Filipineses


In search of food paradise 

 

 

We haven’t taken the hour-long journey to Hen Long in nearby Surrey for quite a while, hence, missing how with a thick body-rope of Filipinos and other Asians, we would furiously navigate the knotty sprawl of bins and baskets that overflow with what seem like gems to our wistful, nay, greedy eyes, as friends had assured us—they who, we’d bump into, with a ‘high five,’ and a high-pitched, “Nandito ka rin!”

Akin to a pilgrimage, as Rose promised, I think it’s how Hen Long felt like—the oh-so-missed palengke we’ve all grown up with, which drew us paradise-like. Indeed, as home recedes farther, longing for food made from Saturday rituals of trudging say, to Sta Mesa’s wet market sharpens, like my sister, who would go straight to her suki for fresh-caught tilapia from Bulacan and just-that-morning gathered tahong from Cavite. And so, with innate primal sensory senses, she had tracked down not substitutes but the real thing before I got here to Vancouver.

 

I thought I had the upper hand in sourcing what would bring out something like genuine dishes from home, having visited and stayed those years, when I dared to enroll in writing courses at New York University’s Continuing Education programs and apprenticed with an editorial outfit for children’s supplementary reading workbooks. I discovered then, substitutions for say, tinolang manok with zucchini in place of murang papaya and hardy Italian spinach for dahong sili; in the absence of gabi for thickening, I used tofu for sinigang na ulo ng salmon, again with Italian spinach, finding nowhere in the neighborhood produce stores, talbos or pechay.

 

During Lent, searching for fish other than cod fillet, I had imagined I would find catfish, served as blackened fillet in restaurants, but like most fish here in North America, by the time it gets to the shelves, it’s unrecognizable filleted sans whiskers and skin. Diligent poking though among frozen bags had rewarded me with catfish nuggets, and of the best part—its belly, out of which I used to cook adobo that would last through the fasting season.

 

None of that for my sister, who, like most Filipinos, would not compromise the taste she remembers. Hence, we would train up to far north Surrey and walk a half-mile from the station to Hen Long market. What joy, indeed, to find fresh saluyot and malunggay leaves for dinengdeng (Ilocano abraw), thin eggplants and small ampalaya for pakbet, sometimes though limp and already brownish in the tips, sayote tops, as well, Manila clams and even paros or unnok among Ilocanos, and cuts for dinuguan with, of course, the essential dugo, pinapaitan, including the greenish papait juice.

 

But here’s the rub: Such bliss proves costly and why not, as one store manager in the small produce store a block away from home to whom I had complained about the $4 per pound mango from Cebu blurted out, “It was flown on a Boeing 747!” A thin bunch of malunggay leaves, for another, neatly bagged in transparent plastic, still green to the eye—but which when taken out would fall like confetti—costs almost enough to buy a kilo of rice in Manila. Sayote tops because of their limited shelf life would be as pricey as a kilo of beef from a karnehan in Quiapo.

 

Was it BC Premiere Christy Clark’s visit to Manila, which brought about an inundation of Philippine food in Vancouver, perhaps? We haven’t gone to Hen Long for a while (now housed in its own spanking grand plaza), it’s at T&T, a giant Asian grocery and produce market irresistibly located at our train stop close to home, where we’ve found the same eden; why wouldn’t we drop by almost daily even just to browse shelves with Saranggani bangus and tilapia cheeks, frozen gabi, saba, patani, kinudkod na kamoteng kahoy, laman ng buko, Pampanga tocino, Ilocano longganisa even Magic Melt ensaymada, Selecta and Magnolia ice cream.

 

Sure, haven’t we, as Filipinos, long adapted to other cuisines, not to mention what’s Hispanic and Chinese in our food, introduced to Italian and even French dining, as well as not too long ago, Japanese and Middle Eastern? I remember the burgers we loved as university students at the corner of Avenida and Claro M. Recto, but soon came McDonald’s. Long before the pizza chain conquest of Manila, D’Mark’s served what seemed closest to what we now bite into. Still, deep in our nests, the yearning for food with which we were brought up continues to rumble through our dreams.

 

Three weeks ago on a deep bin at T&T, along with Mexican papayas and Chinese pomelos, there gleamed big guayabano packs, to my slight dismay from Thailand; anyhow, though priced like two sushi dinners, my sister bought one for me, and frozen saba for her. On reaching home, we chewed on our memories, wordless in thought. And then, somehow reality sneaked in unbidden with a string of reklamo: The guayabano tasted too bread-y, and the saba not maligat. We stopped there and fell into what felt obvious—how is it ever possible to implant home in another hemisphere, anyway?

 

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Self-discovery in Cebu

The tanim-bala scare that had magnified into an obsessive search for the most secure luggage and body wallet for my sister and me, chewed up a third of our travel budget to Cebu last January. Add to that, one with extra space for safe-food packages and emergency pills for allergies, especially from anything ingested. 

How comforting to find out that we didn’t have monopoly of such irrationality—at YVR, our fellow pilgrims also streamed in, pushing gigantic versions of our ultra-streamlined unbreakable medium-sized luggage. All nodding acquaintances of each other at Holy Rosary Cathedral or in our parishes, we high-fived that early evening, flushed with anticipation to attend the 51st (and second in the Philippines) International Eucharistic Congress; except for a few who had gone to the spiritual event held every four years, most of us would be first-timers.

Asked by my sister what to expect in a congress, I hesitated to share what I recall of the few I had attended—possibly ho-hum stretches of talks and plenary sessions. But from the hefty kit handed to us on our arrival, the schedule had seemed daunting instead, with chanted prayers, Holy Masses, catechesis, and witnessing. We had taken on the identity of “delegates” by then, with an ID bracelet to be worn even in sleep, also a laminated tag with our name and country in bold font.

None of my imaginings humored me from hereon: Not the danger-laced daily trek through hot and dusty streets to get to the proceedings—a cop-escorted luxury coach fetched us from and took us back to the hotel; or the staid picture I had of the John Paul II Pavilion—the open-walled congress site, with cloth panels for a ceiling turned out cheery, even roaring and jubilant. In it, swarmed 15,000 delegates daily, possibly more, as well as hundreds of religious, mostly Filipinos, including the Papal Legate Charles Cardinal Bo, bishops, archbishops and cardinals from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, singing, praising, and applauding.

And soon we relaxed into just being ourselves, focusing cameras, clicking for selfies, crisscrossing aisles to find washrooms, and at lunch on Styrofoam boxes, picnicking, swapping food and life stories, and, yes, texting—all amid impassioned catechesis and homilies, which always extolled the Filipinos’ unabashed “love for the Eucharist.” We had formed a family by Day Two, with our seatmates on both sides, marking in the vastness our space but lost our fellow Vancouverites since.

From Day One, we whirled non-stop with events like visits to the city’s churches, a barrio fiesta, and on to the last three days, which ended physically grueling. Take these: a five-kilometer sunset-to-evening procession of the Eucharist that ballooned to an estimated million, which though, with fat candles, not a strand of hair got singed. Next, a concelebrated Holy Mass on a seething afternoon that sent us up the topmost bleacher seats of the Cebu City Sports Complex, which former Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal officiated for 5,000 first communicants, himself one such at the 1937 congress in Manila.

The concluding rites at Statio Orbis (Stations of the World) way out next door to the humungous SM Seaside, in five of the 25 hectares, where a template of the San Pedro Calungsod Shrine’s altar served the occasion, again got inundated by another estimated 1 million Cebuanos, among whom my sister and I managed to squeeze in, shaded by tall umbrella-bearing women. On only two occasions, two fainted from the heat; all seemed drunk with an inexplicable sense of simply flocking together in response to Christ’s “convocare” for supper, as Luis Cardinal Tagle described it.

The congress would be, for my sister, a burst of self-discovery: herself moaning in grief with every TFC news of disaster, crime, abuse and neglect, causing endless poverty, she finally realized why we, Filipinos, indeed, survive—we do possess an incredible gift, nay, blessing of incorrigible joy, apparently inimitably ours.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, April 3, 2016



Canopies of tender pink

 

No sighting in my past could have prepared me for cherry blossoms. The closest perhaps would have been the sprigs of kakawati in summer. But they didn’t create canopies of tender pink, recoloring the sky, which cherry blossoms do. Entranced on my first spring in North America, I lost every word that would mean, awe, toddling with eyes up and dropped jaw through rows of them in full bloom at Washington Square in Manhattan, later at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the Jefferson Mall in Washington, DC.

Today, where I live in Vancouver, BC, I simply race the wind two blocks from home to neighboring streets and get suffused in hues of silky pink. I’ve joined revelers with Vancouver Haiku Group, of which I’m a member, on Sakura (cherry blossom) Days, as well, at Van Dusen Gardens. Still, no matter the jamming, shared cheer, especially shrieks of children seeing them for the first time in other gatherings like at the Japanese cenotaph at Stanley Park in honor of Japanese Canadians who fought in WWI, the Burrard St. Skytrain station, and countless streets in the city, always a hush falls on many stunned by the pink glow.

Whispers, in fact, hint at reverence for me, during scheduled viewings, usually three days—like they say of women, at the “peak of their beauty”—because on the fourth day, a pink drizzle might begin. Uncannily, too, the wind as if in haste, might follow with gusts, causing a petal storm that would inundate sidewalks and lawns. Blue skies, then soon reappear within a week through bare-again crowns, while brownish leaf sprouts spike the nodes, as the cherry trees revert to just-trees.

As brief as a held-breath, perhaps explains the urgency behind viewings and festivals as timing must coincide with the trees’ inner clocks. While the flowers as harbinger of spring should bloom at almost the same time as last year, dates had not seemed to be exact and flowering happens in waves; buds burst early in warmer regions, and on to cooler areas, climbing northward to higher places, according to my readings. Like right now here at home, while a ‘daily watch’ website has reported several viewings, including the Accolade cherry blossoms at City Hall, trees in my Marpole neighborhood have yet to bloom.

Picture almost identical scenes of families and friends swarming under the blossoms in Japan, where viewings started during the Edo period, and to this day, picnicking, sipping sake and tea as depicted in kimono embroidery, woodblock prints, canvas and porcelain paintings and other arts. Duplicate this in Europe, South America, Australia, and Canada, crowding under the blossoms, perhaps like the now 50,000 trees in Vancouver, gifts from the Japanese, and you find a world enrapt.

Would some of them, wrapped in beauty, be pondering on ‘the transience of things’? And perhaps, accept with gentle sadness the ‘pathos of our existence’? If so, then viewing cherry blossoms would be for naught; it could even be a source of strength like how Japanese soldiers expecting defeat in Leyte apparently asked that they be “permitted to bloom as flowers of death”, echoing the last known message that invoked, “Sakura, Sakura”, earlier in the Battle of Peliliu (Palau), where like cherry blossoms so soon shed in millions, 10,000 said to be mostly young fell.

While I have ceased to wonder why Sakura festivals begin to swirl as soon as buds sort of break into a smile, first, and then, as if overnight, burst full-faced to cover what had been ghostly gnarled limbs in the winter, and then, in a whiff, as if by a sleight of hand, they’re gone, nothing prepared me for the subtle transformations wrought by cherry blossom storms. Think how evanescent beauty really is, how ephemeral life could be, how close our own existence to the cherry blossoms, indeed.

Published in Peregrine Notes (Alegria Imperial) at The Market Monitor, Manila, Philippines, March 16, 2015

 

 



On Legacies

 

What legacies we carry hardly ever figure out in our daily lives with bequeathals like mansions and other such obvious signs of wealth being the exceptions, of course; more common to us, like mine, in varying degrees hardly overwhelm or glitter. Often summarized in a word as ‘values’, which may include status either inherited or earned by noble action, even a way of life, families are their innate source. I would add that learning either from school or one’s own pursuits broaden legacies, and even at times turn out as sources of more priceless legacies like history as well as peace and beauty in landscapes from travels, that ironically for most, are often less valued for their amorphous nature.

Such peregrinations wouldn’t have fallen on me had I not traveled to Vermont farther north of New York last month. Or again, I didn’t count on it, expecting instead, endless romps on green meadows that the Green Mountains let nestle on their bosom. Would but Nature was all I dwelt on: cloud shapes like grazing sheep on cheeks, mountain mist on waist of giant fir descending in diaphanous calm, expansive skies as if eternity were within one’s tipped toes.

But haven’t I viewed my own legacy of the heavens back in the islands where I’m from? How easy to sound as if that spot on earth where one might be instantly implanted were the most wondrous sight. More amazing is the realization that each spot is but a window to a land and sky or seascape configured by geological shifts and human history—the Philippine archipelago would draw gushes of awe from foreign visitors as much as a Filipino would of theirs like Vermont for me.  

And so, as a traveler must zero in on destination, my friend and I drove for meal and bed in a century-old inn, which turned out as if we were unleashed into another time, again, one that I’ve merely conjured from art, books and the movies—the end of the 19th century preserved in Wilmington and lived by its people to the present day as effortlessly as waking up in both the dawns of their ancestors and their own. In the course of the trip, I discovered more of it, as the state of Vermont has simply resisted the physical corrosion of time. Apparently, families have carried on their legacies smoothly without seams.

My friend and I woke on our first day not just to a present of black-framed French windows thrown open to the mist seeping up rivers and streams that trickle around roots of flowering hydrangeas, the delicate picket fences of white balconied homes, farm estates rising on grassy knolls or glinting like an accent on foot hills but also a way of life as tactile as a child’s first touch of a goat’s horn or sinking fingertips into a sheep’s coat, a moment as vibrant as the moo of cows in the glen. A few solid pillars of silos pivot on one’s eyes, and sugar shacks divert one’s glimpse off the sprawl.

During a brief pause after a breakfast of squash omelet, made of fresh picked vegetables and multi-grain pancakes doused in farm made maple syrup, we rocked on a wooden swing at the balcony of our century-old inn, taking in the breeze that brushed an unhurried town of laced windows and a clock tower with a rooster pointing its beak where the wind goes. Strolling on Main Street in a pace that would have asked of dirndl skirts and a parasol, I couldn’t resist climbing a boardwalk that led to artists’ workshops, where in one, if it were not Labor Day, I could have sat for a pencil portrait.

An inner court shaded by cherry and apple trees, curves by the country store where the touch of woolen yarn from the local sheep triggered a picture I loved in my nursery book of a grandmother knitting on a rocking chair that was displayed, too, in a corner. We would later find in farmers’ markets fruit preserves in mason jars and maple sugar in clay pots alongside apples named after their grower like Robert Frost’s, yes, the poet we revered in our youth once lived in a cottage we did go to in nearby Shaftsbury, where he ventured, though failed, into farming.

Would this be a mere feast of travel memories? As a visitor, it’s a thought that is quite valid. But this is where my consciousness tore in half—I began to live them even taking some as my own legacy while knowing it’s but borrowed for a few days. Still, I realize, writing about it just now as stolen legacies from Wilmington locals, which by simply and staunchly preserving by living them have, unknowingly perhaps, enhanced their value by passing these on not to only to their children but to strangers who now claim a share like I have.

Published in Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, October 7, 2013



Water, water, everywhere…
July 16, 2014, 3:14 pm
Filed under: opinion, travel

When picnicking in my teens in Bacarra, we would dig a hole on the river shore, leave it for water to fill in, and voila, we had a sand-filtered drinking well. On rare days of water interruption in my growing up years, soon after a bandillo beating his tambor and playing a píccolo (flute) would come around where the main road forked to inner streets to announce it, neighbors with clay water jars balanced on the head and kerosene jars outfitted with a wooden handle would line up, braiding what’s new about whom while inching up for their turn at the town artesian pump. Too, the wood cover of an old well, which I heard had existed since my paternal great grandfather’s time, would be pushed aside, as the pail kept under the house among broken tools in a hutch, taken out, cleaned and refitted to the lever pulled down for dipping.

Otherwise, water from the faucet had seemed hardly ever absent. In high school, with lazy water flowing out of old faucets in the Home Economics building, we cooked our bean soup and guinataan to sell on the front windows to male classmates eager to please someone they couldn’t talk to without an excuse. Breathless after softball or volleyball in Physical Education, we quenched our thirst by leaning onto a faucet, and catching the stream that overflowed to our cheek—we girls later realized why the boys patiently waited for their turn, facing us; we had been mindful of our necklines since.
Later in my job, on a coverage to Surigao del Norte for Philippines Today, an international magazine of the then National Media Production Center, our hosts, who toured photographer Tony Villaverde and me, carried bamboo tubes slung on their shoulders to gather water from a spring, which we drank by turns. Only once did I drink buko juice in place of water; on an overnight coverage of the doves that fly to Ursula Island in Palawan with then Tourist Officer Ellen Hagedorn, via a pump boat a young prince of Bataraza and his thin retinue sailed, she and I stole from a kerosene can half-filled with water to wash our face, leaving less for morning coffee and to drink.

Writing these, I feel none of it ever happened and as if I’m stealing others’ idylls in books or long ago stories told to me. When did I last trust drinking water served on a pitcher or worse scooped from a well? But I recall, and I’m sure you do, horrifying scenarios underlying survival in Manila in the mid-80s when, along with rotating brownouts, water began to sputter or disappear in faucets. Water pumps had turned into a must-have though quite insufficient as Manilans in old areas often broke into small-scale wars over whose pump sucked out the most volume; one image triggered most of my nightmares—when away at work, my parents had to haul buckets of drinking water up three flights of fire escape from the first-floor neighbors’ tap.

I can’t remember though when I began to regress like a child sipping water from a plastic bottle. Could it have been around the 90s when global water wars on rights, distribution, and soon, commercialization of water, exploded? By the time I packed away my life in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada, I had lost all memory of scooping water from a spring with my hands so much so that I hesitated, even feared, stepping close to a stream deep in the forge fed by virgin falls of Lynne Valley, North Vancouver; I held on for comfort the bottled water in my backpack instead. A variety of water-in-a-bottle as well as refillable containers offers countless choices since.

Yet, if quite heavy to carry on an overnight trip, looking for bottled water could be an adventure even a saga like a friend’s and mine last week during a nostalgic visit to Baltimore; at the hotel, finding for once, two 12-ounces of bottled water beside the ice bucket, which we thought as complimentary, we sighed our disappointment on reading an attached note—if consumed, we would be billed $2 each. Trusting what we once knew of the city, and from having bought larger-sized bottles for less in other states, we had set out to the closest grocery on Charles Street but found a sad unlit shadow of its old self.

We moved on, recalling a pair of convenience stores further down, but kept passing by tony facades of new buildings and no store. On to the Inner Harbor, we had hoped to get any size of water bottle at what we recalled the food court; it turned out in the years since we last visited, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum had replaced it. My thirst had intensified by then, but still we stood fast by our conviction that water should not be priced like gold. Turning back up on St. Paul’s Street, after a couple of miles and almost an hour, finally, we spotted a beacon in a 7-Eleven store, selling a dollar-a-liter of Deer Park.

As if to tease us, a drizzle started the rest of our way back to the hotel, streaming in runnels, while behind us Chesapeake Bay heaved voluminous water.

Peregrine Notes by Alegria Imperial, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Manila, June 7, 2014 (this post the unedited version)



By just being a Filipino, finding the unexpected at every turn in Rome

‘DI ba ang Vatican eh ’yung Basilica lang? Saan kayo tumira?” My sister asked on Facetime, catching me still awake from jet lag. “True, Citta del Vaticano, with its 800 inhabitants all working for the Holy See, has no place for pilgrims,” I replied, and stuttered through details that would take me days to smoothen.

Eleanor and I landed in Eternal Rome, so like a dream that at the Prati B&B of Alessandra Bounaccorsi on Via degli Scipioni, the grinding of a dumpster bolted us out of bed. Later walking toward Citta del Vaticano nine minutes away, we had seemed afloat on streets perfumed by wisteria streaming from balconies like in a movie, through fashion boutiques, trattoria and garden shops. And suddenly, in a mercato, bunches of musot (bulaklak ng kalabasa), apparently used with mozzarella in a panini, transported me to my grandmother’s table.

With driving à la Manila, we had dodged zooming cars as we crossed wide boulevards and, soon, waving off hustlers who offer “no lineup for a fee” to Vatican Square, spotting in us a kababayan they could perhaps inveigle. More of the unexpected in our Roman dream began; shortly, we bumped into a huddle of nuns. “Filipino?” asked one, and all three lit up as we nodded, “Oo!!” But “pilgrims all aren’t we?” chirped the youngest. They belong to a convent of the Sacred Heart Order in Sicily.

Rome’s goldish sun ushered us finally into Vatican Square by then packed with hundreds of herded tourists and pilgrims. So awed with our necks craned to heights scaled to eternity as in those childhood estampitas, we fell into a hush. We had to whirl around to take it all in, the basilica with its balcony from where the Pope emerges at Christmas and Easter on television to greet us in his urbi et orbi, its dome and the colonnade, the marble figures of Christ, the apostles and saints we know by heart poised in the wind—where we stood, a Roman necropolis in Nero’s time, early Christians had been executed by him, Saint Peter among those crucified.

Inside the basilica, overwhelmed by the magnificence but especially a touching-distance to the Cathedra Petri, Saint Peter’s papal chair, behind the baldachin, I resisted blinking. “Filipino? Yes, a Holy Mass will begin in a few minutes,” the usher let us into a girded area facing the high altar, pulling us away from the thick flow of just-gawking crowds. “Dominus vobiscum” reverberated through the sung Mass concelebrated by about a dozen cardinals; Eleanor and I responded from memory, “Et cum espiritu tuo,” even singing, “Pater Noster” and “Agnus Dei,” transported to the dawn Masses in the dark brick churches of our youth.

Brought back to the square by a gushing stream after Holy Mass, we plunged unknowingly into an expectant wave, crying out for “Papa Francesco!” Soon, from a window high above the colonnade, he addressed us, straining body-to-body to catch him, thumb-size from the ground, but suffused with his discernible smile, his warmth, reliving in me how I felt on first seeing Pope John Paul II, long ago it seems, as his open carriage wheeled through Magsaysay Boulevard in Manila.

A daunting line to Musei Vaticani almost crumbled our resolve next day. But we persevered from a tail that snaked uphill along the wall behind the basilica to papal palaces once, now museums of relics from Greco-Roman civilizations, through halls of ecclesiastical and classical art—the utmost being Michelangelo’s stunning ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel so configured as the tour’s climax. Amid such magnitude, suddenly I understood what perfection in art means decades after Humanities courses at the University of Santo Tomas—why shouldn’t Art be the Church’s legacy?

Still a palpable sense of vulnerability, yet impregnability pervade not only in the museums’ telling of Church history but also in preserved structures, as in the massive Castel Sant’Angelo, first a mausoleum of pope-kings then a fort, that till now looms over the Tiber just outside Vatican walls. Saint Michael the Archangel’s fierce vigilance from a tower still pierces peering eyes—he, whom Catholics invoke as shield from ruinous enemies and who Josie Darang calls when fear overtakes her, like in a cab hurtling through Manila’s streets.

“Filipino kayo, Ate?” A salesgirl had caught us in a shop outside the walls, browsing for souvenirs that could extend our precious euros. She filled a basket with refrigerator magnets, and spangled her breast with nylon scarves for us to choose; the whole stretch had a Filipino vying to pull in a fellow Filipino, reminding me of Central Market’s turo-turo aisles—a poignant note to an uplifting day.

After two days of pasta, Eleanor and I began to crave rice served only in a Pakistani restaurant as per tourist guides. But sauntering along Via Giulio Cesare, we had brushed by a hole-in-the-wall named Sarap. “Filipino kayo?” we asked the obvious; not only did we get a serving of rice but the all-male restaurant of young Pinoys also paired it with sarciadong salmon. The answer to my sister’s question by then had taken a twist: Indeed, by just being Filipinos, we found unexpected parts of us at every turn in Citta del Vaticano and Rome outside of its walls.

Published in Peregrine Notes, Alegria Imperial, Business Mirror Philippines, April 19, 2014



Citizenship, what does it mean?
With my certificate of Canadian Citizenship

With my certificate of Canadian Citizenship

Citizenship if acquired by birth is simply a way of life, I believe, and not thought about. In truth, I never knew what it was being a Filipino citizen. 

Was it in being solemn during the flag raising ceremonies from grade to high school? I recall how the class sergeant-at-arms used to get me back in the line because when bored I’d break out of it to talk with a seatmate, three warm bodies up. Was it joining the Girl Scouts of the Philippines?  My troop learned how to cook bean soup in the beach though it was gritty, and yes, we planted a tree on Josefa Llanes Escoda Day behind the library in our high school, with none of us touching the soil, as we formed a lunette to watch our adviser and the principal, dig and put in a mango seedling that really never grew in the two years before my batch graduated.

"Mythogyny", and anthology of BC elder women' s true stories we gathered on tape, which I co-edited

“Mythogyny”, and anthology of BC elder women’ s true stories we gathered on tape, which I co-edited

With members of Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT), the volunteer organization to which I belonged

With members of Women Elders in Action (WE*ACT), the volunteer organization to which I belonged

Was it immersing myself in Philippine history not from learning in the classroom but stories I

gathered and later lived? My first encounter with colonial history left me tongue-tied from awe in an interview I had with the late Fr. Jesus Merino, OP, then director of UST’s museum of history and sciences for our college campus paper, The Flame.

If a moment in time had some kind of spirit, that interview must have cast a spell on me, so much so that I married a restoration architect, the late Felix N. Imperial II, who lived and breathed not only the ruins of Intramuros but the history and mythic stories embedded in them. One historical perception he inculcated in me is this: with thicker defense lines landward than seaward, the Spaniards definitely feared not invaders but Filipinos.

Did hopping in on those jeepneys that rounded us up, voters, in the three elections I got to vote make me a citizen? What a fiesta those days were with the candidates’ minions scrambling for a handshake or a hand as if to lead one to a seat of honor. I remember the grand fun an aunt, my age, and I had those election weeks in our childhood where our mothers, both public school teachers served as inspectors in the polling places, and we had stay in at our house, sharing a mat, pillows and a “mosquitero”as well as gothic stories told to us by our “kadkadua” (helper). By the time I had to vote, there was but one choice, Marcos, of my home province.

Was getting drawn into the maelstrom of the Second Quarter Storm, but not deeply knowing what I personally struggled to oppose, being a citizen? A former classmate whom I met in the shadows under which we would talk sent me away, doubting if I had to follow to the end our idols then, Voltaire Garcia, Joel Rocamora and Edgar Jopson. He told me that I, like a flotsam, simply lolled in the current because I felt none of the oppression fought against. I dropped out.

Years later, in my job for government media, I would meet in the flesh the haunting gauntness of hunger and suffering among malnourished children, farmers barely surviving their confusion that came with agrarian reform, wives scraping the soil during draught or railing at Mayon during an eruption one day before a harvest, and they wrenched my guts. But the same job had also brought me to paradise-like spots where I often wish to this day to be transported.

Yet, was I being a citizen when during the People’s Revolution what mattered most for me had to do with a deadline? And as if there had been no two raging rivers when later I leaped on to serve the new administration of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Digging into the arts like a ballet on Noli Me Tangere’s Elias, crying over a 100-year old pain, I must have finally synthesized my being a Filipino.

But again, I encouraged my sister, a chemist, to apply for immigration to Canada, convincing her of the moribund state of sciences in the Philippines. She kicked and screamed against leaving but her papers came faster than her prayers to be denied. Even faster was the approval of her petition to get me, and my papers to immigrate. I left behind a swath of life-artifacts from clearing out in three months a life I thought I’d never look back to again.

At the book launching of "Mythogyny" with Ted Alcuitas, then editor and publisher of now-defunct Silangan, where I served as associate editor

At the book launching of “Mythogyny” with Ted Alcuitas, then editor and publisher of now-defunct Silangan, where I served as associate editor

Doing a bird dance at Stanley Park at a First Nations village

Doing a bird dance at Stanley Park at a First Nations village

Had I shed off my being a Filipino when I bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver, and on landing signed my papers for permanent residency? That marked day one of my rights among them, health care and public services and the freedoms of assembly and speech as well as my responsibilities to uphold the same rights in others. Today the 22nd of July, a year ago, I took my oath of citizenship.

Did I turn Canadian in an instant? Yes and no.  What I have become is more Filipino than I had imagined, possibly enhanced by my newly acquired freedom to find in Canada the threads I thought I had snapped broken when I left. I had unabashedly interwoven whom I am with these, often loudly qualifying my Filipino-ness from where I speak. And many times I would be told, ‘Ain’t that something!’

With members of Marpole Place, a community center run by the Marpole Oakdridge Area Council Society where I served a two-year elected secretary of the board

With members of Marpole Place, a community center run by the Marpole Oakdridge Area Council Society where I served a two-year elected secretary of the board

Peregrine Notes, Opinion Page, Business Mirror Philippines, July 22, 2012