Madeleine Z. Bordallo is currently Guam’s delegate to the United States Congress where she has served since 2002. Originally from Minnesota, Bordallo is a longtime senator of the Guam Legislature, as well as a former first Lady. She is also the first female lieutenant governor of Guam, and the only non-Chamorro to hold this position. With strong ties to the island community, Bordallo has participated in numerous civic organizations and activities, and has lived much of her life in public service on Guam.

Early life

Madeleine Mary Zeien Bordallo, born 31 May 1933 in Graceville, Minnesota, came to Guam as a 13-year old with her family in 1948 when her father, Christian Peter Zeien, was hired as a school principal of George Washington High School in Sinajana. Bordallo is the eldest of three children of Christian and Evelyn Zeien; her sister, Diana Zeien Ysrael, lives on Guam, and her brother, James Zeien, lives in Springfield, Missouri.

After World War II, Minnesota-based construction company Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc. (BPM), was doing work on Guam and got word back to people in Minnesota that teachers were needed on Guam. The Zeien family traveled non-stop aboard the USS Anderson in 1948. It took them two weeks to get to the island from Oakland, California.

As Guam was still under Navy rule at the time, the Zeiens initially were housed in a new military housing area called Base 18, which is now Apra Vista. They lived there for two years until the Organic Act was signed in 1950 creating a civilian government for Guam. The Zeien family then moved to a house in Mangilao near the Price Elementary School and Guam Department of Agriculture.

Madeleine Zeien attended her first year at George Washington High School when its campus was in Sinajana. The school was rebuilt shortly afterward. After graduating from high school in 1951 she attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. She returned to Guam to marry her high school sweetheart, Ricardo J. Bordallo, in 1952. The couple had one daughter, Deborah Bordallo, born in 1953, and a granddaughter, Nicole Nelson.

In 1954, KUAM Radio and TV station, the first commercial radio station on Guam, opened. Bordallo was initially hired as a receptionist, but later became a popular personality on KUAM, hosting the television program “Woman’s Word.” She was also the night radio hostess “Sirena,” who developed a “mystery woman” following, generating many a letter from lonely military men. She worked at the station for eight years, until 1962.

Her husband, Ricardo J. Bordallo, a businessman and a senator at the Guam Legislature, was elected Governor of Guam in 1975 and 1983, making Madeleine first lady of Guam from 1975 to 1979, and again from 1983 to 1987. As first lady she was introduced to public service and became a strong advocate of Chamorro culture and the arts, both of which are lifelong passions.

Public service

Bordallo’s involvement in the community has also been extensive. She was one of the founders of the Guam Council of Women’s Clubs, as well as the Guam Symphony Society, Y Inetnon Famalao’an (Women for Service), and the Marianas Association for Persons with Disabilities. Bordallo was also a past President of the Federation of Asia Pacific Women’s Associations (FAWA) and has held dozens of leadership roles in other community organizations throughout her life.

Between her husband’s two terms as governor, Bordallo became a senator herself. She was a member of the 16th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd Guam Legislatures.

During the 1988 US presidential election, Bordallo was a member of Guam’s uncommitted delegation to the 1988 Democratic National Convention.

Bordallo was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Guam, following the death of her husband in 1990. Jose “Ping” Duenas ran as Bordallo’s running mate for lieutenant governor in the 1990 gubernatorial election.

In 1994, she ran alongside her husband’s long time political opponent Carl T. C. Gutierrez on the Democratic ticket and was elected lieutenant governor of Guam, serving from 1995 to 2002, the first woman in Guam’s history to hold this position. In this role, she worked to promote tourism, environmentalism and other beautification projects.

Congressional terms

In 2002 as congressional Delegate Robert Underwood vacated his seat and ran for governor, Bordallo campaigned for and was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, serving from January 2003 to the present. She is the first woman to represent Guam in Congress.

As Guam’s delegate, Bordallo is one of six non-voting delegates to the House of Representatives (the others being from American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands). While in Congress, she has devoted herself to economic issues and has helped to pass legislation that aids small businesses on Guam. She has also been involved in military and environmental issues.

According to the US Congressional website, Bordallo serves on two committees in the House—the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Natural Resources. She was appointed the Ranking Democrat of the Subcommittee on Readiness in the House Armed Services Committee for the 112th Congress, and has been reappointed for the 113th Congress. She is also a member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. In the House Committee on Natural Resources, Bordallo sits on the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs as well as the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

In addition to her committee responsibilities, Bordallo serves as the vice-chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). She is also the co-chair of the Congressional China Caucus and a member of the US Philippines Friendship Caucus, the Korean Caucus, the Army Caucus, the Navy/Marine Corps Caucus, the National Guard and Reserve Component Caucus, the Travel and Tourism Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, the Taiwan Caucus, the Long Range Strike Caucus, and the Wounded to Work Caucus.

During her years in Congress, Bordallo has advocated on behalf of Guam’s survivors of World War II to receive war reparations. She has also worked on issues such as increasing compact-impact funding for Guam, expanding the CNMI-Guam visa waiver for Chinese and Russian tourists, and resolving concerns with the proposed military buildup.

Self-Determination for Guam

Bordallo has also expressed a desire to resolve the issue of self-determination for Guam.  In a recent Congressional address in May 2013, Bordallo stated that,

“Resolving our political status through a legitimate act of political self-determination will allow our people to determine for ourselves what is best for our island and our people. This decolonization process is perhaps the single most important long-term priority for our island, and we must renew our commitment to making this effort.

While over the years we have made progress on advancing this issue, sometimes our long-term goals get lost among the many priorities and crises of the day—issues that demand our immediate attention. However we cannot let our daily challenges inhibit our progress toward resolving the issue of political status.

Our self-determination vote will be a multistep process that will include our whole community. But we must also be respectful of the right of the indigenous people of Guam—the Chamorro people—to have their own say on how they would like to see our island move forward. I commend the efforts of Senator Pangelinan to develop the Chamorro registry and encourage eligible residents to sign up.

I believe that the Chamorro vote is a legitimate step in the process toward decolonization. However, it is my hope that the Governor and Legislature can lay out a process that will satisfy concerns raised by those who are not eligible for the Chamorro vote. It would be better if we can find the solutions to this issue ourselves as a community instead of having a solution dictated to us by a court.

…we should use their [Puerto Rico’s recent plebiscite] experience to inform our efforts and we can observe how their people are responding to the process that they have laid out.

It is time for us to get on with our own process. I appreciate that Governor Calvo has empaneled the Commission on Decolonization and that Speaker Won Pat and Vice Speaker Cruz have raised the profile of this issue in the Legislature and in our community. This is an important dialogue for our community to engage in and it is important that that dialogue becomes a priority for our people. We are on a journey but that journey will not be completed until we define our destination for our island and our people.”

By Shannon J. Murphy

For further reading

Bordallo, Madeleine. 30 May 2013. “A Renewal of Faith.” U.S. Representative Madeleine Bordallo Congressional Address.

Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo. Accessed 7 September 2013.