Making my home the best it can be

Editor’s Note: Kelvin Wolf is a student at Marianas High School. The following is the text of his speech at the Attorney General Cup speech competition last May 4.

I remember when I was in Kindergarten, singing the lines of our national anthem that go, “…the land of the free, and the home of the brave…” But growing up, I did not feel at home nor did I feel free, and as for being brave, well…

I grew up constantly reminded I am Filipino. And it wasn’t because I was proud of my culture; it was the fact that I was constantly reminded that I am not Chamorro.

Of course, in my youthful ignorance, it was impossible for me to realize the causalities of the racial tensions that surround so many of us. Reasons were presented to me, as I grew older. And there was, to be fair, a certain logic to those reasons. The reasons…?

Early insular legislation paved the way for persons of Northern Marianas descent to recover a degree of sovereignty after centuries of colonization. Article 12 allowed an even larger degree of flexibility to locals to preserve the unique culture and history of the Northern Marianas.

But, by continuing to distinguish between “NMD” and “non-NMD” we are effectively relegating entire populations to second-class status—populations many of which call and have long called the CNMI home.

The thousands of residents from so many different cultures and nations need to be accepted as worthy equals in our CNMI communities.

Centuries of colonization led the peoples of the Northern Marianas to willingly join with the United States in a defined political relationship. The Covenant with the United States speaks to that relationship and sets up a framework and a set of mandates as may be found in the Commonwealth’s Constitution.

It did at one time make sense that, in deciding Article 12, the Ninth Circuit in Wabol v. Villacrusis stated: “There can be no doubt that land in the Commonwealth is a scarce and precious resource. Nor can the vital role native ownership of land plays in the preservation of NMI social and cultural stability be underestimated.” That said…

clearly times have changed. Immigrants from all over the world have made the CNMI their home. On the one hand, the Insular [Cases Doctrine] legislation allows NMDs to preserve their culture; on the other, conflict and controversy have been their unintended consequence.

What the Insular Cases have created, in being the driving force behind Wabol and Article 12, is essentially a caste system. The advantaged class of citizens are those of Northern Marianas descent. The disadvantaged is the subordinated class of citizens, everyone else. NMDs and non-NMDs pay the same taxes, abide by the same laws, and yet are not availed of same rights.

As a result of this caste system, there is a strong sense of “us versus them.” Article 12, and thus the rules governing NMD, perpetuate the reality that everyone not of NMD are “foreigners.” And that the land must “belong only to me, the NMD, and no one else.” This stigmatization has created significant tension and sadly, virulent racism.

A childhood memory is exemplary of my argument. In my childhood, I discovered a badly scribbled bit of graffiti on the side of San Jose Mart. It read, “Go home, alien.” In my childish innocence, I thought it was the resistance fighting off Martians. But no, it was just hate speech perpetrated by a local.

Many times I’ve witnessed Filipino and Chinese people treated with aggression simply because their blood is not that of a local. Even to the extent of, and I quote this directly from a death threat, “I can do it if I want, I’m Chamorro.” An island strictly for one race is the surest way for a culture to fade. Homogeneity contradicts American values, especially in an era of globalization.

In the face of the second-class citizenship that I was born with, I now urge that I be accorded the same rights every person of Northern Marianas descent in this room has.

One scholar has noted per the D.C. Circuit’s decision on American Samoan U.S. citizenship: “As the forgotten story of noncitizen nationals shows…on the one hand, they are treated like citizens. …They have a right to enter and reside and work in the United States indefinitely. On the other hand, they are treated as noncitizens: They do not have the right to vote, to serve on juries, to bear arms, or to apply for certain federal and state jobs.”

“The origin of this secondary status may be traced to a line of early 20th century Supreme Court cases known as the Insular Cases.”

What is to prevent the federal government from extending this subordination to the CNMI?

Frankly, the past Insular Cases referred to are no longer relevant, and should be overturned. It is an antiquated system that perpetuates harm.

First, on land alienation, the grounds of this land we call home does not require that every inch of it is necessary for cultural preservation. The U.S. Department of the Interior on Indian Affairs reports that, and I quote, “Approximately 56.2 million acres are held in trust by the United States for various Indian tribes and individuals.” With the United States in its entirety being 2.3 billion acres of land, the Native American Reservations are but a measly 5 percent of U.S. soil.

This is a much more reasonable amount relative to the 100 percent of Saipan soil reserved solely for the ownership of people of Chamorro or Carolinian descent. Instead, we should preserve the islands culture by preserving culturally significant sites such as the House of Taga, Two Lover’s Point, Banzai Cliff, Suicide Cliff, and other important areas.

Such a solution is not unheard of. The European Commission was founded under Article 3.3 of the Lisbon Treaty to “respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and…ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.” To do this, “The focus is on the promotion of the European dimension of the sites and providing access to them. Since 2013, these sites have been carefully selected for their symbolic value, the role they have played in the European history, and activities they offer that bring the European Union and its citizens closer together.”

This is fair for everyone. It does much to desensitize the topic of race, thus eliminating most of the racism. It helps to close the gap between the privileges of NMD citizens and non-NMD persons, essentially eliminating second-class citizenship.

The Insular Cases once provided a means of reparation for the peoples of the Northern Marianas. But they have inadvertently created tension and an unacceptable caste system. Their relevance lay in their benefits, but its flaws demand their eradication.

I beg you all to understand that I too care for the islands I love. My hope is to make my home the best it can be.

Kelvin Wolf (Special to the Saipan Tribune) Author

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