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My grandma, my war survivor

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"The Japanese war. The Japanese come," recalled 95-year-old Maria Lizama Gumataotao. For me, the only war I can imagine is what I see in the movies. For Gumataotao, my grandmother, it was a reality.

"Oh my God! I'm very sorry. Because I'm suffering on the way all my suffer, very bad. On the day that we are... it's very bad," she said.

At the start of World War II, she was 19. Jose "Joe" Gumataotao, my mom's oldest brother, helped my grandma share her story. "During the war, it was forced labor," he shared. "She had to march with the other Chamorros to the Mannengon camp where she had to work in the field, the rice patties and then after war."

During the war, my grandma was forced to march from her home in Sumay to the Manengon Camp in Yona. She remembers being slapped by a Japanese solider, but telling herself "it didn't hurt." When I asked her what it was like when the Americans came and how she knew the war was over," she said, "They are saying it. They say that the war is over. Because the military, all the military come from US and they say that the war is over."

Life was always hard for my grandma who could never afford to put herself first. At the age of 2, her mother died and she lived with her aunt who couldn't support them. My grandma as a result had to farm and sell fruits, vegetables, and baked goods.

"I was 4th grade when I quit from school because nobody is going to support us - me and my auntie," she said.

After the war, she'd find herself trying to rebuild a home. Grandma said, "I feel good, but it is not very very, very good because I don't' have any home or anything to support us."

She'd later marry my grandfather, Oscar, and they had nine kids, including my mom, Victoria. Though she wished to return to school, she never would. If she did, she would've graduated from the George Washington High School Class of 1939.

Last week, she got her chance and received her honorary diploma - making her the oldest recipient to date. Today, grandma has 34 grandchildren, 69 great grandchildren and 20 great-great grandchildren.

If you want to know her secret to longevity, she thanks God.  In prayer, she said, "I believe in God. The Almighty. Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord."

Si yu'os ma'ase, grandma, my war survivor. Hu guiya hao.

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