Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny T. Anderson Jr.  †  Lifestyle

Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny T. Anderson Jr. † Lifestyle

When San Francisco technologist Benny T. Anderson Jr. was laid off in 2001 during the crash of the dot-com industry when hundreds of Internet-based companies went bankrupt, he saw it as an opportunity to pursue his desire to learn CHamoru and pass on the language to his young daughters.

“After the dot-com bust, when my second daughter was born, I told my parents that I wanted to teach my daughters CHamoru,” said Anderson, who was born and raised in Guam.

“So I’ll be calling up my mom and dad to practice with them and they’ll be laughing at me because, you know, it sounds funny. They keep teasing me and I’ll get embarrassed. But you know, I was trying right?”

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On trips back home he would buy all the CHamoru books he could find and was learning — or more aptly, relearning — CHamoru on his own. He even built a website called Kanton Tasi, a Chamoru dictionary with pictures.

“I didn’t go too far and it kind of fizzled out,” he said of the website. His desire to be fluent came and went. Until another global crisis popped up.

“And so with the (COVID) pandemic, it got me back into thinking about it.”

Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny Anderson

A 1980s family portrait of Benny T. Anderson Jr.’s family when his sister, Kristin Anderson, won second place for the Guam Liberation and was a princess in the Liberation Parade. Front row, from left: Audrey; Kristin and Brian. Back row, from left: Benny Jr.; Benny Sr., holding Shelly; Grace and Janice.

“My wife (Rebecca Ann P. Diaz) and I took the free (online) CHamoru classes and realized there’s lots of CHamoru content out there and it’s making it easier to learn,” he said.

And it seems he wasn’t alone this time. “You know, everybody’s speaking CHamoru, all the young generation, they’re all into it. Like, all this inspiration was coming and I want to be part of this.”

He continues to look for and buy CHamoru books, and consume all the CHamoru-related content on YouTube and Instagram, but he wanted more.

“As I was learning and getting a little better, I’m like, man, I want to know how do I get to the next level?” he said. “And I’m like, man, there’s nothing. So let’s try to build it.”

Marrying his CHamoru language passion and advocacy with his 30-plus years of experience as a web programmer, Anderson built and launched i Sakman i Fino’ta, a crowdsourced CHamoru language blog with stories, audio and video in the Guam and Northern Marianas vernacular.

Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny Anderson

Benny T. Anderson Jr.’s youngest daughter, Olivia, graduated in June 2019 from Mercy High School in San Francisco. Shown from left: Rebecca Ann P. Diaz Anderson; Benny Anderson; Olivia Anderson and Ana Alicia Diaz.

The blog went online in March to celebrate Mes CHamoru with a dozen stories and has quickly grown to over a hundred original “written, spoken and sung in CHamoru content” and it even has a CHamoru version of Wordle. The site’s tagline “Anggen ti hita, pues håyi?” translates to “If not us then who?”

Guam roots

Anderson is the second oldest of six born in Inalåhan to Grace Naputi Castro Anderson, familian Yoga, from Inalåhan, and Benny Tainatongo Anderson from Malesso’.

As the salutatorian of the 1988 high school graduating class at Guam Community College, he received a government of Guam merit scholarship, which he used to get a bachelor’s in computer science at San Francisco State University in 1992.

He returned to Guam to pay off the scholarship and help build the IT infrastructure at the Department of Administration and the Department of Revenue and Taxation.

He returned to San Francisco a few years later when his wife wanted to finish her college degree. They settled in the city, and he worked for several internet-based companies and has been with Healthline Media for the past 12 years.

“I’m a senior web engineer and I trained a lot of junior and mid-level engineers,” he said of his role at Healthline Media. “I help with building team culture. I can lead, take over or initiate projects as a lead engineer.

“When I first started at Healthline there were less than 100 employees and now we’re like over 500 (employees),” he added. “We had this goal for so many years to beat WebMD since people know WebMD but nobody knows Healthline. And then we beat them.”

His work success made it easy to pivot to his passion for the CHamoru language.

‘It’s a part of me’

“I am at a point where I am 30 years into my career, and my daughters, they’re adults now, you know, adult-ish. So I don’t have to worry about them as much. I’m ready to do other stuff to focus on something.” he said. “The feeling that I’m getting is always how to save it, how to keep CHamoru (language) alive.”

“I grew up with my grandma and she only spoke CHamoru. She didn’t speak English,” he added. “I’m always hearing it, it’s a part of me, it’s always there.”

The original concept of i Sakman i Fino’ta was as a newspaper. “I wanted to have a crowdsourcing newspaper, but in CHamoru, so you have all these CHamorus across the states in all these different places writing in CHamoru on whatever’s happening in their community,” he said.

“Then we decided why just limit it to news, and now then it turned into anybody can write about anything as long as it’s in CHamoru.”

The site has since expanded to spoken CHamoru and CHamoru songs and an accompanying podcast coming soon.

‘Gotta use it all the time’

As a fellow CHamoru living in the diaspora, I was envious but proud of Benny Anderson Jr.’s zeal for our native language, especially since I experienced the mental trauma of being teased when not speaking perfect CHamoru.

CHamorus even have a word for this. “Appleng” is defined as the sprain of a body appendage, but it also connotes the “sprained” proficiency, grammar or enunciation of a speaker’s CHamoru.

“Why is it so hard to learn CHamoru or remember it? I didn’t know about you, but I gotta use it all the time and I gotta get over being teased,” he said.

“My parents and relatives weren’t teasing me in a mean way. The way my parents would laugh, it felt like I was a little kid learning, which I was, even though I am an adult.”

“I have to get over that hump to get fluent and proficient. I want to try and accomplish that to be able to pass it on.”

Family legacy

His drive and passion have passed on to his two daughters, Ana and Olivia.

Ana, his older daughter, is a San Francisco State University chemistry graduate working on her clinical laboratory scientist license and is part of the i Sakman website team.

His younger daughter, Olivia, is an anthropology major at UCLA taking Pacific Islander Studies courses.

She is currently on Guam taking a two-week CHamoru language immersion camp for adults sponsored by Guam Museum and Chief Hurao Academy.

When they are all home in San Francisco they dedicate one day a week to just speaking CHamoru.

“My wife and I are taking the class together and we’re learning and we’re still not that good,” he said. “Sometimes she gets mad at me when I correct her. And she’s like, what, do you think you’re an expert? And I say no, I am learning, just like you.”

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