Could a father shape his child’s destiny?
Serafin Albano, my father taken when he was in the seminary in Vigan

Serafin Albano, my father taken when he was in the seminary in Vigan

Often, intensely quiet in insulated spaces is how days unfold here, undistracted spaces that let roam vibrant memories like this week. As I write this piece midway through selecting my poems for a Poetry Reading event at the Chapters Bookstore downtown, my first ever, sponsored by Vancouver Haiku Group to which I belong, the late Serafin Albano, my father—a central figure in my writing life—looms largely.

If he did not impose his will on my choice of what I’d be, I could be languishing now in a dark even dank office somewhere in a turn-of-the century old building in Avenida where notaries get signed and sealed for a small fee if I didn’t get a teaching job, that is. He lugged me instead led by the youngest of my mother’s brothers, then in his junior year at UST’s Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, to the office of the dean. I had waffled but in a quick turn of mind, I plunged into a future of writing. But I ended up neither a journalist nor a poet not until decades after graduation and long after he had died. Instead, I sneaked into a writing career via public relations, ghost-writing for years.

From a back glance this morning in a continent way across the Pacific, I feel that I had glossed over how my father felt through those years I got stalled in what he couldn’t understand as tossing out words and images in anonymity. Picking through hints, I remember how he must have had great dreams of my name spangled on printed pages, as in his first wrapped gift on my eighth birthday, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper that he dedicated with a noble quote beyond a child’s grasp: “Education supplants intelligence but does not supply it.” Telling me a book was easier to find, he had hoped this gift would inspire me to write more—I had a year before then, sent him, where he lived and worked in Manila, a four-line poem scrawled on grade two paper, a ruse to ask for a doll.

Yes, I did write but not feeling particularly inspired only fed with words, perhaps, from books he and my mother piled on me. Early in college, I wrote a hilarious narrative on how giggly, overacting, mostly spoiled girls in a dormitory run by nuns from across UST, my first published article in Philippine Graphic magazine, in its ‘Student’s Page’ with my picture and a note on the author. It had so elated my father, he carried the issue opened on that page and showed it to everyone including waitresses. Some months later, I followed it up with an essay on fishes, which I used as a metaphor for the kinds of people we get to know in this “ocean of life”. I made him so happy he treated me out, and my friends at the dorm to dinner almost weekly. But none came long after that.

In a sudden spurt, probably stimulated by my travels in my job at the then National Media Production Center, I began weaving words into lyrical pieces for Dick Pascual’s travel page at the defunct Daily Express. My father brought each piece to Magallanes Drive, trudging his way through grime-textured air. Among the stash I dug out when clearing out stuff to immigrate to here, was a rough album he sewed on the side of those published pieces. And then again, I skidded into anonymity.

Still, we argued furiously about writing. Our last word-spars focused on my defunct Newsday lifestyle page, my first ever newspaper job. More critical and cutting than the late Teddy Berbano, then managing editor, my father devastated me by his correctness those evenings I dropped by to see him and my mother on my way to my own home—I had married by then. He had died by the time my page started shaping up and later when I wrote weekly full-page feature stories for Sunday lifestyle at Inquirer.

Once coming home from New York much later, I found the fiction writing paperback he kept sliding before me that I left unread, and cried and cried. The author, R. V. Cassill, also authored the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from which my instructor in a writing course I took at NYU’s Continuing Education program selected our readings. Leafing through the pages he dog-eared and underlined, I had realized it’s exactly what I was learning. I’ve grappled with challenges he couldn’t have imagined like writing in NY alongside native speakers of English. But each step of the way, I would find his imprint.

Could a father shape a child’s destiny, carving a path like mine that I had long wavered to follow straight on? On the podium to read my published and award-winning poems here in Vancouver, a crowd their blond, blue, hazel, gray, maybe some black even green Irish eyes on me, I’m sure my father though invisible to all would be seated in the front row.

 Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror, Manila, June 24, 2013

Funding pasahe and baon for kids via cyberspace, possible?

WHAT would a child do if he has money for fare to get to school but nothing for food, or has a meal allowance but would have to walk two hours through dirt roads, singling along highway sides—a choice that, either way, cancels the possibility to be in school, doesn’t it? Yet, children in countless Philippines rural towns apparently anguish over this dilemma every day. If some make it to school with what their parents could scrape for fare, they would be drowsing, known to pair with hunger, by midafternoon; most simply drop out as has been commonly reported.

I suppose those who recognize that such a problem has long existed  would find comfort on learning that this, too, rears its ugly head, though in another guise, in American schools, where the state, under the National School Lunch Program subsidized by the federal government, provides food either for free, at reduced prices, or paid in full, depending on parents’ income. The program, started in 1946, has since served 224 billion lunches and cost $11.6 billion in 2012; its implementation, though, has not only differed per school charter but also among states, causing a few controversies. 

The practice of stamping or marking out a child who gets lunch for free or whose account had run low, hence embarrassing him or her, had led to the alleged firing of Noelle Roni, a former principal in Peak to Peak, Colorado, as recently reported in The Huffington Post. On the other hand, commiserating with his classmates who had been shamed by the practice has inspired Cayden Taipulus, a 3rd Grader, “to launch a fund-raiser online and collected nearly $11,000 enough to buy his classmates lunch for the rest of the year” through a social-networking site and posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.

No basis of linking the topic to Filipino schoolchildren who have nary a hint that free lunch could be possible, right? Wrong. I do know of an initiative, though hardly resembling the US program—its funds, for one, to provide what parents can’t ever afford to send their children to school can take in only four students per class year from Grade 7 to fourth-year high school. Not of an organization but an informal alumni group of Bacarra National Comprehensive High School (BNCHS) in Ilocos Norte, nothing about it sounds like something already known to have rooted, even if still quite fragile, so far.

Iliw, its name, a fanciful acronym for a quixotic dream on Innovative Learning Initiatives and Ways for Bacarra, in truth, describes a sentiment its members on a Yahoo! group site Tony Ponce owns that fired them to set up the sponsorship. In Iluko, iliw not only means nostalgia, it could also conjure up gestures that burst with longing, which, in this case, happened on cyberspace and not just for a night but nightly for about a year. So gripping had the memory-swapping affected the otherwise amorphous camp of alumni from varied class years, at first merely exchanging patchy messages about reunions, that when an author joined with a book on collective memories of their town in mind, Tony’s site soon swarmed with “raucous regulars,” tossing in what they recalled, unraveling years in Bacarra long misted by exile.

From corners on syncopated time zones in the US and Canada, some in Europe, a few in the Middle East and in the Philippines, the virtual friends “prowled” Bacarra’s streets, “talking” of the same everything; they even discovered blood kinship among them, charted the town’s map by memory, though possibly extant by now, and revived their tongue by then lost in their alien lives with lessons in Iluko 101 that Rufino Tangonan, a math teacher in Texas, started with word-meaning quizzes. But life eventually began to creep on their idyll on cyberspace—if one of them had not gone home and driven by memories dropped by BNCHS, bringing back to the group a poignant picture of some students trudging miles or hungry in school, the group could have just thinned out into air.

But their boldness held up and birthed Iliw ti Bacarra, a sponsorship they funded with disparate amounts out of their pockets, wired to a PNB account in Laoag City and disbursed by an officer to the school. While the book that triggered memories remains cached, and most Iliw members now at least have “met” on Facebook, the third batch of graduates finished this year with two of them from the Special Science Class (not a scholarship, Iliw expects only passing average but most of all, the will to graduate).

As upperclassmen in the program will be assessed, about 30 would soon be gathered again to be screened at the BNCHS library—Victoria Albano, not an alumna but a Bacarrena in Vancouver and donor, nonetheless, prays for those not chosen. Would they face each day without pasahe or baon like perhaps thousands somewhere in the islands? I know this sounds old news oft-repeated, so much so that instead of drawing compassion the image invites indifference. Or how else could one explain the yawning gap in schooling between over-privileged and more-than-poor Filipino children? Maybe we could all storm the heavens for a duplication of Iliw or for more to hop in on it.

(Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, March 31, 2014)