Sunday, March 22, 2009


Hope Cristobal (Sr.) forwarded me an op-ed article today from the Japan Times, by Kiroku Hanai. The article outlines the current debate raging in Japan about the proposed base realignment which would result in relocating US marines, their families, and support personnel to Guam. 

Most of the local folks on Guam are pretty pissed off about this plan -- not having been involved in it, or asked their opinion about it, despite the fact that the buildup would severely and adversely impact their already over-burdened island. But it appears that the local folks on Okinawa are also pissed off. I met with a contingent from Okinawa at the Security Without Empire conference last month, and after watching The Insular Empire they came up and told me how similar the Marianas story was to their own... because evidently the planned military move doesn't actually remove the US military from Okinawa -- it merely moves one US base from one location (Futenma) to another (Nago) -- AS WELL as moving the marines to Guam. The proposed Nago site is also something of an environmental disaster: it would fill in almost 2 square kilometres of ocean, including habitat of the endangered 'dugong' sea mammal. (Think baby beluga meets manatee.) And the Japanese taxpayers are supposed to be footing 60% of the bill for all of this. 

Well, I can hear you all saying, isn't the New Age of Obama going to change all this? I would have liked to think so, but in fact Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton's first official overseas visit was to Japan, where -- as the Japan Times article points out -- she did her best to push through plans for the move, despite growing protest from Japan. (And Guam. And Okinawa. The Okinawans, in fact, have been holding a daily sit-in at the proposed Henoko site since 1997. That's twelve years. Every day. They even go out in kayaks and do sit-ins on the tower construction sites off-shore. They *really* don't want that base there.)

Kiroku Hanai writes: "Clinton's visit to Japan and the execution of the Guam transfer agreement can only be interpreted as an attempt by Washington to secure its vested rights to maintain military bases in Japan. If so, it will undoubtedly come as a big disappointment to those Japanese citizens of sound judgment who earnestly hoped that President Obama would depart from the belligerent policies of his predecessor."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PEER goes after Air Force for Guam Environmental Crimes

A recent post on reported on serious environmental infractions on Guam by the US Air Force. PEER -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- issued a "whistleblower disclosure" on the part of Nancy Mitton, Natural Resources Specialist at Guam's Andersen Air Force Base. Ms. Mitton has evidently been trying, for years, to draw attention to problems caused, or permitted, by the Air Force. Problems like rampant poaching, lack of protection of endangered species, paving beaches, and stripping vegetation from the habitats of nesting turtles. She finally gave up going through regular channels and took her grievances public.

I'm not in the least surprised that any of this is going on (her most common allegation is of 'abuse of authority'). But it struck me in reading her announcement that it is GREAT that Commondreams is paying attention to Guam's environment. 

Now how do we get them to start paying attention to Guam's people?

This isn't an entirely facetious question. For while Ms. Mitton's exclusive focus on the environment could -- from a local, Chamorro perspective -- be infuriating (she makes no distinction between the local 'poacher', who is probably hunting on his family's ancestral lands, and the Air Force officer who is blythely paving beaches), it also offers the opportunity for some much-needed publicity, and maybe even some useful coalition-building.

Here's the current situation: the military holds most of the power, the Chamorus have almost no international recognition, and their environment is in dire straits. Given this sorry state of affairs, my personal feeling is that it would be politically astute for local people to jump on the environmental bandwagon. Yes, the environmental protection laws are made by people who know nothing about Chamoru custom or culture. Yes, the people enforcing those laws are usually just as ignorant. But protecting the environment serves everyone's long-term interests -- especially the Chamorus', because when the military is long gone, the Chamorus will still be there. And if there aren't any turtle or fruitbats or coconut crabs left, it's going to hurt them more than anyone. 

So, as an interim first step, I think it would be smart for Chamoru Nasion et al to build a coalition with the environmental folks. What they lack in cultural understanding (and probably in understanding of the Treaty of Paris and other relevant political facts), they make up for in U.S. government clout AND scientific knowledge related to species survival. (And hey, the EPA is finally getting some teeth again under the new administration! Woohoo!) Plus, if the locals work WITH the environmentalists, and help them, it's an opportunity to educate them, and maybe even to get them on board to help further the cause of Chamoru self-determination. You never know. It sure beats having your beaches paved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Los Angeles - Screening #2, CSU Long Beach

After the UCLA event -- which I can now say was officially our last feedback screening -- I felt so DONE, and so pooped, that I did something really stupid. In the parking lot outside, I gave the last DVD copy of the film to my friend Kathy, who wanted to show it to some of her colleagues at the UCLA law school.

Now, I did this knowing that I'd lost the VGA adaptor for my laptop back in DC, and that without the DVD I basically had no way to show the film again until I got home. And a little voice in the back of my head said 'you know, it's really not a great idea to give away your last DVD like that'... but hey, I was done, right? So out of my bag it went, into her waiting hands. We said goodnight, and I went back to Hermosa Beach with my friend Lela, and she -- and the DVD -- went back to her house in Studio City. (For those of you who don't know LA -- these two places are in opposite directions from UCLA, about an hour apart.)

Then I woke up the next morning, and realized just how truly idiotic I had been. I had a large fundraising screening planned for Sunday. In 24 hours. And I now had no film to show.

Luckily, I was with the unflappable Lela, who spent the rest of the day letting me use her phone and driving me all over Los Angeles to retrieve the DVD. She even came with me to a Doculink party, which was really fun. (There were WAY more people than Vancouver's small and somewhat dysfunctional Doculink community ever gets together, and I even got to salsa dance with a persistent Latin sound guy whose name I didn't catch. And I finally met fellow doc filmmaker Jonathan Skurnik, in person -- who offered to lend me his VGA adaptor. Bless his heart.)

So by Sunday morning, I was set. Keith Camacho, Prof. of Asian American studies at UCLA, originally from Guam and a long-time advisor to this project, picked me up with his lovely partner Julianne and drove me down to Long Beach. We got there late, and people were already showing up -- groups of people, people with kids, teenagers, folks wearing Kutturan Chamoru t-shirts... I was the only haole in the room, and I started having a vague feeling that I had suddenly landed, just like that, back on Guam. 

Pita Taase, head of the CSULB Pacific Islanders Association, had some of his students there to help us, and we managed to get people fed and to start the film only about 1/2 an hour late. (Which is prompt, if you're on island time.) It was unfortunately a little hard to see the screen -- the room, which was otherwise perfect, had a big window at the back, and of course the LA sun was shining -- so I think the audience didn't get the best viewing experience... but overall, they really seemed to like it. 

There were a lot of questions afterwards -- but almost always prefaced by a thank you. One guy expressed how deeply validating it was to see his people up on the big screen. And after the Q&A, people kept coming up to me with money, stuffing it into the envelope Pita had provided for donations, and telling me how much they enjoyed the film. 

Pita was great, and I owe him and his students (seen here eating Nachos) a deep debt of gratitude for their help. I have to give a special shout-out to Keith, too. He introduced the film (AND supplied most of the food, AND drove me all over LA, AND fed me dinner), and he helped to start off the Q&A afterwards, with some incisive and thought-provoking comments. I met Keith back when he was a grad student, seven years ago when I was just beginning this film -- and it was fun and deeply satisfying to see him, now an esteemed professor, leading a discussion (with some serious authority -- that man can SPEAK) about a film that is now, basically, done. 

With about 40 people in the audience, we ended up raising almost $700, which was more than I had hoped for -- and enough to pay for the cost of my trips to DC and LA. I got some very valuable feedback, saw some old friends (like my dear friends Kathy and Jonathan, who also housed and fed me and schlepped me all over LA), and most importantly I made new connections with people that are interested in seeing this film get out into the world. Now that I'm back home again, it's time to hunker down and finish the home stretch!

Los Angeles - Screening #1, UCLA

I'm late in posting to the blog these days... the last two weeks have been something of a blur -- first a sun-soaked week in LA, and then a week of catching up (and SLEEPING) here in Vancouver. My apologies to those of you who have been wondering what I've been up to...

But LA was, I think, an unqualified success. Our first screening, at UCLA, was organized by a Hawaiian UCLA grad student named Pua Warren, and was intended to garner feedback on the film from people who knew nothing about the Marianas. (Which is, of course, our principal target audience.) 

We didn't get as many filmmakers as I would have liked -- but we had about 20 people, which was what I had hoped for. About half were either Pacific Islander or 'other indigenous,' but only four people had more than a little knowledge of the film's subject, and overall, everyone seemed to like it a lot. No one could find any places that felt boring or slow, and everyone was able to follow the story -- even one woman who had come in late and missed the opening. My friend (and music editor extraordinaire) Vordo gamely gave us some very thorough and well-articulated feedback from a white male mainlander perspective (despite being the only white male in the room), which I think will prove useful to us in the final edit. AND he liked my music choices for the soundtrack! :)

The jury is still out, though, on the title. A few people loved it. A few people thought it was too oblique. One person simply put 'meh' on her questionnaire. But no one recommended an alternative. So if anyone out there has any ideas for a better title, please comment!!

Next up, a report on the CSU Long Beach screening...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To See the President (Sort of) – Part II of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I’m staying in DC with my good friends Rob and Elisa, whose hospitality never ceases to amaze me. I met them years ago in Guatemala, when I needed an emergency root canal. They took me in and gave me a place to stay, and we’ve been friends ever since. This time, they’ve put me up in their lovely basement guest room in Northwest DC, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

I ended the conference over a delicious French dinner with Lisa and a lovely woman named Lotus, an activist from Berkeley – but I woke up the next morning to four inches of snow and a case of the flu. Rob and Elisa’s kids went sledding, while I sipped hot tea and went back to bed. Tuesday I wasn’t feeling much better, but I managed to get myself out of the house in order to get some paperwork signed at the Department of the Interior.

To get there, I took a city bus that dropped me off near the White House. I was delighted to see that the barricades erected during the Bush/Cheney years are now gone, and the White House is once again visible from the street. There were even some people protesting in front of the gate, without police harassment, including a very effective group dressed as prisoners from Guantamo Bay.

As I made my way closer to the Department of the Interior, I began to notice more and more police cars on the street, then cars from Homeland Security and Federal Protective Services.
Men in suits with curly wires in their ears stood in clumps around the building. The security around the building was a lot tighter than it appeared at the White House! When I got up to the entrance, I was told it was closed, and that I’d have to retrace my steps two blocks to the back entrance. Turns out, I’d picked March 3rd to run my errand – the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior – and President Obama had decided at the last minute to come and make a speech at the anniversary celebrations. Go figure.

I retraced my steps to the back entrance, dropped off my paperwork (the guy I wanted to have sign it was busy waiting for the President), then I waited in the icy cold hoping to spot President Obama as he walked in. After half an hour I finally gave up and hailed a cab – but no sooner had I closed the cab door than the sirens started and traffic stopped, and a few minutes later the motorcade passed in front of us. I grabbed my camera, and this is all I was able to see:

But I’ve zoomed in on this photo, and I think I see the President’s silhouette in the window. I swear he’s looking right at me, and smiling.

Once the motorcade passed, the cab took me to the National Museum of the American Indian, where I met an old friend for lunch. The Museum is a treasure, and worth a visit if only for a delicious meal served in its magnificent cafeteria – all of the food indigenous, and organized by tribal region. (They didn't, of course, have any Chamorro food. Maybe someone should suggest it. How cool would that be, to get chicken kelaguen on the Mall?!) I only had an hour and a half to spend visiting the museum itself, which was nowhere near enough time to take in all the stories, exhibits, films, artifacts… but enough to know I need to go back again.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Security Without Empire: Part I of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I came to DC to meet a woman named Lisa Natividad. She teaches social work at the University of Guam, and is one of the key people right now working for Chamorro self-determination. 

I met up with her at American University, where AFSC and the Institute for Policy Studies has put on a conference called Security Without Empire. The conference is intended to coordinate the efforts of various groups that are trying to reduce (or eliminate) the number of US overseas military bases. There are delegates here from as far away as Hawaii and Okinawa, Puerto Rico and the Middle East, representing people from all corners of the globe. They share a common vision of peace, and of freedom from US military presence in their lands.

Lisa turns out to be lovely, articulate, and smart. It was worth the trip just to meet her. After some less-than-ideal scheduling snafus, we managed to screen the film twice, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Several people (Lisa included) were even moved to tears. (Definitely an odd feeling, as a filmmaker: satisfaction in making people cry.) The delegation from Okinawa descended on me afterwards to ask how they could bring the film to Okinawa this summer. I’ve also met a lot of people interested in showing the film to their various constituencies – from Puerto Rico to New Orleans to Honolulu – and made contacts that I hope will help with the film’s outreach once it’s done.

At the end of the conference, American University host professor David Vine led us all to a closing ceremony at the far edge of the AU campus, at a small clearing next to an ugly construction site. I was beginning to question his sense of spatial aesthetics (why were we having a closing ceremony between a construction site and the bus depot?) when he began explaining that the clearing was actually a toxic military clean-up site. 

Evidently, AU stored chemical weapons for the US military back in World War I – and during the mid-90s, construction crews unearthed unexploded chemical ordnance. A clean-up was conducted – but ten years later, more unexploded ordnance were again discovered. The site next to us was the latest effort at removing the toxins, left there almost 100 years before.

The ceremony ended with Lisa pouring a bowl filled with water brought by participants from the many different oceans of the world, at the base of a tree in the clearing. We all placed roses on the tree, and a Kanaka Maoli delegate from Hawaii said a Hawaiian prayer for peace. I felt badly for the tiny bulb shoots around the tree that the group was inadvertently trampling underfoot (you had to be a gardener from northern climes, I guess, to recognize the tiny budding life in the wintry landscape), but the ceremony did leave us all with a sense of peace and common purpose.

And now – time to visit the Department of the Interior, and to see some of the city.