Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ode to El Familia

Cuivis dolori remedium est patientia.

--Patience is the cure for all suffering.

This is a conversation I had with my mom, sometime during my terrible teen years:

MOM: What's wrong with you?! Have you forgotten where you came from??

ME: Where I came from? What, you mean some Third World country with a bunch of poor people?

MOM: Don't you ever say that! You are a Filipino--have some respect!!

ME: I know, but I was born in Canada so I am also a Canadian. Remember?

MOM: You think you're so smart because you speak fluent English and can manipulate conversations. But the truth is, you wouldn't be in the comfortable position you are now if it wasn't for the sacrifices made by your family!


After a few deep breaths, my newly composed mother began to tell me this story. I had heard much of this before, but now she made no qualms about filling in ALL the blanks....

MOM: When the Japanese came, we lost everthing. Our house was burned down during their occupation so that's why there are no photos from my childhood. Since my parents had 8 kids, they were not going to take any chances. We had to flee Davao.

The plan was to go to Cotobato since my mother, your Lola, had a brother there. This was a very long way on foot. We basically had to walk from one coast to another. It was a very long journey.

My father, your Lolo, carried all of the food and supplies that we needed. Your Lola carried your Auntie Nina near her chest since she was only a baby. I was just a toddler so your Auntie Linda carried me on her back the whole way.

We had to remain inconspicuous so the Japanese would not find us. So we often walked through fields. If my parents heard or saw anything suspcious we had to crouch down to the ground. Your Lola has since told me she was very very frightened during these times....

ME: Oh my GOD! Did you guys actually make it the whole way?

MOM: Amazingly, yes, we did. We stayed at my uncle's place in Pigcawayan, a city in Cotobato, until after the war.

ME: And then what happened?

MOM: We travelled back to Davao.

ME: You went back?

MOM: Well, my parents still thought we had a house to go home to. When we returned, that's when they discovered that our home was burned to the ground.

ME: That's so devastating!

MOM: It was, but remember, that was just a house. I think my parents were very thankful that we all actually survived.

ME: No kidding! That's an amazing story....

MOM: Well, there's still more. Do you want me to go on?

ME: Yeah Mom, for sure. Go for it.

MOM: So my father had fallen very ill in the years following the war. As his condition began to dramatically deteroriate, he eventually passed away from these complications.

This was very hard on my mother. She loved your Lolo so much. While he came from a very wealthy family, your Lola came from a very poor family. His family did not approve of this. In fact, they disowned him when he married her. So when he passed away, he did not have a lot of money to leave us.

My mother was very worried because she now had 8 mouths to feed, and we were all very young at the time--my oldest brother, your Uncle Tony, was 15 years-old. Your Uncle Danny, the youngest, was still a baby.

While your Lola was an intelligent woman, she only had an Elementary school education so her employment options were very limited. She also had many children to care for so she couldn't leave the house to work. This meant that your Uncle Tony was forced to sell fruits and vegetables on a street corner in order to put food on the table for us.

ME: Are you serious? Uncle Tony actually had to do that? He was like my age at that time!

MOM: Well, unlike you, he had no other options. It was not a glamorous job, but it was either that or starve.

ME: But I don't get it. How could you guys be living in total poverty and then somehow all become educated and immigrate to Canada and the States?

MOM: Be patient, I'm getting to that.

ME: OK, continue then.

MOM: So when hope was beginning to run-out for my family, my dad's sister suddenly arrived on our doorstep. What a godsend! She invited us all to move into her house so she could help us. Most of all, she was the catalyst for all of us getting an education.

Over the next few years, my aunt helped raise us and became our soul breadwinner. She would even pay for your Auntie Linda's and Uncle Tony's post-secondary education. This was a true gift since an education was the only ticket out of our poverty.

Once your Uncle Tony eventually graduated with a Master's Degree in Political Science, he made good on his final promise to our father....

ME: Promise?

MOM: Before your Lolo had died, Tony had told him he would take care of our mother and all of his siblings once he had the opportunity. And since he had just landed a good paying post-degree job, this was now the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Recognizing that our aunt had went above and beyond the call of duty, your Uncle Tony decided to take the responsibilty of paying for the rest of our college education.

Can you believe that? He sent us ALL to school! If it wasn't for your Uncle Tony, your Auntie Nina, Uncle Joe, Uncle Rene, Uncle John, Uncle Danny, and myself would not have had the opportunity to earn the degrees we have today.

ME: That's absolutely incredible! But how did Uncle Tony have the time to send all of you guys to school and start his own family?

MOM: He didn't. Helping us all get an education came at the price of his own personal life. Since he was so busy working crazy hours, there was just no time for dating or socializing, much alone getting married. When he did finally settle down, he was already nearing his forties.

ME: Wow, Uncle Tony is such an extraordinary person! So self-less. I mean all of you guys are amazing come from nothing and end up where you are today. Mom...I'm really sorry about what I said earlier. I really had no idea....

MOM: That's all right, hija. You come from a different world, so of course it is difficult for you to understand another kind of life. All we ask you to do is remember...and recognize that you come from a very special legacy. You are a Filipino.


Divinyl said...

Awesome post BB! What an amazing story? Not easy to get your head around as someone who has been so priveliged eh? Uncle Tony sounds like a very special guy who, in turn, you owe the life you have to.

I wish I had family storues of the same scope!

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Thanks so much divinyl! When I was younger, it really hard to understand and appreciate my roots because I basically grew up in this comfortable Canadian bubble. But once I went to university and started to become more socially conscious I was like: Wait a minute, the only thing separating me from the girl living in the slums of Manila is that my family was lucky enough to have an education--that's it. It's a pretty crazy epiphany!

karloff said...

Wow, great post. It's amazing what people can do for their families, hella inspiring.

Black_Mamba said...

What an inspiring post CC. I think it's great seeing the world through our parents' eyes, I just don't say it as often - not to them at least..........

Thank you for the wonderful message. I feel much better now.....


webmaster pomona said...

You came from a wonderful family--great story, thanx for posting. Also as one of the Japanese, I apologize for the acts of savagery and awful harm we had done to Philippines. We tend towards focusing on our victim-hood but not the darker side-of being a tormentor (and we are the ones suffereing the most, my opinion). Thanx again---

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Thanks karloff ;) This story was on my mind a lot lately so I just had to share it!

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Ivy, thank you my dear. Yes, this is a story that definitely keeps me in check most of the time :)

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

Hi webmaster pomona...

Nice to see you! I just wanted to let you know that you don't have to apologize for anything! Aggression begets retaliation which is basically the nature of war. I mean the Japanese people suffered tremendously in WWII, and still continue to feel the aftermath of the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki (both of which were great atrocities). In the end, there is no real winner when it comes to warfare.

mschumey07 said...

Love the story, reminds me of what my father went through during those years. Thanks for sharing this.

Nyte said...

Ty bamboo for your comments on my blog and i love how youve got your blog Its inspiring and nice to see people out there still care its a rarity nowdays keep up the good work


Nyte...Thanks so much for your kind words and taking the time to visit my humble blog!

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