Here I am in Mexico, sister republic of the Philippines. During the Spanish colonial period, the Philippine colony was called Capitanía-General de Filipinas, administered by the Virreinato de la Nueva España, now Mexico, which sent a yearly subsidy of silver pesos to keep the colonial economy afloat. As you already know, the Manila-Acapulco galleon, also called Nao de China, was the protagonist of the first ever trans-Pacific trade that lasted 250 years, influenced cultural tastes in four continents, but ended when Mexico won its anti-colonial independence movement against Spain in 1821.
I have a very personal connection with Mexico because in 1964, Philippine-Mexican Friendship Year, I was awarded a scholarship to study museology in Mexico of which I could not avail because I won the Miss International Beauty title in Long Beach, California. Mexico became an unfulfilled dream, so when President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, I fled to Mexico with my two children (Fatimah, 9, and Leon, 4). I returned to the Philippines in 1990, Leon followed in 1997, but Fatimah and her family chose to remain, so I come here every year to bond with them. They live in Los Álamos, a rancherïa(smaller than a municipality),in a finca she received as a wedding gift from her father. All the ranchos and fincas around here have names like “El Recuerdo” and “La Luna.” Fatimah chose “El Rizal,” which reminds her and my grandchildren of their Filipino roots.
Fatimah and her husband, Gaspar, have a fine-woodworking and furniture-making school, a ceramic workshop, and five habitacubos for live-in, out-of-town students. To supply meals to the latter, they opened the Tellus Bistro. Today, the bistro also caters to walk-in clients, so they have had to organize special events like last night’s “ Tellus disco”, complete with strobe lights, a playlist from the 80’s and clothes reminiscent of that not-too-distant period.
At Fatimah’s request, I ransacked closets looking for clothes I had worn during what she referred to as my “disco days of happy memory.” I resurrected a sequined sheath with a low back, a lace mini with embroidered glitter, and a chic copper and silver lamé jumpsuit with graceful folds beneath the hips, and a few other numbers I had forgotten about. My granddaughter Aurora Yol was wide-eyed with disbelief; she could not imagine her sedate Lola Mimi parading in such flashy,outrageous outfits. Fatimah was regaled by her daughter’s reaction.
Strangely enough, only the sequined purple sheath fit Fatimah, the rest were Aurora’s size. Incredulous, Fatimah exclaimed, “Mommy, I can’t believe you were ever that thin, are these really your clothes?” Of course they were/are my clothes, but Fatimah was right, I was never that slim. Had I been that thin, I would have been anorexic. So what happened to my period clothes? They seem to have shrunk for mysterious reasons.
We were still talking about the shrunken garments the morning after the disco at the Tellus bistro. Thanks to the cold dry weather of Mexico City, the outfits were in perfect condition with no trace of mold or silverfish infestation, so we couldn’t blame the bugs. Since I come to Mexico only once a year, Fatimah conjectured, Nikko the cleaning lady must be so bored she probably, quite regularly, empties my closets into the washing machine without first reading the washing instructions. Perhaps, threads and fabrics made during my disco days were somewhat low-tech in comparison to today’s scientifically fangled clothing materials, so mine shrank, slowly but surely, while stored in airless garment bags and cabinets.
All that brought to mind the clothes of Jose Rizal, exhibited under glass at the shrine in his honor in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. The garments seem to have shrunk after more than a century of storage and display. Or, could these have been reduced in size through improper laundering by an officious museum hand? Whatever. It is still a mystery to me; but some historians had immediately concluded that Jose Rizal was a tiny man.