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  • By Johanna Salinas

Love before the time of Tinder

Don Seery’s new book documents elders’ love stories​

In the Carnival of 1956, Frank Shimizu met Fermina “Meming” Gumataotao. As Catholic school students, both were too sheltered to have noticed each other until they worked at the concessions selling drinks. After the traditional courtship, they got married in 1962. Now 56 years later, the marriage remains strong, overcoming disagreements and uncertainties throughout the years. "Nowadays young people think divorce is the best answer, but they should try and make it work," said Meming. "Marriage is a challenge," said Frank. "Everything you do in life is a challenge. Sometimes it's not 50/50, it's 60/40. It's not always a good straight road, sometimes it's rocky and unpaved with a lot of potholes.

You don't need a nice car to get you through, you need a strong car. Nowadays it's hard to find someone married more than 10-15 years. I hope that trend reverses."

During the 1960s on Guam, making a phone call in your own home could mean your neighbors listening in on your conversation. Most homes had party lines and having a private phone line was a luxury. One day in 1964 Maria went to the Public Utilities to apply for a private line and the person to talk to about it was Albert Quitigua. Maria vividly recalls how Albert courted her that day. "The American in front of me was in the military, leaving off island and Albert said he'd give me the American's line for free if we could go out and get to know each other," Maria said. Albert asked her father twice to start seeing her officially. The first time, the older man told Albert to wait a year before coming into their house. So, Albert waited a whole year before returning to Maria's father. "The second time, Albert came crying to me that my dad told him to wait six months," Maria said. Albert visited Maria’s father again. He told Albert to come back in four months. After four months, her father told Albert to marry Maria. The rest is history.

Guam is quickly changing to keep up with the advances and developments of American society. Today, finding love — for many of us — means using online apps to meet singles nearby. It seems that a simpler, quieter existence was oh so long ago and unattainable.

In Biba Manamko, photographer and educator Don Seery recaptured the atmosphere of being in love on Guam before the advent of internet and cellphones. In his latest book, each portrait is accompanied by a story of a Guam couple. Seery teamed with a group of Chamorro millennials to document love stories of elders in each village.

Megan Taitague, one of the writers, certainly enjoyed the experience of meeting the elders of central and southern villages. “My favorite part about this project was conducting each interview,” said Taitague. “The manamko were fun to be around, from their hospitality to their conversations. It ended up not feeling like an interview at all.”

Alana Chargualaf really appreciated listening and recording manamkos’ stories. “My favorite part of this project was authentically connecting with elders who have known this island much longer than I have,” said Chargualaf. “It was the coolest feeling to have heard their accounts, then to envision what life was like through their eyes. It was like watching the most historically charming, genuine, realistic love stories. Talking to them was an experience in itself.”

Chargualaf’s friend, Tihu Lujan, helped introduce her to Seery and got her onboard for the project. “Our manåmko' are Guam's greatest generation, and not just because they're seniors, but because they lived through a war and a simpler time foreign to younger generations,” said Lujan. “They're rich in a culture and language that has faded since their younger days, and are even wealthier in the friends and family they've established over decades. Our manåmko' so willingly give their time to share stories that make us want to invest more into the quality of our lives. They inspire us to be stronger, smarter and better people for a future brighter than theirs. There's always something to gain from conversations with our manåmko.' The stories they share and the lives they've lived inspire us to be imaginative with the way we live. They motivate us to love a little deeper, work a little harder and cherish the little things in life. They give us hope that someday we'll make it. We'll raise families, work fulfilling jobs, contribute to the community and hopefully live our best life all the while.”

As a young Chamorro woman, Chargualaf was able to better gauge her people’s past through this book. “Never take the past for granted and never think little of your history or anyone else’s,” she added. “History has woven a beautiful, raw story that lies in the hearts and minds of the people who know much better than us—the elders.”

Being the youngest on the team, Lujan felt a deep connection through hearing the stories of his people and wants more Chamorros to be aware of their history. “Take the time to build an authentic connection with our manåmko,' most especially your grandparents and their siblings,” said Lujan. “The conversations and stories shared are their own category of education, where the material to be learned is priceless.”

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