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© Elizabeth Medina, 2006
RIL editores, Chile

Sampaguitas en la Cordillera
Reencuentro con Filipinas en Chile

(The English version first appeared in 2004 as Discovery in Chile: Sampaguitas in the Andes.)

Santiago de Chile
Christmas Party, Philippine Embassy
15 December 1990

....The last time I saw your grandfather, he was on horseback.

....It seemed to me I had seen Angel García before at Embassy receptions, though I had never spoken to him. This time we just happened to join the line at the buffet table at the same time. I was chatting distractedly with the lady ahead of me as I began heaping my plate with Filipino goodies, when it suddenly occurred to me to go in the other direction, counterclockwise, since in the direction we were going the line was barely moving. That was when I realized I was getting in the way of the man standing behind me. “I really shouldn’t be doing this,” I said, and I heard a voice behind me answer, please, as you wish, no problem. I turned to look at who had spoken. It was a tall, slender man with a sparely elegant face. I then asked if he was Filipino, because I wasn’t sure. “Yes I am,” he replied. “Been in Santiago long?” “Oh yes, since before you were born.” I thought drily, how do you know? You don’t look that old. He added, almost in answer, “I’ve lived here for forty years.”

....“How did you get here?” (…the bottom of the world.)

....“It’s a long story. My father went to the Philippines from Spain and married a Filipina who was herself descended from Spaniards. My father had two brothers who settled in Chile, and after I finished college, I came here, too.”

....By this time our plates were filled and we were standing by the tall Christmas tree in the Embassy living room. My daughter Tanya was accommodating herself on the floor, ready to start eating her first Filipino dinner. My husband Micky was sitting himself down beside her.

....Angel García then told me in answer to my question that in the Philippines he had lived in Ilocos Norte, in Curimao and Laoag.

....“My father was born in Dingras,” I told him, glad to find we had something in common.

....“Oh, Dingras, Laoag and Curimao are all very close together.”

....“His name was Medina. Did you ever hear of the Medinas from there?”

....“Yes, of course, Medina was the puppet governor of the Japanese.”

....My heart gave a leap.

....“He was my grandfather!” I cocked my right index finger against the underside of my jaw. “Executed by the guerrillas for collaborating with the Japanese. The elected governor fled, and so he took over as governor.”

....“His mistake was to stay when the Japanese arrived.”

....“What I heard in my family was that he felt it would be better for the people to have a mediator like him between them and the Japanese.”

....“...Yes,” García said musingly, as if to say: That’s what they would have said. Then his face lit up as he was seized by the enthusiasm of his memory.

....“The last time I saw your grandfather, he was on horseback! It must have been in late ‘44, shortly before the bombing started.... I always saw him riding...yes, now I remember why he made such an impression on me — because I loved horses. I was just a kid then, about 13. He had a beautiful house...not a mansion....”

....“I heard in my family that it took up an entire city block.”

....“Oh, it was a beautiful house.”1

1. In June of 2000 I met in Manila my aunt Cely de Avellana, daughter of Amparo Medina and Dr. Trajano Bernardo, who at twelve years old lived in my grandfather's house, shortly befor his death. She told me that his house looked like a plantation house and that in the basement my grandfather had hidden 100 bottles of wine. When she asked him: "¿Why so many bottles?", my grandfather replied: "It's for the party that I'll give when Liberation arrives"

....“It had stables....” (On the bottom floor...they said the night he died the horses ran away.)

....“Yes. The guerrillas burned the house when they took Laoag, after the Japanese retreated.” There was regret in his voice. “He was a handsome man, very fair, spoke beautiful Spanish. In fact, he must have been nearly 100% Spanish.” García pointed a finger at me. “I think he was a cuarterón.”

....“He was a lawyer and they said he sometimes took cases for free. I heard he owned one of the first cars in Laoag.” (Stories of a black Chrysler Imperial in the thirties.)

....“Very likely.”

....“...and that he knew President Quezon, and that Quezon would visit him, or...(I hesitated, afraid to overembellish)... or other politicians.”

....“Oh, the Philippines was like that in those days. Quezon's presidential yacht, the Casiana, once anchored at Curimao on one of his visits to the Ilocos, which coincided with my father's being chair-ridden for a few days, so the president came to our house to visit.”

....I took the plunge.

....“You know, I want to ask you a favor. Could I visit you and talk to you some more about this? It’s very important to me.”

....“Yes!” A happy, vivacious gentleman.

....“And can I tape it?”

....“Oh no! I freeze in front of a machine.”

....“I mean a cassette recorder, not a video camera.”

....“Oh no, I couldn’t. It’s like I’m onstage, I get stage fright.”

....Disappointment. But what was important was the information he could give.

....“Okay, but I’d love to talk to you some more about this. My father never told me about my grandfather or his family.”

....“You’ve never been to the North?”

....“Never. Once an aunt died and my parents went to her funeral, it seemed to be so far away. They came back talking about spirits and how on the return bus trip to Manila they had seen a woman walking alone, late at night, in the middle of nowhere. Here, in the south, on Chiloé Island, people are accustomed to walking alone on the roads at night, but in the Philippines it isn’t done, is it? People don’t go out of their homes at night in rural areas.”

....“No, they don’t. Filipinos who live in the countryside are very superstitious.”

....“And they immediately talk about ghosts when they see things like a woman traveling alone at night in the open country... My father’s family was always a mystery to me.”

....“I’d be happy to tell you what I can.”

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