Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Here to stay

Regular readers of my blog will recognize my letter to the editor published in today's newspapers. I wrote I Found the Jinja in the Jungle several years ago and posted it on my blog. On the advice of Senator Maria Pangelinan I touched it up a bit and submitted it to both newspapers. I'll be watching the comments section of the Marianas Variety to see what people's reactions are.
I am the Democratic Nominee for the Mayor of Saipan. This is not the career path I chose for myself years ago when I was in college, however having been asked by family and friends to run it is something that I promise to give my best effort to for the benefit of our island and our people.

This November the voters of Saipan will choose between me and 8 other candidates who will be their next Mayor. I want to give voters the opportunity to know who I am and what makes me tick before I ask for their vote.

I have been back in Saipan for just under four years now. I was born here, but lived in several other countries for many years before returning. I would like to share with voters the story of how I returned to the island and why it is I stay even when there are opportunities for me elsewhere.

First of all, there is a special feeling I get from living on Saipan. It can be difficult to sense, but I find it when I am able to get away, able to find a quiet place. Sometimes it is when I am with family, sometimes alone. It is the feeling that makes it difficult for many of us to leave the island no matter the economic hardships we are facing. You can call this special feeling what you want, perhaps religious or spiritual, but I think this feeling comes from a connection to the past and to something greater than myself.

I will be the first person to tell you that returning to Saipan was never in my life plan. My mother left Saipan with her two little boys when I was three years old. My brother Alex had not yet had his first birthday.

After he divorced her, my father started a new family while my mother raised Alex and me as a single parent. I received the occasional letter from Dad, but saw him no more than once every few years. Although raised by my mother, I still managed to visit Saipan five times during my childhood and I have fond memories of fishing and hiking with my father and brothers. I have always considered Saipan my first home, but when I was about to graduate from college, no one was asking me what I was going to do when I returned. I am not sure if anybody really even considered me coming back.

In my final week of college, my father, the late Justice Ramon G Villagomez, suffered a massive heart attack and was evacuated to a hospital in Honolulu. I flew to Hawaii to be with him, his wife, my four brothers, and my sister. I missed my college graduation so I could be there with them. It was worth it though; it was the last, and only the second, time my father's six children were all together. I don't know if that will ever happen again.

When he stabilized, we brought him home so that he could die on Saipan. We didn't expect him to live long; I thought he was going to die on the plane, but he hung in there for five and half years. During that interval, I went back to America, earned another degree and continued on with my life. Alex and I had an unspoken understanding that we would go back for his funeral and then would probably never return to Saipan.

Well, that changed.

I made plans to visit Saipan in 2005. I was moving to Japan and before my job started there, my girlfriend at the time and I decided that we wanted to pay a visit to Saipan and my family. We were scheduled to arrive on December 17, 2005.

I moved to Japan at the end of November 2005. It was an exciting time; I was living in a new place and things were going very well. Then my world turned upside down.

On the morning of December 1, 2005, I woke up and opened up my laptop. I immediately started getting chat requests from Alex in Florida. I plugged in my camera, accepted the chat invitation and noticed that Alex was crying. My father had died the night before. Alex already had a ticket to Saipan. I told him I would meet him in the Narita airport.

Now, if my father had died at any other time, I would have purchased a ticket to Saipan, stayed for one week, buried him, and I would have left Saipan behind forever. But he didn't die at any other time. He died 17 days before I was going to see him for the first time in half a decade. So instead of coming for one week, I stayed for one month.

After burying him, I was able to rediscover Saipan. I was able to see this island for the first time as an adult and I discovered that special feeling I get from being here.

A few months later I was living on Saipan for the first time since I was three years old.

And you know what I have realized since that day?

I belong here.

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