Beyond Pinoy food and yearlong summer
It was an unplanned appointment during my summer visit with my three grandchildren based in San Francisco, but I have to admit it was a welcome one. Yes, especially for one who is always shamelessly happy for any and all opportunities to promote Philippine books and culture anytime, anywhere.
Summertime in the United States is camp time for the students on holiday. My eldest grandchild, Diego, seven, is kept happily busy and away from electronic devices to play and indulge in activities that a growing boy needs. He has swimming, Kumon math (which he hates, as all kids do, but it seems a rite of passage for young students so to lighten his dourness, we thought of a “Come on, Kumon” chant), drums, basketball practice and games for the youngest team in the league (The Wildcats, for which he plays forward or center), Sunday choir for the 9 a.m. Mass, play dates with classmates, and study time with me in the afternoons. Such a breathless schedule is a principal reason I visit, to help ferry him to and from classes. Emilio, three, and Nana, two, are in day care all day, for preschool and socialization.
The invitation to the two-week Filipino-American Summer Camp Program of the UP Alumni Association of SF (in partnership with the Philippine Consulate and Ramarfoods International Scholarship Foundation) was something I could not resist. Not with its objective “to connect [the participants, ages 7 to 16] with their roots, [so they can] understand their culture, and appreciate and preserve their heritage.” It was a no-nonsense immersion camp in Philippine culture with courses in history, conversational Tagalog (yes, Rio Alma and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, I did cringe at that and tried to use the correct term, “Filipino”), art, music, dance, and cuisine. The commendable moving spirits behind this were Sonia Delen, Susie Quesada, Ana Segovia, and Letty Quizon. Segovia served as lead instructor along with Myke Gonzalez.
It was the fourth year for the camp, this time at Saint Justin School in Santa Clara with an enrollment of more than 30 students. How fortunate that I was assigned to talk about Philippine folk tales and children’s literature on the third Tuesday in July, the exact date of National Children’s Book Day in the Philippines. I began the session with the folk tale that Jose Rizal introduced to the world 132 years ago, “The Monkey and the Turtle,” talked about my books and Best Reads from the Philippines, and ended with the latest releases, Bookmark’s Women of Science series and Adarna’s Filipino translations of Spanish bestsellers, “Mga Uring Panlipunan” and “Ito ang Diktadura,” where the country is shamefully represented by dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The students then wrote their own folk tales.
It was serendipitous to discover that Segovia is the daughter of the late Ceres Alabado, writer and children’s literature pioneer in the Philippines. She said she thought of her mom as she listened to me. (It was the most heartwarming comment of the day, especially since Diego, who joined the class only for the BART ride, teasingly rated me the worst teacher in the world.) That lesson was for you, Ceres, with much gratitude for paving the way.
In a short class survey on what makes them proud to be Filipino-Americans, the students gave these responses: yearlong summer, rare qualities and talents, cool folk dances, being part of two different worlds, everyone is family. The most common response: good Filipino food that abounds.
That was only Day 2 of the camp, so I am confident that their appreciation of their roots was further enriched in the subsequent lessons. With FilAms being the second largest Asian group in the United States as of 2012, the Filipino identity needs to be better known. This is glaring in the “It’s A Small World” boat ride in Disneyland in Anaheim, with the Philippines represented by a solitary figure while other Asian countries had panoramic exhibitions. We deserve more than that inconspicuous token figure. And perhaps this youthful generation of FilAms will make a difference, an impact.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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