Monday, July 27, 2015


I must have been 13 or 14 years old; just entering my rebellious teen years.

One particular day I was giving my Auntie Ana (above) an especially hard time just being a contrary, noisy chatterbox, bouncing off the walls, really.

Not once in my whole life did Auntie Ana ever lay a hand on me, though I did see her spank others. But, that day, her patience was wearing thin with me and, what she didn't do with her hand, she did with her icy stare and sharp scolding.

Uncle Ben (above), on the other hand, was the incarnation of gentleness.

I suppose he had had enough, too, but he had a different approach.

In a very calm tone, he said to me, "Come with me. I want to show you something."

Every boy wants to be shown something. I followed him into his little study, where he kept all his books and filing cabinets.

He took down his huge Webster's Dictionary and looked up a certain word. When he had found it, he pointed to it and  asked me to read out loud the term and its definition. This was it :

As soon as I read it, I felt a tinge of guilt.

Uncle Ben's method of "correction" spared me an abundance of guilt and humiliation. His method gave me just enough guilt to quiet me down. Not only did I quiet down, Auntie Ana and Uncle Ben continued with their day as if nothing had happened. I don't think I was ever rambunctious again with Auntie Ana.

Not only did he correct my behavior, he made me increase my English vocabulary!

Sometimes, this is all we need in order to correct ourselves :

Uncle Ben was a wise man.

Monday, July 20, 2015


My grandmother's sister Ana Torres Reyes
with yours truly in 1966

My grandmother's sister, Auntie Ana, lived just next door to us.

She never had children of her own to raise; a story I will relate in a few minutes. But, because of that, I was more or less adopted by her, as well as by my grandmother and two other sisters of hers. Yes, quite the spoiled child.

One of the great things about all my older relatives, or mañaina, was that they all told me stories. Here are some of the things Auntie Ana told me about the war (1941-1944).


Japanese village names of Guam, or Omiya Jima (Great Shrine Island)

Auntie Ana's husband, Uncle Ben, was made soncho, or village chief, of Barrigada (called Haruta Mura in Japanese) during the war.

That was not a position anyone in their right mind wanted.

You were essentially the enforcer of Japanese demands on your own people if you were the soncho.

The soncho went out and told the people what the Japanese wanted. And it was the soncho who got punished if the people did not satisfy the Japanese. If the Japanese ordered ten bags of corn from the farmers, and the soncho only produced eight, it was the soncho, not the farmers, who usually got punished.

That is why, my aunt said, every morning when Uncle Ben would leave the house to begin his work day, she would begin her hours of anxiety and worry. Would Uncle Ben come home with bruises from punches or cuts from whippings? And even when Uncle Ben would come home alright, he would drink to soothe his anxieties, and Auntie Ana was always nervous about that.

So, needless to day, Auntie Ana was a ball of nerves every moment she was awake.


Some wondered if her nerves and anxieties were part of the reason why she was not able to bear children (except one). She had numerous miscarriages. Of course, the Japanese Occupation lasted only two and a half years, so only a couple or several of them might be due to wartime conditions. Still, there must be some connection.

Her only child who lived for just one day was born during the war. He was sickly the moment he saw the light of day, but lived long enough to be baptized Vicente, the name of his father. There were only two priests on Guam during the Occupation, and one lived far away in Inarajan, so midwives (pattera) or others in the family usually did the baptizing especially in cases of risky births.

When little Vicente died after a day, they put his tiny body in a shoe box and buried him at the farm in Ungaguan, Barrigada where they lived, not far from the other relatives in our clan. No priest, no funeral rites. They just said their prayers. But, little Vicente died an angel, so there was no need for prayers for his soul, which instantly went to heaven. The prayers would have been for the consolation of the parents.


And in better clothes than during the war

Auntie Ana was educated in a girls' finishing school in Manila in the 1920s and 30s. She was very good in English and became a school teacher on Guam. But she could also sew and cook. During the Occupation, however, fabric was scarce.

Auntie Ana took me one day to a room where she opened a kaohao, which is a wooden chest traditionally kept by Chamorro families. Important things are kept in a kaohao, like documents, bridal gowns, christening båta or gowns and the like.

Inside this kaohao were Uncle Ben's wartime clothing. Auntie Ana showed me the shirts and trousers which she repaired with her own hands, since new clothes could not be bought. It all looked so antique. I remember how there was no zipper, as they were not in vogue yet. Instead, a man's fly was buttoned, and not all the buttons matched in this case. The stitching seemed rudimentary, but strong. But this was in the 1970s, so 30+ years after the war, so the clothes looked like they could fall apart if handled in any way. I regret that after Auntie and Uncle died I did not look for the kaohao, which then disappeared. I'm usually the one who rescues antique items in the family.



My grandmother's sister Rita
Vendor of distilled spirits

I got the distinct impression from Auntie Ana that she did not like the Japanese, due to her wartime experiences. She never said a word against them as a race, but, when she spoke about them, her face said it all.

One of the things she mentioned was the fact that a Japanese soldier could (and did) slap a Chamorro for the slightest of unintentional infractions.

For example, every Chamorro had to bow before any and all Japanese, no matter how low that Japanese person's status was. But if one bowed too low, it was taken as mockery because very low bows were reserved for the Emperor and the very elite. If one bowed only a tiny bit, that was considered an insult as well. One's bow had to match the status of the Japanese person perfectly.

So Auntie Ana's sister Rita, who never married and became the domestic superior of the family home, was once slapped by a Japanese who judged Rita's bow as defective in some way.

Auntie Rita, called Nina by all of us in the family, was also the family techa, or prayer leader for the family rosary and other devotions. A super strict Catholic, she nonetheless sold bootleg liquor during the war! Such were the exigencies of wartime occupation. Someone made the agi or åguayente (aguardiente in Spanish), and Nina sold it quietly to make money for the family. I wonder if Uncle Ben's liquor supply were somehow furnished by his sister-in-law!


American troops coming up the road

My most impressionable experience listening to Auntie Ana's war stories happened one afternoon while we were sitting next to the front door of her house. I must have been 15 or 16 years old.

She told me how the family was camped out in Talofofo, not Mañenggon as the majority of the central and northern Chamorro populaton was.

The Chamorros were all quietly desperate, for the rumor had been circulated that the Japanese were going to kill all the Chamorros before the Americans could liberate them and profit from Chamorro guidance in their battle against the Japanese.

But then one day the Japanese guards were all gone. No one knew what happened. And then, Auntie said, people remarked how they saw what look like American soldiers marching toward Talofofo. Minute by minute, the lines of human figures became more clear and distinct. Yes! They were Americans! And as Auntie Ana told me this, I saw tears flow from her eyes.

In that one instant, seeing American soldiers, hugging them, receiving little packets of food from them, hearing the cherished voices speaking in what was once forbidden English while under the Japanese, all her anxieties melted away. She felt safe again.

Liberation? Yes or no?

For Auntie Ana and her contemporaries, it was.

Life goes on and we have perennial issues to sort out. But, just as we like to have our own experiences respected, I wouldn't want to invalidate my auntie's tears.

Friday, July 3, 2015


For my familia on the Torres side, which includes all the Kitå'an but also the Sauro clan and a whole bunch of others I don't even know about, I accidentally came across a legal document from the year 1861 that more than likely takes our family tree back to 1800 or so.


Family information, backed up by the 1897 Guam Census, shows that our family goes back to :

and his wife

But, till now, I couldn't go further back with Pedro.

Then, maybe ten years ago, I came across the vey document showing how Pedro Rodríguez Torres bought the house he lived in in Hagåtña, the same house our family lived in before the war, from his cousin IGNACIO TORRES AGUON.

It is from Ignacio that the Sauros and our family are related. An Unpingco married a Torres Aguon and that's our connection with some Unpingcos and some Aguons.

Ignacio appears on a lot of Spanish documents because he worked for the Spanish government as a clerk.


Going through dozens and dozens of documents, I notice one where Ignacio Torres Aguon is mentioned as a grandson of Manuela de Castro, the widow of José de Torres. Keep in mind that the Spanish custom is for the married woman to keep her own name and not take on the husband's.

So, if Ignacio is the grandson of José de Torres and Manuela de Castro, THEN SO IS PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES a grandson of this same couple.

EVEN BETTER, the document spells out the names of all the children of José de Torres and Manuela de Castro. They are :


This means that PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES has to be a son of one of these boys, who then married a Rodríguez. It also means Ignacio is the son of one of these girls, who then married an Aguon.

If only we discovered some document that tells us if Pedro was son of José I, Guillermo or José2. Those are the only possibilities.

Don't be surprised that some siblings have the same first names. It happened. Sometimes it happened because an older child died as a child, and when another child was born of the same gender, the parents named the child after the deceased one. I don't know if this is why there are two Joses and two Marias in this group. Maybe, but maybe not. Sometimes parents just gave two siblings the same name.

Well, as incomplete as this is, if we're talking about the same Ignacio Torres Aguon, and it's a 99% chance we are because we can find no other Ignacio Torres Aguon in any document of the time, this provides us with information about our family we never knew before.

So, in summary.....

1. Our ancestors were JOSÉ DE TORRES and MANUELA DE CASTRO, grandparents of PEDRO RODRÍGUEZ TORRES.

2. JOSÉ DE TORRES died around 1830 after having fathered eight children. So that's at least 8 or 9 years of marriage minimum, perhaps more. People married young then, as young as 15 even. So José was born by at least 1805, maybe even earlier had he married later in life. So, our family tree can go as far back as 1805 or so.

3. The document I found records Manuela selling her land to two of her grandsons : Ignacio Torres Aguon and Luís de Torres. Her land was in GOKNGA, which is commonly held today to be the same place as Gun Beach. Imagine if our family were still the owners of land at Gun Beach!