Nostalgic September

When I turned five, my mother threw a party. It was a barrio fiesta in the heart of Pasay where we settled after World War II. She was a young widow (juggling two babies, she used to say) living in her father’s house and writing for a newspaper on Soler Street in downtown Manila. I am sure I had other birthday parties as I was the pampered first grandchild of both sides of the family; but, the earliest one I remember is that barrio fiesta on Donada Street.

My grandfather’s newly-built residence (the Guerrero compound in Ermita was bombed to smithereens during the Battle for Manila) looked like two houses each with two floors and connected by two bridge-like structures, one a dining room, the other overlooking the back garden was my grandma’s boudoir. A center driveway led to the garden with a garage, servant’s quarters and enclosures for our pet rabbits and pigeons. There were many trees – a langka, cinnamon, paho and chico. The barrio fiesta was held in that backyard beneath fronds of bamboo; there was a bitin, Filipino food and guests came in balintawak and camisas china.

My birthday dress was not exactly a balintawak; it was made of a diaphanous white fabric with red flowers. Mother must have ordered it from her cousin, Tita Laling, who knew how to sew. I was not feeling well at all; I had just gotten over a bout of whooping cough, so my grandma spread left-over numotusin (a sticky pink poultice that heated up on its own) on my chest, wrapped a white cloth around my body on top of which I had to wear my brother’s sando. She and mommy were fussing about how to cover the sando with a pañuelo and a red posy. Pictures were taken and I was not smiling in any of them; years later mommy would tease me about my “long-suffering look.” She had no idea how awful I felt but, young as I was, I knew she had gone through so much trouble to create a barrio fiesta in my honor, I dared not show any discomfort or pain.

When I was about to enter fourth grade, my mother yanked me out of St. Theresa’s College and sent me to Maryknoll then on Pennsylvania Street (now León Guinto). This year, my batch is celebrating the diamond anniversary of our graduation from Maryknoll College.

The Maryknoll missionary nuns who came to the Philippines in 1926, to establish a teacher-training program designed for Filipino women. In 1977, they turned over Maryknoll College to a lay administration, the name of the school had to be changed to Miriam, so we were afraid that our alma mater would disappear altogether. Happily, we were wrong! Miriam College is expanding and becoming even more relevant. In 2014, it set up a branch in a 15-hectare campus in Nuvali Eco-City in Santa Rosa, Laguna. After seven years, Miriam College was invited to the Alviera township in Porac, Pampanga. The nuns did not make themselves indispensable to the success and continued existence of the college they founded. To me, that is the ineluctable proof of their success as missionaries and teachers.

Fifty-eight years ago, on Sept. 15, Tonypet Araneta and I were married in Avila, Spain. I wanted to exchange vows in Manila but he prevailed. I had just crowned the new Miss International and was sightseeing in New York. Tonypet was reading Philosophy at the Oxford University in England. His parents and siblings were vacationing in Madrid, my uncle, Leon Ma. Guerrero was Philippine Ambassador to Spain, so it seemed logical that we marry there. We chose Sept. 15, to commemorate the Malolos Congress where my great grandfather, Leon Ma. Guerrero, and his grandfather, Gregorio Araneta were delegates. In truth, Tonypet wanted a wedding in Avila because he claims to be a descendant of the famous Santa Teresa de Jesus. You may have descended from a national hero, but I from a saint, he often bragged. I think he unwittingly started the fad for destination weddings. A 58th wedding anniversary has no particular symbol nor color, so I hope we live long enough to celebrate our diamond anniversary.

Sept. 15 is also significant for Mexico, my second home, for centuries the Virreinato de la Nueva España through which Spain administered Las Filipinas. Mexico will celebrate her 213th year of independence from Spain. The war for independence began in 1810, at midnight between Sept. 15 and 16 when Fr. Miguel Hidalgo, a Catholic priest, made the “Grito de Dolores” (our Cry of Balintawak). He rang the church bells as a call to arms and made the Lady of Guadalupe his battle standard. Today, the official words with which Mexican presidents reenact the “Grito” are: “Mexicanos, vivan los heroes que nos dieron patria!” (Mexicans, long live the heroes who gave us a motherland!)

There will be no barrio fiesta on Sept. 30, as I discreetly turn 80.