Thursday, December 1, 2016


Jose Mesa Cruz
grandson of Jose Sisto

He is 94 years old as of 2016 and he is cheerful, healthy and full of life. He was born in Hagåtña in 1922 but left Guam for good in 1940 when he joined the US Navy. In those days, Chamorro men who joined the US Navy could only serve as mess hall attendants. Other Chamorros teasingly called them marinon mantekiya, or "butter sailors" because, unlike the others, these Chamorro Navy men could buy butter at the Navy commissary.

His ship was out of Pearl Harbor for two days already, en route to San Francisco, when the Japanese bombed the American ships in Hawaii. His older brother Henry was on the USS Arizona and survived the bombing. Ping saw action in the South Pacific and then later settled in Southern California where he still lives today, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

As a youth in Guam, Ping attended the Guam Institute, the only private school on Guam in the 1920s and 30s. He remember the owner and principal, Nieves M. Flores, and his two sons Alejo and Sabino.

His father owned a bar and a pool hall on Hagåtña's main street.


Between June 22, 1898 and August 1, 1899, Guam was in a chaotic political situation. The Americans had removed the Spanish Government from Guam, but did not install a clear, stable American Government until the arrival of the first US Governor appointed by the US President, in August of 1899.

One claimant to authority over Guam was a man named Jose Sisto, whose full name was Jose Sisto Rodrigo Vallabriga. He had been the island treasurer, officially the Administrator of the Department of the "Hacienda Pública," or "Public Works." Unlike the other Spanish government officials, the US Navy did not remove Sisto and take him to Manila. Thus, Sisto claimed, he was still a government official and the highest one remaining, ensuring him, in his mind, control over the government.

Sisto was opposed by Padre Palomo, Venancio Roberto and other Chamorro leaders. They accused him of emptying the island treasury by paying himself his salary in advance. When stronger American control came to Guam, Sisto resigned office, was ordered to repay the island treasury and left for Manila.

All of this is well-known in the history books.

What wasn't well-known is that Sisto fathered children while he was on Guam. According to family lore, Rosa Cruz was a domestic worker at the Governor's Palåsyo, or palace. She became romantically involved with Sisto and became the mother of two sons of Sisto, Juan and Jose, who carried their mother's maiden name of Cruz. Juan and Jose were twins, so their descendants were known as the Dinga ("twins") family. Rosa later married into the Gåbit (Pereda) family and became known as Rosa'n Gåbit.

Jose, son of Sisto, married Andrea Mesa. In the picture below, Jose (son of Sisto), Andrea, Jose (or Ping) and his older brother Henry are identified.

                                                  (Courtesy of Carmelita Edwards)

                                                           WHO WAS JOSE SISTO?

Books speak of Jose Sisto as either a Spaniard or a Filipino Spaniard. This raises some question as to his background and ethnicity.

If the Americans deported all the Spanish government officials, that is, government officials who were Spanish by race and birth, why then did they leave Jose Sisto behind on Guam?

It is true that the Americans did leave behind some Spaniards. But these were of only two sorts; the missionary priests and Spanish ordinary (non-government official) civilians who had married Chamorro wives. Sisto was neither of these two sorts.

So, some speculate that Sisto was Spanish by race but born in the Philippines. A criollo, as pure Spaniards born in the colonies were called back then. I have some doubts about this. It seems to me, from reading the literature of the time, that the US Navy was very clear that they wanted a clean sweep of all European officials out of Guam. I am somewhat doubtful that it mattered little to Captain Glass if this white, Spanish official was born in Manila or in Madrid instead. He would've been put on the deporting ship. But, perhaps I am wrong.

Others think that Sisto was a mestizo, of mixed Spanish and Filipino blood. I lean towards this possibility. Sisto could have identified himself to the Americans as a Filipino, meaning someone native to the Philippines, and this could have allowed Glass to let Sisto stay on Guam. For the Americans, the Spaniards were the enemies, not the natives of the former Spanish colonies.

Still others think that Sisto was Filipino, meaning someone with a more pronounced native heritage. Many Filipinos have a Filipino, Chinese or some other foreign ancestor, but are mainly identified as simply "Filipino," with less European or Chinese physical features. Some authors have alluded to Chamorro-Filipino enmity in the Sisto controversy. The idea is that the Chamorro civic leaders were able to bear Spanish or American rule, but never a Filipino master. But, if the early documents refer to Sisto as being Spanish, I highly doubt they would have called someone with brown skin and more Austronesian features a Spaniard.

All of this is just guess-work until we find documents to show us Sisto's background. Discovering those will take some time and a lot of effort.

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