

In order to help our island community understand what that self-investment would look like, the Muña Bros. along with J.D. Irriarte started the Guam International Film Festival in 2010. Each festival features dozens of films from around the world representing all types of genres. This festival has become an annual motivator for Guam’s small but determined film industry and has provided the venue for directors, writers, cinematographers, actors and others to come together to realize their long held creative visions. This year’s film festival takes place September 26-30 at the Agaña Shopping Center Theaters.

My favorite part of each GIFF is the category “Made in the Marianas” which showcases films made by people living in the Marianas Islands. This year the category features five films which feature action scenes, dialogue heavy drama and beautiful underwater photography. I am fortunate this year to have a film I co-wrote and co-directed included in this category. It’s title is “Påkto: I Hinekka” made by myself and my partner in cinema-crime Kenneth Gofigan Kuper with the help of cinematographer Leonard Leon from Saipan. The title translates roughly to “Magic: The Gathering” which may be familiar to younger readers of the Guam Daily Post. “Magic: The Gathering” is a fantasy card game where players draw energy from the earth to cast spells and summon creatures all in hopes of vanquishing your opponent.

Although close to no one in the world would ever associate “Magic” with Chamorro language or culture, in our short film we play a single game, speaking entirely in Chamorro. In developing the script we had to coin new phrases to fit the jargon of the game. We inserted jokes, commentary on current events (such as the military buildup) and even used old Chamorro axioms.

The Chamorro language, in all its glory is meant to be the star of the film. As we all know, Chamorro has been having a difficult time recently and it is possible that within the next few generations it will disappear. If you ask people why the language is “dying” people will tell you it’s the iPads, the Facebooks or the Pokemon or other things that people strongly feel are disconnected from Chamorro culture and language. Blaming these things however can be deceptive. In truth the real reason why the language is struggling is simply because those who can speak it, don’t use it with those who can’t. The language is dying because we aren’t producing new speakers of Chamorro, we are just watching and listening as the elders who do speak it slowly pass away.

In Guam today we associate the Chamorro language with things of the past, we see it as tied to ancient ancestors, faded photographs, creased nobena books and dancers shouting in loincloths. We don’t see it as living in the present and being relevant or applicable to the contemporary world and the cultural forms of technologies that have taken over our lives and tastes. This film represents an attempt to challenge those ideas and promote the notion that we can use the Chamorro language for anything today, even a nerdy fantasy card game with wizards and dragons.

I look forward to making more films such as this, that help us understand that the vitality of the Chamorro language is directly related to how often we use it and the diversity of things we use it for. By using Chamorro to connect to more and more things which are popular today, we increase the chances of it being spoken to and learned by the younger generations.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ground Control to Major Tom

I haven't done many song translations lately, I've been so busy with so many different types of work, this activity that used to take my spare time while waiting for meetings, for movies, while sitting at intersections, riding in planes and so on, has fallen by the wayside in terms of my schedule. This used to be a regular exercise I would do to keep my Chamorro creativity going and active. But lately that part of me has been used up for other pursuits, including story-writing in the Chamorro language.

But I recently rewatched the remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and loved the way they incorporated "Space Oddity" by David Bowie into the narrative. After listening to it again and again over the past two week, I really think I want to translate it into Chamorro. Not only because I like it, but because it is in-line with my philosophy of expanding the possibilities for Chamorro and just using Chamorro for everything I like or love or find passion in. In the song, we follow the conversation between Major Tom an astronaut who is on an important space mission and Ground Control, which is, other than his ability to see the world from space, his only connection to home. I like the idea of Chamorro being used to describe a man being lost in space, floating in space, I like the idea of having my translation metaphorically have the Chamorro language travel and transgress its own boundaries.

"Space Oddity"
by David Bowie

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills
and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown,
engines on
Check ignition
and may God's love be with you

Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Liftoff

This is Ground Control
to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule
if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating
in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past
one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
she knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead,
there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you....

Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Guam and Okinawan Constitutions

On Guam the issue of "the constitution" is always looming.

Chamorro activists sometimes bring it up. Plenty of non-Chamorros, such as Ron McNinch like to bring it up. Politicians from the US and from Guam bring it up. In the imaginings of decolonization it is a type of panacea, an incredibly dangerous and problematic one, and like all forms of snake or toad oil like this, it is incredibly seductive. And like these sort of talismans, no matter how many times you tell people they don't work, they aren't enough, or its just wrong, generations of people will still find it and "discover" it, and feel like it solves all problems, has all the answers. Every two weeks or so it seems, someone approaches me via email in public and wants to know why Guam, instead of decolonizing, why doesn't it just write a Constitution.

This is exactly what the United States Federal government has wanted Guam to do. And if something fits within the Americanized framework of political ideology and identity for people on Guam, it is generally more attractive or more effective than if it doesn't. There is an internationally recognized process for decolonization and for Guam changing its political status. Although most people have a passing and faint understanding of what it could be, it vanishes and disappears the moment Guam's political status change is offered an approved "American" route. We can see this in terms of the way a segment on the John Oliver show on the American contemporary colonies, the Dave Davis case and a case for the rights of people in Samoa have captured a decent amount of the Chamorro imagination. How people become enamored in these ways that our rights and our destiny is something that Supreme Court justices, lawyers and Senators and Congresspeople are supposed to determine. It is supposed to be something we determine, not something that is fought over by lawyers, to support or to cheer on that process, and to accept it as being the path, i chalan mo'na, means to give up or ignore our inalienable rights. But as the US has been our colonizer for more than a century, we find it so easy to give in to them, to accede to them, to just let go the rudder of the sakman, to let go the reins of the horse, to just let it all go and have Uncle Sam figure everything out for us.

We've been down this path before, decades ago when I wasn't even involved or aware of this issue, because I had just been born. In the early days of the modern Chamorro decolonization movement, the consciousness of those involved here was so limited. As their imaginations and understandings of the world were so boxed in with red, white and blue walls, they were certain that the only possible changes/reforms that exist would be akin to those of the Organic Act or the passage of the elected Governor laws for Guam. They would originate from the benevolence of Uncle Sam and trickle down onto the Chamorro people. These reforms are colonial continuations because they still operate from the assumption that the colonized improves, changes, becomes more free always through the colonizer's largesse and intervention. It reproduces the notion that the colonized has no agency and that its agency is all created through the colonizer's actions.

The idea of Guam simply creating a constitution follow the same logic. Guam should simply create a constitution and then submit it to the US Congress for its approval. How does this fix Guam's colonial status? Doesn't it just perpetuate it? If you exist in a fundamentally relationship such as this, how would submitting a constitution fix it? By the rules here, the US Congress could veto the constitution or change it or simply ignore it.

This is why the issue of a Guam Constitution was dropped for decades. A vote was taken on it, which failed because the public became convinced that you shouldn't put the karabao before the cart. You should pick the status you want first and then write a constitution, or else the whole effort may be fruitless. This is why the process for self-determination, in the formal sense has the character it does. We educate those who can vote. Once they vote and an option is chosen, then we proceed from there and write a constitution that fits. The main tension here is of course the possibility that decolonization could move Guam further away from the United States or lead to a cutting of colonial ties. For most people on Guam this is a frightening idea, as we have been a colony for so long and conditioned to think that this arrangement is supposed to be the best a small island like us could ever hope for. With that seething colonial dependency in effect there will always be people drawn back into the constitution first mentality. To not imagine there is anything in the world other than the United States, to not try to dream of what other reality and possibility the future could hold.

My thinking of this was stimulated by the fact that I'll be traveling to Okinawa next month and, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I've been there multiple times in the past four years working with a growing independence and decolonization movement there. In preparing for my trip there I came across an unofficial constitution that was written for Okinawa by an anonymous individual in 1981. I've pasted it below, along with a segment from a not that great, but still interesting thesis about Okinawan nationalism: "Is It Nationalism? History's Impact on Okinawan Identity" by Matthew Gottlieb.


Is it Nationalism? History’s Impact on Okinawan Identity
By Matthew Gottlieb

Providing an exact nature of Okinawan nationalism…remains dicey, but two-track thesis suggests that it involves any cultural artifacts, widely held beliefs, and other customs that separate the islands’ culture from the mainland. In short, what would have a Ryukyuan say “we” and a northerner say “they.” This fits in with Anderson by placing Okinawa and Japan on an equal footing, and feeds into other theorists since it uses their opinions on nationalism. Paradoxically, the stronger the nationalism becomes the more it places the southern prefecture within the nation-state’s mainstream. As the sports section shows, local nationalism blends into provincial pride and, in the case of the baseball tournament, even outright Japanese nationalism. This definition appears basic, but one imagines that 100,000 Okinawans would offer 100,000 different opinions on what is Okinawa-ness, creating the need for a looser description. A place that serves as a former kingdom, a province, a tourism destination, and an American military outpost offers a variety of interpretations of nationalism.
Tatsuko Yamada, one of nine Okinawan females engaged in Ruth Ann Kelso’s series of interviews entitled Women of Okinawa, lives the life of a Ryukyuans’ “we,” a Japanese person’s “they,” and an “us” by bringing the two places together. Yamada lived through the American occupation with her father working for the Americans in the immediate post-war years as an illustrator, her family was adopted by an military couple, and her little sister was even named Dorothy. As a child, Yamada developed an interest in ballet, and described her instructor as “Japanese,” but she developed into a well- regarded teacher of Ryubu, a traditional Okinawan dance that emerged during the fifteenth century, the “golden age” of Chinese stewardship, and revived in the years after World War II. 68 As the interviewee said, “Aesthetically speaking, it is Okinawa.” She described rampant discrimination from the mainlanders during her days as a student at Tokyo’s Keio University, where signs outside of restaurants even read “Okinawans Prohibited” or her father’s time in Japan in the prewar years. He changed his last name to fit in with northern culture; when he won a highly prestigious wood-carving contest, the organizers stripped him of the title since it was unthinkable that a southerner would win the contest; and when he wanted to return home, his first wife refused. Despite this, there is an implied dream for an equal footing within the Japanese nation. When Okinawans tired of the American occupation, they demonstrated for reversion to the mainland. Protestors waved Japanese flags and referred to themselves as Japanese. After reunification, and islanders felt that they were still treated as second-class citizens, people called themselves “uchinanauchu,” the Ryukyuan term for a person from Okinawa and sheathed their flags. Yamada, despite her clear dissatisfaction with Tokyo’s policies and mainlander’s attitudes, clearly wants more engagement with Japan. She hopes the Americans will leave the bases, despite acknowledging the military presence’s financial benefits, to help spur tourism from the north. She believes the national government is “obligated to pump more money into the economy” and “that a lot of problems here need to be addressed by the Japanese government.” Yamada’s views shows one way in which an Okinawan wants a distinct, but clearly equal, role within the Japanese nation- state.
Yamada’s observations - and others, such as the anonymously written Unofficial Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus - emphasize what Okinawa is not. The islands claims a peaceful heritage, but American bases cover large sections of the main island. It clearly holds an independent culture, but as the constitution states, the Ryukyus have “suffered centuries of exploitation and oppression under the feudalistic and imperialistic rule of China, Japan, and the United States of America,” Citizens vote for candidates in the national government, yet they feel powerless toward Tokyo and Washington. When the victorious Allies revived the Ryukyu name for the region, islanders wanted assimilation with Japan, 74 and the idea of uchinananchu blossomed after reversion.75 Yamada observed that mainlanders saw Okinawans as drunks,76 and Americans often perceive the region as bucolic. If the main focus of nationalism is what makes a people a “we,” then the less-remembered focus of it comes from what makes a people “them.” Nationalism is a two-way street.


Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus


We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, having suffered centuries of exploitation and oppression under the feudalistic and imperialistic rule of China, Japan, and the United States of America, have finally achieved our long-held goals of freedom and independence through a process of democratic revolution consistent with contemporary global political developments.

We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, enact this Constitution for ourselves and for our descendents, with the aim of preventing the tragedy of war, ensuring peace across our land and harmony with other democratic countries, improving the welfare of the people, preserving domestic calm, and establishing justice.
We, the people of the Republic of the Ryukyus, believe that we cannot just concentrate on the affairs of our own land to the disregard of affairs in other countries. We believe that the principle of popular democratic revolution is a universality. We believe further that it is the duty of all countries to set about the establishment of a global league of governments in order that we may ensure the continued duration of mankind.

The citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus vow to do their utmost to uphold the noble principles outlined above and to achieve the objectives set forth in this document for the honour of the Republic.

This Constitution will automatically become null and void the day prior to the Republic of the Ryukyus' full incorporation into the global league of governments, should such a body be successfully established.

The Constitution
Article One:

The Republic of the Ryukyus is a democratic republic based on the foundations of love and labour. Sovereignty resides with the people in whom love and labour are born. The people of the Republic of the Ryukyus will exercise all powers of sovereignty according to the Constitution.

Article Two:

The territory of the Republic of the Ryukyus, this small island archipelago which forms the Ryukyu arc, is a spiritual land, incorporating the legendary heaven of Nirai Kanai.

Article Three:

The Republic of the Ryukyus is an alliance of nations based on the principle of decentralised authority, and consists of the four main areas of Amami State, Okinawa State, Miyako State, Yaeyama State, along with other islands.
All citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus who live on outlying islands at the periphery of our territory possess the freedom to live in whichever state they may choose. They also possess the full freedom to secede from the Republic if they so desire.

Article Four:

The Republic of the Ryukyus will ensure the complete rights of autonomy to each state within the alliance of nations. The overall authority of the Government of the Republic will be exercised in accordance with the autonomous power of each of the states.

Article Five:

Each of the states within the Republic of the Ryukyus has the right to secede from the Republic, or to establish a new state within the boundaries of a previously existing state. Furthermore, two or more states within the Republic have the right to merge, thereby creating one large state.

Article Six:

Use, or not, of traditional Ryukyuan languages is discretionary and will be decided in accordance with the wishes of the component states of the Republic. Each of the individual states will maintain the authority to decide upon the standard languages of their region. The exception will be the languages utilised in governmental and judicial affairs which, out of necessity, will have to be standardised. The official languages of the Republic will, in general, be a combination of Ryukyuan and Japanese.

Article Seven:

The national flag of the Republic of Ryukyus is black, red, and white.

Article Eight:

The act of preparing for war, in name or shape, is a violation of the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of the Ryukyus. It disturbs peaceful coexistence between the citizens of all countries. Any such deed must be punished. The government of the Republic of the Ryukyus prohibits all experimentation, along with the manufacture, transport, and storage of, all materials and equipment which could potentially be used to produce weapons of war, such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and poisonous gases. This is rooted in the complete opposition of the Ryukyuan people towards war.

Article Nine:

All citizens of the Republic of the Ryukyus, however many in number, possess the freedom to secede from the Republic.

Monday, September 21, 2015

George Takei on Kim Davis

I have always found it interesting how George Takei went from simply a sci-fi actor to a cultural icon and progressive activist. I remember him from the Star Trek films and original TV show, and knew he had to be important in a general way because he was one of he few Asian American actors I would see regularly on the screen. I did not know at the time he was gay, but eventually he reentered my general view of the world as an activist for gay rights, progressive causes and seeing the funny side of life through his Facebook page. Part of the reason that I really like Star Trek as cultural universe and historical text is because it has some progressive roots. The characters of both Uhura and Sulu were minor, but significant in their day as being examples of regular non-menial role for Asian and African American ctors. Both Takei and Nichelle Nichols have worked beyond the limits of Hollywood and extended into civil rights struggles and movements, using their position and fame to help fight for larger causes.

I have always been touched by the way that Martin Luther King Jr. figured into the Star Trek mythos via Nichelle Nichol's character. His support for her in the role helped encourage her to stay on the show even after she had been reduced in importance and the characters of Spock and Kirk took over. Here is an excerpt from her interview with the Wall Street Journal blog "Speakeasy."

I understand that the Uhura character didn’t even exist before you were hired.
I walked in to the interview with this magnificent treatise on Africa by [Robert] Ruark called Uhuru, which is Swahili for Freedom. Gene said he really liked the name of that book and wanted to use the title as a first name. I said, why don’t you do an alliteration of the name Uhuru and soften the N and make it Uhura? He said you are Uhura and that belongs to you.
How much input did you have in creating Uhura?
I created my background, where she came from, my parents. They were ambassadors and one was a scientist, so I had this to live up to as well as the expectations of Spock. I made him Uhura’s mentor.
It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?
After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.
What convinced you to stay on?
I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.
What was that like?
I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.
Did you know then how much of a role model you’d become?
Oh, god, no. I thought of it as a stepping stone to Broadway. I went back to Gene and told him what had happened, and that I was staying. He smiled up at me and said, thank god for Dr. Martin Luther King.
Did the experience change how you played Uhura?
Nichols: It’s one of the most important things that happened in my life and it changed and defined my career. I took my role much more seriously after that.
Would you say that there’s some vestige of Martin Luther King Jr. in ‘Star Trek’?
I know there is. Subsequently, Gene and I would speak about it, and he invoked Martin Luther King after getting his star on the walk of fame. What happened with Dr. King instilled a very strong bond between Gene and I.

Below are two articles from George Takei, when he weighed in on the Kim Davis, refusing to do her job scandal in Kentucky.


Constitution 101
George Takei on How Kim Davis Violated the First Ammendment
The Daily Beast
by George Takei
September 14, 2015

The Kentucky clerk and her supporters ignore the Constitution’s Establishment Clause—which prohibits anyone from forcing their own religious views on others.

Kim Davis and her various supporters are adamant on one point: Her religious freedom has been stripped away. To them, her case is the first step toward putting good Christians in jails for their beliefs. Her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky is, in their view, a matter of faith with which the government has no right to intervene. They hang their collective hat on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion—without articulating, let alone differentiating, the two co-equal components to that very freedom.

So let us go back to high-school civics. When discussing the religious freedom portion of the First Amendment, there are not one but two clauses we must consider. The commonly understood and cited part, and the one Ms. Davis trumpets, is the Freedom to Worship guarantee. Under that clause, the government isn’t allowed to pass any law, or take any action, “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.  Simply put, the government can’t do anything to stop you or anyone else from worshipping God or Buddha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if that’s what your conscience or faith tells you. In Ms. Davis’s view, the government (via a federal court) has overstepped its power by forcing her to act against her religious beliefs, and therefore has trodden upon her right of free exercise.

This argument falls apart, however, once you take into account the other, less commonly understood clause. The “Establishment Clause” prohibits the government from aiding or assisting any religion, or religious viewpoint, over any others. This was a key point for the founders of our country, who were of diverse faiths and did not want a state religion, or even any state-endorsed religions. When people talk about “separation of church and state,” this is the part of the Constitution that embodies it. The separation has worked well over the past two and a quarter centuries; today, the Baptists have no more right to have their particular beliefs elevated over the Methodists, or the Druids for that matter, by any government official.

So what does the Establishment Clause have to do with Kim Davis? It’s actually rather straightforward. She is a government employee charged with performing a clerical task (issuing a marriage license). As an employee of the government, the moment she imposed her own personal religious beliefs (that only straight couples should be married), she raised an Establishment Clause problem. By insisting on applying God’s law (or at least her interpretation of it) over the civil law, she gave greater weight by the government to a particular religious viewpoint, namely her own brand of Christianity. This was a plain violation of the Establishment Clause.

That of course raises another question: If it is a violation, where do Ms. Davis’s rights to freedom of worship begin and end? The simplest way to think about this is to agree that all of us have a right to worship, but that right ends at the tips of our noses. That is, we have a right to our beliefs, but we don’t have the right to impose our views on other members of the public. Everyone’s perfectly free to worship as they please, but this freedom also includes not having other people’s beliefs interfere with our own participation in civil society.

This is even more important when we’re talking about government officials, such as public school educators, judges, or country clerks. Such individuals are expected to do their jobs no matter who is appearing before them or under their care. Imagine, for example, that a person of the Quaker faith took a job with the county and then refused to issue gun licenses on grounds it violated her faith. The easy answer here is that she would have no right to do so. If guns are legal in the county, then citizens have a right to apply, and she cannot use her personal beliefs to stop others from obtaining a license. In this example, gun owners and non-gun owners alike probably would tell her to go find another job where she could function without ethical or religious dilemma.
As a public official, it isn’t even clear Ms. Davis does not in fact have the same rights to speak out let alone act in opposition to same-sex marriage as part of her official duties. As the conservative majority of the Supreme Court noted in the case of Garcetti v. Cebalos back in 2006, “[W]hen public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” In other words, Ms. Davis, as an officer of the county, is subject to the Establishment Clause limitations, and precisely because she is a government employee, does not have the right to claim First Amendment protection either for her speech or for her actions based on her faith.

It is somewhat surprising that religious freedom advocates would choose this particular hill to defend, as any judge or constitutional law expert would easily conclude that her behavior violated Establishment Clause principles going back to the very founding of our nation. In so doing, these self-described advocates for religious liberty are in fact showing an alarming disregard and ignorance of some of the bedrock principles around the separation of church and state.

A much thornier question arises when private citizens assert they are being compelled to provide services for same-sex couples in violation of their personal belief systems (such as the infamous gay wedding cake example). That is a quandary for another day, one I’m sure will test the boundaries of the two religious freedom clauses. Ms. Davis’s case, on the other hand, is crystal clear to anyone who appreciates what “separation of church and state” really means. The vociferous defense of her behavior by some indeed suggests that they aren’t really very interested in maintaining this separation at all.


Kim Davis isn't Rosa Parks: She's George Wallace.
by George Takei

When supporters of Kim Davis see her defiantly refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, they see someone bravely standing for her faith and her principles, refusing to budge from them. This defiance has made her a hero to many on the far right, who view marriage equality as something imposed by the federal courts and an existential threat to a cherished way of life.

Instead of accepting that threat lying down, Davis remarkably stood up and was willing to go to jail rather than compromise her beliefs. Local armed militias such as the Oathkeepers have even rallied to her side, vowing to keep her out of jail using force if necessary. To her supporters, she is the Rosa Parks of religious liberty, someone who finally said, “Enough is enough, I have rights, and I will fight for them.”

When I view her behavior, however, I am reminded of a different character from the early civil rights era: Gov. George Wallace of Alabama. For those who weren’t born yet or simply don’t remember, Wallace was a staunch and vocal opponent to racial desegregation. For him, the sanctity of white privilege was a cherished way of life. When he took the oath of office, standing on the same spot where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy more than 100 years earlier, Wallace famously proclaimed, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

As with Davis, supporters of the old order cheered Wallace’s brazen stand. And like Davis, Wallace was more than just his words. In 1963, he stood defiantly blocking the schoolhouse door of the University of Alabama as two African American students prepared to enter the premises to enroll. Federal forces had to be called in to forcibly permit the integration, and others like it in Alabama, to proceed.

For Wallace, the federal government’s plans to integrate public education in the South amounted to a surrender of the state to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his friends in Washington. There are echoes of this in the Davis case, as once again, a ruling from the Supreme Court in D.C. trickles down to the state and local levels. The people are reminded that unelected judges are “making law” just as they have before, that these laws are wrong and are contrary to God’s will, and that the good people are only doing what is right by standing up to this threat to their way of life.

Here, marriage equality, like desegregation, tells an already wary conservative base that their belief system, and their exclusion of certain members of society from rights and privileges they themselves enjoy, is not only wrong but illegal. The weight of the law, once so firmly in their grip, has suddenly now shifted to operate against them, and now they are the ones who will go to jail if they don’t concede defeat.

Despite these parallels, marriage equality cases are far less disruptive to everyday life than desegregation. Permitting two people who love each other to marry affects only those two people, with tangential effects on those who might minister, verify or cater to the happy couple. Thus, we see eruption points where we might expect them: at the clerk’s office, on the church steps, in the bakery shop. But federal troops are unlikely to be headed to Kentucky any time soon, despite the bluster of groups like the Oathkeepers.

There is, however, an eerie and disheartening similarity to how insecurities and fears are still being exploited by today’s politicians. Presidential candidates such as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz were quick to stand by Davis’s side as she emerged from jail, observing ominously that this was part of the overall War on Christianity. Religious liberty is now a rallying point for the right, even as that concept is distorted beyond all recognition to permit government officials to inject their personal beliefs into purely ministerial or clerical matters.
Gov. Wallace also understood the power of exploiting fear. He was once a candidate endorsed by the NAACP, but took a drubbing in his first bid for governor. Then Wallace discovered that Alabama voters were genuinely afraid of what desegregation would mean for their communities, and he shifted quickly to run on a staunchly segregationist platform. When asked why by 1962 he had started using racist messaging in his campaign, Wallace was blunt: “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about n*****s, and they stomped the floor.”

Happily, the days when overt racial discrimination and segregation are championed by social conservatives are long past. Imagine if instead of denying a license to a gay couple, Ms. Davis had sought on religious grounds to deny a license to an interracial couple. She likely would have been fired on the spot, and no politicians would have rushed to stand by her side, no matter what her sincerely held religious convictions were. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is headed to a similar, inevitable end in the dust heap of history.

But along the way there will be opponents like Davis to remind us that social change means social displacement and a recalibration of what is acceptable. And as with Gov. Wallace, decades from the day Davis stood her ground we will no doubt look back and wonder above all why so many stood with her.

George Takei is an actor, social justice activist, and social media mega-power.


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