Saturday, July 23, 2011

Samuel F. McPhetres: 40 years in the NMI | spice

Samuel F. McPhetres: 40 years in the NMI | spice

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera: Recollections II | spice

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera: Recollections II | spice

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera: Recollections | spice

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera: Recollections | spice

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Agnes McPhetres Story

Agnes Manglona McPhetres: Go the distance
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

NOT everyone gets to be born in a cave.

Imagine how a young Agnes Manglona McPhetres fends off bad remarks from playmates and she turns it around.

The youngest of Ana Ada Manglona and Jose Mendiola Manglona’s 10 children, Agnes was born in a cave on Jan. 2, 1942.

“I was born in a cave,” says Agnes who remembers how children her age teased her.

She says she turned that around for a while. She says she told those who were teasing her, “Only famous people are born in a cave.” Indeed it is a matter of perspective.

She tells Variety, “Several of my brothers and sisters were already married before
I was born. Some of my nephews and nieces were older than me.”

On Saipan, Agnes says she grew up with the Carolinian community in Chalan Kanoa and she says she appreciated those years. She also recalls walking from home to school and to her father’s farm near the airport.

School for Agnes was the Chalan Kanoa Elementary School, the only school on Saipan.

She finished grade school there except for one year — during fifth grade — that she stayed on Guam.

She admits that during that time there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women. “I really wanted to do something. The only future that ladies look forward to is to be a nun,” says Agnes.

So at 13, she says, she went to the convent of the Mercedarian Sisters in Chalan Kanoa.

“They called us nuns but we were not really nuns,” says Agnes.

She says she stayed with the sisters until they moved to Maturana Hill which prior to their transfer was once a hospital.

“We were brought up there. We were the ones who rebuilt it. We were renovating all those Quonset huts into livable convent and place for us,” remembers Agnes.

She admits it was a very interesting time to be at the convent and she never regretted any moment she spent there.

“It was a training of your will and character. And of course it helped lay your principles and a lot of other talents,” says Agnes.

The nuns, she says, pushed them to discover their full potential. She says, “They helped build character and nurture talents.”

Staying with the nuns, Agnes says, makes one into a more refined individual.

Of all the nuns she had had the opportunity of knowing and learning from, Agnes says she looked up to Sisters Bertha, Remedios, and Rosario.

“I stayed with them until I was 18,” adds Agnes. Then she says the nuns sent her to the United States to continue her education.

Asked by Variety how it was like to take her first flight to the mainland U.S., she says, “Actually that was a very interesting experience.”

She shares with Variety how her first commercial flight to the mainland almost turned out to be a tragedy. It was her first PanAm flight to the United States.

She clearly remembers that on their way from Hawaii to Los Angeles, the plane had problem in landing. She says since the plane didn’t have enough fuel it had to make an emergency landing and was allowed to land in Ontario.

She recalls they didn’t use the stairs but instead used the emergency exits upon landing with the ambulances ready at the airstrip. “It was an exciting yet scary trip.”

From there, she says, they were transported to the hotel where she first saw an elevator.

She says, “I kept punching all the buttons not knowing what to do.”
“The elevator and the escalator — those were the things that shocked me,” says Agnes who was carrying a Trust Territory passport at that time.

For a year, Agnes says, she stayed at Donnelly Community College in Kansas City, Kansas then she moved to College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education major in languages and mathematics.

Looking back on her student years, she says, she lived the entire time in the dormitory.

“I liked it. I didn’t have to go out that much. Winter was fierce and summer was awful. I spent most of my time reading,” tells Agnes.

She admits she had to work while she was in college. She remembers babysitting and cleaning houses at that time.

So after earning her degree and becoming the first woman from the islands to do so, she says she wanted to take back what she learned and share it with the community.

At the time, she says, help was needed in Truuk when a typhoon devastated St. Cecilia School. She remembers working with John Sablan — Mike Sablan’s father — who was then the district administrator.

It was also on Truuk where she met her future husband Sam McPhetres who was working for the Peace Corps. Then after a year, she returned to Saipan to work for the Trust Territory government as executive director for Manpower Development Council under the Trust Territory Department of Education.

When she came back, Agnes started to buckle down to work and focused on doing something for the island.

At that time, it was an interesting time for a woman to be holding a significant position.

As a pioneer, Agnes helped break the glass ceiling.

She had help, she says, from the director of education David Ramarui who encouraged her.

“He wanted me to take over the staff development for the whole trust territory government system. I don’t know maybe he saw that I worked hard,” the educator says.

During that time, Agnes was already blazing the trail for Micronesian women in the field of education.

Determined to prove that women could go so far as the men did, she pursued her goals with full conviction and commitment.

And she was never irresolute in making those big decisions.

She says, “Women need to pursue their full potential.”

And realize her full potential she did as an educator by trusting in herself, believing that a woman could accomplish any goal in equal measure as the men do.
(To be continued)

Agnes Manglona McPhetres’ Story II:
Empowering Women
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

THE women are the future of the islands.

So says Agnes Manglona McPhetres in a conversation with this reporter.

For Agnes, despite some relegating women to minor roles, she fervently believes in what women can do to help the commonwealth extricate itself from the rut.

She has been through a lot as a woman, especially during her time when men dominated the political landscape of her time.

As the first president of the Northern Marianas College, and being a woman in a position that some claimed should have been held by men, Agnes says it was difficult. But she says she had to persevere and prove her worth.

“They are not used to seeing a woman in that position,” says Agnes.

She tells how she experienced discrimination on account of her gender.

During her time in the Trust Territory government days, when they were resolving a problem, Agnes remembers, “I would say certain things.

Somehow the guy next to me heard what I said and repeated what I said verbatim.

Then they would look at him and tell him, ‘That is one of the best ideas we have ever heard.’”

There was a time when she had to visit the outer islands.

“I wouldn’t be permitted in the men’s house. So I told the chiefs, ‘Then we would not have a meeting.’” She says the chiefs then made an exemption for her to join
them at the men’s house to proceed with the meeting.

She also tells this reporter how the men during her time treats women as a sex object and how she confronted this on many occasions.

“You have to be very strong to know how to say ‘no’ without offending people.
That’s an art I learned through so many years of experience,” says Agnes.

Moreover, as president of the college and when she and a male assistant would receive guests, Agnes says she recalls the guests addressing her male assistant thinking that she was the secretary.

If she were not strong, if she didn’t believe in what she is capable of doing, Agnes would not have accomplished the things she did.

It took someone with Agnes’ courage and commitment to push for the establishment of the college.

When she left the Board of Education, the governor asked Agnes what she wanted to do and she said, “I want to become the president of the college.”

At that time, Agnes says, there was a move to have the idea of a college nipped in the bud.

But the governor then issued an executive order establishing the college with Keith Porter as the bilingual coordinator.

“We didn’t have a campus—we didn’t have anything,” remembers Agnes.

So she told the governor she would like to become the president of the college and she says this statement had taken the governor aback.

She tells how the college started with seven people using the Marianas High School classroom in the afternoon.

While doing this, they had to look for a more permanent home and finally they struck a deal with the Commissioner Janet McCoy to allow NMC to take over the buildings to be vacated by the nursing school when it moved to the Marshalls.

The three wings of the Dr. Torres Hospital that belonged to the Trust Territory government became the NMC’s first building.

“We didn’t have any equipment. What I did was I arranged a memorandum of agreement to borrow their equipment until we had the money to purchase our own equipment.

That is how we started refurbishing our campus,” she says.
Agnes, who was in early 40s at the time, married with two children, would be spending most of her time at work.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t see daylight. I would go to the college, sometimes very early in the morning at 4 a.m. and leave around 8 p.m.,” says Agnes.

The college was her life.

But she had to be make the sacrifices in order for the college to get the equipment, the funding, the staff and faculty, and the accreditation that it needed.

“When you don’t have anything—you don’t have money, you don’t have staff, you have to be very creative,” she tells this reporter.

She says her strong point is knowing federal grants —knowing sources of funding.

“That helped a lot in the funding of the college,” she says.

She adds how she searched for staff. She would visit offices and talked to people and found out some who were dissatisfied with their jobs and offered them a place at the college.

She says these people moved to the college bringing with them their FTE status and salary resulting from Agnes requesting the governor to allow them to do so.

She labored hard for the college to earn the accreditation.

“We were working with University of Guam and GCC to bring their credit over here.

So we were like the coordinating agency for higher education at that time. It was just a paper college.”

To gain the accreditation, legislation was needed to separate the Board of Education and Board of Higher Education which were one at the time.

Agnes acknowledges how Felicidad Ogumoro was involved in the first legislation.

Soon, they gained two years candidacy.

Agnes says she was thankful for the windfall of federal grants they received at the college.

She tells Variety how they managed to obtain the land grant status, the struggle over the condemned hospital building with the Director of the Public Health with
Typhoon Kim as a way for divine providence to intervene destroying the roofs of the majority of the buildings with the Health department abandoning them.

Agnes says she struck a deal with the FEMA and worked out an arrangement with the buildings which soon became the NMC’s.

The students of the vocational class helped rebuild the facility with faculty, staff and community members helping repaint the first campus.

“The campus wasn’t yet ours. We worked with MPLC and the governor. In six years, the land was deeded to the campus.”

For 18 years, Agnes cared for the college like it was her own child.

Asked why she had to leave, “Actually I had a goal. My goal was to build the college, to have a very strong accreditation, to have a four-year degree in education, to bring land grant status—I fulfilled every one of them,” she says.

But she says the only thing missing was “I didn’t not stay long enough to see the
four-year degree implemented.”

Despite what she says was dissension at that time, and the negative publicities, “to me that doesn’t matter. What matters was I left a good institution—a really strong institution.”

Asked on what the college needs, she says frankly, “You need a strong leader, qualified leaders. You need qualified people who assist the leader; a qualified CEO and an honest CEO; a person who is not seeking for himself but for the development of the institution.”

For Agnes, credentials are not enough.

“You have to know how to work with the people.” She believes it is always an uphill battle to work with different types of people.

“You have a faculty. The faculty is a different type of people. You have to deal with them with care and attention. They are the true backbone of the college. You have to recognize that they are the brain of the college. Without the faculty, you don’t have a college,” she says.

For Agnes, running a college is a “careful balancing act”—one has to have knowledge about different levels of governance.

For the young women of the CNMI, Agnes advises for them to love themselves and be strong. “They will have to have a very healthy self-esteem. Nobody can put them down.”

She also says for them to pursue their highest dream.

“Every woman here has a place in this commonwealth and has to seek the highest potential. This island is going to be changed, not by men, but by the women,” says Agnes.

For the former NMC president, the women are a silent power in the commonwealth with a lot of leadership potential.

She adds, “They will bring the CNMI out of the crisis.”

Tun Mel's Story

THERE’S joy in a seven-year-old boy’s eyes as he volunteers to his sensei in cleaning his office.

And he makes himself available whenever opportunity presents itself.

But there’s more to cleaning the room than meets the eye.

As he goes about what he volunteered to do, his eyes wander. Curiosity overwhelms him in his scrutiny. Lying on the table is a stick of cigarette.

With the mischief of childhood, he checks if the coast is clear. He hurriedly stows the cigarette in his pocket and returns to cleaning the room. But in his mind a plan has been hatched.

Now 88 years old, Tun Jose I. Torres breaks out a smile to confirm that he’s guilty of lighting that cigarette 81 years ago and that began an 81-year habit.

Tun Jose or “Mel” to his friends is one of the oldest — if not the oldest congregate at the Office on Aging.

Born in Garapan, Saipan on Aug. 20, 1923, Tun Mel is the son of Felix Torres Palacios of Saipan and Carmen Iglesias of Piti, Guam.

He tells Variety, “I have two brothers — Clemente and Vicente and one sister.”
Picking a memory from his past is like putting together big shards of a broken jar.

His memory is still lucid; however, in the passing of so many years, something’s got to give.

As he sips his early morning dose of coffee, he tries to travel back in time — before the war years.

Asked if he also went to the Japanese school, he says, “Yes, I went to the Japanese school over there in Garapan.”

Tun Mel says he is fortunate to have had the opportunity to study during the Japanese period. “I studied for five years. That’s the limit.”

[According to Don Farrell’s “History of the Northern Mariana Islands,” Chamorros and Carolinians could attend school for three years; however, only special students get to enjoy two more years. The top students are sent to Palau for trade school.]

He recalls there are about 20 students in his class, all Chamorro and Carolinian.

He says, “The Japanese [students] are separated from the Chamorros and Carolinians.”
Like his other contemporaries, he too knows how to speak Nihongo.
Tun Mel narrates he worked for the Japanese military. He says, “I worked for the Japanese military before the war. I went to Pagan and I was one of those who helped build a road.”

He says it took only one year to finish the job.

From Pagan, he tells Variety that he went back to Saipan and worked for the Japanese military again. But this time in the former Aslito Airfield that later became the Isley Airfield.

“I worked there for one year and half. Then the war came,” remembers Tun Mel.

The cacophony of the bombing sends everyone scuttling to safer ground.

Tun Mel and his family escaped to Kannat Tabla and hid in a cave.

Asked by Variety how long they stayed in the cave, he says, “Close to one month inside the cave.” He tells Variety that he was with his parents.

Asked if there were others with them, he says, “No. I would ask those who came by to go and look for another place.”

He explains when it gets crowded in the cave, people tend to “talk, talk, and talk.” For him, this will betray their hiding place and make them easy targets.

“Sometimes I cried because I was scared,” admits the 88-year-old.

He also corroborates the stories of the other war survivors.

He says, “We survived on coconuts. There was no food. No rice.”

Not long after, he says, they were found by the American military personnel who took them to the stockade in Susupe.

There, Tun Mel narrates how the Japanese and the indigenous people lived in separate quarters.

“I can move about freely in Camp Susupe.” [Camp Susupe, in Farrell’s book, was called by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “the most amazing shanty town ever administered by the United States Navy.”]

According to Tun Mel, when the gates of Camp Susupe were opened, they were told to wear a read badge which for Tun Mel meant the Americans would easily identify them.

The conversation segues into the post-war years. He says he was employed by a local but later he says his boss asked him to work for the commander.

He also recalls working for an ice factory and not long after relocated to Guam where his mother was originally from.

He says he lived and worked on Guam for 29 years. “I worked on Guam for the big companies, moving from job to job trying to earn ‘big money.’”

During the intervening years, he says he hasn’t found someone to marry and build a family with. “I didn’t want to marry,” says Tun Mel who spent his bachelorhood in Guam.

With a grin, he tells Variety he bade bachelorhood goodbye four years ago.

Despite his age, Tun Mel says he still feels strong. “I eat the same. I eat anything.”

He says he has no secret to long life; however, he prays to God that he be given a long life.

Prodded by Variety to tell if he has other things that he does that’s out of the ordinary and helps him live longer, he says, “It must be coffee.”

Then he lets out a loud laugh before standing up to clear his throat.

Asked if he does exercise, he replies, “No exercise!” Then he laughs again.

The jovial Kannat Tabla resident comes to the Manamko’ Center every day. But in the days that he stays at home, he says he watches TV, eats, and drinks beer.

Then he retracts his statement. “Now I don’t drink anymore.”

Blessed to have lived longer than some of his contemporaries, Tun Mel imparts a message to the young generation.

He says he may not be a good example to the young but he wants them to know that smoking is bad for their health —that it can kill them.

He also says one thing he values and learns from the elders is respect that he would like the young to continue cultivating as a virtue.

With another sip of hot coffee, he stands up and walks to get his breakfast. He comes back to the seat he has staked claim on and waves his hand to bid this reporter, “till then.”

Then he raises his cup of coffee for yet another sip of what he jokingly refers to as the reason he’s still around.

[Tun Mel is probably the oldest man on Saipan. The Office on Aging has yet to update its records.]

[Spice is the newest section of Marinas Variety dedicated to people with interesting stories and events that matter. For comments and suggestions, email]

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story: Respetu
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

BEADS of perspiration trickle down his forehead as he labors for a project his uncle promised would generate a share in income for him.

Toiling under the scorching equatorial sun that blessed him with a dark complexion, he feels bad about skipping his classes. Worse, he feels bad that it is not worth skipping his classes after all for he doesn’t get the share he looks forward to getting.

Frank Cepeda, now 68 years old, remembers full well how he strove to earn an education on Guam.

Tun Frank shares with Variety how he ended up studying on Guam. He remembers with gusto how he, along with Pete A. Tenorio and Edward DLG Pangelinan went to Guam to pursue higher education.

Tun Frank says ninth grade was the highest attainable level of education on Saipan at the time.

He says students here on island went to Chalan Kanoa Elementary School from first to sixth grade and Saipan-Chalan Piao Intermediate School for seventh to ninth grade.

After that, Tun Frank says, students had a choice between going to the Pacific Island Central School in Truk or the trade school on Guam.

Having a relative on Guam makes going to school on Guam the more logical choice. But those years he spent with his relatives, he says, gave him some of his most unforgettable experiences.

“I was made to work. I ended up being one of the manpower [that his uncle needed badly and lacked],” says Cepeda.

He says he couldn’t do anything then. Forced by the circumstances, he followed what his uncle wanted him to do.

He says, “I didn’t have time to study after school. Staying there I had to help.”

Although tuition at the Tumon Jr. Sr. High School was free, Tun Frank says he had to work for his allowance.

“My parents over here couldn’t produce anything to give me any money to even buy a shirt or buy lunch,” says Tun Frank.

At a young age, he says he learned hardship. Nevertheless, counting his blessings, he feels good that he was fortunate to have studied on Guam where he met his wife Fe Luz Ada.

Early childhood
The second oldest in a brood of 11, Frank Cepeda is the second son of Gregorio Torres Cepeda and Ana Guerrero Deleon Guerrero.

Tun Frank tells Variety that he was born on the island of Alamagan on June 24, 1942.
He recalls that his parents were probably sent to Alamagan between 1939 and 1940 during the time when the Japanese were fortifying the islands in preparation for war.

The elder Cepeda, a fisherman, and his wife, according to Tun Frank, were sent with the others to work on the roads and the military outposts on Alamagan.

The second oldest until 1968 when his brother died, Tun Frank says he was one of five sons of his parents and now remains the oldest of the siblings.
He his childhood on Alamagan.

At the age of three, “I was in Alamagan, I was only three years old I guess. I still remember my mother and I were out gathering wild tomatoes.”

He tells Variety that he returned to Saipan only in 1946, long after the gates of Camp Susupe had been opened to release the internees.

He says he slept through the long boat ride back to Saipan in 1946.

“The next thing I remember I fell asleep on the boat. I didn’t remember anything else until I woke up here on Saipan. That was a long sleep. I got up to what looked like a cubicle,” narrates Tun Frank.

He describes the quarters in Chalan Kanoa. “I got up to what looked like a cubicle made by the military. The place was divided into five rooms.”

Asked if it were one of the stockades where the war survivors stayed, he says, “No. It wasn’t Camp Susupe. We were still in Alamagan when Camp Susupe was opened to release the civilians.”

He remembers fondly that the quarters were close to the Joeten Store. “I stayed there until 1957 when I left Saipan for Guam to study.”

He says he was fortunate to have had the opportunity to move to Guam and study despite the challenges he had to go through.

During that time in 1957, he said his proficiency in English was weak as the islands had been under the Japanese administration since 1914.

He acknowledges the efforts of his teachers back then who provided the foundation.

He appreciates the efforts they invested in preparing them for higher education.

“They did a good job in helping us.”

On Guam, the young Frank Cepeda was bent on acquiring education so he could improve his lot in life.

Staying with his uncle is just half the battle.

But Tun Frank takes things in stride. He knows he needs to soldier on.

He say he worked for his uncle thinking he would keep his end of the bargain to cough up a share of the earnings from the construction projects.

He narrates, “Life was hard. Sometimes I missed school. I was thinking that if I worked instead of going to class, I would get money which I needed very much. I needed to decide on my own.”

He says being young, he couldn’t go against his uncle’s decisions. He says he had to go along with it.

After spending two years with his uncle’s family, he had the chance to quit staying there and relocated to the Andersen Air Force Base where an American family took care of him.

At Tumon Jr. Sr. High School
The then 17-year-old Frank Cepeda found refuge from his personal battles in the classroom at Tumon Jr. Sr. High School where Tun Frank says he found courage and confidence.

Skin burned from exposure to the sunlight working for construction projects of a kin, Tun Frank says he stayed at the back of the class while the good looking ladies, including Fe, who would become his future wife, were in front.

He says his skin was so dark and his hair was almost blonde due to long exposure to the sun.

When he moved to Andersen Air Force Base, things changed.
He recalls he and another cousin found work cleaning yards and earning $5 a week.

On the base, he found a family that took care of him and treated him well.
Apart from paying him $5 a week for cleaning yards, he says he was given food and shelter for FREE.

He remembers fondly his foster family, the family of then Lt. Col. Harold H. Vague, who later on would retire as a two-star general in the United States Air Force.

Life was hard but Tun Frank says he was motivated enough to want to education. “I suffered to earn my subsistence. I suffered but I found time to study.”

He tells Variety he was elated to graduate from high school.
Tun Frank says there’s this class called Problem of American Democracy, a civics class, where he says they had an aggressive teacher or show-off for a lack of a better adjective.

The teacher, he says, gave them a diagnostic test. So they did take the test and when he received the results, he tells Variety how disappointed and embarrassed he was to have earned a D Minus.

So he says he crumpled the paper out of shame and kept it under his table.
But then, with his eyes glowing in excitement as he narrates, his teacher discussed the results of the test.

He says the teacher aired his frustration that only one of the 30 students barely passed.

Then all of a sudden, Tun Frank says, it dawned on him it was he whom the teacher was referring to.

That incident, Tun Frank says, afforded him the courage and the confidence to face life’s challenges — that he can make it.
(To be continued)

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story Part II:
Two peas in a pod

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

IT’S a phone call he received at Andersen Air Base one night 50 years ago that changed his life.

“One night, I received a call in Andersen. One of the ladies — Rose Naputi — says,

‘You know Fe is saying she loves you,’” recalls Tun Frank of how he found out about
Fe Luz Ada’s inchoate feelings for him.

He tells Variety that he and Fe had an opportunity to talk about it the day after that revelation.

With joy in his eyes, Tun Frank remembers the day he and Fe sat at the back of Joe Lifoifoi’s car.

He says he broke the silence and had the courage to ask Fe, “Is that true what Rose was telling me?”

And there was a nod that prompted Tun Frank to ask, “Prove it.”

And there goes that first kiss that will remain indelible in Tun Frank’s memory.

Now, 50 years hence, Tun Frank admits he owes it to Joe Lifoifoi if not for his lending him his car he wouldn’t have known Fe’s true feelings for him.

Both are convinced that they are meant for each other.

Tan Fe tells Variety that she knew from the start that she would end up marrying Tun Frank.

She says she and Tun Frank were good friends but deep inside, she knew they are going to end up getting married for some reason.

She remembers hearing discouragements from some people but these did not dissuade her from marrying Tun Frank. She says, “But still, I know in my heart, that I am going to marry him.”

Describing her husband, she says she likes a person who is not foolish. “He has been honest and I like somebody that I can challenge.”

Meanwhile, Tun Frank says he admires Tan Fe’s mother who is a school teacher. He believes that her impressions of him changed the day he finished at the top of his class. He says that gave her an opportunity to see him in a different light.

Tan Fe comes from a well-to-do family. Born on Jan. 2, 1945, Tan Fe is one of six children of Herman Torres Ada, a hospital administrator, and Candelaria Pereira Cruz, a school teacher, of Hagatna, Guam.

She describes her childhood. “It’s a controlled life. I couldn’t play with anybody. I couldn’t just play with Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

She tells Variety that her parents were very strict and she could only play with certain children.

At that time, she says, her dad was also a businessman. She says she and her siblings are among the first on Guam to get the latest toys. “We are the first ones to get them.”

She has no favorite toy but she admits if there’s a toy she doesn’t like she gives it away.

Asked what’s the most important value she learned while growing up, she tells Variety, “You have to respect. You have to respect each other and learn how to work around the house and take care of yourself by helping each other.”

For Tan Fe, she has a comfortable life on Guam.

In spite of these comforts, she says they were taught to do a little bit of everything.

“We also grew up on a farm. We had a farm. We were raising chickens, birds, ducks, pigs, and we had some kind of vegetable farm,” she says.

On weekends, Tan Fe says the siblings were taught to help pick some fruits, take care of the chickens, pick up eggs, among other chores.

She says they own the Herman Ada Store, more like the Joeten Store at the time on Guam, selling washing machines, refrigerators, grocery items, among other things.

Tan Fe says this was the kind of life she left when she decided she would marry Tun Frank and there were no regrets.

In the beginning, Tan Fe says her parents were worried over how she would cope living on her own on Saipan knowing she had everything on Guam.

She tells them frankly, “I am not marrying his family; I am marrying Frank.”
Trusting she made the right decision, her parents consented to her marriage to

Frank and the two exchanged wedding vows on April 8, 1961.

Coming back to Saipan with Frank, she was on her own.

“I don’t even know how to wash. I don’t even know how to cook. And he is there,” says Tan Fe telling Variety that her husband helped her with the household chores.

“When we got married, he joined the military service and we had a wonderful life,” she says.

She also admits that like any other couple, they also have their own ups and downs.

The hard part, she says, was being alone to handle it all with Frank on deployment. But she managed.

During those long months that her husband was away, Tan Fe says she also taught her children to be independent.

She says she remembers how she would prepare their meals in advance.

While working at the military exchange, she says, she would check on her kids every hour on the hour.

Moreover, Tun Frank says the day he exchanged “I do!” with his wife, he vowed to stay committed to her.

When he joined the military, he says, he promised himself he would discharge his duties and know his responsibilities. “If I had to die, so be it. But I have to have something for my family — security.”

And he was fortunate. He rose through the ranks and reached the rank of Sergeant Major after 18 years in service.

He says he also served in the special forces —Green Beret—and he was also deployed to Vietnam jumping behind enemy lines.

While deployed, Tun Frank says he never leaves the family empty handed.

“I never left the family without anything,” says Tun Frank who believes he has been a good provider for his family.

Meanwhile, on the home front while he’s on deployment, Tan Fe has her hands full taking care of the children and working at the military exchange.

Like any other Army wife, she is the center of the family’s gravity — she pulls the family together at the time when her husband is on deployment.

She’s the family’s unsung heroine facing the challenges at home and at work all on her own in the absence of her husband who is out serving his nation.

But while both face their own personal battles, it is the greater good of the family that they both strove to achieve.

They raised three biological and two adopted children.

During the times that she was alone, Tan Fe says she has to be strong for the family. “I didn’t want to depend on my parents. If others could do it, I could do it.”

She worked for the military exchange store for 18 years and is now looking forward to leaving her post as supervisor of the in-patient department of the Commonwealth Health Center after 20 years.

In the vicissitudes of 50 years, Tun Frank and Tan Fe both share the values of respect, honesty, and commitment.

Young though they were when they got married, both tried their best to fill the shoes of responsible adults.

Now, both are looking forward to reading the newspapers and reciting a prayer together and spending quality time together.

Sharing the same values, Tun Frank and Tan Fe are truly two peas in a pod. It’s no wonder they have been enjoying a blissful 50 years of married life that’s founded on mutual “respetu.”

[Spice is the section of Marianas Variety devoted to people with interesting stories and events that matter. For suggestions, email]

Tan Rosa Castro: Ochenta

Tan Rosa Castro: Ochenta
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

IT’S a long walk from a village they used to call Talaabwogh — Tanapag — to Garapan.

Early in the morning she looks for her walking companions and starts the long journey to Garapan — on foot. In between yawns and chats, she longs to reach school the soonest — so she can learn something new.

Rosa Taning Castro, 80, whose mother hailed from Unoun and whose father was originally from Parem in the Chuuk lagoon, remembers full well how they spent two years walking each morning from what they considered THE church in Tanapag to a chapel in Garapan where classes were held for Chamorros and Carolinians like her.

She vividly recalls her routine. She tells Variety, “Every 5 a.m. we wake up. We get ready to go to school. We walk from Tanapag Church all the way down to Garapan where the school was.”

She says she finds joy in everything she does in the classrooms, most specifically, reading. “I was reading in Japanese.”

Reveling at the thought of a new culture opening its doors to her, she says she loves learning Nihongo and the time she spent on reading Japanese text is time well spent.

“I learned a lot,” says Tan Rosa.

During her time, Carolinians and Chamorros are allowed to obtain primary education for three years compared to the Japanese who — in separate classrooms — receive the same eight-year education as their fellow Japanese in Japan.

After her classes, Tan Rosa and the rest of the Carolinians who share the same neighborhood in Tanapag, all walk back to their village. “After school, we walk back home again. There was no car.”

Revealing her mirth at the thought of her younger years, Tan Rosa says she didn’t mind making those walks from home to school and back again as she realized the importance of school.

But that enjoyment soon turned to disappointment as war came to Saipan in 1944. She says it was unfortunate that she didn’t finish school and she reached second grade.

“I was 13 years old.”

She tells Variety they had to flee their village as soon as bombs started coming.

“We ran past Tanapag all the way back. I could see the ocean. We ran up to the mountain. We passed by Tun Guerrero where we hid.”

She recounts that as her family was trying to find a place to hide, they first settled at the back of a mountain where a stream was their source of water to slake their thirst and to wash their clothes with.

While Tan Felisa’s father gathered coconuts and sugarcane to quench their thirst while hiding in Kannat Tabla [see or Variety’s April 1 edition], Tan Rosa’s family was fortunate to find a stream near the place where they found temporary respite from the fear that’s been stoking them since the bombing of the islands. “There was a stream. That was where we did some washing and drinking. That’s where we also cooked and had food to eat,” she said.

She says, “We stayed there because we had water. Besides, my brother didn’t want us to move to another site.”

Tan Rosa tells Variety that the place is now called Tun Guerrero.
She says that place was their refuge for seven days until U.S. soldiers found them and brought them to Chalan Kanoa.

“When the Americans came and found us, they took us to Susupe,” she says.
Tan Rosa, who can speak Nihongo, Carolinian, Chamorro, and English, remembers helping the nurses with washing clothes after the war.

“I washed clothes with my hands and helped the nurses. Maybe they were nurses,” says Tan Rosa who was trying to recall that particular episode in her past.

She continues, “I help them wash clothes. I help them clean their rooms. There were seven rooms.”

In the hiccups of remembrances of her past, she pulls out another memory. “One of the families wanted to take me in. I spent one year and six months working for a Navy commander’s family.”

Then she reverts to another memory of her days working. But this time, corroborating she worked for the Navy nurses.

“After the war, I helped the Navy nurses wash clothes in Lower Base. I take care of washing their uniforms then I hang them up,” she tells this reporter.
She adds, “There were seven rooms. I cleaned them all.”

She says she worked for the high commissioner of the Trust Territory government. “They selected me to work [for them].”

In the daytime, she says, she tried to finish her work for the high commissioner.

Several decades hence, Tan Rosa says she is glad to be around and surrounded by family that loves her.

She also enjoys the company of her fellow manamko’ at the Office on Aging in Chinatown.

She celebrated her birthday last Feb. 17, one week earlier than Tan Felisa’s.

Asked what she did on her birthday, she says, “My daughter invited members of the family and we had lunch in a restaurant near Tanapag.”

Indeed, that’s a big celebration as she marked her 80th birthday.

On that day, she tells Variety, “I prayed in the church and heard mass.”

When asked what she prayed for, Tan Rosa has this to say: “I prayed to God to give me long life.”

She tells Variety that she also asked God to let her see her great grandchildren grow up.

“Then you can take me,” prays Tan Rosa who offered a sheepish laugh.

A conversation with her and Tan Felisa is a rendezvous with culture, a travel back in time.

The young generation surely has so much to learn from them about the indigenous culture and their struggles before and after the war.

As Tan Rosa and Tan Felisa head to the dining hall — holding each other’s hands — at the conclusion of the conversation, an epiphany hit this writer — she has had the privilege to speak with the manamko’ whose recollections of the past are surely worth passing on to the younger generation. Besides, people who are ochenta — 80 years old — and over like Tan Rosa and Felisa are a rare group in the islands.
Being with these matriarchs is indeed a rendezvous with living culture. It’s something the young generation in the CNMI should take advantage of while they still can.

Spice is Variety’s section devoted to people with interesting stories and events that matter on island. For comments and suggestions, email

[This appeared in Marianas Variety Friday, April 08, 2011 ]

Tan Felisa's Story

Tan Felisa’s Story
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

THE Manamko’ Center in Chinatown is a goldmine of stories waiting to be written.
Some stories have time constraints as some say they no longer have many years left in them. Some say they live one day at a time and recollections of their past steadily gallop into oblivion.

Felisa Chargualaf Baza, 81, and Rosa Tanin Castro, 80, are two of the octogenarians at the center and both have interesting stories to share. Both are born a decade before World War II — Tan Felisa on Feb. 26, 1930 and Tan Rosa on Feb. 17, 1931.

Both are born on Saipan: Tan Felisa in Garapan and Tan Rosa in Tanapag. Both studied under Japanese teachers and both speak and read Nihongo. Both lived through the war and stayed at Camp Susupe.

Tan Felisa, who lost her mother when she was barely one year old, says her older sister Maria and her father raised her. She recalls how she would tag along with her to sell bibingka and puto early in the morning before school.

She says before the war, “We couldn’t buy anything because we didn’t have money.”

She tells Variety while her older sister worked, she went to school in Garapan.

She fondly remembers how she would wake up early in the morning, around 5:30 a.m. “Early in the morning, we get up about 5:30 a.m. We go to the Japanese chapel in Garapan where we offer prayers before school starts.”

[According to Don Farrel’s “History of the Northern Mariana Islands,” while all Chamorros and Carolinians attended school for three years of primary education with emphasis on Japanese language instruction, the Japanese students were allowed to obtain an eight-year education like they would in Japan.]

Tan Felisa says, “All the classes had Chamorro and Carolinians only. There was no Japanese.”

In school, she finds joy in learning. “Classroom is good.”

She recalls there were probably between 25-30 students.

“Instruction then was all in Japanese. We had Japanese teachers and we studied writing, arithmetic, and reading,” she says.

Of these subjects, arithmetic was her favorite, especially doing addition and using soroban — the abacus.

Tan Felisa, who could speak a little Chinese and Okinawan too, tells Variety that Chamorros and Carolinians were allowed to obtain elementary education but were not allowed to go further as it was the privilege of those with Japanese bloodline.

[In the CNMI history textbook, it was stated that education during the Japanese period was “segregated” and “discriminatory.”]
“Chamorro and Carolinians are not allowed unless they are half-cast Japanese,” says Tan Felisa.

She tells Variety that at the age of 12 she was through with school.
Just as she was about to graduate, she says war came to Saipan’s shores.

World War II
“When the war started, we were just about to graduate,” Felisa recounts.

She says the sugarcane plantations were bombed first before Garapan. “The Japanese informed us to run away.”

And ran away they did to the caves.

“We hid in our caves — in Kannat Tabla.”

She tells Variety the difficulties they had to go through.

She describes how it was like to live in the cave for several days. “It was terrible.

We neither had water nor food. We were thirsty and hungry.”

She says juice from sugarcane and coconuts, that her father fathered, they used to slake their thirst.

For food, she says they would store breadfruit inside the caves until the cave was bombed and they had to relocate.

“When the bombs came, we didn’t need water and food. We had to run for our lives,” she says.

As war was coming to an end, Tan Felisa was in a cave with her sister when an American soldier found them.

Asked by Variety how she felt then, she says, “I was so scared. My sister — Maria — and I were hiding together when an American soldier caught us.”

She says it was a tremulous moment for them. Although they were glad they were still alive, she says they feared both Japanese and American soldiers.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen to us,” says the octogenarian. “We didn’t know if the war was over. They were still shooting each other.”

For Tan Felisa, everything happened like a blur. She could hardly remember faces at Camp Susupe.

She says she was thankful the Americans took care of provisions. “They gave us cookies and water.”

She rejoices at the thought of war’s end saying it was “freedom for everybody.”

With the march of time, Felisa is glad that she’s survived it all.

Now a widow, her Chalan Kanoa home is an empty nest. “I live alone but my son always comes and checks me all the time.”

A grandmother to 19 grandchildren, Felisa says most of them are on the mainland United States.

When not visiting the Manamko’ Center, Tan Felisa says she spends time at home, planting vegetables and flowers. “I even do men’s job,” she says with a chuckle.

Recently, on the occasion of her 81st birthday, she went to Guam and paid her 86-year-old brother a visit.

“I went to Guam and met my brother. We celebrated together. We danced and had cake together.”

Asked by Variety what she wished for on her birthday, she says, “A good life!”

She says, “I thank God I am still alive.”

Asked by Variety the secret to her longevity, she says there’s no secret as she eats anything she likes. She walks, jogs, and runs, but she says her runs have slowed down over the years.

For Tan Felisa, she cannot tell what tomorrow brings and she says it is all up to God.

Asked if she would like to celebrate her birthday with her fellow octogenarian Tan Rosa and this writer next year — with their birthdays coinciding in the same month — she says in both Nihongo and English, “I leave it all to God if we are going to celebrate next year together.”

With that, she gently takes Tan Rosa’s hand — like an elder sister would treat a younger sister — as they head to the hall where lunch awaits them.

[Next week, Spice will share with the readers Tan Rosa’s story.
Spice is Marianas Variety’s section devoted to people with interesting lives and events that matter on island. For suggestions and comments, email]

[This appeared in Marianas Variety — Friday, April 01, 2011]