There has been a lot of talk about genocide in the CNMI papers lately. The governor and the people writing the Letters to the Editor have mistakenly been using the word “genocide” when they should have been talking about “ethnocide.” Genocide is the wanton killing of a racial or ethnic group. Ethnocide is the destruction of a CULTURE without having to actually kill the people that make up that culture. Ethnocide and genocide usually occur concurrently, so it can be difficult to differentiate one from the other.
Historically, Chamorros have been the victims of both genocide and ethnocide. When the Spanish came and killed all of our warriors, that was genocide. When they rounded up the survivors and forced them to move to Guam, convert to Christianity, and live under Spanish rule, that was ethnocide. The killing off of our culture over the next few centuries may not have been deliberate or systematic, but it happened none the less.
The wanton killings have stopped, but the cultures of the indigenous people of these islands are constantly under attack. Just because somebody got the terminology wrong and called it “genocide” instead of “ethnocide” doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.
I’ll use my own family as an example. My father is full blood Chamorro. He has six children and (by the end of the summer) nine grandchildren. Eight of those grandchildren are ¼ Chamorro. None of them speak our native tongue.
My father was born in 1949. It took less than sixty years for his grandchildren to forget their language. What else are they losing?
When the terms of the Covenant were being negotiated it was agreed upon that these islands should maintain their Chamorro and Carolinian identity and character. To accomplish this, they came up with Article XII and the agreement that the CNMI would control their own Immigration and Labor. This slowed the erosion of our culture, but it didn’t stop it.
That brings us to the situation that we are in today. The indigenous people are no longer in the majority, for a variety of internal and external reasons the economy is in the dumps, the federal government wants to alter the terms outlined in the Covenant, and recently a law was passed that in effect amends the Constitution so that well-heeled, foreign-born retirees (or anybody else, for that matter) can take permanent and long term interests in the CNMI by purchasing a condominium (how does one define a condominium anyway?).
This “hippie rooted liberal” recognizes that the 50,000 or so foreign born nationals currently residing in these islands are actual people. They have hopes, dreams, and aspirations just like the rest of us. They teach our children, heal us when we get sick, and build most of our roads and buildings. Some of them are even Myspace friends (ask your kids if you don’t get the reference). I also recognize that Article XII isn’t perfect. It suppresses land values, can be a deterrent to foreign investment, and within 50 years, a large percentage of Chamorros and Carolinians won’t qualify to own land (i.e. most of my father’s great-grandchildren).
The threat of ethnocide is very real and it needs to be dealt with. These islands should retain the character and identity of the Chamorro and Carolinian people, but we have to consider the new realities of today in doing so. The protections that were handed down to us by our parents aren’t enough to protect our land, our language and our culture. Our parents were successful in handing it down to us, now we need to make sure that we hand it down to our children.