26 January 2011

One Exercise in Political Status Education

A Comfortable Colony

by Michael Bevacqua
for Marianas Variety

At the close of each semester that I teach at UOG, I make my students in Guam History undertake a project called “I Chalån-ta Mo’na” which is a political status forum/debate where the class is divided into three groups each of which represents a different possible political status for Guam. They spend a few weeks ahead of time researching and preparing arguments and then come together to argue over whether statehood, independence or free association is the best choice for Guam’s future. When the project is first announced most students moan about having to talk about things which they either know/care nothing about, or things which they associate with “activists.” But in the heat of the forum, the being forced to articulate your thoughts and the possibility that they in some small way might matter in terms of what direction the island heads, makes the event hotly contested.

The goal of this exercise is not just to inform, but also to hopefully instill some understanding about the importance of issues of political status. Guam is one of the last “official” colonies left in the world and the fact that we are so clueless about our status and so apathetic as an island to changing it is a travesty. We are a colony in denial about being a colony and sometimes it seems that our number one industry is neither military nor tourism, but rather making excuses as to why it is either alright or necessary that we remain a colony.

This is understandable given that Guam is a pretty “comfortable” colony, but that does not change the fact that Guam’s relationship to the US is fundamentally not one of equality, but of ownership. Although Guam is the recipient of “state-like” treatment, we are not a state, we are a possession, an unincorporated territory, and so while we may want to feel that our relationship to the US is just like any state, any other corner of America, it is not, and we do ourselves little good by pretending it is otherwise.

Despite what most may think, our political status is not a minor issue, but literally affects everything on this island.

Where you stand on Guam’s current colonial status and what you think (or don’t think) about what should happen next goes to the core of how you are a person of Guam. How you live here, what you feel about this place, what you think it’s capable of and where you think it should go next.

I hope that my students can take from this exercise both how political status is potentially connected to all other issues on Guam, but also that they should take a more active role in discussing it. Every once in a while my students impress me with their arguments. One such class happened this past semester and I wanted to share with you my notes for their conclusions, which really draw out well some of the benefits of each status.

INDEPENDENCE: The US Constitution was made a long time ago and while it is a good constitution, in our group we decided to come up with our own. That is what each people in their own place are supposed to do and that is what Independence is. With Independence we would have our own laws and no one to answer to. We could prioritize Chamorro language and culture, or we could legalize marijuana in order to make money. We could open up the Marianas Trench for exploration or research. The point is that it is up to us. Right now we are stuck in the Western ways, and sometimes that is good, but we are not empowered to make our own choices. Right now we are told that Health Care is supposed to be a privilege, but what if we wanted to make it a right? Under Independence, Guam could. And for those who are worried about our defense, we can always make an agreement with the US military to keep them here. Right now the US military is here because they colonized us, but how much better would it be if they were here because we made a deal with them and not because they took our land?

FREE ASSOCIATION (FAS): If you guys don’t feel too excited about independence or statehood then FAS is what you want. We have all grown up with Guam now, and it is good right now, but we just need a little more to help us live better. The other two statuses are too hard and too many things against us. Independence and Statehood will both be too much for our small island. FAS gives us the freedom to do what we choose. It is not against anyone. We want to forge alliances with other places, but keep close to the US. We can use the US and its funds to improve things like our hospital and education, but always leave the door open to partner with close countries like the PI (Pacific Islands). Guam has always been a transit point and with FAS we would be able to develop those ties.

STATEHOOD (Integration): There is a long list of things which Guam would lose if it moved away from the US. Our passports and our student loans are just two of them. People would leave the island, our future would become uncertain. We need to choose what is best for this island and not follow the radical ideas of others. Statehood is a step in the better direction. Who can be against more cooperation and unity with a larger power which has done so much for us? We would become more stable as a state, with more money and more prestige. We wouldn’t be outside looking in, we would be a part of the American family. Who is to say anyway that if we became an independent country the US wouldn’t take advantage of us even more? At least as a State we would be inside and they couldn’t just bully us like they do others.