The Ties that Bind

July 13, 2017 Lacee A.C. Martinez

SECOND TO GUAM'S indigenous people, Filipinos make up one of the largest ethnic populations on island. This tiny island in the Pacific was inching toward a population of 160,000, according to the last U.S. Census report taken in 2010. Of the 159,358 people counted, 41,944 registered as "Filipino," more than a quarter of the island's ethnic makeup.

That 26 percent represents a long and profound history of Filipinos on Guam. Within that history is the impact they've made over the centuries integrating into an island more than a thousand miles away from home.

To understand how Filipinos have come to make Guam their home, you must look back at the entangled relationship these two cultures have shared, Michael Bevacqua, a University of Guam professor and Guam history scholar, said. Guam and the Philippines share the same initial history of colonization with one country, Spain, from the early 1500s to 1898.

"It's an interesting story because when we go back to the first interaction between Spanish and Chamorros and we go to the Spanish-Chamorro wars, the perception is that it's Spanish versus Chamorro. But, of course, it is primarily Filipinos and some Latin American soldiers with Spanish captains and officers who are doing the fighting. In the first century of interactions, a number of Filipinos escaped into the Marianas from Spanish ships. From the earliest moments of their interactions, we can see the complexities involved in navigating colonizer relationships but also sensing the feeling a sense of solidarity as colonized people or oppressed people."

With Spain controlling Guam from the Philippines, Filipinos were regularly coming to the island.

In general, many of the people who come representing Spain weren't Spanish, but instead Filipino. Some Filipinos also married into Chamorro families, where they would integrate into the culture and raise their children speaking the island's native tongue.

By the second half of the 19th century, the feelings began to shift against certain Filipinos when Spain turned the island into a prison colony. The Philippines was already established as the nearest metropolis to Guam, where missionaries and priests, professionals, laborers and others were sourced.

But Spain was also sending political reformists from their country to Guam and later political revolutionaries from the Philippines including Apolinario Mabini. Spain also emptied out prisons in the Philippines sending convicts, including murderers.

"From what we can discern, Chamorros really liked your average Filipinos from the Philippines," Bevacuqa said. "But there was that split track because you had these death row inmates who are shipped to Guam. But some of these inmates refused to engage into the community."


Even today, the Philippines produces a large labor pool where many choose to seek work outside the country.

Guam saw the bulk of its share of Filipino migrant workers after World War II when there was a need for laborers to rebuild the flattened island and create U.S. military bases.

Thousands of Filipino skilled and unskilled workers were recruited to work in Guam by the U.S. About a decade after the war, some 17,000 Filipinos filled labor camps across the island.

Camp Roxas in Agat was the largest of the camps, with a population of 7,000 at its peak.

The bulk of the workers came from the Visayan Islands, including Panay Island and its largest provinces, Iloilo. Workers were typically contracted for a year and would often renew.

Once the bases were built and Guam was deep into recovery,  those camps disappeared. A majority of the Filipinos went back home or moved abroad. Quite a few Filipinos, however, made Guam their home.

It's the reason you'll find concentrations of Filipinos within certain villages, including Agat, where Camp Roxas once was, Bernie Provido Schumann said. For more than a decade, the Guam-born Schumann and Burt Sardoma, another Camp Roxas descendant have worked to document their families history through the camp with the film "Under the American Sun."

Men in the camps often returned to their homes in the Philippines where they would get married and bring their wives and families to Guam while others married into local families, integrating with the island.

In more recent years, Guam has benefited from the influx of Filipino workers, who have helped developed the island's industries and who have provided professional skills in the island, Bevacqua said.

Aside from labor, Filipinos have worked as educators, business owners, judges, doctors, nurses, senators etc. Some have established themselves on island as prominent residents and leaders in the island community.

Many landmark businesses were started or run by Filipinos who have invested money into Guam and or have made Guam their home.

Mark Pangilinan, for example, rose from a teenager pedaling goods to Guam residents and migrant workers to the founder of M.V. Enterprises. Over the decades, he's owned properties, car dealerships, retail stores among other businesses that have supported both island residents and Filipino expats.

He's considered a pioneer in the Filipino community among many others who've made significant contributions to the island community, Norman Analista, current president of the Filipino Community of Guam said.

"They're pioneers not just because they've made a mark for themselves but because they've always been proud of their heritage," he said.

Guam has seen its share of major Filipino moguls, including SM's Henry Sy who built the Agana Shopping Center and the Lucio Tan who built the Micronesia Mall.


Analista is one of the youngest to serve as president in the FCG, carrying on a legacy built by many business pioneers. The FCG is the umbrella organization for some 31 Filipino groups representing different provinces and communities, and this year it celebrates 63rd birthday. Over the last year, the group has made sizable donations to Guam organizations, including $50,000 to the School of Education at the University of Guam, $55,000 to the Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association to make renovations to the third floor, affirming its commitment to the island.

“We fundraise and we use those resources to give back to the Guam community in tangible ways,” Analista said. “There are other Filipino organizations who tend to look at their roles as stewards of community service here."

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About the Author

Lacee A.C. Martinez

Guam born and raised, this contributor has an affinity for island life, people, food and culture. Got a story idea? Email her at

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