BERT (AND WIFE VIRGINIA) UNPINGCO
Photo : Victor Consaga
"You are what you wear," goes the familiar expression.
Back in the early 1970s, Guam was full swing into the tourism craze. The Japanese were coming, bringing their money with them. What was once a relatively unknown island was now getting a lot of attention and we were proud. We wanted to show the world who we were.
But that begged the question : who are we?
Not everyone was sure of the answer.
Young people in grass skirts performed the stick dance, and some said, "That's not Chamorro."
Others put on the mestisa dress and sombrero hat to dance the båtso and some said, "That's not Chamorro."
Frank Rabon and others looked at early descriptions of pre-contact dance and created their dance routines and attire based on that, and still some said, "That's not Chamorro."
Bert Unpingco was at the forefront of the tourism promotion movement. As head of the Guam Visitors Bureau, he lived tourism promotion all day long. He pioneered the WAVE initiative (Welcome All Visitors Enthusiastically) and I remember as a school kid being taught to wave to buses of Japanese tourists.
Bert knew, from archival photos, that the Chamorro men 120 years ago wore a very simple loose shirt, usually white, with a straight collar (also called a standing or a band collar) and long sleeves.
The dad in the picture above models that kind of shirt, worn by almost every man, adult or child, in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.
Bert was inspired to create a modern version of this "traditional" male attire, which you can see Bert model in the first picture above. Bert added the Guam seal on his breast pocket. Some of his shirts featured a floral-print collar.
Katherine Aguon included the concept when she collected different designs for Chamorro traditional attire. There were many different ideas for women's wear, and the "Bert Unpingco" shirt was one for the men.
You rarely saw Bert in public wearing anything but the shirt that became identified with him. With him, I say, because his idea never caught on with the general public. Whereas women might wear a kind of mestisa for performances or events, very few men would wear the "Bert Unpingco" shirt as their ordinary dress that day.
Bert, however, was never one to be deterred by public opinion. Bert continued to wear the distinctive shirt till he became too sickly to leave his home.
So I post this as a kind of tribute to Bert's resolve and unflagging enthusiasm, and to document his initiative to revive what was the standard male apparel of our islands in the late 1800s and early 1900s.