Thursday, March 05, 2009

Survivors reach out to stateside Chamorros

A group of local war survivors is reaching out to the thousands of Chamorros scattered across the country to get the war claims bill through the U.S. Senate.

"We are appealing to all the Chamorros in the mainland," said Tom Barcinas, a Santa Rita resident and World War II survivor. "Every Chamorro is linked to the Chamorros back here."

Barcinas, who is president of the Guam AARP, said his organization and the Young Men's League of Guam are trying to contact people who live in the states, to get them to e-mail or call their senators and ask for support for the war claims bill. "Those people have more power than we do -- they're voters and we're not," Barcinas said of mainland residents. Guam does not have a representative in the U.S. Senate, but each state has two.

Bill 44 passed the U.S. House of Representatives with more than two-thirds support yesterday. It faces another hurdle in the Senate before it can reach President Obama's desk. The Senate voted down the war claims bill in 2007, the year it first passed the House.

War claims bills introduced by Guam's previous congressional delegates since the 1980s have failed.

"Rather than just hope everything will turn out, the idea is to try to identify people living in the different states to write to their senators, asking them to support the bill," said Tamuning resident Tony Palomo. Palomo is helping to write a form letter that said can be forwarded to U.S. senators.

Barcinas said organizers plan to use the Internet for the grass-roots effort. People can e-mail him to get a copy of the form letter to send to their senators. "Some of the people living in the states have grandparents who were in the war; some of them have grandchildren already," he said. "They deserve the war claims."

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Tom Barcinas' cousin, Joe Barcinas, of Sinajana said organizers are targeting those who live in states with Republican senators. Conservatives are expected to vote against the bill.

Joe Barcinas, who was a child during the war, said it could be a challenge to get nationwide support for the bill. "Many of the younger generation and people in the U.S. don't understand the contributions the Chamorros made for the United States," he said. He said Chamorros were tortured for supporting the United States during the war, but more U.S. troops would have died during the liberation had it not been for the efforts of locals.

About 4,200 of the 22,500 Chamorros who lived through World War II are still alive, estimated war survivor Bert Unpingco.

Unpingco added that the war claims bill is especially timely with thousands of U.S. Marines and their dependents expected to relocate to Guam within four years. "For the military to feel 100 percent welcome to Guam, they must pay us what we've been waiting for, for 60 years," he said. "We're not begging for anything more than we're entitled to."

Unpingco, who is an Air Force veteran with two grandchildren in the Armed Forces, questioned why Guam is still waiting for recognition when the United States has paid war reparations to other groups in the past.

Last week, President Obama's recent economic stimulus act authorized payments for Filipino World War II veterans.

"Our country took over the responsibility and liability of World War II. I appreciate that very much, but it took so long, most of us have reached a point where some of us feel we are not part of the U.S.," Unpingco said. "Yet the loyalty of the Chamorro to the country is so strong."

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The bill would pay $25,000 to survivors of those who died as a result of the Japanese occupation. It also gives $7,000 to $15,000 to be paid to each resident -- or survivor -- who suffered injury, rape, forced labor or forced marches, internment or hiding to escape internment.

Antonio Lizama, Art Toves and others discussed the passage of the bill over gin rummy at the Agat Senior Citizens Center yesterday. Everyone who played the game survived the war or had a relative who did.

"We suffered a lot," said Lizama, who was a child during the war. "We've just been trying to get something out of this."

"Those were really hard times," Toves added from across the table. He was 12 when the war ended.

Agat resident Margie Salas said the war claims bill is important not just to those who survived the war, but to everyone who has Guam roots. "I've been waiting for this," she said. "And we have a lot of Chamorros living off island who have waited for this."

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