I’m a Berkeleyan: Thomas Mangloña on growing up on Rota, his passion for journalism

Thomas Mangloña holding a microphone and a person with a video camera behind him

Thomas Mangloña (left) reporting for the Pacific News Center in high school while visiting Guam. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Mangloña)

“I’m from the Northern Mariana Islands, which is a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean near Guam. Rota is the island I was raised on. It has about 1,000 people on it now, and it’s about four miles wide and 12 miles long. I remember when I got into Cal, when I heard that there were 40,000 students, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s 40,000 islands.’

Thomas Mangloña on hill overlooking Rota

Mangloña stands atop an overlook of his home island of Rota after his first year at Berkeley. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Mangloña)

Rota doesn’t have a newspaper or reporter who lives there. It’s the reason I got involved in journalism in middle school. I remember writing my first piece in the sixth grade. I went to a very tense PTA meeting, where I passed out homemade business cards and interviewed people about complaints they had about the principal at the time. I wrote a story about it and published it on my own blog. People read it. A lot of people asked me when my next story was coming out. And I never stopped reporting.

I’ve probably produced a story every week since sixth grade. When I worked at the Saipan Tribune, I think I wrote about two to three stories per week. And for the Pacific News Center, I did about 70 broadcast stories for them, two-minute packages that I shot, produced and edited on my own.

Rota was a trust territory, so we had these different imperial forces come through — Spain, Germany, Japan and then the U.S. It’s only about 40 years old or so, under the political union with the U.S. In fact, some of my great grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles could only speak Japanese because that was the language at the time. They had banned CHamoru, our indigenous language.

Thomas Mangloña holding a video camera at a high school event

Mangloña reporting in high school at Mount Carmel School (Photo courtesy of Thomas Mangloña)

My grandfather, Prudencio Mangloña, was actually the first elected U.S. mayor of the island. Having been awarded the Truman Scholarship, which is a graduate fellowship for people pursuing careers as public service leaders, has made me think a lot about him. He literally paved the way, in the sense that he helped build some of the very first infrastructures on the island, like the roads.

He and my grandmother, Bernadita Mangloña, would talk to me and my cousins — I have about 40 cousins — about loving our community, taking care of our environment and also contributing to what it is now and what it could be. They taught us that we should get an education, not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

I look at journalism and public service as a way to reclaim my CHamoru heritage. Not only to reclaim our history and traditions, but also to rewrite some of the narratives that have been told about us, but not by us.

When I first got to Berkeley, I started out as a general reporter for CalTV. I became news director my sophomore year and now, my junior year, I’m co-president and was re-elected to serve as co-president next year. Every time I address CalTV members on the first day after we’ve hired everyone, I tell them, ‘We’re not giving voice to anyone. We’re passing the mic.’ Communities have been speaking for generations and generations. And it’s not that they didn’t have a voice or that they were voiceless, it’s that people have been hogging the mic.

Thomas Mangloña reporting for CalTV

Mangloña reporting for UC Berkeley’s CalTV (Photo courtesy of Thomas Mangloña)

Typhoon Yutu hit the Northern Islands last October — it was the largest storm to hit mainland soil ever. Have you heard of it? Probably not. They’re still recovering from it. I look at stories like that, and it tells me that we still have a lot of work to do to even be considered part of the American fabric. We’re U.S. citizens. We still don’t have the right to vote for president. And when major disasters happen, eyes aren’t looking in our direction.

I’ll be going home this summer to work full time at a TV station in the islands. And I’ll be applying to graduate school for journalism in December.

After I get my graduate education, I hope to work for a few years in the United States. Then, ultimately, I will head home to report for the stations there or ambitiously, hopefully, start my own news agency that does all the work that I believe, and that I’ve heard from the community, needs to be done.”