American Samoa Op-Ed

American Samoa

The citizenship status of American Samoans has long bothered me. The status of all the people in the outlaying territories of the United States has bothered me since I was stationed in Guam, but America Samoa seemed particularly egregious. People forget that these places even exist; I knew a guy from Guam that liked to quiz people to get them to name the five territories, and I don’t know if I ever saw anyone get it. With the most recent upswell of the Black Lives Matter movement, I was thinking about American Samoans and how they were screwed by a lack of citizenship, so I decided to write an op-ed about it. After some Googling, turns out the situation was more complex than I thought, but I tried to write an op-ed about it anyways. After some reflection, I have come to the conclusion that as a white guy who’s never even been to America Samoa, I wasn’t in a great position to speak to the issues in a way that ensured I was getting them right. I pondered trying to reach out to some American Samoans to see if I had successfully grasped the issues, but then worried I would be just trying to find a random American Samoan only to confirm my own viewpoints. So I decided to not try to get it published in any publication more widely read than my blog that no one reads, but I needed to get it out of my head. This is that attempt at an op-ed: 

As the United States continues to reckon with the racist legacies of its systems, I think an appropriate issue to raise is the citizenship status of American Samoans. Despite being a part of the United States, and under US jurisdiction, the people of American Samoa are not citizens, but are instead “US nationals.” The most straightforward way to say it is that this renders them second-class citizens, but of course they are not citizens at all. Because of their status, American Samoans are unable to hold certain federal jobs, vote in federal elections, or run for elected office. And as a mark of their status, their passports are stamped “This bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen.”

American Samoan’s status as US nationals is rooted in the Insular Cases – a series of Supreme Court cases decided in 1901, during one of the most aggressive periods of US overseas expansion. During those cases, the Court invented a doctrine that allowed the United States to extend sovereignty over foreign lands, but without necessarily granting the people in those lands rights under the Constitution. The United States wanted the resources, but not the people. They believed that the “primitive” people inhabiting the Pacific islands the United States was claiming as its own were unworthy of full inclusion into the “civilized” society of the mainland, or else that granting them full citizenship could potentially “dilute” the US racial makeup.

The reason, therefore, that American Samoans are not automatically granted US citizenship at birth is rooted in century-old racism. On this topic we have luckily progressed somewhat – unlike in American Samoa, the people in the other US territories, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands are citizens from birth. They gained this right via acts of Congress, as required by the Insular Cases.

In the 120 years since the US acquired the islands, there have in fact been several attempts to grant the people of American Samoa birthright citizenship. The most recent was last December, when a federal judge in Utah ruled that American Samoans had automatic citizenship under the Constitution, a ruling he immediately stayed pending appeals. However, these attempts have been opposed every single time by an extremely invested actor: the local government of American Samoa itself. The government of American Samoa fears that automatic citizenship would fundamentally threaten their way of life.

The American Samoan way of life, or fa’a Samoa, is rooted in communal land ownership and community networks. The American Samoans fear that, were they to fall under an increased scrutiny by the United States government, this method of communal land ownership would be declared unconstitutional and lead to the destruction of their culture. Based on the experience of other indigenous groups in the United States, I would say they are right to worry.

Here is the central tragedy of American Samoan’s position: their status as US nationals, and the indignities that heaps upon them, is because of outright racism in the burgeoning American Empire over a century ago. However, it is that same status that protects them from another aspect of American racism, the racism that disrespects native culture and indigenous ways of life, and has historically opened up native lands to expropriation and exploitation by colonizers and settlers.

There has to be a better solution than the status quo. American Samoans are able to gain full US citizenship via an abbreviated naturalization process that requires living in a US state or territory other than American Samoa for three months and paying $725 in fees. These requirements can be burdensome, preventing American Samoans that desire it from obtaining citizenship. Congress could instead allow American Samoans to automatically become citizens upon request, without a fee.

A better solution, of course, would be a United States that allowed for automatic citizenship to all the people under its jurisdiction, while managing to respect indigenous peoples and their ways of life. With a political movement dedicated to undoing the consequences of white supremacy against Black and Indigenous people of color, that America might be possible. In the meantime, it would help simply to grant American Samoans an easier path towards claiming the rights they deserve.

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum


Two weekends ago, as you’re reading this, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum. I have a pretty strong affinity with Susan B., because when I was really young my mom had saved for me a Susan B. Anthony dollar, which I could look at if I asked really nice, with mom retrieving it from a box she kept in her room. I had three teddy bears, and they cycled through several sets of names because I kept forgetting them, until I named them “Susan,” “B,” and “Anthony” (Susan looked kinda like a “girl” bear I guess, and then B was dressed in a small t-shirt that had a picture of a pig on it diving into a pool, so B was “cool,” and got the “cool” name of “B,” and Anthony wore a little sweater so he was a nerd and Anthony was a nerd name).

So of all the places in the Berkshires, my aforementioned super amazing girlfriend had never been here because it was only opened about 10 years ago and she had never gotten around to it. That made it a convenient place for the two of us to go to, together. And plus, the centennial of women’s suffrage is coming up on August 26th, so that’s neat. Anyways, what with the pandemic and all, the place had timed tickets, and we arrived at 11:28 am, with the website having sternly warned us to wait in our car until the previous tour group had cleared out and there was sufficient social distance between us and them to be able to enter, at which point staff would come retrieve us. Except when we arrived, we were the only car in the four-car parking lot, and the place looked deserted, so we wandered up. We had the place to ourselves the whole time, which was nice, because it is not a large museum.


The whole place is about four rooms. It’s pretty well done for what it is, and with the pandemic they (well, the one nice woman working there) handed us a tablet for a self-guided audio tour. You enter in the kitchen, divert into a pantry that holds the history of the house’s restoration and journey towards museum-dom, and then enter into the intensely named “birthing room,” where Susan B. herself and three of her siblings were born. In the kitchen and birthing room, they have some information on her early life and Quaker upbringing, and some excellent examples of needlework, so that is cool. The next room has a store display, and the story about how her dad was selling alcohol for a while, but then after a man died of exposure due to being drunk (someone else sold it to him, not Susan B.’s dad), he forswore it. There is also a cutout of Susan B. Anthony, with which you can take a selfie.


It is in the fourth and actually final room that you get to the jam-packed story of Susan B. Anthony’s journey in advocacy and the suffrage movement. I had not realized that she was active in both the temperance and anti-slavery movements, and a friend of Frederick Douglass. Good thing I went to the museum!

Besides the displays, this is the room that really assembled a small but significant number of artifacts from the suffrage movement. I was drawn to some of the obvious, hit-you-over-the-head parallels to the current Black Lives Matter movement. Race and racism played a part even in the suffragette movement, as the figurine (on the left in the below, hastily assembled collage) clearly demonstrates. They seem to have had a hand-held laminated sheet to give some insight into the statue, but that was missing due to COVID, so I don’t know exactly what the statue means but I can make some guesses. And when it comes to Black Lives Matter, people are aghast that protests can turn violent, and property damage can ensue. I don’t want to delve into whether it is BLM protesters or right-wing agitators actually breaking windows, but the museum told us that the suffragettes would carry around toffee hammers like the ones below specifically to break windows as a form of protest. The toffee hammers were convenient, because the suffragettes could hide them in their purses, and breaking windows was convenient, because how else do the powerless assert power? For all the vapors people get over broken windows, I gotta say, it worked at least once, you know? The pin is only included because I found it witty.


One thing I had to keep reminding myself of was that there were actually huge swaths of people out there that were very much against women’s suffrage. That was tough to remember because so many of the anti-suffrage pamphlets focused on the terrible world that awaited if women were given the vote. From the perspective of 2020, I think they read as awesome and amazing. Women hanging out on street corners chatting! Women wearing pants! Women achieving financial independence and having interests outside the home! And below is a terrible vision of a “future inauguration,” with a badass looking woman laying down, I assume, some truths, while other women listen and a sad-looking man in the corner carries around a ribbon on a pillow. I thought to myself “heck yeah” before I realized this was supposed to be bad:


And with that the Susan B. Anthony birthplace museum was done. I actually managed to buy some lapel pins here, so that was cool. They also had a lovely garden full of Black-Eyes Susans outside, which I always like because heck yeah, Maryland, though it wasn’t until I wrote this blog post that I realized why they wanted Black Eyed Susans, and it wasn’t until I googled it and scrolled way down on this webpage that I figured out it wasn’t a pun on her name and the flowers were from the Anthony family homestead on West Road, apparently. Anyways. A lovely little museum, and remember, wear a mask:


The Clark Museum


Two weeks ago, as you’re reading this, my super amazing girlfriend and I were back in the Berkshires! The major upswing for you is that I have included a picture of some cute cows at the top!

But in addition to hanging out with entertaining farm animals, we also decided to get some culture in, and visited The Clark, which is an art museum. For social distancing measures, they had timed tickets, and we decided to get there as early as possible. When we arrived there were some early rains, courtesy of Isaias, leading to a somewhat gloomy-looking scene in their courtyard outside:


The existence of The Clark made me ponder what is the ideal number of art museums to have. This museum surprised me; I had never ever heard of them, but they had Degas and Stuart and Monet and Renoir and Van Gogh and Rodin! Surely there is a number of art museums that is too high; if there were too many, you could never collect all those artists all in one place. Then again maybe an art museum for every individual person would make more room for newer artists and lesser-known artists instead of just these sorta dudes. It also has to be possible to have too few art museums. The Louvre, I hear, is pretty great, but already you can never get through it all. If all of earth’s art were crammed into one spot, then very few people could get to it, and no one could appreciate it.

When I walk around art museums, I like to take pictures. I think it gives me a sense of ownership over the pictures. I also really enjoy art museum gift shops, because they let you in some way take the art home. This is perhaps not the best way to appreciate art, but it does let me share with you versions of the artworks that are far worse than what you would see in person, by virtue of being taken on my just okay camera with my just okay eye for framing. My favorite was the piece below, titled “Reverie – The Letter:”


Sometimes this whole “take a picture of the artwork so I can feel like I took a piece of it home” also extends to the physical pieces the wind up in these places, like the below. I have been meaning to check if I could find either of these things to buy and keep in the home, each for very specific reasons. The thing on the left is apparently a nutmeg grinder, and I have very fond memories of grinding fresh nutmeg over painkillers, so you can see why it appealed to me. The thing on the right, on the other hand, is called “sugar nippers,” which is inherently hilarious and you can also see why I would want one.


I also sometimes take pictures of things in art museums that are only tangentially related to art. I noticed that the museum took great care to make the clamps that were holding pieces of artwork down blended into whatever they were clamping. They really put some effort into this! You can see some of those efforts in the collage below. On the painting, they made sure to do some sorta pointillist thing to make the clamps blend in, and on both of the statues they painted in some marbling which I found impressive. I just thought they were some fantastic little details:


There is also another theme that is sure to get my attention in art museums, and that is boats! The gift shop had a postcard of the below painting, so I did in fact get to take some of the artwork home, but they didn’t have any lapel pins for sale. The Berkshires has a severe lack of lapel pins, frankly. Someone should get on that.


The Clark is actually separated into at least two parts, and they had a separate annex where they were exhibiting some work by Lin May Saeed which was very interesting. There was one large piece done out of paper that really spoke to me because I had previously read The Marsh Arabs.

To get to the annex you had to take a ~8 minute walk on some trails outside the museum. We took different paths to get up there and to get back. The walk up took us through the woods which was lovely. The rain had just let up, so they were quiet and peaceful. On the way back we took a different path which took us by a field which apparently sometimes has cows. The fence pictured below is an artwork titled “Teaching a Cow How to Draw” by Analia Saban, a title which to me has strong Cow Tools vibes. But it seemed to me to be a pretty nice fence, and I think it was raw wood, so it would be interesting to see it age into the landscape.


By the time we had made it down to The Clark proper, the sun was largely out and the museum had started to get more crowded, so people were out and about in the courtyard that had been rather rainy and gloomy just a bit before. It was nice to see the place populated, pandemic-related concerns aside. Places like that only come alive when there are people in them:


Joe Biden’s Ties


Reading this week:

  • Very Important People by Ashley Mears (fantastic)

Joe Biden is a man I am increasingly excited to vote for this fall. He was not my favorite during the primary, mostly because he was an old boring white guy. But his political talent is of course tacking to wherever the party is going, and the party is going left. It wasn’t until he started announcing his policies, however, that I finally came to appreciate the power of an old white guy to make things seem boring. The dude more or less adopted the Green New Deal whole cloth (okay, not quite, but like, mostly), and I don’t think there was much of a reaction! So I am excited to hopefully see the man lead the country into the most progressive era the country has ever seen, and see people mostly shrug it off for being obvious and commonsense (which it is, but I guess we needed an old white guy to tell us that).

That being said, this post is not about Joe Biden’s policies. This post is about Joe Biden’s ties.

Most politicians wear boring ties and boring clothes. Biden isn’t in the picture up top, but that picture does have a whole bunch of other politicians wearing boring things. The women are wearing the most exciting things, but even then the most exciting we get is Tulsi Gabbard with a red jacket over black pants and a black blouse with black shoes. The men all wear blue, and half of them wear a blue tie with it, one an aquamarine (?) tie, then one purple and one red tie. I think this is partially the fault of television, because a CRT television doesn’t mix well with stripes and radical colors can look weird on an improperly tuned screen, but also because politicians are never trying to seem too radical to begin with. So they wear boring clothes.

Joe Biden, for all his aviator glasses flair, is like any other politician and well within the bounds of generally boring dress. Here he is wearing a plain blue tie, for example:


But then, there I was, reading the New York Times to make John Kerry proud, when I came across this article which featured at the top the below image. I thought to myself, huh, that’s an interesting pattern for a tie, not the normal boring tie you see politicians wear:


So I opened up the image in a new tab, and I zoomed in. Do you know what I saw???


That’s right I saw little sheep! Joe Biden was wearing a sheep tie, for no discernible reason except maybe that he liked sheep! This wasn’t a speech at a sheep industry event, this was just Joe Biden giving a normal speech, wearing a sheep tie! I had to know more, so I launched a brief investigation of Joe Biden’s ties (somewhat for my own benefit, but mostly for my super amazing girlfriend, who wants this talked about more).

Turns out, for a politician, Joe Biden has a nice little range of ties. Below, he is showing his patriotism by matching an American flag lapel pin (I hate those; politicians could do so much with their lapel but they all do the same boring thing) with a rep tie with American stripes:


But in a nod to the importance of diplomacy, and the future work he will do to restore America’s diplomatic ties (get it?) with the world, here we see him with a European-striped tie:


But he does have some swagger! Below is a tie that I initially interpreted as having the Vice Presidential Seal on it, but now which I think is simply the Great Seal, which, hell yeah, ‘Merica:


What initially got us on this path was a tie with cute animals on it, and so to cute animals we return. Below is a picture of a serious-looking Joe Biden sporting a tie with a donkey motif on it, which, hey, very on-brand for a Democrat, rock on:


But let me tell you, I have saved the best for last!!!!! Below is a picture of the person who, for the sake of our country, we desperately hope is the next President of the United States, saying presumably important things in front of both Chinese and American flags, while wearing, for absolutely no reason I can think of, a tie with little turtles on it!


Please vote this fall, and please vote for every Democrat you can.

Update: not ties, but close.



Inspired by spotting that YP last week, I thought I would spend some time writing about them this week. YPs (technically short for “Yard Patrol,” Wikipedia, US Navy) are 110 foot long boats that are more or less designed to be a standard boat. Their purpose in life is for midshipmen to practice driving ships without having to like, go through all the time and expense of driving a destroyer around. Plus they’re smaller, so they fit in the Severn River a lot more nicely. They have two propellers and two diesel engines and a bridge and lookout stands and you can take ’em out and practice driving them around.

Every midshipman has some interaction with YPs. If you ask me, they should put a lot more effort into training midshipmen into surface warfare officers (SWOs), but nobody asks me. But you do things like seamanship classes and the like, and the practice evolutions for these classes are going out on YPs and driving them around. Some midshipmen interact with them even more and go on summer cruises on them for training. And then some midshipmen, some midshipmen are on the YP squadron.


Some YPs from above.

For my first three years at the Naval Academy, I had less interaction than most with Yard Patrol craft. I was on the sailing team, you see, and we had a particular disdain for YPs. Why motor around on a YP, practicing going in straight lines and then turning on command, when you can sail around on the sleek, clean lines of a sailboat? But then halfway through my 2/C (junior) year, I decided to quit the sailing team when they wouldn’t give me a slot on a donated boat. Everyone at the Naval Academy is required to do a sport, and for that spring semester I was on my company’s intramural basketball team.

Senior year, however, I had come to miss my days on the water with the sailing team, and chose instead for my sport to do… YPs. I joined the YP Squadron, mentioned above. So this is wild. Like I just said, everyone at the Naval Academy is required to do a sport. Everyone. But one of the “sports” you can choose is to join the YP Squadron. What is wild is that it counts as a sport. What the YP squadron does is go out on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and drive YPs. This mostly involves different people standing around in different, discreet spots, and maybe moving their hands or something and then saying things to each other. Absolutely wild that is a sport, but that is the sport I chose so I could get out on the water again.


Looking into the bridge from the starboard bridgewing.

The Naval Academy, as far as I could tell from my time there, does not have a chess team. It was my opinion that all the people that would have joined the chess team instead joined the YP squadron. You had to be a special kind of nerd to do this. What you practice on the YP squadron is standard commands and docking and undocking boats and then like, navigation. All of which I love, but YP squadron is your sport, so you had to love it more than like, playing dodgeball. Rare breed at the Naval Academy indeed, despite what you’d think. The YP squadron actually gets a fair number of Plebes to sign up every year, because over Plebe Summer the squadron gives them a talk about how amazing and awesome it is and Plebes sign up, not knowing better.


Down in the galley, with our zoomie on the left.

The squadron itself is in a lot of ways pretty bonkers. If you’re an officer at the Naval Academy, and you just love SWO stuff, you try to help out with the YP squadron. The squadron also attracted the exchange officers. The British guys were always a special kind of crazy because they have a longer naval tradition, and their deck officers are just deck officers; they don’t tend to do engineering stuff too like American officers. So they are fanatical about navigation and try to instill this fanaticism on the YP squadron members. I don’t know if it worked but it was fun to watch. When I was there, the squadron also managed to attract an exchange cadet from the Air Force Academy. I guess he just wanted the full experience. If I didn’t care much about what we did, the zoomie really didn’t. Plus one time we toured a destroyer and he kept calling it a “boat,” much to the annoyance of the officer showing us around, and that was funny.

I actually had a great time on the YP squadron. I was a 1/C (senior) at the time, so no one really like, tried to tell me what to do. And you got to be on the water twice a week, which was fun. And no one got too mad if I just missed it (I actually had a chemistry lab scheduled concurrently, but it usually ended early). I actually did love navigation, and was pretty good at it, so I spent most every afternoon with the YP squadron taking one of the hapless plebes and teaching them navigation, which was relatively undemanding and pretty rewarding. I hope there are navigators out there who might not remember but at least picked up a practical tip or two before their navigation class. Plus it was nice just being out on the water.

Where other sports go to competitions or whatever, the YP squadron went on MOs (Movement Orders). That is, we would just drive the boats somewhere. This was usually pretty neat, because navigating the boats around was fun, and you got some good parking spots. When we went to Norfolk we parked right next to the Wisconsin, and when we went to Baltimore we parked right in front of the aquarium. The squadron also went to the Army-Navy game in Philly, which compared to the bus is a pretty luxurious way to travel. Then we parked next to the Olympia.


Dad at the helm.

The trip to the Army-Navy game was especially fun because on the way back I got to bring dad. Turns out dear ole’ dad was actually commodore of the YP squadron back when he was a Mid, cementing him as an absolute bonkers NERD. But he had YP experience, and I asked nice, and he got to come with us on the way back down. I told him to not miss our underway time, and he was diligently waiting in the mess decks on the ship before the sun came up and before anyone was even awake. He spent some time at the helm while I was driving (standing officer of the deck), so I was ordering him around and that was fun. He tried to be chill about it all but he had a grand time, even digging up and busting out his old deck jacket from when he was driving destroyers around.


Imagine like, a bald eagle screeching too, please.

All in all my time on the squadron was absolutely great. For a professional writing/communications class my senior year, I even made a poster that was meant to promote the YP squadron, depicting some Mid on a lookout post looking patriotic (pictured above). I was hesitant to go to the YP Squadron annual dinner, feeling a bit like an interloper, but due to all the Plebes being underage and the organizers accidentally ordering too much toasting port, we had a great time talking YPs long into the (Tuesday) night. So I stand by my opinion that the YP squadron are all nerds, but for a bit… they were my nerds.