Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny T Anderson Jr | lifestyle

When San Francisco technologist Benny T. Anderson Jr. was fired in 2001 during the collapse 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 call my mum and dad to practice with them and they’ll laugh at me because it sounds weird. They keep teasing me and I get embarrassed. But you know I tried, right?”

On trips back home, he bought all the CHamoru books he could find and learned—or rather, relearned—CHamoru on his own. He even built a website called Canton Tasi, a Chamoru dictionary with pictures.

“I didn’t go too far and it kind of fizzled out,” he said via the website. His desire to speak fluently came and went. Until another global crisis emerged.

“And so the (COVID) pandemic has made me think about it again.”

Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny Anderson

A 1980’s family portrait of Benny T. Anderson Jr.’s family when his sister Kristin Anderson won second place for the Liberation of Guam 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 courses and found that there was a lot of CHamoru content to make learning easier,” he said.

And it seems that this time he was not alone. “You know, everyone speaks CHamoru, the whole young generation, they’re all there. All this inspiration came and I want to be a part of it.”

He keeps searching and buying CHamoru books and consuming all CHamoru related content on YouTube and Instagram, but he wanted more.

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

Combining his passion and advocacy for the CHamoru language with his 30+ years of web programming experience, Anderson built and launched i Sakman i Fino’ta, a crowdsourced CHamoru language blog featuring stories, audio and video in the slang of Guam and den Northern Mariana Islands.

Manaotao Sanlagu: Benny Anderson

Benny T. Anderson Jr.’s youngest daughter, Olivia, graduated from Mercy High School in San Francisco in June 2019. 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 content written, spoken and sung in CHamoru, and there’s even a CHamoru version of Wordle. The website’s slogan “Anggen ti hita, pues håyi?” translates to “If not us, then who?”

Guam roots

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

A 1988 high school senior Salutatorian at Guam Community College, he received a merit scholarship from the Guam government, which he used to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science from San Francisco State University in 1992.

He returned to Guam to pay out the scholarship and help set up the IT infrastructure at the Department of Administration and the Department of Treasury and Taxation.

He returned to San Francisco a few years later when his wife was about to graduate from college. They settled in town and he has worked for several internet based companies and has been with Healthline Media for the last 12 years.

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

“When I started at Healthline, there were less than 100 employees and now we’re over 500[employees],” he added. “Our goal for so many years was to beat WebMD because people know WebMD but nobody knows Healthline. And then we beat them.”

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

“It’s a part of me”

“I’ve gotten to a point where I’m 30 years into my career and my daughters are grown up now, you know, grown up. So I don’t have to worry about them that much. I’m willing to do other things to focus on something,” he said. “The feeling I get 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 always hear it, it’s part of me, it’s always there.”

The original concept of i Sakman i Fino’ta was a newspaper. “I wanted to have a crowdsourced newspaper, but in CHamoru, so you have all these CHamorus across the States in all these different places writing in CHamoru about everything that’s happening in their community,” he said.

“Then we decided why we should only limit it to messages, and now it’s become that anyone can write about anything as long as it’s in CHamoru.”

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

‘Have to use it all the time’

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

CHamorus even has a word for it. “Appleng” is defined as the sprain of an appendage, but also denotes the “sprained” competency, grammar, or pronunciation of a speaker’s CHamoru.

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

“My parents and relatives didn’t raise me meanly. The way my parents laughed made me feel like I was a little kid learning which I was, even though I’m an adult.”

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

family heritage

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

Ana, his older daughter, is a chemistry graduate from San Francisco State University and is working towards her license to become a clinical laboratory technician. She is part of i Sakman’s website team.

His younger daughter, Olivia, is studying anthropology at UCLA and taking courses in Pacific Islander Studies.

She is currently in Guam attending a two-week adult CHamoru language camp sponsored by the Guam Museum and Chief Hurao Academy.

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

“My wife and I take the course 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 says, what, you think you’re an expert? And I say no, I’m learning, just like you.”

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