Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #9: Blood, Veins, Wounds and Scars

Someone once told me that Nicaragua is a land of wounds. If Latin America is a land of open veins, Nicaragua is a land of wounding after wounding. Since becoming independent from Spain in the early 19th century, it has gone through regular periods of social upheaval and repression, generally with the United States playing some form of oppressor. In the 1850's a US mercenary and would be monarch William Walker took over the country and re-instituted slavery. Although the US government didn't necessarily fund and organize his private imperial venture, they recognized his facade of a government, as it would be one where they were certain it would follow their interests. Walker was expelled by a coalition of local Central American leaders who all detested the power that the United States and its economic and military emissaries tended to wield over their local affairs.

As the United States saw Latin America as their sphere of influence, they closely monitored any potential interference from other countries, while constantly finding ways to violently interfere for their own narrow needs. Although it has become commonplace to see the Middle East as the site where the US can't seem to leave things well enough alone in the name of Freedom and Democracy, historically its history in Latin America is much more imperial and reprehensible. For 200 hundred years nearly every single country from Mexico to Chile has been bombed by US forces, invaded by US forced, occupied by US forced, had rebels funded by US forced, or had their leaders overthrown by US intelligence forces.

Nicaragua was a battleground for the US Marines, who occupied the country for close to 20 years. They fought primarily against poor nationalists, farmer workers, peasants, mine workers who did not want their country to be occupied by a foreign power. The revered folk hero of Nicaragua Augusto Sandino emerged during that time, fighting the US Marines for six years.

In those times the interests of the US were more explicitly imperials and economic. US companies in Latin American enjoyed a great deal of freedom on how they operated, especially with corrupt autocratic rulers in power. On occasions when a reformer or someone more progressive or socialist minded would rise to power, usually with a great deal of popular support, quiet deals would be made in the darkened rooms in Washington D.C. that something had to be done, and this person who was not friendly to American business interests, would have to be shown the dangers of not cooperating with your regional mafia boss. The late 19th century and early 20th centuries were periods where the US favored direct intervention, landing troops and bombing cities both from the sea and from the air. This is where the most decorated soldier in US history, Smedley Butler makes his appearance. Butler was one of the most decorated soldiers in US military history, receiving two Medal of Honors for his role in keeping the world safe for US economic interests. He later came to regret his exploits, as he made clear in his statements such as this:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

After World War II, the US changed its strategy and began to operate more through proxies. Funding revolutions and planning the overthrow of leaders that didn't support American companies or were planning to make changes to their societies that smelled like communism or socialism. The "Cold" War period of history is a violently hot period for Latin America as the time is bloody with civil wars, most of which were supported and sustained by the United States and its mirror in geopolitical aspirations the USSR. It is a time of petty tyrants and bullies propped up by the US, its guns and its money. Millions of lives were lost in the process.


The US supported the decades long dictatorship of the Somoza family. In the 1970's a guerrilla socialist, Marxist movement formed in the spirit of Sindino, who became known as the Sandanistas. They started in the hills of Nicaragua, training and building support from the poorest populations, taking advantage of international communist networks to travel to North Korea, Cuba and Palestine for further training and "advisement." The incredibly unpopular Somoza family was eventually pushed out and the Sandanistas came to power. Very soon after the US began to fund an opposition movement, who became known as the Contras, who began to fight the Sandanistas hoping to destabilize Nicaragua and wrest control of the control from them.

During this period, the Sandanistas fought the Contras and received their own support, primarily from the USSR. At that time, an interesting bit of history took place, which has long gone down the "memory hole" of the United States as Noam Chomsky phrases it. Nicaragua took the United States to the International Court of Justice in order to get them to cease their interference in the affairs of their country. In 1984, the ICJ ruled in favor of the government of Nicaragua, ruling that the funding of the Contras by the US and the mining of the harbors of the country violated their sovereignty and their rights to peace and safe commerce. The ICJ ruled that the US should pay reparations to Nicaragua, but the US refused to acknowledge the entire process, arguing the ICJ had no jurisdiction over them.

For people from imperial and colonial countries, memories are always short. When they look at the world, they see people that have trouble putting the past behind them. They see people in the developing world, the lands of scars and wounds of colonialism, as being so irrational, they won't let go of past wrongs, who hold onto feuds decades and centuries later. They get so consumed with their wounds, they can't let them go. But from the countries that have been the historic battlefields of the powerful and the would-be monarchs of the world, it is not so easy to just forget. The wounds, the scars are still there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #8: Taigue Ta'lo

In the United Nations there are various ways of "protesting" or challenging something. At the regional seminar this year, like most years, the usual verbal sparring took place between countries and colonies. The Falkland Islands or Malvinas are off the coast of Argentina, but are a longtime colony of the UK. A war took place over them several decades ago, which Argentina soundly lost. The Argentinian delegate to the seminar always asserts the right of his country over the islands. The representatives of the Falklands always challenge and counter that. The Latin American countries will always come to the aid of Argentina, all proclaiming that the Malvinas are part of Argentina! Sometime these exchanges wake up the attendees, sparing them from more dreary diplomatic time gnashing. Other times, they are so used to the angry spitting of accusations that this is more boring than the usual tame speech reading and droning posturing.

But the more passive aggressive way of protesting something is to simply disengage, to either not show up and participate, or to participate and engage until your time arrives and then to disappear. This is, sadly the approach that the two major administering powers or colonizers today take. Instead of working with the UN and participating in the cooperative process of decolonization, they ignore it or make a show of ignoring it. People who have gone to the United Nations in New York to testify on the question of Guam regularly attest to this. During the testimonies for other non-self-governing territories before the Fourth Committee, the delegate from the United States is usually present. But when it comes time for Guam to receive its 15 minutes of international decolonization-related fame, that same delegate will often times leave the room and return as soon as the Guam-based testimony is finished. I experienced this in 2007 when I went to the UN. I kept my eye on the US delegate and noted their getting up to leave the room just prior to me testifying.

At the regional seminars, the US and other powers often times just don't show up. As evidenced by this image, where the US and UK, who have the largest responsibilities in terms of aiding their colonies decolonize, were both absent this year. But that is to be expected, as they rarely show up and sometimes will still take the same stance of leaving the room when their obligations to their colonies is discussed.

Quest for Decolonization #7: Decolonial Deadlocks

Although the world could probably agree on the fact that colonial should no longer exist and be eradicated from the world, this does not mean that much of the world will lift a finger to do anything about it. The consensus over something can in a way kill the possibility of doing anything about it. It is an interesting dynamic that creates this effect. The more people agree that something should not exist, the more they tend to assert its existence as being marginal and small. Or that it contemporary emergence is irregular and unique, it does not represent much of the world save for itself. The fact that all can agree on colonialism being eradicated also creates the impression that it is beyond contestation or beyond intervention. For instance, almost everyone in the world would agree to some form of the notion that "politicians are corrupt." The commonsensical quality of this can be problematic. The larger and wider spread a notion like this is, the more difficult it can be to do anything about it, as people mistake the feelings of solidarity or similarity, the shared agreement as action, when it in truth isn't. You can find this same issue at the UN. The more people agree that colonialism should be eradicated, the more people mistake their mere agreement as somehow eradicating colonialism.

There is a general miasma with regards to this issue. There is a feeling that colonialism doesn't only belong to a previous era, but that the battle for decolonization does as well and that it was fought already a generation or two ago. This is further complicated by the fact that most of the colonies belong to countries that are the least interested in following international law, such as the United States which is the administering power, or colonizer for Guam, US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.  It is one thing to take up the banner of this fight if it looks like their is hope or possibility for change, but if you are trying to get the United States to act in the name of justice and outside of its petty and narrow national interests, you are foolishly tempting the impossible. Other colonies are trapped in conflicts between nations, where different nations claim to be the true owner of these territories and that the colonies should be returned to them.

But other than this global apathy over the plight of the colonies, these is plenty of contradiction and disagreement within the colonies themselves. They have their own deadlocks, many of which revolve around the fear of freedom, the fear of being unchained from the colonizer, the fear of what may lay ahead for them if that future was no longer determined by the laws or the example of their colonizer. People in the colonies and those tied to colonies are the only ones in the world who seem to miss the fact that being a colonies is abnormal today. The norm is to be independent. That being a colony is not some secret benefit, some way that they are able to dodge the dangers of the world by staying forever close to and hidden within the sovereign garments of their masters. Being a colony today can feel like somehow you have a shield, a circle of protection that no one else does, but at what cost? For some colonies it doesn't seem like the cost is much or matters at all. For others it is too high, too much.

In Guam I have discussed this often in terms of "the decolonial deadlock" here. The particular way that decolonization take ideological form and becomes something that must be resisted. I am pasting below my testimony from the last time I attended a UN regional seminar, 2013 in Ecuador, where I discussed the decolonial deadlock in Guam. It would be interesting to look at each of the different non-self-governing territories and their own deadlocks or ways that people there feel like decolonization is an impossible thing that must be resisted.

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Statement to the Regional Seminar on the Implementation of the
Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism

Quito, Ecuador, May 28 – 30, 2013

Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Ph.D.
University of Guam / Independence for Guam Task Force

The world has come to a consensus that colonization was not right and should be eradicated. Whatever rhetoric countries once used to justify exploitation and expansion and their domination over other free peoples has been disproven. Although progress and development can come about through colonization it is neither the most effective or the most moral way of carrying this out.

The arc of history seems to clearly bend in one direction, from colony to decolonization. There are only 17 non-self-governing territories left in the world, and close to 200 independent nations, many of them former colonies. This truth however is not manifest in most of the remaining non-self-governing territories. In Guam for example, decolonization is something that people fear and don’t understand.

It is stuck in what I call “a decolonial deadlock.” Although there have been some efforts at the governmental level and movements amongst activists at the grassroots level, most people on Guam remain very resistant to the idea that Guam needs to be decolonized.

As a scholar whose research is invested in studying Guam’s colonial history and theorizing the possibilities for its decolonization, I have studied this deadlock in many forms, always with the intent of understanding it. It is my ultimate goal to find ways to resolve this deadlock and help people understand the need and advantages to changing our political status to something more equitable.

From 2002 – 2004 I conducted an ethnographic study with more than 100 Chamorros ages 20 – 70, to discuss their ideas and thoughts on Guam’s decolonization. The majority of these subjects were against the mere idea of decolonization, and had trouble discussing it in an objective way. Their resistance was animated by a set of strange and bewildering fantasies. These fantasies shaped their discourse in such a way that decolonization became deadly and dangerous. It was something that they felt seemed to threaten the very possibility of life on the island.

Many of the ideas they proposed were very irrational. I questioned them as to whether or not they were seriously or merely joking. Even after being given the chance to restate their opinions, they insisted that I take their comments seriously.

They argued that decolonization was impossible since it would mean erasing everything from the island save for that which people understand as being narrowly Chamorro. They saw decolonization as being ridiculous because of the way it would require the local Chamorro to take over things that the colonizer once held sway over. These Chamorros articulated the “Chamorro way” of doing things through stereotypes, as if they were seeing the world through the colonizer’s narrowing gaze.

They argued that a decolonized Guam would defend itself with “slingstones and spears” and that a Government of a decolonized Guam would govern the island by “barbequing.” In their minds a decolonized Guam there was no electricity, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, internet, education, money, but simply people living in huts as they did prior to colonization.

A second set of fantasies were based on images of societal decay and chaos that would surely result if the island was decolonized. People argued that decolonization should not be discussed or attempted since it would lead to the end of everything. The day after Guam was decolonized, the island would be invaded by North Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and a variety of other non-white ethnicities. The island would become addicted to drugs. The government would collapse into unbridled corruption. There would be riots, looting, total chaos. Everyone would starve.

There may be some element of truth or concern in each fantasy, but that doesn’t account the irrational forms they take. These responses make perfect sense however if you consider the Chamorro to be in a colonial context, and the ways in which they may have come to accept colonial caricatures of themselves.

These caricatures are derived from the premise that the colonized needs the colonizer, and cannot survive or advance without them. Chamorros fill the discursive space with their own local versions of societal upheaval, breakdown or impossibility. But ultimately these fantasies come from the colonial fiction that in order for life to function in a colony, the colonizer must be in charge. If you remove him, everything will fall apart.

The clearest indication that Chamorros have a very limited understanding of decolonization is the fact that these conversations about it immediately moved towards decolonization equaling independence. In truth, decolonization means a change in political status to something that is equitable or fair based on the desires of the native people. It can manifest in many forms, it is not only independence.

But Chamorros responded to the topic of decolonization in an “interpassive” way. Interpassivity is a psychoanalytical term in which you discuss something in such a way in order to prevent any discussion about it from taking place. They responded with interpretations of decolonization that are so ridiculous, it is meant to completely shut down discussion and not let any further consideration take place. Decolonization in any form, even in terms of integration with the colonizer is something to be resisted within the decolonial deadlock, because it challenges the sovereignty and control of the colonizer. So long as the colonizer is in charge, all is supposed to be well, everything will function and advance. But if you challenge that authority, even in order to become one with it, you disrupt your existence.

The representations of the UN in this decolonial deadlock range from non-existent to a devious interloper. One end of the spectrum makes the other possible. Because the UN has little to no presence on the island, the gap is filled almost seamlessly with negative fantasies such as the ones that Chamorros feel towards decolonization.

The UN is not seen as an impartial mediator or guide, but as something that challenges the authority of the United States, infringing on its sovereignty. They see it as interfering with the control that people trapped in the decolonial deadlock feel is essential to the order in their lives. They also create fantasies that absolve the United State of any culpability in the continuing colonizing of Guam. They blame the UN for not decolonizing the island, and they blame the inefficient and incompetent UN for not taking this process seriously. This is where the decolonial deadlock achieves its circular and continually reproducing status.

Those who fantasize that the UN is holding Guam back from decolonizing, thus argue that it should really by the US who decolonizes Guam. Thus reinforcing the idea that even in terms of self-determination, something that shouldn’t belong to any colonizer, people on Guam feel that it should be the colonizer who determines the destiny of Chamorros. This is truly regrettable since the US is on record saying they do not support decolonization for Guam. Due to its strategic importance and the bases the US possesses there, they have no interest in decolonizing the island. As a non-self-governing territory Guam suits their needs perfectly.

The UN can play a critical role in resolving the decolonial deadlock and bringing about a change in consciousness in Guam. But it cannot so long as it remains absent and the administering power remains either opposed to any change or disengaged from any discussions on the matter.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #6: Liberation Theology with Father Miguel D'Escoto

This year's regional seminar featured two keynote addresses by Father Miguel D'Escoto, a longtime priest, champion of human rights and a former President of the United Nations General Assembly. He has been a very controversial figure because of his outspoken criticism of the United States in particular. As a priest in Nicaragua he was very supportive of the Sandanista Revolution even to the point of joining the government of Daniel Ortega and serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. For this and his other explicitly political activities he was suspended by Pope John Paul II in 1985. He was reinstated last year after he reportedly petitioned the current Pope that the 81 year old be allowed to perform mass again before he dies.

His speeches last week were fiery. He did not pull punches in condemning the United States for its lack of respect for international law. He criticized it for the wars it is carrying out around the world. He admonished it for its role in making Latin American a place, to borrow the phrase from Eduardo Galeano, of blood and veins. A place where other countries came to exploit and the people and the land suffered like a body from which one has greedily drawn too much blood. Here is a quote of his to give you a sense of his politics:
The Church has never been in favor of a revolution to benefit the poor. This is because the Church is an old institution that for much of its history, has worked in cahoots with the empires and has accrued many privileges. The privileged classes hate, fear and despise revolution. This has been a lamentable fact.
 He told many stories, some of which were truly touching, especially when he talked about his connection to another famous priest who lived and breathed what we know as "Liberation Theology" Oscar Romero from El Salvador. Many consider their churches to be apolitical, simply dealing with religious and cultural matters. But major religions are huge political forces and we see it sometimes mobilized in official means, for instance against gay marriage, casino gambling or abortion rights. The church doesn't necessarily see these stances as political because they consider them to be within their religious domain. But for the general political structures of society the church is sometimes torn. Most would argue it is the responsibility of the church to help the poor and the downtrodden, but there is a wide difference of opinion as to what that "help" entails. For most it is simply treating the symptoms. Feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless. Treat the sick. But for those invested in Liberation Theology, there is an obligation not just to lessen the suffering, as in providing a divine pat on the back and a holy, it'll get better, but to actually work against those structures that are oppressing or hurting people. There is a responsibility to change the world, not just ease people through their earthly suffering.

Oscar Romero was recently beatified, after the church was divided over his legacy for a long time. On the one had he was a hero to the people, someone who spoke out against tyranny and oppression. But he was also someone who exposed the unwillingness of the Catholic church to clearly take the side of the common, suffering masses against the elites and the powerful, whether they be individuals, families or entire countries. Here's a quote from one of his speeches:
In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs--they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands....But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people's defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.
According to D'Escoto, he was scheduled to meet with Romero around the time he was assassinated. He met him at his funeral instead.

He also spoke about the connection between Liberation Theology and Decolonization, but that is something for another blog post.

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Pope Francis Reinstates Father Miguel D'Escoto, Suspended for Involvement in Nicaraguan Revolution


Pope Francis has reinstated Father Miguel D'Escoto 29 years after he was suspended from priestly duties for his involvement in Nicaragua's revolutionary government in the 1970s, Catholic News Service reports.

The 81-year-old priest sent a request to the Vatican asking for permission to resume his priesthood, reportedly writing that he wanted the chance to celebrate Mass again "before dying." Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, signed the letter lifting D'Escoto's suspension.

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, an American Catholic missionary organization of which D'Escoto was a member, released a press release and quoted the Vatican's letter as saying:
"The Holy Father has given his benevolent assent that Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann be absolved from the canonical censure inflicted upon him, and entrusts him to the superior general of the institute (Maryknoll) for the purpose of accompanying him in the process of reintegration into the ministerial priesthood."
D'Escoto had reached considerable stature in the church before becoming involved in Nicaraguan politics, which ran counter to the church ban on clergy holding government positions and led to his suspension by Pope John Paul II in 1985. After his ordination in 1961, D'Escoto went on to found Orbis Books, Maryknoll's theological publishing division, and became an official with the World Council of Churches.

D'Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a political movement rooted in Marxist philosophy and which once had ties to the Soviet Communist party.

In an interview with America Magazine in 1985, D'Escoto commented on the escalation of revolutionary attitudes in Nicaragua -- including, he said, among the church elders who typically stay out of such debates:
If you tell me that there is a revolution somewhere and the church is against it, I will say, "What else is new?" I mean, what would be newsworthy is to tell me that the church is for it. So in Nicaragua the new thing is, and the question is: How come so much of the church is in favor of it [the revolution]? How come so many of the priests, even of the bishops?
Pope Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, also lived through a dictatorship in the 1970s in his native Argentina, but his role in the country's political arena was less defined than D'Escoto's was in Nicaragua. Instead of joining a political movement, the pope reportedly worked from behind the scenes to provide shelter for people at risk of persecution by the government.

The pope's decision to lift D'Escoto's suspension may have something to do with this shared experience of political turmoil, Father James Martin suggested to HuffPost.

"It is a sign not only of generosity and a desire for reconciliation," Martin said, "but also a recognition that many of those who were involved in such political efforts were trying their best to help God's poor."

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Martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero closer to sainthood

Updated 11:48 PM ET, Sat May 23, 2015


San Salvador, El Salvador (CNN)Just over 35 years to the day that an assassin's bullet hit his chest, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified on Saturday, bringing the slain priest one step closer to sainthood. 

Tens of thousands of people crowded El Salvador's Savior of the World Plaza for the bestowing of an honor that some wondered if Romero -- a controversial figure in his time -- would ever receive. 

He was a hero to the progressive liberation theology movement, but his beatification was delayed for decades over political concerns. Pope Francis put things in motion when he declared Romero a martyr earlier this year. 

"Romero, friend, the people are with you," the crowd, which numbered in the tens of thousands, chanted.

Many braved heavy rains overnight to secure a seat or spot to stand. On Saturday, the rain gave way to a blistering sunny day. 

Romero was named Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977, during a period where the Central American country was run by a succession of military dictatorships. 

Historians say he was chosen in part because he was seen as conservative and unlikely to be overly critical to the authoritarian government. 

But the murder of a friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, just one month later, brought out a new resolve in Romero.

The archbishop became an especially fierce critic of the U.S.-backed military regime that seized power in 1979.

In 1980, a group of more than 100 soldiers sent him a letter asking for his intervention regarding orders to kill guerrillas, whose ranks often included their own brothers. 

In what would be his last sermon, Romero made a special appeal to the military and police: "No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order."
He concluded: "In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression."

The next day, March 24, 1980, he was assassinated while celebrating Mass. 

"In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church," Pope Francis wrote in a letter Saturday to mark Romero's beatification. "His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized."

While his killers were never found, many blame Romero's assassination on right-wing death squads.
He was held up as a protector of the poor and marginalized who stood up to the government, though his path toward sainthood was held up for decades in a debate over whether he was killed because of his religion or because of his politics. 

Pope Francis settled the issue by declaring him a martyr. 

At Saturday's event, some of the faithful sold or traded Romero-related memorabilia. Everything from t-shirts to dolls to stamps. 

The celebratory pop of fireworks occasionally pierced the otherwise respectful Mass. The approximately 2,000 clergy who were present helped with the massive job of celebrating communion with the masses. 

Placing Romero's words in the context of today's El Salvador, where democracy has returned but gang violence is problematic, many speakers called for an end to the current bloodshed. 

Quest for Decolonization #5: The List


The United Nations keeps a list of non-self-governing territories or places that remain colonies today that require assistance in achieving decolonization. At one point this list, after World War II, the UN recognized 72 colonies. Over the years world events and the United Nations have helped push this matter to the point where there are only 17 territories left in the world that the UN recognizes as colonies.

These territories are:

Western Sahara
Anguilla
Bermuda
British Virgin Islands
US Virgin Islands
Cayman Islands
St. Helena
Falkland Islands
Montserrat
Turks and Caicos Islands
Gibraltor
American Samoa
French Polynesia
New Caledonia
Tokelau
Pitcarin Island
Guam

They are all primarily small islands in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Most of them are colonized by either the US or the UK. They go by many names. Territories. Overseas Territories. Possessions. Unincorporated Territories. Protectorates.

It is good that the United Nations keeps this list, but if you are looking for an understanding of colonialism in the world today, you shouldn’t limit your analysis or investigation to only these locations. These are not such much models of colonialism as it exists today, but rather the remnants. They are the leftovers after empires have crumbled and been dismantled. After wars for independence across the world forced open the greedy fingers of a variety of colonizers to give up what truly never belonged to them. These are the places which, to use a saying in English, have fallen through the cracks. The ones that the gusto of decolonization in the past missed, the ones who were not swept up by it.

These are all territories that deserve decolonization, that deserve their shot at choosing their political destiny. This shouldn’t be denied them regardless of how small they are. But, I mean it when I noted that we shouldn’t use them as the exemplars of what colonialism, that chimera that refuses to die, is today. Colonialism, in today’s language is something that exists because of an interference with a polity’s sovereignty, where it has been stolen, denied, deferred, whatever verb you would prefer to use. As a result, basic self-governance is hindered in some ways that may be clear and other ways more imperceptible.

But if we look around the world today we see many others places which could be called colonial because of their situation today and the way they seem to exist in a colonial relationship with another power. Native Americans and other native peoples across the world, where semi-autonomous zones have been carved out for them can very much be called colonies. Settler colonial powers such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have spent centuries creating false foundations and legal mythologies for their white nations. Because of this we tend not to call them colonizers for this or those indigenous people within their lands colonies, but we very easily could.

Militarization, as some commentators have noted is at the heart of new forms of colonialism today. Many of these commentators and scholars miss the fact that militarization has always been a part of colonization, as the empire is extended outward, interests and economic life-ways extend our as well, and with it comes the pathological need to not only extract and exploit, but also defend what is newly being dominated. The frontiers, the borderlands, grey and red contact zones are also places where colonialism tends to be alive and well, albeit with different names.

At last week’s UN Regional Seminar, many brought this into the conversation, saying that many places where either recently or in times past, one country has carved up another country into pieces, where military bases mark, like war scars the lines of conflict, these can also be considered colonies. The presence of foreign military bases represents a huge threat to a nation’s sovereignty. Sometimes those bases are the result of treaties, but often times those treaties were signed under duress, with the ashes and detritus of battle still swirling around. They were written in such a way to favor the owner of the basis and deprive the host of basic sovereign rights. The US was often given as the nation which has created the most “colonies” in this way, and whether people want to admit it or not, there is much truth to that assertion.

The list however is always limited, just as the UN in general is, by the willingness of the countries involved, to support it and help it function. The list may appear to many as if it is a challenge to the imperial possessions of countries, and it is, but it is, as the UN is in general, built upon also a respect for the rights of nations, even those who have colonies. Territories are only added to the list through cooperation with the country who is doing the colonizing. This is one of the reason why territories such as Puerto Rico, who have sought to be relisted for decades cannot be relisted.

Even though there are plenty of strong arguments as to expanding the list, it is unlikely to happen, as a country that were to permit such things, is a country that must also be willing to address past crimes and wrongs, and actually be willing to give up their control and parts of their territory in order to fix such a wrong. Most of the countries today, especially the larger and more powerful variety, would never allow such a shift in their territorial and imperial integrity. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #4: The Most Famous Chamorro of All...

My students often ask me, "Who is the most famous Chamorro?"

Meaning which Chamorro has achieved the most, has achieved fame or stardom? Which Chamorro is a household name, not just in Guam or the Marianas, but in the world? Are they any Chamorros out there who can represent the island, the culture and the people to the billions of people who aren't Chamorro and don't even know what Guam or a Chamorro is?

There are lots of Chamorro musicians, some of whom have achieved minor fame outside of the Pacific, such as Johnny Sablan and Pia Mia. There are Chamorro athletes, many of whom are baseball players, but with the rise of fighting culture on Guam, we have seen some Chamorros truly shine in that regard. There are even a few Chamorro actors and filmmakers out there, although it can be hard to miss them when they appear in the periphery of major films. There are even Chamorros that have won Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes.

But who should receive the honor as the most famous? The most well-known? The Chamorro that would appear the most on Google? The one with the longest Wikipedia page?

 As a joke, I sometimes tell them that the most famous Chamorro in history is a former President. A historic head of state. Students freak out trying to figure out which US President was Chamorro and the most random answers ensue, with students wondering if that is why Bill Clinton visited Guam (he was visiting his home). They heard at one point that Barack Obama is a Pacific Islander and while they assumed he was "Hawaiian" they now know that he is actually Chamorro. One student once joked that John F. Kennedy must have been Chamorro because of his love life and his many infamous achakma' siha.

But the most famous "Chamorro" isn't a US President, but a former President...of Nicaragua. Violeta Chamorro was one of the first female heads of state in the entire world when she was elected in 1990. She has no "Chamorro" blood in her as far as anyone knows. Perhaps someone has at one point asked her the question, if she is somehow connected to the mysterious people of the Marianas. Hekkua'. Many a Chamorro spending nights searching the internet for random Chamorro mentions have come across entries on VIoleta Chamorro and others who have Chamorro as a surname. 

This fact that "Chamorro" is found in Spanish, as a surname for various Latin American peoples and is also a word found in the Spanish language itself, is part of the structure of invisibility and impossibility that haunts Chamorros today. It is part of that powerful discourse that makes Chamorros feel as if they don't exist or seems to give credence to that terrible colonizing idea that the colonizer people are just a mere effect of colonization and only exist because of that violence. The idea that the word Chamorro is "Spanish" in origin provides an everyday talking point to this effect, even though, as I have argued in many other places that there is more evidence that Chamorro is derived from a mishearing of Austronesian terms than Spanish visitors giving the people this name because they were bald or had large calves. 

Violeta Chamorro is not at this seminar as she is no longer in power and her political opponents are. But one of the representatives of Nicaragua that is present actually does have the surname Chamorro. Whenever she walks by me, she points at herself and than me and says "Chamorro!" and laughs. 


Quest for Decolonization #3: Small Lands, Big Dreams

The person in charge of this year's UN Regional Seminar is Xavier Lasso Mendoza, Chairman of the Special Committee, who is from Ecuador. He gave a short speech which began the first day, where he outlined the tasks we hope to accomplish and gave us some words of encouragement. He quoted part of the poem "Retorno" by Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. The words have stuck with me the entire time I've been here.

"Si pequeña es la Patria, unu grande la sueña"

This translates to, "If the homeland is small, one dreams it large." 

This is an important reminder for the Non-Self-Governing Territories or colonies of today, as many of them are small islands, with small populations who by the way most people (including those in those islands) tend to see the world today, are far too small and too faraway to ever become independent or achieve decolonization. As colonies we are bred to see ourselves as the stuck, dependent, lower end of every binary and regardless of what we have to offer the world, see ourselves as being "ti nahong" yan "dikike' dimasiao." Not enough and too small. We have been told these things for so long and even begun to teach ourselves these limiting lessons, that we forget that they are not reality, they are not intrinsically true.

To see yourself as incapable of surviving because you are a small island is to see yourself through the eyes of another. To see your future and your possibility as dictated by the prejudices or interests of another. In terms of sustainability for islands like us, what matters are your dreams. Can you see the future as open and ripe with possibility? Or do you see it as a wasteland that is just waiting to be filled with your failures?

Independence is not a dream in which you get everything that you want. It is not akin to those dreams where all things you desire fall into place before you or appear in your hands the moment you need them. But in one way, independence is meant to be an awakening. A rising up from a colonial slumber. From the comfort of having the world colored by another and determined by another. But the awakening gives one the chance to dream again.

Below is the text from Ruben Dario's poem.

*********


RETORNO

El retorno a la tierra natal ha sido tan
sentimental, y tan mental, y tan divino,
que aún las gotas del alba cristalinas están
en el jazmín de ensueño, de fragancia y de trino.

Por el Anfión antiguo y el prodigio del canto
se levanta una gracia de prodigio y encanto
que une carne y espíritu, como en el pan y el vino.
En el lugar en donde tuve la luz y el bien,
¿qué otra cosa podría sino besar el manto
a mi Roma, mi Atenas o mi Jerusalén?

Exprimidos de idea, y de orgullo y cariño,
de esencia de recuerdo, de arte de corazón,
concreto ahora todos mis ensueños de niño
sobre la crín anciana de mi amado León.

Bendito el dromedario que a través del desierto
condujera al Rey Mago, de aureolada sien,
y que se dirigía por el camino cierto
en que el astro de oro conducía a Belén.

Amapolas de sangre y azucenas de nieve
he mirado no lejos del divino laurel,
y he sabido que el vino de nuestra vida breve
precipita hondamente la ponzoña y la hiel.

Mas sabe el optimista, religioso y pagano,
que por César y Orfeo nuestro planeta gira,
y que hay sobre la tierra que llevar en la mano,
dominadora siempre, o la espada, o la lira.

El paso es misterioso. Los mágicos diamantes
de la corona o las sandalias de los pies
fueron de los maestros que se elevaron antes,
y serán de los genios que triunfarán después.

Parece que Mercurio llevara el caduceo
de manera triunfal en mi dulce país,
y que brotara pura, hecha por mi deseo,
en cada piedra una mágica flor de lis.

Por atavismo griego o por fenicia influencia,
siempre he sentido en mí ansia de navegar,
y Jasón me ha legado su sublime experiencia
y el sentir en mi vida los misterios del mar.

¡Oh, cuántas veces, cuántas veces oí los sones
de las sirenas líricas en los clásicos mares!
¡Y cuántas he mirado tropeles de tritones
y cortejos de ninfas ceñidas de azahares!

Cuando Pan vino a América, en tiempos fabulosos
en que había gigantes, y conquistaban Pan
y Baco tierra incógnita, y tigres y molosos
custodiaban los templos sagrados de Copán,

se celebraban cultos de estrellas y de abismos;
se tenía una sacra visión de Dios. Y era
ya la vital conciencia que hay en nosotros mismos
de la magnificencia de nuestra Primavera.

Los atlántidas fueron huéspedes nuestros. Suma
revelación un tiempo tuvo el gran Moctezuma,
y Hugo vio en Momotombo órgano de verdad.
A través de las páginas fatales de la historai,
nuestra tierra está hecha de vigor y de gloria,
nuestra tierra está hecha para la Humanidad.

Pueblo vibrante, fuerte, apasionado, altivo;
pueblo que tiene la conciencia de ser vivo,
y que, reuniendo sus energías en haz
portentoso, a la Patria vigoroso demuestra
que puede bravamente presentar en su diestra
el acero de guerra o el olivo de paz.

Cuando Dante llevaba a la Sorbona ciencia
y su maravilloso corazón florentino,
creo que concretaba el alma de Florencia,
y su ciudad estaba en el libro divino.

Si pequeña es la Patria, uno grande la sueña.
Mis ilusiones, y mis deseos, y mis
esperanzas, me dicen que no hay patria pequeña.
Y León es hoy a mí como Roma o París.

Quisiera ser ahora como el Ulises griego
que domaba los arcos, y los barcos y los
destinos. Quiero ahora deciros ¡hasta luego!
Porque no me resuelvo a deciros ¡adiós!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #2: Statement from the UN Secretary General


The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon wasn't able to attend the Regional Seminar in Nicaragua this year, but he did send a statement which was read by Josiane Ambiehl who is the Chief of the UN's Decolonization Unit. In the statement she referenced several issues that would be recurring themes at this year's seminar. 

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19 May 2015
SG/SM/16764-GA/COL/3276

Secretary-General, at Caribbean Decolonization Seminar Opening, Says Constructive Engagement, Sustained Efforts Essential to Fully Eradicate Colonialism

 Press Release
UN Secretary-General

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message, as delivered by Josiane Ambiehl, Chief of the Decolonization Unit, Department of Political Affairs, for the opening session of the Caribbean Regional Seminar on the Implementation of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism:  the United Nations at 70 — taking stock of the decolonization agenda, in Managua today:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all the participants gathered in Managua for the Caribbean Regional Seminar on Decolonization.  I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Government and people of Nicaragua for their generous hospitality in hosting this important event to take stock of the decolonization agenda on the occasion of the United Nations seventieth anniversary.
In celebrating this milestone, we also mark 70 years in advancing the decolonization agenda.  Since the founding of the Organization in 1945, more than 80 nations that had been under colonial rule, with 750 million inhabitants, have joined the United Nations as sovereign States.  In 1946, there were 72 Territories on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories administered by eight Member States.  Today, 17 Territories, with a total population of 1.6 million people, and administered by four administering Powers, remain on the list.  Much has been achieved, yet we have not completed the task of decolonization or reached the goal of eradicating colonialism.

The fulfilment of the objectives of the third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism is a common endeavour for all concerned — the Non-Self-Governing Territories, the administering Powers and other stakeholders in the decolonization process.  This requires their constructive engagement, sustained efforts and political will, with the support of the Special Committee on Decolonization.  The international community has an obligation to ensure that a full measure of self-Government is achieved in the remaining Territories, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions.

In recent years, it has been encouraging to witness the signs of rejuvenation in the work of the Special Committee.  Partnership between the administering Powers and the Special Committee is increasing.  I thank the current Chair of the Committee for his dedicated efforts in this regard.

This Seminar provides opportunities for the Special Committee to engage with all involved, along with experts and members of civil society, on the situation of the individual Territories and issues of concern to the Territories.  This is also an occasion for all participants to present their recommendations to the Special Committee so as to assist this body in considering its way forward in completing the decolonization processes for each Territory as mandated by the General Assembly.
In addition to the United Nations seventieth anniversary, this year also marks the midpoint of the third International Decade.  At this juncture, I urge all participants in this seminar to identify concrete and implementable steps that could help us reach the noble goal of the eradication of colonialism before the end of the International Decade in 2020.  As Secretary-General, I stand ready to assist you in the remaining part of this journey.  In that spirit of partnership, I wish you a productive and successful Seminar.

Rich White Families

Racism is such a difficult thing to discuss.

Wait, nangga un ratu. It isn't a difficult thing to explain necessarily.

Esta meggai matuge' put este. Guaha diferentes na theories put hafa este na fuetsa gi lina'la' taotao.

We can clearly explain its role in creating structures of inequality and normalizing systems of violence.

Lao hafa i minappot?

I patten tinaotao.

Racism is not difficult to explain. Ti mappot maeksplika.

It is difficult to discuss, because discussion assumes a conversation and this is limited by what the person you are talking to is able to process or able to admit to.

I mina'mappot i diniskuti i chi-na i hinasso i ume'ekungok yan i kumukuentos tatte.

Discussing racism means engaging in a number of topics that people would rather not address.

The idea of post-racism today is predicated on the belief, hope that if we just don't mention it, all is well.

Ya humuyongna, ayu i manangan put rasa pat rinasa, guiya i "racist."

The strangest manifestation of racism is the way that people who are oppressed or marginalized by racist systems, will themselves refuse to recognize it.

Kada sistema mafotma gi oriya un suhetu (subject). I bali para ayu na sistema ma chule' ginen ayu na suhetu.

Para ayu na sistem i lina'la' pat i tahtaotao ni' gaibali pat taibali dipende kao umayau gui' yan ayu na mismo suhetu para i sistema.

So people racialized within a system may actually resist challenging the system because of the way it may interfere with their own desires to become that subject, to acquire traits of that subject.

Inapa'ka or whiteness is what drives racial systems in the US. You can see some variations of this, but as a whole, the subject supposed to matter, subject supposed to have value, the subject supposed to have reason and autonomy, it is almost always white.

*********************

"The Pathology of the Rich White Family"
by Chris Hedges
Nation of Change
Truthdig
5/19/15

"There is no decadence like the decadence of rich white people." Rich white families have the license and the power to amass unimaginable wealth at our expense and it permits the rich to inflict poverty on growing circles of the population.


The pathology of the rich white family is the most dangerous pathology in America. The rich white family is cursed with too much money and privilege. It is devoid of empathy, the result of lifetimes of entitlement. It has little sense of loyalty and lacks the capacity for self-sacrifice. Its definition of friendship is reduced to “What can you do for me?” It is possessed by an insatiable lust to increase its fortunes and power. It believes that wealth and privilege confer to it a superior intelligence and virtue. It is infused with an unchecked hedonism and narcissism. And because of all this, it interprets reality through a lens of self-adulation and greed that renders it delusional. The rich white family is a menace. The pathologies of the poor, when set against the pathologies of rich white people, are like a candle set beside the sun.

There are no shortages of acolytes and propagandists for rich white families. They dominate our airwaves. They blame poverty, societal breakdown, urban violence, drug use, domestic abuse and crime on the pathology of poor black families—not that they know any. They argue that poor black families disintegrate because of some inherent defect—here you can read between the lines that white people are better than black people—a defect that these poor families need to fix.

Peddle this simplistic and racist garbage and you will be given a column at The New York Times. It always pays to suck up to rich white families. If you are black and parrot this line, rich white people are overcome with joy. They go to extreme lengths to give you a platform. You can become president or a Supreme Court justice. You can get a television talk show or tenure at a university. You can get money for your foundation. You can publish self-help books. Your films will be funded. You might even be hired to run a company.

Rich white families, their sycophants opine, have tried to help. Rich white families have given poor people numerous resources and government programs to lift them out of poverty. They have provided generous charity. But blacks, they say, along with other poor people of color, are defeated by self-destructive attitudes and behavior. Government programs are therefore wasted on these irresponsible people. Poor families, the sycophants tell us, will not be redeemed until they redeem themselves. We want to help, rich white people say, but poor black people need to pull up their pants, stay in school, get an education, find a job, say no to drugs and respect authority. If they don’t, they deserve what they get. And what the average black family ends up with in economic terms is a nickel for every dollar held by the average white family.

Starting at age 10 as a scholarship student at an elite New England boarding school, I was forced to make a study of the pathology of rich white families. It was not an experience I would recommend. Years later, by choice, I moved to Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood when I was a seminary student. I lived across the street from one of the poorest housing projects in the city, and I ran a small church in the inner city for nearly three years. I already had a deep distaste for rich white families, and that increased greatly after I saw what they did to the disenfranchised. Rich white people, I concluded after my childhood and Roxbury experiences, are sociopaths.

The misery and collapse of community and family in Roxbury were not caused by an inherent pathology within the black family. Rich people who treated the poor like human refuse caused the problems. Layers of institutionalized racism—the courts, the schools, the police, the probation officers, the banks, the easy access to drugs, the endemic unemployment and underemployment, the collapsing infrastructures and the prison system—effectively conspired to make sure the poor remained poor. Drug use, crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty, not race. Poor whites replicate this behavior. Take away opportunity, infuse lives with despair and hopelessness, and this is what you get. But that is something rich white families do not want people to know. If it were known, the rich would have to take the blame.

Michael Kraus, Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, social scientists at the University of California, did research that led them to conclude that the poor have more empathy than the rich. The poor, they argued, do not have the ability to dominate their environments. They must build relationships with others to survive. This requires that they are able to read the emotions of those around them and respond. It demands that they look after each other. And this makes them more empathetic. The rich, who can control their environments, do not need to bother with the concerns or emotions of others. They are in charge. What they want gets done. And the longer they live at the center of their own universe, the more callous, insensitive and cruel they become.

The rich white family has an unrivaled aptitude for crime. Members of rich white families run corporations into the ground (think Lehman Brothers), defraud stockholders and investors, sell toxic mortgages as gold-plated investments to pension funds, communities and schools, and then loot the U.S. Treasury when the whole thing implodes. They steal hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street through fraud and theft, pay little or no taxes, almost never go to jail, write laws and regulations that legalize their crimes and then are asked to become trustees at elite universities and sit on corporate boards. They set up foundations and are admired as philanthropists. And if they get into legal trouble, they have high-priced lawyers and connections among the political elites to get them out.
You have to hand it to rich white families. They steal with greater finesse than anyone else. If you are a poor black teenager and sprint out of a CVS with a few looted bottles of shampoo, you are likely to be shot in the back or sent to jail for years. If there were an Olympiad for crime, rich white families would sweep up all the medals; blacks would be lucky to come within a mile of the first elimination trial. I don’t know why black people even try to compete in this area. They are, by comparison, utter failures as criminals. The monarchs of crime are rich white people, who wallow in their pilfered wealth while locking away in prisons a huge percentage of poor men of color.

Rich white families are also the most efficient killers on the planet. This has been true for five centuries, starting with the conquest of the Americas and the genocide against Native Americans, and continuing through today’s wars in the Middle East. Rich white families themselves don’t actually kill. They are not about to risk their necks on city streets or in Iraq. They hire people, often poor, to kill for them. Rich white families wanted the petroleum of Iraq and, by waving the flag and spewing patriotic slogans, got a lot of poor kids to join the military and take the oil fields for them. Rich white people wanted endless war for the benefit of their arms industry and got it by calling for a war on terror. Rich white people wanted police to use lethal force against the poor with impunity and to arrest them, swelling U.S. prisons with 25 percent of the world’s prison population, so they set up a system of drug laws and militarized police departments to make it happen.

The beauty of making others kill on your behalf is you get to appear “reasonable” and “nice.” You get to chastise poor people and Muslims for being angry fanatics. You get to spread the message of tolerance with a cherubic smile—which means tolerating the crimes and violence of rich white people. Compare a drive-by shooting in Watts with the saturation bombing of Vietnam. Compare a gangland killing in Chicago with militarized police shooting a person of color almost every day. No one else knows how to churn out corpses like rich white people. One million dead in Iraq alone. And the rich and powerful kill staggering numbers of people and never go to prison. They can retire to a ranch in Crawford, Texas, and paint amateurish portraits of world leaders copied from Google Image Search.

There is no decadence like the decadence of rich white people. I knew a billionaire who in retirement spent his time on a yacht smoking weed and being catered to by a string of high-priced prostitutes. The children of rich white families—surrounded by servants and coddled in private schools, never having to fly on commercial airlines or take public transportation—develop a lassitude, sometimes accompanied by a drug habit, that often leads them to idle away their lives as social parasites. Mothers never have to be mothers. Fathers never have to be fathers. The help does the parenting. The rich live encased in little kingdoms, one guarded by their own private security, where the real world does not intrude. They are cultural philistines preoccupied with acquiring more wealth and more possessions. “Material success,” as C. Wright Mills wrote, “is their sole basis of authority.” They meld into the world of celebrity. And the organs of mass media, which they control, turn them into idols to be worshiped solely because they are rich. Public-relations specialists manufacture their public personas. Teams of lawyers harass and silence their critics. Acolytes affirm their sagacity. They soon believe their own fiction.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 wrote what is known as the Moynihan Report, or “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” The report concluded that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” The oppressed were to blame for their oppression. Social programs alone could not save the poor. The report offers a classic example of a neoliberal economic model repacked as an ideology.

The pathologies of the rich will soon drive us over an economic and ecological cliff. And as we go down, the rich, lacking empathy and understanding, determined to maintain their privilege and their wealth, will use their Praetorian Guard, their mass media, their corporate power, their political puppets and their security and surveillance apparatus to keep us submissive. “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been discovered, because it was properly executed,” Honoré de Balzac wrote of the rich in his novel “Le Père Goriot.”

The rich executed a coup d’état that transformed the three branches of the U.S. government and nearly all institutions, including the mass media, into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. This coup gives the rich the license and the power to amass unimaginable wealth at our expense. It permits the rich to inflict grinding poverty on growing circles of the population. Poverty is the worst of crimes—as George Bernard Shaw wrote, “all the other crimes are virtues beside it.” And the ability of a rapacious power elite to let children go hungry, to let men and women suffer a loss of dignity and self-worth because there are no jobs, to abandon cities to decay and squalor, to toss the mentally ill and the homeless onto the streets, to slash the meager services that give some hope and succor to those who suffer, to lock hundreds of thousands of poor people in cages for years, to wage endless war, to burden students with crushing debt, to unleash state terror and to extinguish hope among the least fortunate exposes our wealthy oligarchs as the most dangerous and destructive force in America.

Quest for Decolonization

I'm in Nicaragua now for the most recent UN Regional Seminar the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism from the World. I'll be testifying on the state of affairs in Guam and also answering questions from the member state that attend the meeting. I have never been to Nicaragua before and probably never would have ended up here save for this invitation by the United Nations.

This year is different than any other year that I have visited the UN and its various entities. Over the years I have testified before the Fourth Committee in New York City (2007), visited the UN as a tourist (2008) and attended two regional seminars in Ecuador (2013) and Nicaragua as an expert. This trip represents by far the most interesting experience out of all the others. There is much more dialogue and discussion this year and I am learning far more than I have before.

This time around I've decided to share some of what I've learned via this blog. I was torn over what to title this series of insights, but eventually settled on the harmless, yet possibly inspiring "Quest for Decolonization." For the next week or so I'll be posting various information, quotes, photos and so on. 

Look for the tag Decolonization Quest to find all my posts on this topic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Importance of Being Bilingual

For the Importance of Second Language Learning Forum that I helped organize a few weeks ago, we were honored to have a very diverse and exciting panel. Coming at it from different angles, they covered a number of way, some more philosophical and others more practical, as to how learning a second language can be important and as a result, something that should be required at UOG. 

The panel featured the following guests:

Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, a Ph.D. student in Political Science at UH Manoa and former student of mine. He is a young activist who has taken up both the banner of decolonization and language revitalization. I've been working with him on a number of projects such as Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru Ha' and the upcoming Lalahen Sinahi project. He took Chamorro as his second language requirement at UOG and it changed the course of his life. 

Ronald T. Laguana, the current director of the Division of Chamorro Studies in the Guam Department of Education. He is a founding member of the group Nasion Chamoru and is also one of the people behind the popularization of the Inefrei written by Dr. Bernadita Camacho Dungca. He is a proud and active member of the Inetnon Lalahin Guahan, YMLG. 

Toyoko Kang and Clarisa Quan are both professors at UOG. Kang is a Japanese language professor and Quan is a Linguistics and English professor. Both of them have been critics of the dropping of the second language requirement at UOG. 

Dr. Laura Souder Betances is a pioneering Chamorro scholar. She was the one who first connected the academic ideas of feminism into Chamorro scholarship. She is the author of Daughters of the Island and the co-editor of the volume Chamorro Self-Determination with Robert Underwood. She and her husband are consultants for diversity and education.

With the help i nobia-hu Elizabeth Kelley Bowman, we gathered together some of the main quotes by the panelists. I'm sharing them below for people to see. As you can see, it was a very interesting discussion. This may have been part of the reason why the overwhelming majority of people who attended the event and who completed a survey, supported keeping the language requirement in place. 

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I took Chamorro 101 to fulfill the language requirement.  I didn’t really care about the Chamorro language.  There was nothing in it for me.  . . . There was so much evidence of internalized racism and internalized colonialism, but what happened was that I ended up taking a few courses, with Chamorro language being a pivotal one, with Siñora Teresita Flores . . . and I learned a lot.  We would come to class and I would learn words that I used to remember hearing my grandmother speak when I grew up.  . . . You have just given me the gift, siñora, of understanding something that I never understood my entire life.  I got more and more involved with this, based off of taking a random class, because it was a GE requirement. 

I really had no interest in the Chamorro language four years ago, when I was twenty.  I’m twenty-four now.  And so, it was so important that I took that course, because sometimes the best things in life tend to hit you over the head when you least expect it.  And that’s why I support having second-language requirements as a GE, because we should not take away the opportunity for another person to have the story that I have.  To have the story of reconnecting with their roots as a Chamorro, no matter if you’re taking Tagalog classes, you’re taking Chinese, there’s so much reconnection to who you are, because through language, you can see the worldview, hear the worldview, the epistemology of your ancestors.  And there’s nothing that should take that away from you.

Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, M.A.

Yanggen para taiguini pa’go, na mafunas ya para mungga machule’ I Chamorro guini, pat maseha hafa na suhetu, Chapones, Tagalog pat maseha hafa, insuttu enao! Para guini gi tano’-ta gi este i eskuela-ta. I Unibetsedat Guahan i mas takhilo’ na unibetsedat guini gi Pasifiku.

Ronald T. Laguana


Language learning, teaching, shares some category of the learning process of critical thinking.  For example, . . . in [Japanese] 101 they are really completely beginners.  So they can’t analyze each word vocabulary particle, or prepositions; they have to analyze, and then, to get the meaning, they have to synthesize.  . . . Students have to learn how to analyze the information and to synthesize and then find out, evaluate, those information . . . Those kinds of learning process occur in second-language learners.  For example, each language has different concepts or realizations. . . .

To learn culture, to just read about Japanese culture in English, I don’t agree.  I don’t agree. Learn through the language, and learn to use it.  Otherwise they cannot use it. Learning should be used.  . . .  So that means students got deeper perspective. 

Toyoko Kang, Ph.D.


When I heard that they wanted to take away the second language requirement, I said, “Huh?”  We live in an island that’s multilingual, that’s multiethnic, that’s multicultural, and they want to take it away?  And Guam, I think, reflects the world as it is today.  We’re living in an increasingly multilingual, global world where multilingualism, multiculturalism, are the norm, rather than the exception.  And for you to take it away is ridiculous.  Or even to kind of reduce the requirement for it.  Second-language learning is cultural learning as well; learning modern languages is to learn the cultures as well.  . . . It promotes cultural awareness, it promotes criticism of ethnocentrism, believing that yours is the only correct one, superior one, it promotes acceptance of other people, other cultures, and I think it is very, very important. 

Clarisa Quan, Ph.D.


To the members of the faculty senate, who may be listening, who may be eavesdropping: it’s important that these voices, our voices, be heard.  . . . As Dr. Underwood said, “Siña mantulaika este na recommendation,” no?  And that’s the thing to remember.  Sometimes we make logical decisions, and they lead us to wrong destinations.  And we have the opportunity here to change course.  And to defy logic, because sometimes things are simply not logical, especially when they belong to matters of the heart. . . .

Universities exist to universalize students.  And how do we universalize students?  We universalize them by providing them with different universes in which to learn, to make decisions, and to operate, and to be successful.  One of the things that Sammy [Betances] and I have been doing lately, in the Marianas, in the Northern Marianas, and in Palau, is that we have been talking about the global-island divide, and how do we bridge that divide?  . . . If we’re going to operate and be successful in the global reality, we need to know more than one language.  Fortunately, many – most – of us are bilingual.  But we need to know many languages, because in order to be successful, you have to negotiate in many parts of the world.  In order to have an economic future, we need to be able to speak the languages of the people that we are trading with.  . . .

So that’s very important, from a language perspective, from a global perspective, from a university perspective.  Diminishing the capacity of students to learn more than one language, than the lingua franca which is English, is diminishing the capacities of universities to fully function as universalizing places for students. . . .

So that’s one aspect of language.  And I’d like you to think about another aspect of language, and that is language as the umbilical cord of culture.  Language connects us with culture.  And ladies and gentlemen, we don’t need to be reminded of this.  The Chamorro language and culture exists here, on this island, and these islands, of the Marianas.  Nowhere else on earth, nowhere else on earth, do we have the sovereign right to speak and live as Chamorros except in the Marianas.  So we have another responsibility.  This is not just about making available languages.  We’re not talking about just any language.  We’re talking about our indigenous language.  We’re talking about the responsibility that we have to protect the sovereignty of our language and our culture.  Nowhere else will anybody do this for us. 

This is our game.  These are our decisions.  . . . It is our responsibility to stand up, and that is why this kind of gathering is so important, because we need to make our voices heard.

Laura Torres Souder Betances, Ph.D.

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