21 February 2016

New perspectives on Chamorro self-determination

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

This Thursday, Feb. 18, the next “Around the Latte Special Seminar Series” will be held at the University of Guam. This series of symposia is being organized by Dr. Unaisi Nabobo-Baba and myself on behalf of the UOG School of Education and UOG Chamorro Studies. In the fall 2015 semester, we held four special seminars on topics ranging from female empowerment, the Japanese occupation of Guam and the state of education on Guam. To start the spring 2016 semester we have an exciting discussion titled “New Perspectives on Self-Determination in Guam.” The seminar will take place Feb. 18 from 4 to 6 p.m. in SBPA 129 at the University of Guam. The public is invited to attend and light refreshments will be provided.

This symposium will be focused on a newly published issue of the academic journal “Micronesian Educator” which is housed in the School of Education at the University of Guam. This special issue, edited by Victoria Leon Guerrero from the Micronesian Area Research Center and myself, is focused on presenting new scholarly and community ideas about the topic of Chamorro self-determination and decolonization in Guam. We invited a diverse group of intellectuals to tackle various aspects of the issue of decolonization with the hope of creating a forum where we can see ways to resolve some of the deadlocks we currently encounter and move the issue forward. The contributors include: Carlyle Corbin, international expert on self-governance; Mary Cruz, political science, UOG; Craig Santos Perez, creative writing, UH Manoa; Tiara Na’puti, communication, Western Kentucky University; Julian Aguon, human rights attorney; Robert Underwood, former member of the U.S. Congress and president of UOG; Moñeka de Oro, UOG graduate student; Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, UH Manoa graduate student; Felicidad Ogumoro, CNMI representative; and Edward Alvarez, executive director, Commission on Decolonization.

I’d like to share with the Guam Post readers a passage from the introduction penned by Victoria and me for this special edition. It is included below. I hope some of you will be able to join us this Thursday to learn more about the special edition and join the discussion about how to direct our energies and help move the decolonization process forward!

“Over the past century, while the rest of Micronesia has exercised some form of political self-determination, Guam has remained colonized. Other islands in Micronesia have begun the task of representing this part of the world on environmental and natural resource issues, yet Guam remains a place with no formal voice in regional or international affairs. As a colony of the United States, Guam is ‘foreign in a domestic sense,’ or in other words, it brushes up against both spheres but cannot claim to have fundamental power in either. While colonies were once the norm in a world that had been dominated by imperial conquests, in today’s world, to be a colony is to be a relic of a now disavowed past. The United Nations only recognizes that 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remain in the world. Moving these colonies toward decolonization represents a fight for justice and human liberty that few around the world seem willing to take up.

As educators on Guam, we are faced with unique challenges when making decisions about how to teach our students. We must be students ourselves, ever exploring the unique place Guam has in the world, and seeking a deeper understanding of what it means to teach in a Non-Self-Governing Territory in the 21st century. How does one educate students in a colony in a world where colonialism is no longer supposed to exist? Furthermore, how does Guam’s reality as a heavily militarized island in the Pacific connect to this colonial status? We must be aware that we are teaching within a colonized framework and that we have the choice to either uphold that framework, or challenge it.

This special edition of Micronesian Educator takes a very specific focus on Chamorro self-determination in Guam because we believe that this is an issue educators throughout Micronesia should be more cognizant of, especially when shaping narratives about Guam in their classrooms. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving self-determination on Guam has been ignorance. Students on Guam are simply not taught about self-determination throughout their learning experience. This fundamental part of our historical journey and our contemporary reality is not incorporated into our public school curriculum. Instead, the values of the colonizer(s) are instilled in them every day they attend school, making it difficult for them to face the realities of being colonized, or to value their own unique culture and experiences.

Moreover, in classrooms throughout Micronesia, students are taught (without much context) that Guam is part of America. Thus, Guam is seen as America and not as part of Micronesia, and most definitely not a place where an indigenous people – the Chamorros – have long been deprived of their basic human rights. Ultimately, this weakens Guam’s power in the region and makes the indigenous people of Guam invisible in the eyes of their island neighbors. As a result, the Chamorro people are not included in regional decision-making, even when it pertains to Guam. The rest of Micronesia negotiates with the United States on important issues that affect Guam, but have no obligation or desire to consult Guam’s people. For example, a recent U.S.-FSM treaty, which formalized a maritime boundary between Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia, was signed in Palau on Aug. 1, 2014. This treaty officially gave ownership of the deepest part of the Mariana Trench to the FSM. The people of Guam were never consulted, or given a seat at the table when this treaty was signed.

Prior to colonization, the ancestors of these islands would have determined their ocean boundaries together, because they had to share the ocean and needed to do so peacefully. Today, the people of Guam are no longer seen as relevant in these discussions. As educators, this leaves us to wonder, whether Guam would be taken more seriously if the rest of Micronesia saw in the Chamorro people the aspiration to decolonize? Is the rest of the region aware of the need for Guam to exercise self-determination? By simply making these types of connections in their classrooms, teachers throughout Micronesia could play a critical role in Guam’s movement toward Chamorro Self-Determination.”