Talk of breaking away from the U.S. leads to uncomfortable feelings of not being able to survive without the U.S., and feeling lost without the colonizer who has controlled things for so long. The Commonwealth Movement was a perfect example of this, as it attempted to formally have it both ways, seeking both more inclusion and more autonomy.
MY COLUMN two weeks ago, “The Fourth Kind,” received some interesting feedback. Some were supportive, some weren’t. For example, some criticized the outdated nature of the UN framework and how the sheer amount of local, national and international inertia on the issue means that new blood, particularly a Fourth Kind of blood, should be injected into the discussion through the introduction of a new hybrid status.
While this is true, Fourth Kind gospels attract attention in the same way fads do. They feel new and cool, but generally lack any enduring qualities. They are proposed to capture attention, to create conversation, but don’t do much else. History shows, both locally and elsewhere, that the Fourth Kind of status has a way of making things appear to be fresh, new, and possible, they also derail the process away from decolonization and towards a solution that doesn’t solve what was initially intended to be resolved.
The Fourth Kind exists so that all sides involved can avoid the traumatic confrontation that no one seems to want to deal with. It exists so that the U.S. doesn’t have to decolonize anything or admit to its colonial past or present. It exists so that the people of Guam, and in particular the Chamorros, don’t have to make a choice about what they want next for their island. They don’t have to acknowledge that their place in America has always been and continues to be a difficult one, and that subordinate place is far easier to accept the less you know about it or think about it.
The Fourth Kind allows everyone to ignore the issue of Guam’s stolen sovereignty through the creation of a comfortable political cul-de-sac. Although the Fourth Kind can lead you blindly into a darkened alley, the fanfare of your trip is meant to be joyous and gleeful. Your new political home will most likely have some exciting new name, such as “State-Like Status” or “Integrated Territorial Unincorporation” or “Organized Unincorporated Territory.” You may be led there as if finally your long colonial journey is over, and the house of your dreams awaits, but once you get there, you find it is just another waiting station, and that this is not a new beginning, but just another sad chapter. This Fourth Kind cul-de-sac is your new home.
While I criticize Fourth Kind prophets or people who propose these get-out-of-colonialism quick fixes, in truth, the people of Guam are just as much to blame. Most status discussions on this topic take the form of people wanting to have the proverbial red velvet cake of political status change, but also eat it as well. People want to be both part of the U.S., but also distinct from it. People enjoy the unique nature of Guam (for the most part), and talk of integration breeds uncomfortable feelings of losing whatever it is that makes Guam, Guam. Talk of breaking away from the U.S. leads to uncomfortable feelings of not being able to survive without the U.S., and feeling lost without the colonizer who has controlled things for so long. The Commonwealth Movement was a perfect example of this, as it attempted to formally have it both ways, seeking both more inclusion and more autonomy.
Many like to pretend however that the fault here lies with Guam alone, as if the U.S. has no role except to patiently wait for us to make a choice. Once we do, the U.S. will immediately airlift the new status to Guam complete with fireworks, free apple pie for everyone and maybe even the cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys. This is far from true. The United States, at the governmental level and at the popular level, is fairly resistant to any real status change for Guam. This is particularly so for Statehood or for Independence. It is against them for different reasons, but at the core of their resistance is whether or not a small piece of the U.S., that it has dominated for more than a century, should even for a moment have more power than the U.S. itself. The idea that Guam and not the U.S. should have that choice over what comes next for Guam is considered too much for a country that already has so much.
The task of decolonizing Guam is already very difficult, given this resistance. But we make this heavy burden close to impossible by pursuing these Fourth Kind solutions and these fantasies that we have can have all the cake we want and eat it too. This is a serious step in Guam’s political evolution and we weaken both ourselves and the way others receive us by not being clear in our desire and by being so inconsistent.