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  • Juanit
  • Chris Perez Howard (bio)

Note: This story takes place in 1963. Ten-year-old Juanit is with her father, Harold, not long after the death of her mother, Connie. This chapter is an excerpt from the novel Juanit, forthcoming from the University of Guam Press.

By the time Juanit boarded the Pan American flight to California, she had successfully begun to control her anxiety about being alone with her father. She was able to do this by focusing on other things. Nestled in her seat, she thought about what might lay ahead. In her luggage, she had some gifts for the Cruz family, including bottled coconut oil, pugua', guyuria, masumai, donne', and a small pre-war beaded shell purse for her aunt Daling. And in her satchel were some green mangos, rosketi, tamåles, and a few hardboiled eggs her grandmother gave her in case she got hungry.

When they arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport, Harold and Juanit were met by Connie's oldest sister, Daling, her husband, Ben Cruz, and their four children. There were also several relatives and friends waiting to greet her. Although she was heavy-set and had a fairer complexion, Juanit saw a resemblance between her mother and Auntie Daling. Uncle Ben was a well-built, dark-skinned man, almost as tall as her father. Their children looked like her cousins in Guam. They gave Juanit a warm welcome, as Mama Pai had made sure they would do when she called them.

At the airport, Juanit noticed that most of the people in California were white. This should not have surprised her, many of the people on her flight were also white. Despite being white herself, she felt uncomfortable. It was not until she saw the welcoming committee of familiar CHamoru faces that she was able to relax. She was apprehensive about meeting them. What if they did not like her? But that fear dissipated with the warm reception she received and the welcoming conversation in CHamoru she had with her aunt. She only wished she had listened to her father and had not worn the dress with the pink satin skirt her Godmother had given her. While she insisted on wearing it, she now felt over-dressed.

On the other hand, the Cruzes had to focus to find the father and daughter arriving at the airport. Harold and Juanit looked like many of the other [End Page 64] arriving passengers. They scanned the crowd looking for the tall, dark-blond father with the reddish-brown haired daughter they had seen in a recent photo. It was when Daling saw the shiny pink satin skirt that she felt it might be them.

Harold was happy being back in the United States and thought he had done the right thing for Juanit. With the porter pushing their luggage, he and Juanit went and picked up the rental car he had arranged to get upon their arrival. They loaded up the car and soon joined the others in a convoy of cars that made the long trip to Lomita, where the Cruzes lived. On the way, there was little conversation as Harold was busy focusing on staying in line. He was not familiar with the trip and Juanit was occupied looking out the window at the passing landscape. She was taken aback by the amount of traffic and noise. There were wide highways and paved roads. She stared curiously at the tall buildings, and even saw a couple of oil well pumpjacks. Harold did say he liked the Cruzes and thought that Juanit would enjoy staying with them while he arranged for them to have their own place.

When they arrived at the Cruz home, Juanit was surprised to see that her aunt and uncle had such a large, single-story concrete house with a front porch. It was painted a light blue, one of her favorite colors. Her grandmother had told her they were doing well because her Uncle Ben worked for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, but she never expected to see such a nice big house. Awaiting them, sitting in groups under canopies on an assortment of chairs and...

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