Merizo’s best dropout

To this day in Merizo, they still talk about the lady who married young, dropped out of high school, and stayed home for many years. But that’s just the beginning. They continue telling this story, because to everyone’s surprise, she went back. She studied hard, finished school, and became a teacher.

Rosa “Chai” Champaco Quitano (1938 – ) – often called Rose – was born in Merizo to Mariano Meno Champaco and Florentina Cruz Castro. In 1941, the family lived in Sumay, where Mariano found work as a plumber and carpenter. On 8 December, the Japanese Imperial Army began bombing Guam. During the initial attack, Quitano’s older siblings were at work and her mother just about went crazy trying to gather her children together.

Quitano was separated then from her mother and siblings until the end of the war as she stayed with her grandmother, Anna Guzman Cruz in Agat. Much later they were taken to the Manenggon Concentration Camp in Yoña. 

At three-years-old, Quitano remembers that she suffered a lot at Manenggon.

“I was not eating, only drinking. Drinking all the stream water I could find. In the nighttime, when it’s time to sleep, I don’t know where to sleep, I’m following the crowd, crying.”

Rosa Champaco Quitano

Each scarred in some way

When the family reunited in Merizo after the war, Quitano learned that each had been scarred in some way—her brother Pedro, 17-years-old at the time, was run over by a Japanese truck, breaking both his legs, and her youngest sister, born in 1941, died of fever and constipation. 

“I have a good memory, you know, I don’t know why those memories stick inside my brain. And the worst part is all through the years when there’s no electricity, the Japanese straggling in the jungle that was our biggest fear, because they were sneaking out and trying to find food and kill people.”

At age seven, Quitano was finally able to attend school. Though she was proud to graduate from middle school in 1954, the celebration was short lived. 

“That Saturday, my dad took me to the beauty shop, because my graduation’s going to be on  Monday. On Sunday, he was taken to the hospital in the morning and he died the next day after my graduation. My father is one of the best fathers. My father is not a strict father but he would call us and say this is what I want: ‘I want you to pray in the morning, pray in the evening, do not waste food, do not answer to the elderly — do not argue — and do not do anything that will embarrass me or embarrass you.’ Just imagine that, that’s it.”

Though Mariano left 13 children and a wife six-months pregnant, he also left a large fenced-in ranch, with many cows, and a water well. Many of the Champaco children were sent to live with relatives, and Quitano went to Agat to help her cousin Manuella Toves, who was about to give birth to twins. 

“My mother always described me as I’m the ugliest one in my family.”

Quitano remembers thinking she was the runt of the litter. But she was in for a surprise when she moved to Agat.

“My gosh! The first night I got there, there were men, young boys, serenading outside. My cousin’s husband asked me, ‘Quitano, why are they serenading outside?’ I said, “I don’t know!’ The next day, a letter came outside, with a poem, so someone was serenading me!”

Soon enough, Quitano was in love with Jose Carbullido Quitano, who had just finished service in the Air Force. She still remembers the first time she saw him on his motorcycle, the second time she saw him in the Post Office, and the third time while she was cashiering at the Agat Movie Theater when he finally spoke to her. 

“He waited that night, then comes [Arthur Toves] the husband of my cousin, who was also his cousin, because he’s a Carbullido too. He goes, ‘Jose, what are you doing? You have business. I want to talk to your girl.’ My cousin’s husband goes, ‘No, you cannot talk to her. If you want to talk to her, you come to the house, and you talk to her. Not here, not out in the street. I don’t want you to talk out in the street.’ So Jose asked permission, and came to the house every night.”

“He’s a very religious guy, very religious. He went to church every day. You know there’s one thing I can say about my husband, he’s very gentle to me, caring. He hug me no matter how long we were married.” 

Jose and Quitano had seven children: Joann, Joseph, Geraldine, John, Ronnie, Elwin, and Carl. In order to enroll children in the Head Start Program at school, parents had to volunteer. Soon, the preschool teacher nominated Quitano to become a school aide and she was paid 75 cents an hour.

“Every day I quit. I don’t want to do this! And then one day before Christmas vacation, [Frances Rios] the Head Start Coordinator stopped by my house and said, beginning January, you are going to be the regular school aide.

Back to school and more school

Later, Frances recommended Quitano get her GED from the University of Guam, and then gave her an application to join the Teacher Corp.

“When I got my elementary teacher, I don’t want to stop. I don’t just want to be any teacher, so I went for my Master’s in Education Administration, and then from my Master’s, I went into my doctorial.”

She took all of the required classes for a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, but left the program before completing the dissertation to take care of her family.

With her advanced education, Quitano became principal of San Miguel, Inarahan, and Carbullido Elementary Schools. Having been a mother, an aide, and a teacher, Quitano knew the ins and outs of the school system. After retiring from the Government of Guam, Quitano was recruited by a principal in Tinian to be a counselor, and then vice principal for eight years. 

Positive and analytical, humble and hardworking, Quitano still helps neighbors in need and volunteers as a pink lady at the Guam Memorial Hospital.

“That is my nature. I was a very quiet person, I did not need so many teachers beside me or behind me, because my brain is a very independent brain.”

Reprinted and adapted, with permission, from Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation by Amanda Pampuro.