Community organizer, senator, business woman

Cecilia Cruz Bamba (1934 – 1986) was a community organizer, senator, businesswoman and mother of 10 whose legacy is manifested in her involvement in numerous civic organizations that remain active today. She also is remembered most notably for her championing of the cause of war reparations for the CHamoru/Chamorro people who suffered or died during World War II. Bamba worked tirelessly to obtain just compensation for lands taken from the Chamorro people after the war. As a result of her efforts, an additional $37 million was awarded to individuals who lost their land.

Bamba was born 14 November 1934 to Rosa Rosario and Jose Leon Guerrero Cruz. As a child, Bamba, known as “Chilang,” lived with her family in the capital village of Hagåtña. Bamba was preparing to receive her First Holy Communion on 8 December 1941 when the Japanese began to bomb Guam during World War II.

Guam’s occupation by the Japanese led to life-altering losses for the young Bamba as she was orphaned by the time she was nine years-old. Her mother died from hemorrhaging after giving birth to a stillborn baby after being beaten by a Japanese soldier at a check stop in Tamuning. Bamba witnessed the violence against her mother, who was near-term at the time. Then, in late 1944, just before the war ended on Guam, Japanese enemy forces beheaded Bamba’s father for helping an American pilot escape from a downed US military plane. After his death, Bamba and her younger brother, John, were raised by their maternal grandmother and great-grandmother in the village of Agana Heights. The US Marines never allowed them back to their family home to claim their personal belongings in what is now Naval Communications Station (NCS).

In 1949, Bamba graduated from George Washington High School and shortly afterward, at the age of 16, she married 20 year-old George Mariano Bamba of Agana Heights, who became a businessman and a politician, serving several terms in the Guam Legislature. Together they had 10 children. The couple also raised John, Bamba’s younger brother.

In the early 1950s, the young mother attended the Territorial College of Guam. As the devoted and supportive wife of a civic leader, politician and entrepreneur, Bamba became an active community member herself, which allowed her to fine tune her own community activism, business sense and organizational skills. Bamba credited her grandmother and great grandmother for her successes, for instilling values and helping her raise her children, and supporting her throughout her endeavors. Bamba later received an honorary degree in humanities from the University of Guam in 1970.

Dr. Laura Marie Torres Souder wrote in her doctoral dissertation that Bamba was a “Lady Extraordinaire.” Her professional resume shows that she was, indeed, an organizer extraordinaire.

In 1972-1973 Bamba was recognized for her work in the National Register of Prominent Americans and International Notables, a prestigious national and international acknowledgement. The Register listed prominent men and women for their outstanding achievements in “their business, profession, community, state or country.” Others from Guam included in the Register were Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Jesus B. Guerrero, Frederico Taitano Gutierrez, William Albert McAlister, Sister Jean Marie Menke, Dr. Simon Angeles Sanchez and Dr. Antonio Carbullido Yamashita.

Bamba was a businesswoman, joining her husband in his enterprises, and eventually became the owner of Bamba’s Insurance and Oceania Consultants. She also had interests in other businesses such as Cetti Bay Development Company.

Initially Bamba was a member of the Popular Party of Guam, forerunner of today’s Democratic Party of Guam, but later, she became a member of the Republican Party. After her husband’s death in 1976, Bamba successfully vied for a senatorial seat in the 15th Guam Legislature in 1978.

War reparations advocate

Her organizational skills were a boon as a policy maker. She sat on more than a dozen legislative committees and served as chairwoman of the Committee on Governmental Operations, Military and Veterans Affairs. It was during this time that she introduced legislation to establish the War Reparations Commission, collecting testimonies from hundreds of people who lived and suffered through the Japanese Occupation of Guam during World War II. In her capacity as senator, she also went before the US Congress, becoming first Chamorro woman to testify before Congress to argue for recognition for atrocities suffered by the people of Guam during World War II. Her efforts were the catalyst for recognition and justice that are still being sought today.

She organized meetings of Chamorros living in the continental United States who had suffered brutalities, torture and death during World War II and traveled to meet with them at her own expense. These wartime firsthand accounts were donated to the Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam as her family believes that the stories of atrocities committed must never be forgotten and must be passed on to each generation.

Other civic organizations where Bamba led the charge or had notable participation in include the Guam Girls Scouts, the Guam Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Guam Chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Guam Women’s Club, the Guam USO Council and the Guam Beauty Association. She was a founder of the Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and the Guam Landowners Association, among many others.

On 30 September 1986, Bamba passed away at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City California at the age of 51, after a long fight with cancer. Meanwhile, the struggle for war reparations continues.

By Tanya M. Champaco Mendiola

For further reading

Bamba, Cecilia Cruz. An Interrupted Interlude. Hagåtña: Guam War Survivors Exhibition, 2010.

“Cecilia Cruz Bamba.” In I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 2. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1997.

Leon Guerrero, Victoria-Lola. “War Survivors Continue to Die Without Restitution.” Guam War Survivor Story, 2007.

Souder-Jaffery, Laura Marie Torres. “New Perspectives on the Chamorro Female Experience: Case Studies of Nine Contemporary Chamorro Women Organizers.” PhD diss., University of Hawai’i, 1985.

–––. Daughters of the Island: Contemporary Chamorro Women Organizers on Guam. 2nd edition. MARC Monograph Series No. 1. Mangilao: Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1992.