Monday, July 11, 2011

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 ]

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