Organizing against legal invasion

Professor Adrienne Hurley explores the U.S. military’s impact on Guam, in a V-Day discussion event

What does the word ‘bikini’ evoke for you? …A bikini-clad woman invigorated by solar radiation, or Bikini Islanders cancer-ridden from nuclear radiation…This was the site in the Marshall Islands for the testing of  25 nuclear bombs between 1946 and 1958… By drawing attention to a sexualized and supposedly depoliticized female body, the bikini distracts from the colonial and highly political origins of the name… both a celebration and a forgetting of the nuclear power that strategically and materially marginalizes and erases the living history of the Pacific Islanders.”

Teresia K. Teaiwa in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific

As part of a series of events hosted by V-Day McGill this week, professor Adrienne Hurley of the East Asian Studies department read this excerpt to introduce her discussion on Monday, “Collective Responses to State Violence”.

The discussion’s theme of state violence was grounded in a dialogue concerning another island nestled in the Pacific: Guam, which is just 2,200 kilometres west of the Bikini Atoll. Under U.S. control  since American forces repelled the Japanese military during World War II, Guam is one of the 16 remaining non-self-governing territories in the world, according to the United Nations.

The destruction and irradiation of Bikini Atoll, due to its selection as the American military’s nuclear laboratory, prompted the forced relocation of its Indigenous peoples, who were moved to another nearby island that has proven unsuitable for a decent standard of living. Inhabitants unsuccessfully sought reparations for their plight by appealing the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.

Similarly, Guam is in the process of a significant demographic shift orchestrated under the purview of American military, one that will negatively impact its population. As a result of the wholesale relocation of American marine bases from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 – a move that will spur a 45 per cent increase in the island’s population of 180,000 – the island is slated to become a nucleus of American military force.

Eight thousand Marines and their dependents will arrive, along with workers, who will construct the infrastructure required to support this population boom. Currently, the indigenous Chamorros make up less than forty per cent of the population of Guam, where the U.S. Department of Defence already occupies a little over thirty per cent of land. As Hurley noted, this, of course, means that the island’s inhabitants will have access to less land to feed themselves.

The Federal Environment Protection Agency cautions that “significant and adverse environmental and social impact” will result from the influx. In addition to the adverse environmental impacts of overcrowding, and the resulting stress on the land and the agriculture industry, the cultural impact will prove substantial: Marines have proposed the establishment of a firing range on cemeteries and on the sacred cultural sites of Pagat.

The Chamorros’ protestations are regarded as negligible in resettlement negotiations between Japan and the U.S., leaving them with minimal channels for recourse. Therefore, as Hurley voiced, simply raising the currently lacking international awareness is valuable in strengthening the movement to counter this neo-colonial “build-up” of the American population at the expense of the Chamorro community.

Yet organizing a collective response is a complex task. As stated by Chamorro psychologist Patricia L. G. Taimanglo, it is important to address the continued history of losses by opening indigenous forums for educating the islanders on the incipient changes.

Within what Hurley dubbed “the official discourse,” mass resettlement is promoted to the Chamorros as a positive variable for supporting Guam’s economic growth, while neglecting the inevitable dimensions of cultural disintegration. Therefore, as Taimanglo affirms, generating an exchange of critical dialogue within Chamorros communities on the causes and impacts of Guam’s reconfiguration should be prioritized.

Most importantly, Taimanglo notes, supporting Chamorro agency through the practice of remembering is invaluable for reconciling with the attack on their cultural tapestry.

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