Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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!

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