On April 13, the Asian-Pacific American Student Development organization at UC Berkeley hosted Independent Guåhan for a conversation about the decolonization of Guam and the work being done through the organization.
While Pacific Islander students make up 0.2 percent of UC Berkeley’s student population, the APASD group is making efforts to make visible the presence and concerns of the Pacific Islander population.
Mills student Samantha Barnett joined San Francisco State University Professor Kerri-Ann Borja to discuss the history of Guam’s colonization and their currents efforts of decolonization.
Independent Guåhan is a community organization with a mission to “empower the Chamoru people to reclaim our sovereignty as a nation. Inspired by the strength of our ancestors and with love for future generations, we educate and unify all who call our island home to build a sustainable and prosperous independent future.”
Borja is currently a Race and Resistance Studies professor at SFSU, but her work with Independent Guåhan started on Guam. She now focuses her efforts here in the states while also urging the importance of being connected to the work being done on the island.
“[I want] ideally to have a group out here [in the states] of Independent Guåhan to help push the work on this side because we still need support out here,” Borja said.
Borja also discussed the need for more solidarity work amongst different groups especially due to the rarity of hearing about Guam and its issues.
“It’s important for people to understand the history of our island and what we are going through now and what they could do to help, because folks here — Americans — do have a certain power that we do not have back home. Whether that’s talking to their congress folks, thats what’s needed because of what is currently happening,” Borja said.
Samuel Tom came to the event to support, and he had also traveled to speak at the United Nations with Barnett and Borja in the fall. He acknowledged the importance of this event which shared history to those who may have no knowledge of Guam.
“Education is the most important thing when it comes to a movement,” Tom said.
Their presentation began with a brief history of Guam as one of the longest colonized nations in the Oceania. From the Spanish rule, United States, Japan and back to the United States after World War II.
Emphasis was placed on the presence of the continued military occupation on Guam. Currently one-third of Guam’s land is occupied by the United States military. Both speakers emphasized the major issues faced by Chamorros (the indigenous people of Guam and the Marianas Islands) including a threat to the decolonization registry. The decolonization registry would allow indigenous Chamorros to vote if they were to achieve independence. It is important to the organizing efforts to recognize how many people are expressing interest in decolonizing and also having the agency to vote if that becomes a possibility.
“The political statuses we are looking at are independence, free association and statehood, but within the past couple of years Dave Davis, who is a white resident of Guam, argued that this decolonization registry is unconstitutional and violates his rights. He’s saying that having this place where our voices as indigenous people can be heard for the future of our island — when we historically have never been able to, what we want for our land and our people — that this is discrimination against him, and so Davis won that case and right now it is being appealed but at the moment we are no longer able to register any Chamorros onto this decolonization registry,” Barnett said.
This case reflects one of the many roadblocks for Chamorros seeking independence, on top of environmental and public education issues as well. Both speakers recognized that the decolonization effort is not always accepted by native Chamorros and has become an international conversation.
“Julian Aguon, who is one of the Chamorro lawyers who advocated for our people in this case, said that ‘decolonization is not a right that is meant for all people, it is a right that’s intended as a remedy to restore a wrong which is all the violence of colonization that our people have experienced,’” Barnett said.