I always look forward to going back home. While Canada is my home, family and friends are in the Philippines, and they are my home, too. Every time I go back, it is a different experience, for what lies where I come from is what determines what I do in the present and in the future.
My family came back from Iran when the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini that broke out in 1979 and ousted Reza Shah Pahlavi. I was nine when we came back, and was immediately put back in school in February 1979 at the nearest school where my brothers went for their elementary schooling, a small public school called Julian Felipe Elementary School in Cavite City. It was different from my school in Iran – the children wore uniforms of white and different shades of blue, depending on which child in the family handed it down to you after how many years of wash and wear. I spoke to no one, because I only spoke English after years of education in an International School where my classmates were of different nationalities and came from different parts of the world. I couldn’t understand a word my teacher, Mrs. Sanchez, was saying until English and Science came, when she would speak in English and I could finally open my mouth. One skinny boy, Joel Legaspi, sat beside me and started talking to me in his broken English, and we became fast friends. He was simply tickled by the fact that he made friends with the inglisera and seemingly the rich girl in class amongst some children who lived in wooden shacks and had pandesal and water for lunch, while I had a delicious ham and cheese sandwich on sliced white bread, with no crusts, and a bottle of orange juice. Joel and I shared many lunches after that – his humble pandesal and handful of yema and my rich-girl sandwich, and we have become an unbreakable bond for close to forty years, even with the distance between us. At JFES, I was always sent to elocution and essay-writing contests, and I would win them because the judges liked my accent and my English vocabulary was more than what the other kids could conjure up, primarily because I was educated in English all my primary school life. These were the perks in my elementary school life – skipping school and winning contests.
Most of my friends and I went on to the public high school – Cavite National High School – not because my parents couldn’t afford the private school, but CNHS had the best teachers in the province, some of them were even my father’s teachers! Throughout high school my friends depended on me for notes in English-taught subjects, and everyday, we would recap the previous evening’s episode of Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Dynasty and Falcon Crest for our classmates who didn’t have a television set. We would talk about all the English programs on Channels 7 and 9, two of the four channels on the tube at that time. We would retreat to my house a few meters away on Garcia Street, to eat bags of sliced bread and peanut butter, and jugs of Sunny Orange juice, listening to Top 40 songs, and my cassette tapes from Indonesia that my father would send me through DHL boxes from Saudi Arabia, where he transferred as an OFW after Iran. I wrote for the school paper, The Cavitenan, every year, until I became its editor-in-chief under the tutelage of Prof. Enrique Escalante, one of my mentors and one of the most respected educators in Cavite City. Under the tutelage of Miss Adoracion Aquino, I became the stage actress I wanted to be, and under Miss Trinidad Legaspi, I found the beauty of the written word in Tagalog of El Filibusterismo. All of them have passed on, and I pay tribute to all of them whenever I can.
We all went our separate ways in college, and I spent the next four years at the University of the Philippines, finding out what I wanted to do, and ended up with a degree in Interior Design. Through the years, I stayed in touch with my friends even after leaving Cavite City to live in Las Pinas, and we would get together often even as adults so that we can reminisce the good and bad times, make fun of each other and our teachers, and simply be the kids that we once were during simpler times.
As I go back and visit, these memories come back once again, but this time, I have a more determined purpose for visiting. When we are educated with a heart, we always want to make a difference in this world, no matter how small it is, and it is with this determination that we actualize our goals not only for ourselves, but for others. I have been blessed to have had an education in the public system not only because of the academic excellence it offered, but because it gave me a perspective outside of my small world of comfort – a perspective of poverty and neediness, and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. On the faces of my friends and classmates are years of hard work and determination to make their lives and the lives of others better – and in our small ways, we have put together a college scholarship fund for some of our classmates’ children who cannot afford to go to university. Those of us who are in Canada and other parts of the world put our $20 Starbucks coffee money for a month towards that scholarship, making sure that even with that humble amount, we can make the lives of the future better with a good education. Our peers in Cavite also put in a few hundred pesos aside for this cause, as well as many other causes. Now, we are putting together some funds to help with medical expenses of some of our classmates who cannot afford medical and hospitalization costs. We decided that we have to do something for the common good, and that we need to all look back at where we came from in order for us to move forward and take action. Many Filipinos, here, elsewhere and back home, have done this and are continuing to do so, and they are the real workers in the Master’s vineyard.
How meaningful it will be if we did have a purpose for going back when we do get the chance. Yes, it is necessary to share our resources with others, not only through celebrations, but also through necessities. When we do this one person at a time, we will be able to help many through the next few years. This is how we pay tribute to our education, and our formation we received from our family and our faith. This is why we look back, so that we can move forward for others.