I recently had to write an article for the website Guampedia on the late Angel Santos, former Guam Senator and Maga’lahi of the Nasion Chamoru. Angel Santos was a very controversial figure during his lifetime. He was considered one of the most hated and most beloved island figures. After he died however, public opinion over his legacy warmed and even those who had publicly condemned him before came to praise some of his statements and accomplishments.
While writing my article I went through as many of the public statements and writings of Santos that I could find. He was, like any larger than life figure, incredibly complex and full of contradictions. We may want to reduce the life of a person to things that are simple and inspirational, but they are always more complicated than that. I wanted to share today a list of quotes from his life and writings to give you a better sense of Angel Santos and his own journey in life.
As a 10-year-old altar boy in Sinajana, Santos was given the honor of watching over the body of a Chamorro who had been killed in Vietnam. Although most know him as someone who challenged and protested the military, as a young boy standing next to the casket, he had a very different consciousness.
“Why did he have to die so young, what did he sacrifice his life for? And when my parents told me that he died for my freedom, and for the democracy of all people throughout the world, I made my promise to myself, and to that soldier, to that warrior…that I want to be like him. I too, if called up, will spill my blood and die just like him.”
Santos would act on this impulse and serve in the Air Force for many years. His faith in the United States would be irreparably damaged however, after his 2-year-old daughter died of neuroblastoma. Santos was then stationed on Anderson Air Force Base and later learned that the drinking water there contained dangerously high levels of tetrachloral ethylene. The military knew but did not inform the public.
This tragedy pushed Santos to question everything about Chamorros and their relationship to the United States. He sought out others that were struggling with similar questions. Eventually they formed the group United Chamoru Chelus for Independence on July 21, 1991. This would be the basis for the activist group Nasion Chamoru. In response to criticisms that there couldn’t be a Chamorro nation since no more Chamorros exist, this was his response:
“Who is a Chamoru? A Chamoru is a direct descendant of the original inhabitants of Guam regardless of variations in lineage. A Chamoru is not determined in degrees or fractions. A person who is ¼, ½ or ¾ is still a human being. All humans have a God-given right to claim their identity based on the argument that there is no nationality in the world that is pure. Why must Chamorus be subjected to all the insults and alienation? Why must we justify our identities? God knows who we are and that is all that matters.”
One thing that truly upset Santos was the fact that the needs of endangered animal species were sometimes prioritized over the native people of the island. One issue that pushed Santos to become more politically active was the designation of Ritidian as a critical habitat, for species like the ko’ko or the fanihi, instead of the land being returned to the original Chamorro landowners. In 1992 he stated,
“We are living in a sick society who has determined that the need to protect Guam’s endangered species is more important than the value of human life. Who is more important – the fanihi or the Chamoru people? Who will be the endangered species by the year 2010 – the fanihi or the Chamoru people?”
Over the course of his life Santos would participate in countless demonstrations, go on a hungry strike, be arrested six times, serve six months in federal prison and be elected Senator three times. He helped change this island and its consciousness in very dramatic ways, and all before his death at age 44.
There are so many more that I could share, but I’ll end this article with a quote from former Senator Mark Forbes, speaking of his colleague Senator Santos after his death in 2003.
“He left a legacy. It may not be a legacy of stone or a legacy of steel. He didn’t build bridges or buildings, but he built a monument in the heart of every single one of his people…His legacy will survive so long as there is a Chamorro mind to remember, so long as there are Chamorro voices to sing, so long as there are people who are met with injustice who look for someone to fight against that injustice – so long as that is the case, then Angel Santos will live forever.”