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Vanguard in bilingual education

Lagrimas Leon Guerrero Untalan (1911 – 1997) was an educator, political pioneer and cultural advocate.  Born and raised in Guam, Untalan was at the vanguard of bilingual education and will always be remembered for translating the Guam Hymn into the Chamorro language.  She was also one of the first Chamorro women to be elected to the Guam Legislature.  Untalan volunteered extensively with community groups, including service as President for the Guam Women’s Club from 1957-1958.  She also was involved with the various activities of her church and parish.

Lagrimas Pereira Leon Guerrero was born in 1911 to Mariana P. and Francisco B. Leon Guerrero in Hagåtña, Guam. She was the youngest girl of seven sisters and one brother. The Leon Guerrero household, like many during this period, included grandparents Tomasa and Antonio Leon Guerrero and other close relatives.

The Leon Guerrero sisters were very close, fun-loving and known to frequently play pranks on each other. The girls remained close throughout their lives. It was her sisters who encouraged Lagrimas to become an educator.

Lagrimas Leon Guerrero married Luis Palomo Untalan, another prominent educator in 1950. The couple had a son named Ramon who died as an infant. Later, they adopted and raised two children, Ana Maria and Eric Joseph. The couple also opened their home to family and friends, much like the home in which she was raised. They were respected for their cultural knowledge and often took in children to teach them the Chamorro language, music, Spanish crafts and traditional ways of cooking.

Untalan was an accomplished pianist and taught not only piano but also embroidery, knitting and sewing. Her husband Luis taught cooking. An active member of the church, Untalan played the piano and sang during the morning mass of San Vicente Church in Barrigada. Many of the floral arrangements at the church were from her backyard garden. Belta Perez, who lived with the family for four years during her high school years, learned all she could from them. She recalled, “Auntie Ama [Lagrimas] was an extraordinary woman. She was intelligent and an accomplished pianist, and an incredible seamstress. I learned a lot from her. She even sewed my dress for the Miss Guam pageant.”

Dynamic educator

Starting her career directly after graduation from high school, Untalan became a member of a young and dynamic cadre of educators that provided intellectual stimulation for postwar Guam. As a teacher and an active participant in the young government, she brought a sense of respect and analytical thought to all she did. Untalan not only served the people of Guam, she also traveled to Fiji to help the educational system there with curriculum development.

Untalan became a political pioneer when in 1954 she, along with Cynthia Johnston Torres, became the first women elected to the Guam Legislature (3rd Guam Legislature). Untalan was one of eight Popular Party senators who split off from the party just before the 1956 election and formed the Territorial Party of Guam, the precursor to the Republican Party of Guam.

Translated Guam Hymn to Fanoge Chamorro

Untalan also distinguished herself by translating the Guam Hymn, “Stand Ye Guamanians,” into Chamorro.  The Chamorro version, “Fanoge Chamorro” is now widely used in schools and civic organizations.  Her effort to promote the Chamorro language impacted future Guam leaders.  Former Congressman Robert A. Underwood, current President of the University of Guam, stated in his tribute to Untalan before Congress:

She was tireless in her quest to advance the teaching of the Chamorro language in Guam schools, and her innovation as an educator had a significant impact on my own commitment to the Chamorro language.

She was a wonderful educator whose contributions to her homeland will be remembered every time we sing ‘Fanohge Chamorro.’  Her brilliance will continue to shine in the voices of our school children throughout Guam’s schools every day.

Although Untalan retired in 1970 at the age of 59, she continued to work for her community and was active in church activities until her death in 1997.

By Jillette Leon-Guerrero

For further reading

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1995.

Tribute to the Honorable Lagrimas Leon Guerrero Untalan. 105th Congress, 1st Session, Congressional Record 143, no. 130: E1863.