Castigated for caring
11 Jun 2012
- Last Updated on Sunday, December 02, 2012 18:14
- Published on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 00:00
- Written by By Tammy Doty - Reporter
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“MOMMY, look she’s ‘bozo’ (bald) and ugly.” ‘Out of the mouths of babes’ is an English phrase that sums up the honesty and attitudes of children that often catch adults off guard.For former Rep. Rosemond B. Santos one little girl’s comment in a restroom spurred an eye-opening and life-changing journey.
As a gesture of solidarity with her many family members battling cancer — including a young nephew — Santos bravely sat for a “cancer shave” two months ago to raise money for the cause and thereafter became both a chastised and celebrated islander.
“These attitudes of judgment and disapproval are not conducive to living in paradise,” Santos stated summing up her experience to date.
As part of the Marianas March Against Cancer annual fundraiser, Santos and husband Gary Sword, began a “Go Bold, Go Bald” campaign to solicit donations via their KKMP radio station.
Their goal of raising $1,440 (KKMP’s AM frequency) was exceeded but more shockingly the act of shaving exceeded Santos’ expectations of the community’s reaction.
“I was a little scared when I sat down for the shave but afterward there was a sense of empowerment,” described Santos, “but the public stares and negative and judgmental comments did take me by surprise.”
From a cultural perspective the swift and adverse reactions to Santos’ decision can be explained by the Asia-Pacific region’s emphasis on and appreciation of long, flowing female locks.
Santos’ act of defying the beauty and societal expectation of what women should look like obviously struck a sensitive spot among the community, specifically among women and young girls.
“Definitely, the harshest comments and stares have come from the very young and manamko’ women; men and teenage boys have actually embraced me and provided advice about how to protect my skin etc,” noted Santos.
The Monday morning following her “restroom rebuke” Santos and Sword took to the airwaves to turn a negative into a positive.
Santos opened up to KKMP’s listeners and told the bathroom story even as the sting and sadness was still fresh and raw.
A few minutes later Santos was rewarded and gratified by a mother caller.
“This local mom cried and told her own daughter’s story of being judged and rejected by the community after cancer treatment…it was a great moment that I’ll always be grateful for because this isn’t about me…it’s about all of us and how we want to treat each other,” said Santos smiling at the memory.
Amongst the disappointing feedback there have also been extraordinary displays of solidarity and encouragement and appreciation from the NMI community.
“In the beginning I felt very exposed but I’ve never had so many people tell me how beautiful I am…if I would have known that I would have done it sooner!” laughed Santos.
One of the most gratifying moments for Santos was when her mother cried and expressed pride in her daughter’s bold action.
Santos also noted the encouragement from elected officials who have embraced her cause and extended praise for creating awareness for both the fight against cancer and the larger fight against prejudice that seems to bubble just below the surface among too many.
Shaved until September
For this lawyer turned public voice for action and awareness, the motivation to plug on is stronger than ever.
Her personal pledge to remain an example of self-acceptance regardless of physical characteristics and a walking poster child for general acceptance of differences will continue until the kids’ cancer awareness month in September.
Santos is endeavoring to attract 46 more women to crop their locks in the fall as every minute in America some 46 children are diagnosed with cancer.
For sure she knows at least one other woman will sit for the shaving.
“There was a 76-year-old woman who sat down next to me in April and I was blown away by her courage…I just her saw at the farmers market and she said she’ll do it again in September,” explained Santos.
Pushing against society’s expectations can be painful but even worse is the disapproval toward people who have no choice in how they look due to genetics an accident or an illness.
“I hope people will keep an open mind and be sensitive and open to differences, especially to children coming back to the islands who have undergone cancer treatment and may be bald or look physically different,” stated Santos with a voice laced with promise.