Celebration held to commemorate liberation of Northern Mariana Islands
By BRITTANY FHOLER
More than 100 people showed up despite on-and-off thunderstorms for the 74th Liberation of the Northern Mariana Islands Anniversary Celebration hosted by Islan Marianas, Inc. and the National Organization of Chamorro Veterans in America, Texas Chapter at the Knights of Columbus Hall Saturday.
On June 15, 1944, the United States military breached Saipan, the largest of the 22 Northern Mariana Islands, and fought the Japanese for control for three weeks, until July 9 when the U.S. declared victory.
After their victory in Saipan, the U.S. military recaptured Guam from the Japanese on July 21 and used the Mariana Island of Tinian to set up an air base from which the U.S. Air Force flew B-29 bombers to attack targets in the Philippines and Japan, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the fighting continued, the people of Saipan, which included Japanese civilians as well as Chamorros, Carolinians and Korean civilians, were interned by U.S. forces at Camp Susupe until July 4, 1946, which became known as “Liberation Day.”
The Northern Mariana Islands later became known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
Founder of non-profit organization Islan Marianas, Inc., Ellery Arriola, said that the liberation of the Mariana Islands is the same to him as the Fourth of July is to the United States, even falling on the same date. Although there have been other celebrations held in years past, this is the first year that a celebration event has been hosted by Islan Marianas, Inc., with help from NOCVATX Chairman Joey Acfalle.
“It’s touching because everybody appreciates that we got liberated from the Japanese and that’s why we’re keeping this tradition,” Arriola said. “This is just to show everybody that this is how happy and grateful for the Armed Forces to do this for us, actually coming and liberating us. It’s a big thank-you.”
The celebration, which was free and open to the public, started at 2 p.m. on Saturday and lasted until after 8 p.m. Thunderstorms caused the event to move inside the Knights of Columbus Hall but did not put a damper on the celebrations.
There were more than 24 tables set up for seating, with more being set up as people came in. The meal included two roast pigs, fried chicken, barbeque chicken, barbeque ribs, pigs feet and corned beef as well as many different traditional sides and a table full of desserts.
All of the food was donated by local families, which is just how Chamorro people do it, Arriola said.
“It’s not about saving money, but it’s about letting everybody chip in,” he added.
At the beginning of the celebration, Arriola read aloud a proclamation from Texas Governor Greg Abbott recognizing the 74th anniversary of the liberation. There were also proclamations from Coryell County Judge John Firth and Mayor Frank Seffrood recognizing the 74th anniversary of the liberation.
Guests were treated to entertainment from Ponko Atalig, Island Flowers, Islan Marianas, Briana Tenorio-Fejeran, Taunty Motu and dance groups Inetnon Famagu’on Guahan (IFG), Baila Pacifica,and Tupulanga Mai Texas. There was also a coconut husking contest and dancing to songs played by the DJ.
Vendors included Pink Plumeria Pearl Shakes, Dina’s Creations, Pacific Island Accessories and Rosa Meno, who had a table full of different items from Guam on display to show the history and culture of the Mariana Islands- including the sea turtles and fruit bats that used to be regularly eaten and sea shells, fishing nets and baskets woven from coconut leaves.
Meno also had toys from her childhood, including a spinning top with a string that wrapped around it. Several of her items had once been on loan to the Asian American Resource Center in Austin for an exhibit. Her display will be bigger at the upcoming 74th Guam Liberation celebration on July 21 at Ogletree Gap, she said.
“It’s for them to know how we survived before the liberation,” Meno said about her display. Meno was three years old when Guam was liberated from the Japanese.
Meno said she thought the event was outstanding and a beautiful celebration.
“It brings up the meaning of being together,” Meno said.