Article

Cecilia “Chilang” Cruz Bamba

An old photo of Cecilia Cruz Bamba sitting down in a chair and smiling for the camera.
Cecilia Cruz Bamba

Courtesy of the Bamba Family Collection.

Article Written By Faith Bennett

Cecilia Cruz Bamba was a Chamorro woman who was orphaned at the age of nine during the Japanese attacks on Guam in 1941. Motivated by the grandmother who raised her, Bamba became a senator, businesswoman, and community leader. As a senator Bamba introduced legislation for the establishment of the War Reparations Commission and was the first Indigenous woman from Guam to testify before Congress about wartime atrocities.1 Her experiences and advocacy offer insight into the War in the Pacific in Guam.

Cecilia Cruz Bamba was born to Rosa Rosaria and Jose Leon Guerrero Cruz in November 1934 in Hagåtña.2 In December 1941, one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she was preparing for her first communion and her mother was pregnant with her third child. They passed a checkpoint at Tamuning where Japanese soldiers mistook Cruz for a white American and beat her. As a result of the brutality, Cruz soon gave birth to a stillborn child and suffered hemorrhaging that caused her own premature death.3 For nearly three years Bamba and her brother, Joseph, were raised by their father. Then, in 1944, an American plane crash-landed near a Cruz family property in Machananao.4 Seeing a survivor struggling in the wreckage, Jose Leon Guerrero Cruz and his nephew Juan Leon Guerrero rushed to assist him. When Japanese soldiers arrived and saw the Chamorro men helping the American soldier, they arrested and beheaded Leon Guerrero Cruz, leaving his two young children orphaned. Bamba later received thirty-three dollars in compensation for her father’s death from the US Navy through the Meritorious Claims Act.5

After the war, at the age of sixteen she married George Mariano Bamba, with whom she ultimately had ten children.6 In 1952 she started the Guam Woman’s Club, which has become the oldest women’s organization in Guam. She also started the Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association in 1965.7 Bamba served on and chaired many community and social organizations, such as the Agana Heights Women’s Group, the Guam Girl Scouts Council, the Guam Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Guam Beautification Association, the Federation of Asian Women’s Association, and many others. She also ran businesses including Cecilia Bamba Insurance, Chamorrita Enterprises, Oceania Consultants, and the Bamba Corporation.8

Her husband, then a member of the Guam Legislature, died in 1976.9 In December 1978 she was elected to the 14th Guam Legislature, where she led a fight for war reparations.10 She collected the stories of civilian war survivors, meeting with them individually. Her son Patrick recalled, “Sometimes I’d be bewildered observing mom and a random survivor crying as they recounted the awful events of the war.”11 As a senator, Bamba introduced the legislation to create the War Reparations Commission. She testified in front of the US Congress in 1983 advocating for war reparations for Guam and in doing so became the first Chamorro woman to testify in Congress. She believed this War Reparations Commission would “open up the eyes of Americans who don’t know what happened to Guam in defense of America.”12

Bamba was unable to see her dream of reparations realized in her lifetime. She died of cancer on September 3, 1986 at age of 51.13 Her son, George Bamba Jr., who himself became a senator, took up her fight for reparations and told her story during a congressional hearing in 1988. The reports from these proceedings are commonly known as the “Bamba Files.”14 Through the tireless efforts of Senator Bamba and her numerous contributions to her community, Americans have a greater understanding of the effects of the War in the Pacific on the people of Guam.


Further Reading:

  • Souki, Jesse K. “The Forgotten Heroes: Reparations for Victims of Occupied Guam During WWII.” Seattle Journal For Social Justice 1, no. 3 (December 2003): 573–91.

1 - Coral Murphy-Marcos and Lindsay Schnell, “Politician Tulsi Gabbard, 'West Side Story' Star Rita Moreno among Influential Women from U.S. Territories,” USA Today August 20, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/life/women-of-the-century/2020/08/13/puerto-rico-guam-virgin-islands-history-woman-voting-rights/5499047002/.

2 - Year: 1940; Census Place: Agana, Agana, Guam; Roll: m-t0627-04643; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 1-6 Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls; “Cecilia Cruz Bamba” in the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

3 - To Establish a Commission on War Reparations for Guam: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 3191 ... August 4, 1988 (U.S. G.P.O., 1988), 59.

4 - Jillette Leon-Guererero, “War Survivor: Justo Leon Guerrero,” Guampedia, September 18, 2020, https://www.guampedia.com/war-survivor-justo-leon-guerrero/.

5 - To Establish a Commission on War Reparations for Guam, 59.

6 - “Cecilia Cruz Bamba,” Guampedia, July 17, 2020, https://www.guampedia.com/cecilia-cruz-bamba-2/.

7 - “Our History,” Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association – GMHVA, accessed September 18, 2020, https://www.gmhvolunteers.org/about-gmhva/our-history; Margaret Jones, “Honoring Legacy of GMHVA Founder,” Pacific Daily News, March 29, 2015: 11, https://www.newspapers.com/image/214999763/.

8 - Ethel Simon-McWilliams and Karen Reed Green, Glimpses into Pacific Lives: Some Outstanding Women (Portland, Or.: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 1987), 94-95.

9 - Simon-McWilliams and Green, Glimpses into Pacific Lives, 94.

10 - Murphy-Marcos and Schnell, “Politician.”

11 - Victoria-Lola Leon Guerroro, “War Survivors Continue to Die without Restitution,” Guam War Survivors Stories, accessed September 18, 2020, http://guamwarsurvivorstory.com/index.php/latest-news/39-war-survivors-continue-to-die-without-restitution.

12 - Elaine Santos, “Panel Sought for War Attrocities,” Pacific Daily News, August 10, 1883: 8.

13 - “Sen. Cecilia Bamba,” Pacific Daily News, October 10, 1986, p. 30, https://www.newspapers.com/image/610177110/?terms=cecilia%2Bcruz%2Bbamba. Daily News Staff, “Former Senator Succumbs at 48,” Pacific Daily News, October 2, 1986, p. 1, https://www.newspapers.com/image/610176589/?terms=cecilia%2Bcruz%2Bbamba. Matthew Mateo, “UOG Takes over WWII Collections,” Pacific Daily News, July 8, 2004, p. 5.

14 - Matthew Mateo, “UOG Takes over WWII Collections,” Pacific Daily News, July 8, 2004, p. 5.

Acknowledgements:

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.

This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946

Part of a series of articles titled Women's History in the Pacific West - Pacific Islands Collection.

War In The Pacific National Historical Park

Last updated: February 22, 2022