The Story of Camp Roxas

July 13, 2017 Lacee A.C. Martinez

 

IT'S BEEN MORE THAN A DECADE since Bernie Provido Schumann began shedding light on a once bustling migrant camp that seemed to have disappeared into thin air. "Under the American Sun" was a project Schumann embarked on to document her father's journey from the Philippines to Guam. It centered around Camp Roxas in Agat, the largest post-war migrant camp on Guam at the time, where thousands of Filipino skilled and unskilled laborers passed through and where a few stayed on to start their legacies on American soil.

What was meant to be an hour-long documentary to trace her father's path has turned into years’ worth of research and discovery for Schumann and fellow Camp Roxas descendant Burt Sardoma Jr.

The original goal of a 60-minute film has yet to be completed, although two shorter versions have been produced since 2008, one which they brought to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in 2009.

"We didn't know it was going to be this big, and people are pushing to finish it," Schumann said. "I just wanted a simple story about my father and Burt's dad because [Burt’s] our film director. But as we started doing interviews, we found so many more angles. There are so many moving parts that it's almost impossible to finish."

Curiosity

Like many Guamanians, Schumann's life story begins on Guam. She was born in 1964 in Tamuning, raised there, and still lives there until this day. Although her family once lived in the Philippines for a couple of years and she went to college off-island, she never really understood how her life story began on Guam.

Before the project got started more than a decade ago, Schumann's father was aging and had fallen ill. "He didn't remember anything," she said. "He told us about a ship he came on in 1952, so we had to build the rest of his history [from] there."

In her initial research on Camp Roxas, Schumann could barely find any mention of the camp recorded in Guam history books and online. So she began from her hometown, asking family members and neighbors about their connection to the camp, slowly revealing the life inside a mini village of migrant workers. "We started breaking out all these photos, and wow, this was amazing," Schumann recalled. "But my dad had no photos." 

Recruitment stretched from Guimaras and Bacolod during the initial years,  and then opened up to other parts of the Philippines. "This is the reason why Agat has many Filipino residents, mainly Ilonggo," - Schumann

Camp Roxas

Some 28,000 migrant workers were recruited from the Philippines. Most came from Panay Island and its large Iloilo province to assist with the rebuild of war-torn Guam. While there were other camps set up around the island, Camp Roxas in Agat, now considered the Camp Covington area, was no doubt the largest. The camp peaked at around 7,000 workers who lived in Quonset huts that seemed to stretch for miles. Conditions were harsh and pay was poor, but the men were willing to sacrifice to earn a better living for their families.

Thousands of workers came and went before the camp closed its doors in 1972. While most returned to the Philippines or moved on to the U.S., many workers also stayed on Guam to build their own lives, including Bernie's father and the elder Burt Sardoma.

Schumann was too young to remember going to Agat to visit the camp, which included a church that seemed to be the center of the southern migrant community. "When we were growing up, all we knew is that my dad worked at the SRF, federal ship repair facilities and civil service," she said. "During the weekends, my dad would bring these young Filipino workers to our house, where they used to kill pigs, play mahjong, drink, or hang out. Our house would be filled with them to take a break, and many other Chamorro and Filipino families would do the same. We'd also go to family homes of those who were Filipino on the weekends, spend dinners with them, get-together. I thought we were all related."

Schumann now knows they weren't related, but instead, connected through Camp Roxas.

Sardoma's recollections are just as vague. "Growing up, I knew [my father] came here to work. I know when I was a kid in the early 70s, we would always go down to Agat," he said. "Sometimes we go by the camp, but I can only remember bits and pieces, and it was already the end of its days back in 1972."

"Under the American Sun" began as a project funded by the then Guam Humanities Council. Today, Alex Munoz, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, is still the producer and supervisor while the Visual Communications, which helps develop Asian and Pacific Island films and stories, is still on board as fiscal agent. The project, however, which started around 2005, remains in the hands of Schumann and Sardoma.

Through the years, the team captured hours of key interviews from former Camp Roxas workers, as well as family members who also lived within the camp. Schumann’s father, Loreto Parennas Provido, was severely ill when he was interviewed. A key interview from Don Marshall, the Waterfront superintendent, personnel director, and general manager of the camp from 1951 until 1955, didn’t take place until 2009. Of the nearly one dozen people who were considered key interviewees, only one man is still alive today, Johnny Luces.

With one survivor from the film left, the pressure is on to produce a complete film.  "Everyone's asking when are you going to finish it, but the first part is already done," Sardoma said. "For me, the most important thing is that I want to do my own version for us and the ones who are still alive because the most important thing is for their families to see it. Then maybe we can add the PI connection where Bernie was able to go to the pier where they took off and interview the grandson of one of the original supervisors."

Even if he completes a smaller version of the film on his own, "Under the American Sun" can still be made into a larger production.

Discoveries

That port village was another significant turning point of the project. Schuman visited the Iloilo Port where the first recruitment took place in the Panay Islands. Recruitment stretched from Guimaras and Bacolod during the initial years, and then opened up to other parts of the Philippines. "This is the reason why Agat has many Filipino residents, mainly Ilonggo," Schumann said.

She met with Ramulfo "Snooks” Zapanta, a son of the initial recruiter Firmin Zapanta, who was the lone person who could tell them the story about the recruitment process. She also met with Honorato Galila, who was the paymaster cashier. Snooks came to Guam initially in 1948 after graduating from high school, and returned to the Philippines to become a dentist. He later returned to the island to serve as a camp dentist, Schumann said. "I was fortunate to interview the families of Firmin Zapanta and Pascual Espinosa, who was then CLUP (Consolidated Labor Union of the Philippines) president," she added.

With help from volunteers and producers, the team was also able to uncover in the naval archives of ship manifests of those who came to Guam to work. "It's hard to find because you can't just look at names. You have to look at dates, and we found my dad," Sardoma said. "It's a big deal because there's some cost involved, and it's time consuming, and you have to have someone there to look through it. But now we know where to find it."

It's something Schumann would like to one day have on display for everyone to see.

One of the most recent key discoveries has been in the form of a relic from the old camp.

Schumann and Sardoma were contacted a few months ago by archeologist Darlene Moore about a possible artifact found in Agat, where the Guam Waterworks Authority expects to build a new facility.

"We found parts of the church and the relic is the alcove," Schumann said. "It was set up, created outside the church, where they'd have a replica of the patron saint of the church. During processions, people would walk by the alcove before going back into the church. We really want to protect it because anyone can go in and take it. Right next to it is the foundation of the church and the tennis court."

The area is overgrown, and the team is fairly protective over it since it was considered a center of life for the forgotten camp. It's also a very bittersweet story for Schumann because it was built on land that was taken from a Chamorro family. "They wanted to rebuild Guam really quickly, and build military bases because they wanted to establish Guam as a military location. They took property for that. It's a double-edged sword because a lot of people lost their land for this. There are people I know whom I was friends with, that's their land. We feel for them," she explained.

The team recently filmed Moore near the relic site while surviving Camp Roxas member Luces watched on.

Schumann hoped part of the relic would be preserved to mark the site where the thousands of workers who once rebuilt Guam lived. She'd like a garden to be placed in the area, which also would honor the original landowners of the property.

While Sardoma worked on adding to the film, Schumann expected it to morph into a multi-media platform, where they can share the dozens of photos of the camp gathered in the process. Many of the photos they've collected through the years are from family members and friends, including Pilar Malilay, who came to work as a nurse in the camp. Malilay died earlier this year.

They've also found photos of Rizal Beach in Agat where there was once a basketball or volleyball court visible. Today, it's crumbled under the risen water level, according to Sardoma.

"Now we have all of these photos and this new relic, and it's not just the film," Schumann said. "It's also about preserving the area that we discovered at the waste water system. That was so incredible. This is my perspective, the Tamuning perspective. The only intention was for me and Burt to honor our parents' history. It was supposed to be that simple."

The team has received comments about covering more of the camp and others, but that's something they hope a new generation of descendants will be inspired to do. "It's been our labor of love, and it costs and takes a lot of time because we're volunteering," Sardoma said. "This film is more or less saying thank you, a dedication to them, and to tell their side of the story because no one else was doing it."


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