During my last visit to the Philippines, I had a long talk with my mother. Not trying to be morbid, and in fact she was still in good condition, but with her advancing age I just asked her what her wishes were if in case she would be put to rest. She told me what her wishes were, but also told me parts of a story that I have never heard before…..
Almost 100 years ago, there was young man in Ilocos Norte who joined a wave of Ilocano migrants to Hawaii in search of a better future. It was during the time of one of the largest Filipino migration to Hawaii. Muscular and strong, he was picked to work in a pineapple plantation in Hawaii.
However after a few years of hard labor in the plantation, with long hours under the Hawaiian heat – homesick and longing for the love of his life that he left behind – he decided to go back home to the Philippines. Whether it was a wise or unwise decision, who are we to judge?
Once back home he married his childhood sweetheart. He was determined not to return to Hawaii, but rather try his fortune back in his hometown. He started building a house in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte for his family.
He worked incessantly, and one day while working on the house that he is erecting, he suddenly collapsed. The older folks said he suffered from “pasma,” but the doctor in me think it was something else, though I just cannot be sure what. He did not really recover after that and died shortly thereafter. He was in his mid 20’s.
He left a grieving young widow who was 8 months pregnant with their first baby. That baby was my mother.
My mother was born and she grew up without knowing her father. She did not even know what her father look like. All she had were the stories from her mother of how wonderful and loving her father was.
My mother pursued her own dream despite of their “unlucky” situation, so she made good in her studies.
On the day of her high school graduation, a supposedly happy occasion, she arrived home and found her mother slumped on the floor and unable to speak. She most likely suffered a devastating stroke. She died several weeks later, and left my mother a complete orphan at a young age.
My mother was still able to go to college with the help of her aunt and uncle who unofficially adopted her. She later earned a bachelor degree in education.
After finishing college, my mother took teaching assignments and taught elementary in different provinces. She was assigned in Baler, Quezon and stayed there for a couple of years. When she transferred to Norzagaray, Bulacan as a teacher, she met a handsome young man there. That was my father.
They fell in love and eventually got married. They moved to Sampaloc, Manila where they raised their family, and the rest was history.
I have no photos of my grandfather. Not even a grave to visit where his remains lies, as my mother told me that he was buried in a piece of land that the government subsequently bought and turned into a road. What road or highway was it, my mother was not sure.
We have no memorabilia of his existence. All I have is this story of a man whose likeness I most likely bear, as many say that I am a spitting image of my mother, and who knows, perhaps of my grandfather too.
My grandfather had no idea that one of his seeds will one day make his way back to America. Though not in the pineapple plantation of Hawaii, but settling around the cornfields of Iowa. Not as an unskilled laborer, but as a highly trained physician. He gave up his American dream, but in a happy twist of fate, it led the way for me to chase mine. I have migrant blood in me after all.
About two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii with my wife and kids. We even visited the Dole pineapple plantation and ate some pineapple ice cream there. Never did I knew at that time, that part of my roots came from that place.
Pineapple is one of my children’s favorite fruit. They like to eat it as is, or mixed in a fruit salad, or as fruit drink, or even as a topping in their pizza. Maybe their great-grandfather liked it too. Or maybe he hated it, and hated it so much that he left the plantation.
But I’m glad he left the pineapple plantation and went back home. Thus this story exists. And I exist to tell this story.