As The Bamboos Sway: A conversation with my Mom


(Publisher’s Note: This article is a chapter in Baguio Vignettes of our Lives, a book by the author with his brother, Cesar Liporada)

“Bakit sa Africa kayo pupunta (Why do you have to go to Africa)?” My mother was so concerned. “Nakakatakot doon (It is scary out there).” She was so apprehensive and adamant to give her blessings when we broke the news to her that my wife and I will be going overseas to work in Zambia, Africa and we would be shuttling our four children, ages 8, 6, 4, and 3 along with us. “And why do you have to go abroad when we (with your dad), could help you with your daily needs?”

This was in late 1981 in Baguio City.

“Mom,” I said, “our going abroad is no different from your leaving Cebu for Manila and eventually settling here in Baguio City.” I had to emphasize that we had to go abroad because we were projecting that we could provide opportunities for our four growing boys for their future if we did leave. Although my wife is a nurse instructor (Baguio General Hospital, St. Louis University, and Pines City Doctors’ Hospital consecutively) and I was already in a middle management position in Tarlac, Tarlac at the heel of being with Project Monitoring Department of the National Economic Development in San Fernando, La Union, the future was bleak for a better life in the Philippines

“That’s different. What I did was only within the Philippines,” mom said.

“It is the same, mom. That was in the late 1940’s. The world now is smaller because of improved means of transportation and technology. Your leaving Cebu for Manila and, consequently, Baguio, is now equivalent to Filipinos leaving the Philippines for better pastures overseas as was your intention when you left your province.”

My mother was born in the isolated hinterlands of San Fernando Mountains in Cebu in the Visayan Islands, Philippines. My aunts would later point to me the mountain sides, blanketed with coconut groves pregnant with rich copra for export. There were also thick patches of banana orchards. “That’s were your nanay used to play with monkeys,” an aunt said when I was finally able to visit my mother’s birthplace in 1998, almost ten years after she died.

My mother started cooking rice and viands to vend down the mountains at the poblacion (town center) at the age of 14. She had to start early in the morning to spare herself from the hot sun when she trekked down the paths and in time for lunch of the workers who patronized her prepared meal. It would be almost dark when she did return home with her earnings. Unable to go to school, she had resigned herself to her daily routine until she heard that there were better opportunities for her in Manila.

With her meager savings, she took the boat bound for Manila and ended up as a katulong (nanny). She would eventually marry my father who was doubling as a taxi-driver and a bell-ringing ice-cream vendor to finish his BS Commerce. He was from Leyte, also in the Visayas. He would not complete his commerce course for he had impregnated my mom of who would be me.

Nonetheless, my father had enough business and managerial sense that, when my mom’s amo decided to expand business in Baguio City, the amo brought them there to help manage the business. So, it was that we, along with a younger brother of mine, became residents of Baguio City.

“Ok, then. You both can go,” my mother finally gave her blessing for us to go to Africa. “But you have to leave the kids. It would be too dangerous for them to be there.” To her, Africa was still the dark continent with all those cannibals that Tarzan had to fight with; and, of course, there were the lions and other wild animals that could devour her grandchildren.

To appease her, I showed her a picture of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, where we were bound to, in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The city’s main thoroughfare, Cairo Road, was with American and European cars (though maybe fifteen years behind the newer brands) and with tall buildings (the highest being thirteen floors). The black men in the picture had ties and suits and with attaché cases. I told her that Lusaka is a modern city and it is just her misconception that made her generalize that everything about Africa is still frightful. I also showed her a picture under “F” in the encyclopedia. The caption said, ‘A Filipino’. The picture was of an Igorot, holding a spear, covered only in loincloth. “See,” I emphasized, “Because of this picture, many all over the world still think that all Filipinos are still in the savage era. That’s like you thinking that Africans are still savages because of all the Tarzan movies you have seen.”

She finally relented. As there was no cell phones nor emails during those times, she would only see her grandchildren again after three years. She was then already bed ridden due to a stroke. After another year, she saw them again when we were already immigrating to the United States. By then, she was totally paralyzed.

Three months after we arrived in the US, she died. As we’re new in the US, we were not able to afford to fly home to attend her funeral. #


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