Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sanlågu: What does it mean?

Both of my parents come from islands (one being a U.S. territory, the other being a U.S. state). Frequently islanders will refer to the continguous 48 U.S. states as The Mainland.

In the previous post I translated Sanlågu to mean “continental 48,” but I think from now on I might just use Sanlågu exclusively.

Why is this important?

Many an academic career have been predicated on defining boundaries around groups, who makes up those groups, and what those groups should be named. Political projects have also revolved around these kinds of categorizations, and often to the detriment of specific groups within a given territory. Apartheid and the Holocaust, to take the most extreme examples, capitalized on these categorizations to advance pretty horrific state agendas. Alternatively, these categorizations have also served to ensure that some groups continue or will live lives of privilege, and perhaps at the expense of other groups' basic human rights.

I am very interested in processes of decolonization and how they pertain to Guåhan. Decolonization is a complex concept and I’ll get to it over the next week or so. But just to start out the conversation, decolonization seeks to empower historically oppressed groups to look at themselves and ask, Who has defined us so far? How have those individuals (or states) defined us? Is that who are? Is that who we want to be?

When islanders refer to The Mainland, this might be an unconscious reflex. Habits are hard to break. But it’s worthwhile to ask, “Why should
Sanlågu be called ‘The Mainland,’ when where I live, and where my family lives, and where most of my life’s important changes take place is here, on this island?”

Etymologically speaking, I’m also going to investigate the more specific meaning of Sanlågu, since the Chamoru dictionary helpfully points out that san and lågu mean directions.

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