Pacific Daily News columnist and cultural activist Michael Bevacqua speaks on Guam Self-Determination, June 22, 2017. Frank San Nicolas/PDN
Conceptual compartmentalization is something all humans do as a way of navigating the world around us. We develop frameworks for understanding things that happen, things we learn, which in turn form our identities and lead to action or inaction.
Compartmentalization is also a form of prioritization. As we float the river of life, there are so many things to which we could feel potentially connected. No man is an island; everyone is part of something greater. But compartmentalization also means some connections will feel nearby, while others are faint.
I write about this often in the context of colonization and decolonization. It’s something that from my perspective is integral to understanding how this island has been shaped over the past few centuries, and where it should head next. For me, these topics are closely connected to almost everything in Guam today. To me, they are as close as Cocos Island, but to most people their connection to Guam is as distant as Greenland. It’s something that doesn’t have any real relevance and matters only to a select few.
Not only about conscious choices
But here is the problem: Compartmentalization isn’t only about conscious choices. It’s also about dreading certain topics or dreading confronting certain truths. We seal off things and actively push them away to not deal with how they may affect us if we were to wrestle with them.
Someone who is strongly (and sometimes unconsciously) invested in his or her particular privilege tends to seal off things more aggressively in order to maintain that privilege. It’s no wonder there are massive industries in every country meant to deny or minimize the violence against indigenous or marginalized groups. If you don’t, the fruits of that violence don’t look so grand or glorious, but can become grotesque.
Impact of the Jones Act
In terms of political status, much of this rejection of the relevance is tied to people not wanting to rethink their assumptions about the U.S. or about our connection to it. People have trouble contending with these ideas because they open too many questions, too many possibilities, and compartmentalization is usually about reducing and simplifying.
But how we see the world has very little relationship to how we are connected to things in the world. A case in point can be found in the much-maligned Jones Act, which is a federal statute that affects the cost of living in Guam. Most people have some familiarity with the impact of the Jones Act. But what few realize is how it actually affects the entire region around us.
Colonial status affects islands around us
As Guam is the shipping hub for all of Micronesia, our colonial status and the restrictions we face trickle down to all the islands around us, as they depend on Guam to receive goods. This is the case even though they are more sovereign and have a greater degree of independence. The high cost of living here, because of colonial laws, dramatically increases the cost of living in the islands around us.
A goal for decolonization would be to ensure a greater degree of regional integration. Right now, we all endure a system that isn’t meant to serve the interests of those living in Micronesia, but instead inflates our cost of living to protect certain interests in the U.S. We are unified by colonialism, even if we aren’t all colonized.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist and assistant professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam.
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