Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blog Transfer

The Insular Empire blog has been MOVED. Please visit for blog postings, background info, and updated information on The Insular Empire.

Many thanks to Lara Kroeker at Randomlink Interactive for revamping The Insular Empire blog and website!.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A New Battle for Okinawa - which, by the way, is a great new online source for international news - just posted this excellent little piece about the ongoing protests to the presence of US military bases in Okinawa. Sadly, Guam gets only a minor mention - as the proposed location for the Marines the Okinawans want so desperately to get rid of. But since the Okinawans have been protesting, loudly, for eight years straight (or 60 years, depending on how you qualify 'protest'), I can see how they might get a bit more of the limelight. Guam's situation is so much more complicated, and so much harder to encapsulate in a short news piece...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yapese Canoes Land on Guam

Larry Cunningham, Guam historian and long-time supporter of The Insular Empire, sent me this recent news of a remarkable voyage using celestial navigation. He writes:

Two Traditional Navigation Society outrigger sailing canoes departed Lamotrek for Guam on Monday, April 26th. Their plan was to sail north and pass to the east of Guam, sailing between Guam and Rota to approach the Hagatna Boat Basin Channel from the North.  But because of the strong current, this plan changed and they came to the Hagatna Boat Basin Channel from the Southwest, four days late, arriving on April 30th.  The canoes had sailed over 400 miles of open ocean, braving strong winds, high seas and rainy weather.

The two large (over 30 ft. long) ocean-going canoes anchored at the TASI (Traditions About Seafaring Islands) canoe house,  Sahyan Tasi Fachemwan, where they plan to stay, according to TASI President Frank Cruz.  The key organizer in Guam is Former Federated States of Micronesia Yap State Governor Robert Ruecho, who is operating from the Office of Guam Governor Felix Camacho.

Lamotrek Master Navigator, Ali Haleyalur, is captain of the Simion Hokule’a, a canoe built on Satawal.  He has a crew of 11.  Maap (Island in Yap) Master Canoe Builder, Chief Bruno Tharngan is captain of the Mathow Maram.  He has a crew of nine. Dr. Eric Metzgar is making a documentary film of this voyage from Lamotrek to Guam and then to Yap. Metzgar was an apprentice of Halayalur’s late father, Master Navigator, Urupiy.  Metzgar has made several documentary films about Micronesia, including “Spirits of the Voyage.”

This voyage is unique because the crews are outer atoll Carolinians and high island Yapese.  Also, the return voyage will be from Guam to Yap and this direct voyage of over 500 miles is not documented in credible historical accounts.

The purpose of this Carolinian and Yapese voyage is to put into practice the skills Ali is teaching in the programs of the Traditional Navigation Society in Yap.  They aim to keep this tradition of non-instrument navigation alive.  This is also the goal of TASI in the Mariana Islands.  Chamorro, Yapese, and Carolinians have a strong tradition of voyages of discovery that predate Columbus and Magellan – not by a hundred or two-hundred years, but by over 3,000 years.  Without these ancient seafaring skills there  would not be the rich and diverse cultures found in Micronesia today. Contemporary voyages like the one undertaken by Ali and Chief Bruno honor that proud tradition and the cultural identity of all Micronesians. 

Spanish colonization of the Mariana Islands in the late 17th century put a stop to the trade between the Central Caroline Islands and the Marianas.  The Spanish-Chamorro Wars and the introduced foreign diseases made it dangerous to visit the Marianas for many years.  After nearly a century, in 1787, Chief Lewito of Lamotrek re-opened the trading route from Lamotrek to Guam. He made the voyage to obtain iron tools.  By 1804 the trading visits became annual events and in 1816 some Carolinians from Satawal and Elato settled in Saipan. The descendants of these Carolinians and subsequent migrations of Carolinians form a vibrant community in the Mairanas today. 

Long Live the Navigators!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Standing Army

I'm not sure how I missed this - but I can thank Evergreen State College professor of Geography Zoltan Grossman for bringing a new documentary to my attention: Standing Army, by Thomas Fazi and Enrico Parenti. While The Insular Empire explores the human face of American empire in the Marianas, Standing Army connects the dots of America's 766 military bases worldwide. As Chalmers Johnson says in an interview for the film, "The unit for the American empire is not the colony, it's the military base." What makes the Marianas so complicated, of course, is that they are both.

Prof. Grossman, in an interview for the film, asks a question that helps explain everything that's happening right now in Okinawa and Guam: "Are these bases being built to wage the wars - or are the wars being waged to build the bases?"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Evergreen State College Screening

Tuesday's screening at Evergreen State College was a huge success. Sponsored by the college's Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, and spearheaded by Evergreen student and Guam native Jayanika Lawrence, the screening was well-attended by both students and faculty. Ms. Lawrence had put together an information table full of books on the Marianas and American colonization, and also created a panel - comprised of herself, myself, and one other student from Guam - to answer questions from the audience after the screening. Their questions were incisive and intelligent - ranging from issues around the current military buildup and Guam's relationship with Okinawa, to questions about why we chose not to address environmental concerns (such as Guam's notoriously invasive brown tree snake) in the film.

Evergreen is an odd place - nestled in a rain forest, its 70's era cement brutalist buildings look inward at each other, ignoring the lush thickets surrounding them - but the people there were warm, welcoming, and very much engaged. One faculty member in particular, Dr. Zoltan Grossman, mentioned during the Q&A that he was planning to use the film in his course on a People's Geography of American Empire - a more fitting title than any I could have invented myself - and suggested that they might want me to come back again next year. I told them that I'd be delighted.

Yours truly (Filmmaker Vanessa Warheit) with Jayanika Lawrence (third from right) and members of Evergreen's Asian Pacific Islander Student Coalition.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Two West Coast Screenings This Month

I'm pleased to announce two public screenings of The Insular Empire happening this month:

Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA
May 4th, at 4pm
Vanessa Warheit will be at this screening to answer questions afterwards.

Cal State University East Bay
Hayward, CA
May 15th, at 4:30pm
Dr. Hope Cristobal will be at this screening to answer questions afterwards.

For more information on the Hayward screening, see the Famoksaiyan blog.

Friday, April 30, 2010 has found Okinawa... Let's hope they find Guam next. - a kind of online video news aggregator - just ran this story on the Okinawa base relocation. Unfortunately, this story didn't include Guam's (fairly major) role in the relocation debate - but maybe the next one will?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Earth Day - from San Francisco to Okinawa and Beyond

My son asked me the other day, "Mommy, what's Earth Day?" When I explained it to him ("Well, honey, it's a day when we celebrate the Earth and try to remember to help keep it healthy"), I felt a little bit ashamed. Without the Earth there is nothing - so why do we only give it one day?

On the other hand, Earth Day does give a lot of groups who are fighting for the Earth a platform to get the word out. This past week (Earth Day seems, happily, to be bleeding into Earth Week) there were many actions to draw attention to the US military's plans for increased presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Famoksaiyan, in collaboration with several other organizations, held a press conference across the street from the EPA’s Earth Day Festival at Yerba Buena Garden. "The massive build up on Guam directly contradicts efforts to protect our environment from global warming,” said Reverend Deborah Lee, a member of Women for Genuine Security, the local chapter of a global women’s network that works to protect the health and safety of communities around US military bases. “The US military has an enormous carbon footprint which must be addressed for the health of local communities and the security of our entire planet.”

Meanwhile, on Okinawa, nearly 100,000 people turned out to protest the planned relocation of the US military base from Futenma to Henoko (or anywhere else in Okinawa). In South Korea, Catholic fathers held a Peace Missal against proposed construction of a nuclear weapons naval base on Jeju Island. There were also solidarity rallies held in Washington, DC and in Hawaii.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Casino Jack Hits the Big Screen (x2)

Several years ago, a Washington lobbyist named Jack Abramoff got himself - and some high-up politicians like Tom Delay - into a whole lot of trouble. I am familiar with the Abramoff story because one of the many unsavory episodes in his outrageous career involved lobbying to keep US labor laws out of the CNMI. When the scandals broke, a lot of people were suggesting that I turn my documentary lens on Abramoff. It was tempting - it was a story almost too good to pass up - but I'd already shot most of The Insular Empire and didn't have the resources to start a new film from scratch.

But it appears some other filmmakers recently picked up that ball. Next month will usher in not one but two films about Abramoff -- with distinctly similar titles: Casino Jack (a narrative feature starring Kevin Spacey) and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (a documentary by Alex Gibney).

The Gibney film looks fantastic (the narrative feature still doesn't have a trailer posted). But I'm curious to see how Gibney will treat the issue of the CNMI and its attempt to maintain control over its labor laws. So far, I have yet to see anything about the Abramoff CNMI scandal that addresses the fundamental, underlying problem of the CNMI's political status, or its colonial history. Similarly, it will be interesting to see how the Indian tribes (for whom Abramoff also did a lot of dirty work) are treated in the film. The level of audacity and flamboyance in Abramoff's dealings - including massive bribes and outrageous kickbacks - seems to have overshadowed any real investigation into the root causes that forced these indigenous groups to rely on people like Abramoff to begin with. The jury is still out on whether these new films will finally change that trend.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Radiation? What Radiation? Happy Earth Day!

What a great way to celebrate Earth Day: According to an article in today's Marianas Variety, "Guam Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz is protesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s policy decision to not require radiation testing for dredged materials from Apra Harbor that would be dumped into the proposed ocean disposal site."

As Vice Speaker Cruz stated in his letter to the EPA: “It is common knowledge that the U.S. Navy discharged radioactive material into Apra Harbor on more than one occasion. It is imperative, then, that no dredging of the harbor take place until adequate radiation testing independent from that reported by the U.S. Navy has been conducted on proposed dredge sites.”

Last week, after learning that the EPA was requesting public comments on where to dump the 'dredged waste' (aka 71 acres of living coral reef, some of which may or may not be radioactive) from the bottom of Apra Harbor, I wrote the following letter to the EPA:

Subject: designation of an ocean disposal site outside Apra Harbor

Dear Mr. Ota,

I would like to express my surprise and dismay at reading in today's Guam Pacific Daily News that the EPA is requesting recommendations for a place in which to dump dredged material from Apra Harbor. It is my understanding that the EPA recently ruled that the military's plans to dredge 71 acres of coral reef within Apra Harbor were in violation of the Clean Water Act AND the Endangered Species Act, and that the project was of “sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed.”

It is also my understanding that the DoD DEIS -- which claims that "there will be no overall unacceptable adverse impacts to water quality with ocean disposal" -- does not address the issue of radioactive sediment in Apra Harbor. Is the EPA seriously considering allowing the military to use radioactive dredged material for landfill -- and then finding some place in the ocean where this dredged material will create 'no overall unacceptable impacts to water quality'?

Finding such a site is not only ecologically reprehensible in itself - it also sends the message that the dredging is still possible. I'm not sure what mechanisms are at your disposal, but I strongly urge you to refuse to consider ANY disposal site designation entirely, until the issue has been resolved of whether or not to dredge the harbor in the first place.

Thank you for your time and attention,

Vanessa Warheit

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Memories of Saipan

Shortly after The Insular Empire aired on KCTS, I got a phone call from a viewer who wanted to correct something she thought was inaccurate. Pete's story had indicated that there was no high school on Saipan - but she herself had attended high school there. I asked her what year that was, and she told me it was in the late 60s. I explained to her that Pete was older than she was – he attended high school in the 1950's – and that it wasn't until the Kennedy administration and the lifting of the security clearance in the Marianas that Saipan finally got a high school.

The viewer, whose name turned out to be Sue Morrow Flanagan, followed up later with a wonderful email describing more of her experiences in Saipan during that time. Here is an excerpt:

"Our family moved to Saipan as part of a business venture that didn't work out for my father. Until I spoke to you this afternoon I hadn't realised the Kennedy period was a period of such transformation.  Although, the greatest measure of transformation came on my last flight home.  We boarded a crowded flight from Guam to Hawaii.  I was moved to a seat away from my family and tucked in next to a Navy man.  He was Capt. McLinnis who was returning to Pearl Harbor to accept command of the USS Ticonderoga and would then return to Vietnam.

I should explain that I became a journalist to cover for my socially inappropriate curiosity.  Indeed, my mother swears my first word was "Why?"  I was grilling the Navy officer immediately.  He turned the tables and asked about Saipan. He knew every landmark I mentioned from our home in Garapan to Capitol Hill. Finally, I asked him when he was on Saipan and for how long. 

"I have never been there."  He replied.  Of course I maintained that was impossible.  How could he know so much detail?

"I bombed it for weeks from an aircraft carrier." he grimaced.  To my horror, he described the utterly ravaged landscape.  Another carrier group had inflicted severe damage in another Micronesian island group as well, he said with a strange mix of sorrow and grief. Captain McLinnis didn't speak for a minute or two, staring out the window. 

I watched his clenched jaw. I had described a landscape healing its war wounds while he was going on to another war. Despite being a naive, spoiled 16 year-old, I began to understand at a visceral level---- the radical changes Saipan had endured from the Spanish to the Japanese sugar plantations to the war and then our tanga-tanga Americanization.  Who knew that hurricanes, Japanese business and Chinese labor exploitation lay ahead?   Yet, now, none of that is as disturbing as Hope's daughters not speaking their native tongue. I was in Fiji when they claimed their independence and in Apia, Western Samoa soon after their independence.  Both nations reveled in returning to traditional garb, heritage and language. Heritage is a priceless treasure.  The loss of language seems to me a far greater loss than all the other catastrophes.  I do hope your film inspires the Chamorro and Carolinian people to reclaim their heritage.  They are an extraordinary people."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Seattle, Screening, and Samoan Slap-dancing

I had the opportunity to screen The Insular Empire at the University of Washington this past weekend, at the 4th Annual Chamoru and Micronesian Research Conference. After the film, I added a screening of this short video I made in collaboration w/ the folks at We Are Guahan, about the proposed military buildup of Guam:

And on a lighter note: I also got to attend the Seattle University annual Fiesta - where I saw some awesome Chamoru chanting performers. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to get any good footage of them -- but  I did get my camera out in time to shoot the Samoan slap dancers, who reinforced my belief that Samoan dancing men are one of the finest things on the planet:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free Seattle Screening THIS SATURDAY, April 17

I will be screening The Insular Empire at the 4th Annual Chamoru & Micronesian Research Conference this Saturday. The film will be screening at 3pm at the University of Washington's  Ethnic Cultural Center - 3931 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle - in the Black Room. Many thanks to Migetu Tuncap for making this possible at the last minute!

Please join us if you can...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sign the Petition - Halt the Guam Buildup

On Earth Day (April 22), several groups will gather outside the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 Building in San Francisco,  demanding a halt to US military expansion on the Pacific island of Guam. They will present a petition, urging the White House to:

* halt current plans for the military buildup of Guam
* re-write the military's Draft Environmental Impact Statement
* limit the military to its current footprint on Guam
* clean up existing military contamination on Guam
* increase federal funding to strengthen Guam's inadequate infrastructure.

As this blog has discussed earlier, the EPA ruled earlier this year that the military's current plans for Guam are "of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed." The proposed buildup would (among other devastating effects) destroy 71 acres of coral reef, overwhelm Guam's fresh water supply, wipe out endangered species, and turn protected ancestral lands into a live-firing range. It would also cost US taxpayers $9 billion.

Please sign the petition, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

Saina ma'ase (thank you) to Erica Benton of Famoksaiyan for creating this petition and for bringing it to my attention!

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Red Pill Tour" of O'ahu - Part Two

This is a long-overdue continuation of the amazing - albeit sobering - tour of O'ahu I took with Lino Olopai and Dr. Hope Cristobal. Terri Keiko'olani and Kyle Kajihiro of DMZ Hawaii were our tour-guides, and like all good tourists, we started at the USS Arizona memorial. The US Parks Service has recently installed at the memorial a giant outdoor map of the Pacific (showing, as Kyle pointed out, America's "Pacific Lake"). Lino and Hopie put their feet on their respective islands - and Lino had a long and interesting conversation with some folks visiting from Kiribati.

I was totally confused by the names of the islands on the map (Kiribati wasn't even listed), until I realized that the map represents not how the world is today - but how it was in 1941. (The USS Arizona is, after all, a history museum.)

Then Kyle took us off the paved path, to a section that other tourists didn't seem to notice: the edge of the lagoon itself. Here is a video (shot with my iphone - forgive the technical shortcomings) of what we learned there:

After Pearl Harbor, Kyle and Terri took us for yummy plate lunch - and then to the dry west side of the island, to see how the military and the native Hawaiians are not-so-peacefully coexisting outside of the visible tourist areas. But that story will have to wait for another post...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Japanese Subtitles (日本語字幕)

I want to give a shout-out to two incredible Japanese translators, who have generously donated their time, expertise, and energy to translating The Insular Empire into Japanese.

Masumi Mukai is a member of the Japanese group Translators United for Peace. She took on the task of translating the film's transcript, reviewing it with other TUP translators for accuracy, and sending me a finished Japanese transcript for The Insular Empire.

Shoko Hata, a student here in Vancouver at Simon Fraser University, has been my personal babelfish, sitting with me for long hours to help place Masumi's translation into subtitles on The Insular Empire DVD. I plan to have the Japanese translation complete this week, and Japanese-subtitled DVD's ready for sale soon after.

Thank you!!

Next on my list: Spanish subtitles. Please contact me if you're interested in translating The Insular Empire into Spanish!

Monday, March 29, 2010

University of Hawaii Law School to Host Talk on Proposed Guam Buildup

Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura recently posted this notice of a discussion to be held at the UH Manoa Law School on April 1st. (And no, don't get your hopes up that the proposed buildup will be revealed as a massive April Fool's joke!) Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz of the 30th Guam Legislature is the keynote speaker. He will be joined by Dr. Wendy Wiltse of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 9).

The Guam Military Buildup:
Examining Potential Impacts on Culture, Environment, the Economy and the Larger Community

University of Hawai'i Law School Moot Court Room
Hawai'i Standard Time
Thursday, April 1, 2010 
12:45 – 1:55 p.m 

Chamorro Standard Time
Friday, April 2, 2010
8:45-9:55 a.m 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guam Buildup: Environmentally Unsatisfactory

The DoD's proposal to increase its already-massive footprint on the island of Guam recently received the EPA's lowest rating: Environmentally Unsatisfactory. While "unsatisfactory" to me calls up benign images of less-than-optimal spelling homework, this milquetoast language in fact represents a scathing indictment of the proposed buildup – and a serious roadblock to the military's expansionist plans.

We Are Guahan has posted a great ten-point summary of the EPA's findings on their website. The problems identified by the EPA include:
  • contaminated drinking water
  • "unacceptable," island-wide water shortages
  • endangerment of Guam's aquifer
  • "unprecedented" destruction of Guam's coral reefs
  • inadequate protection of endangered wetlands
  • lack of commitment to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and cleaner fuels
  • over eight TONS of hazardous waste generated
  • lack of mitigation to likely PCP contamination
  • no discussion of treatment of radioactive waste
  • significant noise impacts
  • invasive species introduction
 ... and the list goes on and on. You can read it yourself - the report is a handy 101-page download, with a succinct table of contents outlining the 1,001 reasons why THIS BUILDUP IS A REALLY BAD IDEA, from an environmental standpoint.
Of course, it's a really bad idea for a number of other reasons too. For instance, it threatens to overwhelm the island's indigenous population and to further erode the Chamoru culture and language. But the US government doesn't have an Indigenous Culture Protection Agency to make these points.

The current focus on environmental issues calls to mind a conversation I had, several years ago, with the late Carlos Taitano. He said that he was frustrated when the two-legged Guam Rail raised so much concern among environmentalists, who seemed to have no concern for the local population. "What about the two-legged Chamorro?" he asked.

Admittedly, it's frustrating when environmental concerns trump the concerns of a people, culture, and language. However, in the case of the Guam buildup, I think that environmental concerns may dovetail nicely with the needs of the local population – whose drinking water, air quality, and health are being so overwhelmingly threatened by the DoD's proposal. Since the US military wouldn't dream of trying to impose this kind of a project on mainland Americans, it's my hope as well that the proposed buildup will bring Guam's colonial status out into the light of day. Because sunshine is the best – and the most environmentally friendly – antiseptic .

(Photos courtesy of Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura at The Drowning Mermaid, and David Burdick at the US All Islands Coral Reef Committee)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama: The Velvet Imperialist

The ever-helpful Jean Downey just forwarded me this article in the Huffington Post by John Feffer.

In it, Feffer describes a recent Congressional hearing on currently-strained US-Japan relations - in which a Pentagon official was unable to come up with the number of US troops stationed in Japan (47,000), or to explain why the US needs more than 700 overseas bases worldwide. (I thought the number was just under 900, but who's counting?) Feffer writes:

"The Pentagon official couldn't satisfy either Rohrabacher's anti-China tirade or Faleomavaega's probing questions about the U.S. empire of bases. And that's precisely the problem with the Obama administration's Pacific policy. We are trying to maintain the exact same force posture as previous administrations but at the same time emphasizing our new commitment to multilateralism and our new status as a "global partner." It's like Arnold Schwarzenegger going from Terminator to Kindergarten Cop in the space of a year: Audiences above the age of seven are just not convinced."

Obama, Feffer argues, is trying to run an empire with velvet gloves - an approach that will be fruitless for either building or dismantling it. We shall have to wait, he says, for "an insider who knows the system," such as Andrew Bacevich, to "pull the plug" and offer real Pentagon reform.

I also really like the Swiftian 'modest proposal' that Feffer concludes with. What shall we do with all those US Marines in Futenma? Why, move them to Washington, DC!

"If the prospect of having U.S. Marines involved in promoting democracy, maintaining stability, and responding to humanitarian crises at home makes you squeamish," he concludes, "you can begin to understand how the Okinawans might feel."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Washington Post Finally Discovers Guam

It was bound to happen eventually - The Washington Post finally ran a comprehensive (and pretty critical, I might ad) article in tomorrow's paper on the proposed military buildup of Guam. (Yes, that's right. Tomorrow. Today is the 21st, and the by-line is the 22nd. Don't ask me. Maybe it's an international dateline thing.)

Anyway. My favorite quote in the article is from Simon A. Sanchez II, chairman of Guam's commission on public utilities:"We don't mind being the tip of spear, but we don't want to get the shaft."

And I'm thrilled to report that the final quote is from none other than the fabulous Dr. Natividad:
"This is old-school colonialism all over again," said LisaLinda Natividad, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Guam and an activist opposing the buildup. "It boils down to our political status -- we are occupied territory."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taking the AFSC "Red Pill Tour" of O'ahu - Part One

I first met Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keiko'olani at a No Bases conference in Washington DC last spring. They form the small but effective office of DMZ Hawai'i and the Hawai'i branch of the American Friends Service Committee, and they were generous co-sponsors of The Insular Empire screening in Hawaii last month.

The day after the screening, they organized a peace action at Camp Smith (headquarters of the US Military Pacific Command). A group of about two dozen people were there (many of whom knew about the action because they had attended the screening the night before), including Dr. Hope Cristobal and Lino Olopai. We also had people there representing countries from as far away as Turkey and New Zealand, all gathered peacefully in solidarity with the people of Guahan to present the Base Commander with a request to cancel or mitigate the proposed military buildup.

A fool's errand, it might have seemed - and I confess to feeling scared as we all parked our cars on the road outside and unfurled our peace-declaring banners in front of the gate. But Kyle and Terri were calm and unflappable, and there was something empowering in being there, with a group of like-minded peace-loving people, simply stating our desire for peace and social and environmental justice to a group of heavily armed, very young American soldiers.

We were joined too by an amazing woman (whom I had also met briefly in DC last spring) named Mary Ann Wright. Ann is a former Army Colonel and diplomat, who resigned her high-level diplomatic post in protest over the Iraq war. She is now a committed peace activist, working with organizations like CodePink and US Military Violence Against Women. The soldiers at the gate to Camp Smith took our request to speak to the Base Commander seriously, most likely because of her presence (they were all very deferential when they found out she was a retired Colonel), and we stood outside for almost an hour while our request was taken at the gate and then passed up the line.

Despite press releases sent to all local media outlets on Oahu, the only ones documenting the event were ourselves -- and the military.  After we had been waiting a little while, a uniformed photographer came out and began taking pictures of us, laughing and claiming that he was from Guam. (We were all a bit confused by this, since he was clearly African-American, but he did seem to know the names of several local families.) He couldn't tell us which village he was from, though, so we eventually presumed that his saying the family names was simply a way of getting close enough to us to get some good photos. At any rate, for better or (more likely) for worse, all of us who were there that day have now been photo profiled by the US military.

Eventually, a military policeman came out and spoke with the representatives of Fight for Guahan (Hope Cristobal, Angela Cruz, and Kisha Borja-Kicho'cho). They collected the photos the group had prepared, showing the beautiful and historic places on Guam that the proposed buildup threatens to destroy. Ann asked them if they were Marines, and they responded that they were actually civilians 'who reported to the Marines' -- which we all found more than a bit creepy.

They were very polite and respectful, however, and took careful notes, and the whole event was quite civil. The exchange ended with Ann informing the policemen that we would be following up, to make sure the documents made their way up the chain of command, and with them assuring her that they would pass the documents up appropriately.

After the action, Kyle and Terri offered to take Hopie, Lino and me out to lunch, and to show us a few military landmarks on the way. But that story will have to wait for another post...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hawaii Panel Discussion

I've finally had the opportunity to post some of the video footage from the panel discussion at the Feb. 21 Honolulu screening. (Many thanks to Oren, AFSC, and PIC for making this video possible!) Here are a few highlights...

Dr. Jon Osorio really seemed to *get* the film, which was both a huge relief and a real honor. What I found particularly interesting was the parallels he drew between the people of the Marianas and the people of Hawaii (especially of his parents' generation, back when Hawaii was still a territory).

Kisha Borja-Kicho'cho, Chamoru poet, activist, and MA Candidate at the UH Center for Pacific Islands Studies, spoke eloquently about local responses to military colonization on Guam, and the Chamoru concept of 'inafamaolek'.

A former Peace Corps volunteer asked me why the film focused so much on Chamorus, and not on Carolinians. This was my response (in which, asking Lino's forgiveness, I misspoke: I meant to say 'no offense intended').

Dr. Hope Cristobal, Terri Keiko'olani, and Lino Olopai also made excellent remarks at the event - but unfortunately none of them were on the tape I received in the mail from Hawaii. :(

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Dog Does Not Hunt

Many thanks to Martha Duenas for forwarding me this interview with Richard P. Lawless, former deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Defense in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs. Anyone who doubts the seriousness of Japan's reluctance to agree to move the Futenma base from Okinawa should really read this article.

"This is not about a Marine air base," says Lawless, "it's about the United States' ability to sustain a critical military presence in Japan."

The interviewer astutely points out to Lawless at one point in the interview that he appears to be more hard-line than the Obama administration... to which Lawless responds "My views are my own, but they are informed by eight years of determined work trying to make the alliance better and sustainable. My comments are further informed by active dialogue with senior serving U.S. officials... Frustration with Japan is broad and deep."

"On the flexibility of the Obama administration," he goes on to say, "the suggestion here seems to be that the U.S. must now find a way to compromise on this issue to accommodate Japanese domestic politics, and that once flexible, we will be on our way to a better alliance relationship. As we say back in Illinois, 'That dog does not hunt.'"

In reading this interview, and other coverage of the US-Japan alliance, I am continually struck by how the fundamental premise always seems to be fear - one of the basest and least constructive of human emotions.

"Is there any evidence that the reduction of our capabilities in Japan and the weakening of the alliance, which will happen, in any way increases security for Japan?" asks Lawless. "The actual result will be different. It will embolden China. And it will embolden any country, such as North Korea, that wants to pick a fight or do something negative related to Japan."

In other words - if we don't flex our muscles, spend a staggering amount of money on weapons we can't afford, and destroy an irreplaceable coral reef and entire species in order to have some runways for our military aircraft, someone else might do something bad to our 'friends' in Japan. (Who, by the way, are trying to politely say they'd like us to leave.) Something about this just doesn't add up. And it isn't just the US federal deficit I'm thinking about.

Clearly, simply shutting down the base and leaving is not enough. We have to do something - maybe even spend a tiny fraction of the $6 billion earmarked for the Okinawa move - to build trust and peace in the region. But agreeing to simply shut down the base sounds, to me, like a really good start.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I'm way behind in my blogging... every day I come across something else I want to share with the world - but I'm in the middle of a gigantic move (home and office), plus my pre-schooler son is sick with a nasty cold and my husband is back to work full-time plus. Which helps to explain why I haven't yet even posted any of the amazing material I collected in Hawaii...

But in the meantime, I have five minutes this morning to share one of the many cool things I've recently come across.

It's becoming increasingly clear to me is that the Marianas military buildup is not happening in a vacuum - there is a much wider Asia-Pacific militarisation happening, which is (like Guam) part of a long-standing US military approach to the Pacific Ocean as an "American Lake". Linda Hoaglund is making a film about Japan and Okinawa, and the role of US military bases there, called ANPO. Check out the ANPO website and blog for more info and a long but very compelling trailer...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Craig Santos Perez Is Not an Activist

It truly is a small world. A friend of mine in Vancouver just stumbled upon this poetry website featuring the work of Craig Santos Perez -- and the speech he read aloud as a panelist at the San Francisco screening of The Insular Empire. What are the chances?

Reading Craig's speech made me appreciate all over again his talents as a writer. If you want to know what's happening on Guam, you should really read this speech - the part that he read at the UN, and the part he read at my screening. In a few minutes he managed to link past with present, and to draw metaphors with deft precision. You kind of have to read the whole thing to appreciate his skill, but here's a paragraph I found particularly moving:

"Instead of the DEIS marking the end of our people, it has ignited our strength and united so many of us. Despite being caged by colonialism and militarization for so long, we are rising up. We are Guahan. When we do finally achieve sovereignty, we will look back at this time as a pivotal point towards our decolonization. We reject the future the military plans to cage us in. The voice of a decolonized Guahan has become too strong."

I remember him reading these words, surrounded by people united in their concern for these islands, and feeling - for once - a sense of hope. Because it's true: this buildup has galvanized people. Dr. Vince Diaz once told me, "The Japanese military did more to help the US colonize these islands than the US ever could"... and now the US military is doing more to help decolonize Guam than anyone ever thought possible. Push hard enough, I guess, and the people are bound to rise up and push back.

Craig's two books of poetry ("from unincorporated territory" - volumes 1 and 2) are available here and here. You can check out his blog here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bay Area Screenings a Big Success

I confess to being pretty anxious beforehand - but both Bay Area screenings went off without a hitch. It couldn't have happened, though, without Famoksaiyan. They put together two amazing screenings - one at the very last minute, both on a shoe-string budget, and all with grace, yummy food, lots of information, and an incredible turn-out. Here are some of the organizers at the Feb. 14 Valentine's Day screening in Oakland:

The San Francisco venue was smaller, but we managed to pack folks into the screening room, and the gallery space also housed Martha Duenas ever-expanding exhibit on Marianas history and political status. I call it her 'museum in a suitcase' - one friend of mine who attended the San Francisco screening didn't realize (until she saw Martha dismantling it at the end of the night) that the display wasn't a permanent fixture at the Galeria!

I even got (after a nail-biting weekend) the long-awaited DVD's -- and managed to sell all of them! I also got the Insular Empire t-shirts, which look and feel amazing (and make great gifts).
After San Francisco, we packed up our bags, and headed off to Hawai'i...

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Insular Empire - Launch Week

I'm super excited (and a little stressed-out) to be finally premiering The Insular Empire next week in California and Hawaii. (See sidebar at right for screening dates, times, and locations.) The film was actually completed last fall, but it's taken this long to pull everything together for a proper launch.

And since, in the meantime, SO MUCH has been happening with the proposed military buildup on Guam, I decided that audiences might need a little update. So with the generous help of Jason Triplett and the folks at We Are Guahan, I've edited together a short video about the buildup resistance, to screen after The Insular Empire and before our panel discussions.

For those of you who want to join the Famoksaiyan listserv, here is the link.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

This Valentine's Day, Come Show Your Love in Oakland!

The rockin' folks at Famoksaiyan have decided to add a second screening to The Insular Empire's Bay Area premiere... Evidently we had more RSVP's than seats at the Galeria! So for those of you in the East Bay, please come check out the film on Valentine's Day, February 14...

SMACC Youth Center
1608 Webster Street
Oakland, CA

The show will start at 5:30 pm, and we'll have t-shirts, DVDs, artwork, photography, literature, and books on display and for sale. And (because hey, it's a Chamoru event) there will likely be super yummy refreshments to boot!

This is a family-friendly affair – I'll be bringing my mom and my son and my long-suffering husband – and best of all, Famoksaiyan is offering the event for FREE. (Though it would be super if you could plan on making a donation to them of whatever you can afford, as they are incurring significant costs to make this event happen.)

Please spread the word! You can download the flyer here.

See you at the movies!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hafa Adai, Mr. President! Can we have our island back, please?

Marianas Variety just published an article on Obama's upcoming visit to Guam. The fact that the US President has decided to fly 9000 miles to visit the Marianas is HUGE news... and speaks to how vital these tiny islands are to America's global strategy.

On the same day, the Associate Press reported this story about thousands of protestors in Tokyo (not Okinawa - Tokyo), asking the US military to GO HOME.

Something tells me these two things are related.

The real question now is: how do we get Obama to watch The Insular Empire? I've read Obama's book Dreams From My Father, and I really believe that Obama understands, first-hand, what it means to be colonized. I'd like to believe that if he understood the Marianas' colonial history, he'd start doing something to help the people of Guam - and the Northern Marianaas - achieve true self-determination.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Personal Stories from the CIA

It occurred to me recently that, if people only watch the first five minutes of The Insular Empire, they might not get a sense of how much the characters' personal stories drive the narrative of the film (once you get past all the history that's up at the front). Plus, so many people have been asking to see the movie that I thought at least I could give you all a little teaser. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

US Military Buildup on Guam Worries Islanders (and Me)

Hope Cristobal Sr. recently forwarded me this article  – it's a good overview of what's going on right now on Guam in terms of the local response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), issued recently by the Department of Defense for their planned military buildup of the island.

My mother, Virginia, has been doing a lot of work reviewing the DEIS and helping the folks on Guam with ideas on ways to respond. She's a retired city planner, which means she spent about twenty years reviewing development plans and EIS reports. What she's finding are plenty of holes in the DEIS: the EPA, for instance, has said that it contains "Insufficient Information" and recommends an alternative be evaluated.

But the Government of Guam seems slow to realize that the buildup is NOT a done deal - and NOT the only way to boost Guam's flagging economy. The people of the CNMI seem similarly willing to let the US military take their precious land and reef, to use up as if it were a disposable wasteland and not the homeland of a proud and civilized people, and the home of numerous endangered species. Even many of the people who don't think the buildup is a good idea aren't willing to speak up against it.

The last two paragraphs of the Buildup article bring this point home:
"I refuse to dignify this whole charade," resident Filamore Alcon Palomo said.
"Attending public hearings would just be a waste of time because I know -- everybody knows -- this is a done deal. The military won't listen to us. They will do what they want to do."

One thing my mother said to me recently: "I keep reading this document, and I keep thinking - how did they think they were going to get away with this?" And my response to her was, "The US military has been getting away with whatever they wanted on Guam for the past century. They think they can just keep doing it."

"But they're wrong," said my mom. "There are people now on Guam who are college educated and can smell a rat, and speak up for themselves. They won't get away with it this time."

I surely hope she's right. I keep hearing Carlos Taitano's voice ringing in my ears: "Don't blame them - remember, we have been colonized for over 500 years!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A message from Governor Felix P. Camacho

I love this. It's kind of like watching a train wreck.

Friday, January 15, 2010

February Screenings: San Francisco and Honolulu

It's official - The Insular Empire will be screening soon in both my home town of San Francisco and on the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (Honolulu)! February never looked so good. :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010 7:00 pm
Galeria de la Raza
2857 24th Street, San Francisco

FREE screening
with special guest panel:
Deboráh Berman Santana
Dr. Hope Cristobal, Jr.
Craig Santos Perez
Vanessa Warheit
Angela Tennison

Sponsored by Famoksaiyan and made possible by
Galeria de la Raza’s Grantwriting for Indigenous and Native American Artists (GINAA) program


Sunday, February 21st, 4:00 pm (doors open at 3:30pm)
UH Manoa Architecture Auditorium (room 205)
Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

FREE screening
with special guest panel
Lino Olopai
Dr. Hope Cristobal, Jr
Angela Hoppe Cruz
Terri Keko'olani
Vanessa Warheit

Sponsored by:
The Hawaii Council for the Humanities
UHM Center for Pacific Islands Studies
UHM Dept. of Anthropology
Hawaii People's Fund
Pacific Islanders in Communications
AFSC Hawai'i
UHM Marianas Club

Refreshments to follow

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

PBS broadcast in the US Virgin Islands

I've just gotten word that the first PBS station to program The Insular Empire is WTJX, in the US Virgin Islands. Many thanks to Dr. Carlyle Corbin for writing them a letter requesting an airdate!

Dr. Corbin's letter included this line:
"The Insular Empire is important for a variety of reasons, especially for Virgin Islanders because it deals with the complex issues of territorial status in our sister territories in the Pacific region with clear implications for the US Virgin Islands."

WTJX will be airing the film on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 9pm. If there any Virgin Islanders out there reading this, please let me know how you like the film!

Friday, January 8, 2010

What's at Stake

Koohan Paik has assembled a fact sheet about the proposed military buildup on Guam. This concise document distills the intimidating 11,000 page EIS document (released in November by the military) into something the average person can wrap their head around.

The results are chilling. Just a few of the many disastrous effects outlined in the EIS:

* Depletion of Guam's fresh water supply
* Destruction of historic archaeological and sacred cultural sites
* Dredging of 2.3 million square feet of fragile coral reef (that's 40 football fields!)
* Destruction of the largest mangrove forest on US soil
... and the list goes on and on.

In addition to the obvious environmental disaster this buildup portends, I think it's really important to keep in mind the threats it also poses to the endangered Chamoru culture. I'm posting here two videos highlighting traditional island culture - they are inspiring, and remind us all of what is at stake.

Despite hundreds of years of colonization, Chamoru culture has managed to survive, largely because there has continued to be a homeland for the Chamorus in the Mariana Islands. Much of that land was taken away and/or polluted by the military after World War II, with devastating effects (including loss of farming traditions, loss of fishing traditions, loss of language, and loss of traditional housing customs). The added land-takings being proposed - and the contamination of those lands - could well be the final nail in the coffin of this beautiful and resilient culture.

So what can you do to help? First and most important, get the message out there. Bookmark this blog and forward the link to your friends. Read the Fact Sheet and forward it widely. Check out the list at right for ways to get involved, and visit the blog links posted here. The more people who know about what the Marianas are facing, and why, the more power we will have to change the direction the islands are currently headed.

We have a small window of opportunity right now to help stop this: Japan and the US are currently in disagreement over how and when this buildup will happen, and who will foot the fill. I will continue to post information here about things we can all do to help as they arise.

Si Yu'us maase, Olomwaay, and thank you!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Drowning Mermaid: Hi, We're Guam. Nice to Meet You.

Desiree Ventura has written another amazing, heartfelt, insightful, inspiring post at her blog The Drowning Mermaid. Anyone who wants some insight into Chamorro culture would do well to start here.

She also mentions something in this post that I never knew: evidently, even though Guam is supposed to be "American soil," if you're born on Guam - but outside of a US military base - you cannot run for president. Here's her (hilarious) take on this little tidbit:

"There's part of me that thinks it's funny when stateside mothers end up giving birth here. Whenever it happens, I feel the sudden urge to inform the family that their child will never grow up to be president. When I see an American woman walking around heavy with child, I find myself hoping she'll go into labor just so this fact can pop up and bug her later in life. I know. It's pretty immature. I'm working on that."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Look, New Year, and lots more News

Over here at Horse Opera Productions, 2010 has gotten off to a rousing start.

The first good news - we have a National PBS Airdate! On February 27, 2010, NETA will feed The Insular Empire nationally to PBS. The good folks at NETA have even posted the first five minutes of the film on their website (and on YouTube)! But you can just watch it right here:

While this is great news, it unfortunately doesn't mean the film will AIR nationally... because PBS stations will only decide to air it IF THEY THINK IT IS RELEVANT TO THEIR VIEWERS. So, gentle reader, if you want to see The Insular Empire on your local PBS station, please take a moment to email your local PBS affiliate. It only takes a moment, and it really does make a difference!

More good news - The Insular Empire national premiere will be in San Francisco on February 17, 2010, at Galleria de la Raza, at 7pm. I will be there, along with a panel including Hope Cristobal, Jr., and I can't wait! I'll post more information here as the date draws nearer. You can put yourself on our nifty new mailing list (highly secure, I promise, and used only for The Insular Empire mailings) if you want to have this kind of information delivered to your inbox.

And even more good news - The Insular Empire will be screening in Honolulu the week of February 21st. The event will be co-sponsored by the Hawaii Council for the Humanities, the Center for Pacific Islands Studies, AFSC Hawaii, and the Hawaii People's Fund, and will include a panel discussion afterwards. I'll post more information on that, too, once we have a date and venue in place.

And lastly... a lot of you have been asking "how can I get my hands on a DVD?" Well it looks like we'll have DVD's ready for sale in time for the premiere - possibly earlier - so I'm starting to take pre-orders now. Send me an email if you'd like to place an order!

Thanks to all of you who read this blog for your continued confidence and support. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Thoughts on the Patty Arroyo Interview with Dan Ho

Since my first trip to the Marianas, I've struggled to reconcile what I realized were two very different audiences for The Insular Empire: people on the mainland who don't know anything about the islands, and people from the Marianas. The recent NOW/PBS show about the Guam military buildup was clearly aimed at the former. So how are folks on Guam responding to it?

Yesterday I listened to an interview with PBS Guam's Creative Director Dan Ho on the (Guam-based) Patty Arroyo show, about the recent NOW/PBS broadcast. During the interview Dan mentioned that he was, "speaking as a son of Guam," disappointed in the show, because he felt it made Chamorros look like they didn't understand their status as a territory. (I actually disagree with this assertion, but that's not the point here.) He felt that it was a "huge disservice not to show the seat of power," (the Guam Governor's office at Adelup), which would have "provided the opportunity for viewers to see that Chamorros can run themselves."

To me, this raises a couple of interesting issues:

1) The racist and long-outmoded idea that Chamorros can't govern themselves lives on primarily in the laws that govern the islands, and in the psyches of the Chamorros themselves. In all the conversations I have had with mainlanders about the Marianas, I have never, once, encountered anyone who assumed that the Chamorros couldn't govern themselves. The problem with a mainland audience is not convincing them that Chamorros are competent human beings; rather, it's educating them about the fact that the Chamorro people are currently, under US Constitutional Law, prohibited from governing themselves while living in their homeland. Most mainland Americans, when they do find out about the lack of control given to the territories, are shocked and outraged. To my mind, the problem with the NOW/PBS piece was simply that it didn't give enough information. But in 25 minutes, with so much new information to convey, they didn't do a bad job.

2) The Guam Governor's office at Adelup is, when it comes to the Guam buildup, NOT the seat of power. The seat of power, unfortunately, is the White House (or the Pentagon, depending on how you look at it). Guam is, whether Dan likes it or not, an unincorporated territory, and I think it's simply naive to say that the people of Guam could change their political status whenever they want to. Don't get me wrong: I think the people of Guam do have power – but it is a power of the people to organize and resist, not a power that is vested in its current governmental structure.

And on that note - I'm pleased to see that the folks at the We Are Guahan Facebook site have been organizing a town hall meeting about the buildup. Keep up the good work!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year, A New Cool Guam Blog

You know, for a little island, Guam sure has a lot of cool blogs. Which, if you've spent any time in the Marianas (a place that is NEVER boring) isn't that surprising -- but still.

Anyway, the latest cool Guam blog I've found is called Chamorro Language, and it's chock full of great tips on just that. I just learned how to say Happy New Year (Felis Año Nuebo). Check it out!