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Manaotao Sanlagu: Denise Carbullido Pangelinan

  • 5 min read

By Manny Crisostomo

Denise Carbullido Pangelinan, a project engineer for a billion-dollar company in California, can trace her work ethic to the weekends and summers she spent at her maternal grandparents’ 25-acre ranch off Ysengsong Road in Dededo.

Weekdays after school she also helped her mom — who was operations manager at her uncle’s gas station in Barrigada — run the cash register and stock the shelves.

“There was no shortage of hard work in my family,” she said. “I volunteered at my uncle’s Mobil gas station as early as third grade. It was a full-service gas station, we (pumped) the customers’ gas, we sold beer, we sold cigarettes. I remember selling cigarettes for 80 cents a pack to people, like there were no labor laws. And I got paid in candy bars and Cool Spot lunches — that chopped steak was the best.”

But the hardest work took place during the summers as a young teen at her grandparents’ lancho. “They raised pigs and chickens and cows and grew the biggest kamuti I’ve ever seen in my life. My brother and I would help my grandparents clean the pig pens, grab the eggs from the chickens and sell the kamuti to Bunny Mart,” she said.“My grandparents had so much pride in their work, they took really good care of their pigs. They had at least 150 pigs. My grandfather won the bid from NCS to get their leftover food and scraps from the base galley. We would go there to pick up the food and bring it back to the ranch and cook the food for them. These pigs were so spoiled, and maybe that’s why they tasted so freaking good.”

The 45-year-old former Hagåtña resident left Guam when she was 13 with her mother and older brother. They moved to California and spent the greater part of the last three decades in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That work ethic weaned at the Dededo ranch and Barrigada gas station has served her well as a project engineer for San Jose-based Cupertino Electric, the fifth largest electrical company in the U.S. The company ended 2021 with its largest revenue number in its history: $1.625 billion.

As part of her job, she has worked on projects for Google, Amazon, Facebook and Stanford Hospital. Right now, she is involved with a $70 million project in the city of San Francisco. She loves her job, helping her customers innovate to be energy-efficient and meet green initiative standards.

“I get to work on the job site sometimes and collaborate and see buildings erected. Being part of that, it’s really neat, especially here in the Bay Area seeing these tech companies evolve,” she said.

“I’m a hard worker and very passionate about my work and everything I do, but it wasn’t until I was talking to you about my childhood (that I realized) my values and beliefs really stemmed from my upbringing with my grandparents and being surrounded by them and the hard work they taught me,” she said. “Like, you know, you had to go hose down the pig pen. That’s what you were doing. And at the end of the day, if you got a can of Pepsi, it was worth it. I have an appreciation for that.”The early years

The early years

She is the youngest of two children born to Lupe Jesus Carbullido, formerly of Hågat, and Albert Peredo Pangelinan, familian Mali, formerly of Yona.

Her parents divorced when she was 2 years old. She spent a lot of time with her maternal grandparents, Francisco Arceo Carbullido and Enestina Babauta Jesus Carbullido, who had 16 children, including her mom.

“I have memories as far back as taking åmot tininu when I would get sick, it was awful,” she said. “I remember being in kindergarten peeling the achoti and my grandma cooking the lemmai with coconut milk in the pot.”

“Our family gatherings were amazing. (My grandfather) would just say, come to the ranch. And the word would just get out there and everybody just showed up. People would just bring their dishes or (they’d) cook at the ranch,” she said. “We have at least 300 family members in that family, four generations deep. I have 75 first cousins just on my mom’s side, so when you think about that amount of people coming together, it’s like we had our own fiesta when we had a gathering at my grandparents’ ranch.”“And oh my gosh, all my grandmother’s children, all of them can cook,” she added. “The CHamoru culture stems a lot (from) the food and having that authenticity growing up. I (would) just stand there, watching everybody, and they (would) put me to work. I was like a little adult when I was young.”

‘CHamorus are very proud’

She has only been back to Guam five times since she left, yet her passion for the culture, the food and her CHamoru-ness living in the Bay Area seem unabated.

“I think it’s just my upbringing, raised with my mom’s generation, you know, I was around a lot of them,” she said. “I love CHamoru food. You know, back then CHamoru restaurants didn’t exist out here. So we had to kind of do it ourselves. There were days where we were chopping for six or eight hours to prepare all the dishes we wanted to eat. I make my red rice with the seeds, I don’t use the achoti powder. My fina’denne’ is colorful like it should be, my barbecue is CHamoru barbecue. It takes me four hours to make frickin’ potato salad.”

“We have an amazing culture. I feel CHamorus are very proud people who are always quick to put a Guam seal on, you know, on their car or some kind of sticker, to identify us as CHamorus, especially the ones stateside,” she added.

Her visit home

Over the holidays she took a trip to Guam with her youngest daughter, Isabella Nardelli. It was Nardelli’s first trip to Guam, and she is almost 13, the same age as her mother when she left the island for good.

“She has been asking. She wanted to see the culture that’s part of me,” she said. “She just wanted to experience it, to understand my background, because I’m so passionate about my culture and community and family.”

“I drove over 800 miles in the eight days I was (on) Guam. I told my dad, and my dad was like, ‘How in the heck did you drive that far when this island is so small?’” she said. “I was gallivanting the whole time, just going to see family, it was crazy, it was a jam-packed trip.”

“I wanted Isabella to meet my dad, my family and my three half-siblings,” she said. “She felt very much at home. And you know hearing them tell each other that they love each other was special to me. Because I didn’t grow up with my dad, you know.”

“I didn’t even tell people I was going home. I only told my dad and my stepmom and one cousin,” she said.

But just like those days at the Dededo ranch when her grandfather wanted the family together, the word got out that she and Isabella were on island, and cousins started showing up.

Over 40 family members gathered for a barbecue on the beach that Saturday. “They brought the whole grill to the beach. They got there at 7 in the morning just to reserve the spot. We were there all day.”