LAST fall, I helped organize two public forums at UOG's CLASS Lecture Hall. The first was a forum featuring David Vine talking about Diego Garcia and Leevin Camacho talking about the Pågat lawsuit. The second, a forum on political decolonization featuring an expert on the existing Non-Self-Governing Territories, Carlyle Corbin from the Virgin Islands, and Guam's own human rights attorney Julian Aguon. In both cases, almost every seat was occupied. Granted, a good number of those in attendance were students who were there as part of a class assignment, but it was still inspiring to see so many people in a single place to learn about issues such as base displacement and decolonization.
It hasn't always been like this though. I remember hearing the stories from the last generation of grass-roots activists as to how their efforts were received by the general public on Guam. They got plenty of empty rooms and flaccid protests, as well as jeers and sneers from friends, family and perfect strangers. They described how in decades past, getting people to discuss political status and decolonization seriously was difficult or impossible. People would feel so intensely about something they knew close to nothing about and would reject hearing even basic information about it. When I entered the discussion formally, as a young activist in public and on the Internet, things were already a little bit different, but the spectre of that time when decolonization was a dirty word was still looming.
When the group Famoksaiyan was in full force in 2007, members helped organize a forum at UOG entitled "Decolonizing Our Lives." We had put together many events like this before, and seen others like it, so while we were planning there was an assumption that few people would be there. The topic of decolonizing our lives, where crazy activists talk about the work that they are doing, didn't seem like something most people on Guam would care about or want to hear. Naturally we anticipated a possible empty lecture hall. When the forum took place, we were blown away by the number of people who showed up. Enough were there to fill two lecture halls. We had people lined up along the walls and packed into the lobby. There were activists from different generations, students, politicians, community leaders, elders, youth, Chamorros and non-Chamorros as well. It was inspiring to say the least.
Today, the island has changed and has to admit the discussion on decolonization is not only necessary, but can be beneficial. It is something that has to be discussed even if you don’t like it. It is almost mind-numbing and laughable the forms that decolonization used to take on Guam; the ways in which leaders used to be almost paralyzed on the topic and react in childish ways when issues of colonialism and improving political status were brought up. The ability for the island to criticize the U.S. publicly was limited and this showed very clearly in how people could not even form coherent ideas of political status change, but would instead merely puke fear of the colonizer abandoning them into the ears or eyeballs of those paying attention.
But this is an issue that cannot go away so long as Guam remains a colony. No matter how nice Guam is treated under the U.S., no matter how lucky people may feel to be an appendage of the U.S., at the end of the day, we are still not equal and not respected in terms of our relationship to it. So the question “Why?” will always nag at people. The colonial difference sticks out; it prevents any feeling of completeness in the relationship. So unless Guam becomes a state or independent country, even if we are the luckiest colony in the world, we will always be haunted by the fact that we are still a colony. Why is it that one place deserves to be a state, another deserves to be a country, and Guam must remain a territory?
From the drama of the first Guam Legislature created in 1899, to the first petition for political rights in 1901, to BJ Bordallo and FBLG in Washington D.C., to the 1949 walkout, to the Sella Bay protest, to the Nasion Chamorro sit-in and protests, to even the DEIS activism of We Are Guåhan, over the years Chamorros and others have found ways of trying to address this issue. Even I may feel at times as if things are so different now, but I have to remind myself that the seeds of change and decolonization have always been there.