Thursday, October 02, 2014

Adios Senadot Ben

In July of this year, the Marianas said goodbye to Senådot Ben Pangelinan, a longtime champion of the Chamorro people, their language and their rights. In the context of Chamorro struggles today, Senådot Ben was taiachaigua especially in terms of our elected leaders.

Senådot Ben was known for being an outspoken and highly principled person. One of the ways in which this manifested was through his and his office’s support for the decolonization of Guam and his work to help make possible a political status plebiscite. Senådot Ben was born in Saipan and traced his Chamorro lineage to Saipan. This made him ineligible to vote in a political status for Guam. This did not deter him from seeing decolonization as a critical issue and one he should take seriously in his life, as a matter of justice worth supporting and fighting for. Because of the efforts of his office, thousands of people were added to the decolonization registry, pushing it closer than it ever had been before to meeting the 70% registered threshold needed prior to the holding of a plebiscite.

Senådot Ben was one the few amongst Guam’s elected leaders today who could fluently speak the Chamorro language and would use it in his campaigning and in his speeches on the floor of the Legislature. He was well known for his passionate use of Chamorro while in session, reminding others, both Chamorro and non-Chamorro of the importance of Guam’s native language, especially when fewer and fewer people are using it. A’gang i bos-ña Si Senådot Ben, ya på’go mas suabi i bos Chamorro gi halom i leyeslatura.

I remember his presentation for the 2nd Marianas History Conference in 2013 held at the University of Guam. Titled “Galvanizing Past and Present Threats to Chamorro Homelands” he covered the importance of the Chamorro Land Trust, a GovGuam agency created through a mixture of government reform, grassroots activism and attempts at restorative justice. He presented the struggles to get the Land Trust implemented, but also the need to be vigilante in terms of keeping Guam’s land, the most sacred heritage of any native people safe. As he noted in his presentation, “Manteni I Tano’ ya ta susteni I taotao” hold onto the land and we will sustain the people.  A simple, but profound truth. Senådot Ben, a fine orator filled his articles and his speeches with many such powerful points. For his memorial service, his staff and friends gathered together portions of his writings and statements over the years and provided copies for those gathered.  His power and passion is still evident in these words. Some of them I’ve gathered below:

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“My prayer and wish for you today is that you will not let present day conventions and institutions mute your voices, clip your wings or keep you from flight. That when the walls of today’s institutions confine and obstruct your vision, that your imagination leads you to add new things to these institutions and when that is not enough, you find the courage and tenacity to raise them and build new ones. Don’t just think outside the box, dismantle the box and you will have real freeom in your revolution.”

“Today, in a time full of cynicism, political sound bites and press releases, we must remember who we are as a people. We once mastered the navigation of the seas; surely we can determine our political future. We survived a world at war; surely we can build an economy which leaves no hardworking families behind. We are the inheritors of an ancient land; surely we can leave this place better than we found it.”

“Despite hundreds of years of influence and suppression, the fundamental principles that make our people unique remain intact. The values of inagofli’e’, inarespeta, inaguaiya, ika and chenchule’ teach us a respect for oneself and for another – that we take care of one another, especially in times of need. Our values teach us that giving back is as important as standing up for truth and justice – that our actions are a reflection of the people who raised us, and the respect we pay them extends beyond their lives on earth.”

“We are no longer a generation rooted in the gratefulness of a liberation. We are a generation whose hearts have been hardened by unkept promises and transgressions unresolved. Knowing this, you have no reason to be surprised as you are met with arms raised in opposition, rather than arms open to accept your plans to take our lands again, change our way of life forever, to once again suit your needs.”

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The last time I saw Senådot Ben was at the movie theater a few weeks before he passed. I was taking my kids to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” and we bumped into him in the concession area. I had my kids fanginige’ him and we talked for a bit. My daughter Sumåhi had gotten a hotdog and in Chamorro, taking our cue from a prewar joke, we call it “maipen ga’lågu” which means literally a hot dog (as in the animal). As we added ketchup to it he overheard me refer to it as “maipen ga’lågu.” He started laughing and congratulated us for keeping the language alive. In my last image of him, he was walking away to watch “The Fault in Our Stars” with that “maipen ga’lågu” smile still on his face.

Adios Senadot Ben.

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