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Tita Chul: Queen of our clan

My earliest, most vivid memory of Tita Chul was of her walking down the church aisle on her wedding day. She was a vision in white, fueling a life-long fantasy (as it does for most young girls) of being a bride myself.

I didn’t know at that time that Tita Chul (Chulia Jimenez Azarcon), the youngest of my Papa’s seven siblings, was far from being the cliché of a blushing bride. For one, she was no longer a dewy, first-blush-of-youth maiden, because by then she had been a career woman who traveled the world. From what I could glean from whispered conversations between my Mama and aunts, she had also dated for a while a noted journalist, until our Lolo Ponso put his foot down and deemed a newspaperman an unfit candidate for his bunso. (If he only knew the career trajectory of many of his grandchildren!) Just recently, like a few days ago, we found out from a good friend of Tita Chul’s that she also had a Norwegian boyfriend from the time she spent there as a graduate student. In her 30s, Tita Chul met Joaquin “Dodo” Azarcon, who was a chemist like her and worked for a multinational. He had set up a meeting to confront her about her questioning of certain policies regarding the importation of chemicals. The meeting turned into several dates, and then that wedding I remember.

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But I didn’t need any more proof of her sophistication and worldliness than the way she was. Tita Chul was always impeccably dressed and turned out, even when, in her 90s, she was confined to a wheelchair. She doted on us her nephews and nieces, even as her four daughters—Doris, Lani, Ching, and Elvie—came one after the other. But we had no inkling of the enormity of her job and responsibilities until, upon the assumption to office of former president Cory Aquino, she was appointed Tariff Commissioner. It turns out she had been a career officer at the Tariff Commission, leading many negotiations with foreign governments. As she told it, during her first interview with Ms Aquino, Tita Chul was asked if she had any “connect” or sponsor for the post. “No, I have no references but myself,” she replied. She got the post.

Tita Chul was never stingy with advice or guidance or shy with her opinions. When I graduated from high school and passed the UPCAT, she called me for a private chat and wanted to know why I wasn’t enrolling in the state university and was instead going to a Catholic institution. “Don’t go to…” she admonished, referring to the university where my parents had forced me to enroll. “Intelligent people should go to UP!” It warmed my heart, but fear of radicalization in UP (which exists to this day) had steeled my parents’ resolve.

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It was my pleasure and privilege in the late 1990s to work with Tita Chul and Tito Ramy, the last two surviving Jimenez siblings, on a book on the Jimenez family in time for the turn-of-the-century celebration in 2000. They had conceived the contents of the book but needed help in writing up the stories and organizing the material. They invited me and my husband Pie to lunch to talk about the project. Later, when I asked why they insisted on having Pie around, Tita Chul replied with a naughty smile: “We knew that if you said yes, then Pie would have no choice but to be the art director!”

The brother and sister were billed as “publishers” (I was editor), but their true roles in the making of “Generations,” as the book came to be called, were as enablers, boosters, organizers, and, most important—diplomats, go-betweens for the publishing team and the members of the family, refereeing disputes, settling arguments, finding compromises, and enforcing deadlines.

Growing up, I had always heard Tita Chul and the other aunts refer to my Tita Ansing, widow of their brother Titong, as “Ansiana.” Thinking this was her formal name, that’s what I used in the article on her. Tita Chul called me up at once: “Gotcha!” she chortled. Turns out Ansiana was a fond nickname; she was formally “Francisca,” which I promptly used. But I remember Tita Chul’s glee at my malapropism, delivered gently but with sharp humor.

Through the years, our Tita Chul became “Lola Chul” to the next generation. No family gathering (and there are several in a year among the Jimenezes) was complete unless she was present. On her 90th birthday, we held a “royal” celebration honoring her as the “queen” of the clan. And that she was: dispenser of wisdom, source of solace, role model, and keeper of our memories. Long may Queen Chulia reign!

Chulia Jimenez Azarcon

Oct. 27, 1926-Jan. 22, 2021

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Rina Jimenez David retired as a columnist from the Inquirer and now spends her days quarantined with, among others, her grandson Anakin.

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