Solidarity

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 
~ President Abraham Lincoln

To my dear Philippines, 

Nandito ako para sa iyo. I am watching the state that you are in–the chaos, the confusion, the violence, the bloodshed, and the uncertainty over whether or not our country will be roped into the reign of terror this world has so often seen.

In a world where hatred, chaos, and fear dictate our society, we loose a sense of hope and faith in the human race. We are constantly faced with blood, terror, violence, suspicion, discrimination, oppression, poverty, injustice, and it all seems like nothing is being done to put an end to this dreaded cycle. We are constantly fed negativity and biases that we choose not to question, but to believe. When I hear, see, and speak about these horrors, I question whether or not peace and love are a possible state of mind.

In the light of the recent events in Marawi City and most recently, in Manila, I question what the state of our country will be. Will the future of our country be that of instability? Or can we come together as a nation in solidarity against the utmost deplorable acts against humanity? How can we trust our fellow kababayans if we continue to do this to each other? How can we stand united? I think our answers lie in the words of the controversial President Duterte’s inaugural speech.

“Love of country, subordination of personal interests to the common good, concern and care for the helpless and the impoverished these are among the lost and faded values that we seek to recover and revitalize as we commence our journey towards a better Philippines. The ride will be rough. But come and join me just the same. Together, shoulder to shoulder, let us take the first wobbly steps in this quest.”

This speech was meant to be a long-standing manifestation to the people of the Philippines for the remainder of his presidency and we should not forget these words. Sometimes, we lose our vision when we’ve become blinded by the negativity of this world. We need to learn how to love our country whole-heartedly. Let us embrace our history–our pagan, Muslim, and Christian origins–as our history is a testimony of our strength, our integrity, and our solidarity. Our nation is built on many stories that we have yet to explore. Yet, sometimes, I feel we hide in shame of our country. We decide to create a façade and we blame our countrymen for the state of our country. We have  also conceded to westernization and slowly, we are losing our love of our language, our love of country, and our love of the uniqueness of our people. We mask our culture with the idea of “whiteness”, but we need to learn how to embrace every spectrum of kababayans. We must fully acknowledge each other and not let our crab bucket mentality get to the forefront of our unity. No matter our colour, our origins, our wealth, our beliefs, our political values–all of our stories are interwoven to become a magnificent mosaic that we know as the Philippines.

Let us come to love one another.  Let us embrace each of our stories and learn to listen to what they are. Let us not toil in our obsession for beauty, wealth, westernization, gossip, and celebrities–let us celebrate who we are as a nation, instead of pitting ourselves against one another in the name of jealousy and greed. Let us remember to listen to the cries of the oppressed and answer their calls. Listen to the stories of our kababayans. Look into their eyes, embrace who they are, and you will see the side of humanity that everyone is searching for–love, compassion, hope, and faith in each other.

As President Duterte said, it may be a rough road towards peace, but it is a fork in the road that many do not dare to tread. But let us see each other as equals, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and march on with love and solidarity as the forefront of our fight against hatred. It is not going to be easy, but we can make it easier if we help each other out. The world is not going to be perfect, but as long as we have a vision–we can make change happen.

Malasakit. Tunay na Pagbabago. Tinud-anay nga Kausaban.
(Compassion. Real change.)

I love you, Philippines. Stay Strong. Stand United.

Salamat,

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Legacy

“Well, Greg, I think that it just means that even after somebody dies, you can… you can still keep learning about them, you know, their life. It can keep unfolding itself to you just as long… just as long as you pay attention to it.”   ~ Jesse Andrews, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

There comes a moment in life when you face the reality of impermanence–a state in which nothing good will ever last. It feels like you’ve hit a brick wall and you can’t move on. For the majority of us, we live in this world in which we are blindfolded by the mundane–a sense of normalcy and comfort. It is in this world where we abide by the rules and are a slave to the pendulum of routine. It seems, for the most part, that it’s hard to escape–and maybe for some, even impossible. But change is bound to happen–whether you want it or not. And it is that moment of change where you are faced with making a decision: Do I face the reality? OR Do I turn away from it? Change can transform your life in mere seconds, minutes, hours, years, but ultimately, it is your decision on which course of life you are to take once that change occurs.

It’s been three weeks since a change occurred in my life, where I faced this reality of impermanence. It’s been three weeks since I’ve referred to her as a living being and not a past tense. It’s been three weeks. Three weeks of pain, regret, tears, laughter, self-doubt, and pure sadness. But in the midst of all this negativity, I find myself searching for little pieces of her and trying to put her life story together–trying to find a way to guard my memories of her in my head. I’m always afraid of forgetting her, because for the last months of her life–I’m sad to say, I was in a state of denial. I thought she was going to get through, because she always did. She got through all the hardships on her own. She got through pancreatitis. She got through her quadruple bypass on Valentine’s Day (ironically). She got through dialysis. She got through chemotherapy. All she needed was to get through cancer. And little did we know, the invincible will eventually be conquered. But this is not a post in which I tell you how she died, but how she lived.

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Tita Leah.

The woman who I thought was unbreakable–the one who got through life with her relentless spirit and stubborn attitude. I grew up fearing her, because she gave you tough love. Yet despite my fear, I grew up in awe of this woman. I grew up knowing this woman as someone who was an unstoppable force and if you had known her, you would have agreed.

Family and nursing were Tita Leah‘s vocations. Family and nursing were her constants. In a sense, it was what guided her to create the life that she had lived so well. It was these two constants that created a life full of love, laughter, travel, wonder, and excitement. It was these two constants that drove her to make the decision to uproot herself from everything she knew and loved in the Philippines to move to Houston, Texas. This is where she acquired a refined taste for life–where she learned how to enjoy the moments and not things and where she learned how to keep going no matter what life threw at her. It was in Houston that she decided to make the drive up to Toronto with her cousin where she began a job as a nurse at Sick Kids. And that drive up to Toronto…forever changed our lives as a family.

She was so dedicated to her job as a nurse. She worked at the Oncology Unit at Sick Kids–where every day was something different. It takes a particular type of person to be able to be open about death and to be able to deal with it the way she did. She this for 25 years. 25 years of caring for children that endured more pain than an average person in a lifetime. 25 years of caring for children, not knowing whether or not they would make it. 25 years of consoling parents during times of grief or helplessness as they watched their child endure countless treatments of chemo and bone marrow transplants. 25 years of putting a brave face on to reassure parents that everything was going to be OK. 25 years watching death come and go. This was her 25 years of normal. She woke up and did what did she had to do, and might I add, she did it all of it effortlessly.

Despite her job, her other life was that of a loving daughter, sister, a beloved aunt, and that crazy cousin. She was the person who loved to be in the company of others. She was the person who would take the initiative to bring people together through food and through life chats. Whether you wanted her company or not, she was always there–for almost all your life’s milestones–she would be there, celebrating with you. She was always one of the first people to call for your birthdays and she almost always bought the cake. She would be the first one at the party and then the last one to leave. She was just Leah. And though she had her flaws–she was one-of-a-kind and I miss her terribly.

At the time of her death, little bits of her life unbeknownst to us were revealed, as we mourned her loss. And you know what? It brought about a sense of comfort, because we felt as if she was still around–through everyone she encountered. And that was the most beautiful thing about her death–it brought us altogether, to celebrate how she lived. People laughed, people cried, reminiscing of the days gone by. We were so astounded to meet people from all four corners of her life to express how much they loved her and how much they would miss her. And we were so grateful for all their support and all their love that they brought to us that day we had to say goodbye. It showed us as a family, that we are not alone in our tears and in our pain. The people that she loved terribly and wholeheartedly–the nurses who cared for her, the colleagues that she came to know as her friends and work family, the cousins that she loved like her sisters, and the family that she never stopped loving–were there to guide and to usher each other into our new normal. A new normal without her–her unexpected visits, her crazy life advice, her laughter, her moments of insanity, her quirkiness, her bold choice of words, her tough love, her wisdom and most importantly, her company.

Tita Leah , without you, we wouldn’t have  known what it means to be a family. Without you, we wouldn’t be the people we are today. And I wanted to dedicate this post to thank you for everything. You brought opportunity, inspiration, stories, everything. And I know that a life without you will be different, but I’ve made my decision. I am not going to let your death bring me down. Change has occurred, but I know that I must embrace it. Because at the end of the day, I know your life’s story will inspire us to be bold, to be resilient, to be brave, to love selflessly, to travel, to take risks, and most importantly to live. We will all live in memory of you.

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I love you, I love, I love you, Tita Leah. May you rest in peace.

Maraming Salamat,

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The Storyteller

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”
~ Erin Morgenstern,
The Night Circus

 

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Starting from the left: My aunt, my Lolo, my Papa, and my Yaya.

Our world is made up of stories—stories of hope, despair, love, hatred, successes, and regrets. Stories may be radically absurd and falsified or may be bold and truthful. Stories are a means of wisdom or perhaps caution. Stories can be sung, written, drawn, or simply told. Stories are said to a crowd of many or to an audience of one.  Regardless of what they are, stories are very much a part of the human race–etched into our lives, forever shaping us into who we are. So, when someone tells you a story, you are essentially given a part of a person’s life and with that comes responsibility. You are given a choice: to let the story live on or let the story disappear. And so, you should ask yourself…what should I choose?

If there is anyone that could tell you a good story, it’s Yaya (my grandmother). As a child, I would always see her sitting at the kitchen table, with a cup of coffee, eating biscuits, as she looked off into the distance. I would slowly approach her and start asking her all these questions about her life, as if I was a reporter. Then, she would smile and a twinkle in her eyes would appear. I would look at her in awe and wonder, as she painted me a picture of her colourful life of hardship, scandal, gossip, love, travel, triumph, and pain. She told me about her life during a time of political instability in the Philippines—the Japanese invasion, martial law, and the People Power Revolution. She also told me about her life in general—how she was forced to be a mother to her siblings after her mom died of childbirth, how she fell in love, how she raised her own family, how she dealt with the sudden death of my grandfather, and how she learned to live a life without him. And despite how difficult some of these stories were to tell, she always managed to end the story with a smile.

In the Filipino culture and much of the Asian cultures, the elderly are highly respected figures of the family and are expected to be cared for by their children. And because of this cultural value, I was lucky enough to grow up under Yaya’s care. She taught me the power of stories through books and through her own storytelling. I talk about her as if she were already gone, but she’s not. She’s still here and at times, I feel guilty for letting life get to me  and allowing myself to get to forget about her. In a society that demands us to work long hours, to socialize after work, to live life to the fullest, we often forget about the people who first loved and cared for us. We make them an object of our past and we never take the initiative to make them a part of our present. We take them for granted and sometimes, we think that we are more forward-thinking. We live in a world that heavily relies on our questions about life’s anomalies to be answered by mere algorithms of a search engine, yet maybe the answers lie in the forgotten stories of the past. In a fast-paced world, we need to take it slow and let our naturally curious selves explore the hearts and minds of the elderly. Sometimes, it takes time for them to open up, but the conversations and the memories that ensue are priceless. Let’s not forget about them, because at the end of the day we are entrusted with their stories.  We are given a choice to let their stories live on or let them fade away.

I’ve listened to her stories countless times and without realizing it, they have become a part of who I am as a person. In essence, this blog is a living and breathing testimony of the power of story. I am only one person, but I am here to continue listening and to continue telling not just my stories, but the stories of the countless Filipinos in our diaspora. And now, I’m giving you the responsibility to listen and to continue searching for those stories that inspire, that move, and that change.

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Yaya (left) and her sister (right). Baguio City, Philippines, 2009.

Salamat,

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Courage, dear heart.

“Ang aking pamilya ang aking lakas at kahinaan.
“My family is my strength and my weakness.”
~ Unknown

The streets are filled with Christmas cheer. You can feel it. The holidays bring a sense of optimism, hope, and that need to be around the ones you love. Shoppers walk in and out of stores, carrying bags, looking haggard, yet hopeful that their last-minute purchases will put a smile on a loved one’s face. Children run around, their screams full of joy and their eyes filled with wonder as they stare up at the gigantic Christmas tree occupying the town square, decorated with ornaments and lights. Lovers walk hand-in-hand through the streets, and despite the chaos that surrounds them, they look at each other as if they were the only ones around. Then, there was me, trying to avoid Christmas altogether, trying not to be a part of it. And thankfully, I can put Christmas behind me and look forward to the new year.

I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to actually start this blog. As I said, it started from a spark, and now, I’m watching that spark slowly fade away and letting my fear and my doubts overpower it. This has probably been the roughest year, I’ve had—it has nothing to do with the presidential elections or the disarray this world has gone through, but it has everything to do with my family.

When you ask a Filipino about things that they love the most—they will give you varying answers, but the two that will always  be mentioned are food and family. You see, the Filipino way of life is not living life independently, but living life as a unit. Pamilya is the entity that thrives in the hearts of all Filipinos—and I’ve come to realize why. Family won’t let you down. If you fall, they will pick you up, care for you, nurture you, until you’re ready to move forward. I’ve seen this when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. The doctors have successfully removed it, but it came back with a vengeance. You wouldn’t think that the woman I look at today is the same one I saw six months ago. Chemotherapy took a lot from her—her hair, her normalcy, yet despite it all, it did not take her bravery, her faith and most importantly, her resiliency. The doctors say she has less than a year to live, but for her, she lives every day like she will live forever. Though my aunt has no family of her own or no significant other, we were her family and together, we walked with her through her darkest moments—her diagnosis, her chemotherapy, her radiation sessions, and her palliative care. And that’s why the holidays have been a rough time—because we’re celebrating our “lasts” with her—her last Christmas, her last New Year, her last birthday—everything. Yet, the memories we make for these “lasts” will forever be part of our first family celebrations without her.

So, with the New Year celebrations in queue, we are bracing ourselves for the worst. We will continue with the same traditions we do every year, to keep it normal. According to Papa everything we do on New Year’s Eve will determine what our year will look like. It sounds trivial, but to me, it’s the truth. To make sure our year is fruitful, we set out a basket of twelve different fruits, each representing the 12 months of the year. To make sure that we will thrive financially, we put money in our pockets. To make sure our homes are filled with love and joy, we celebrate the New Year at home, with the people we love the most–family–who will stay a constant every day of the year. In essence, we prepare for the new year with a sense optimism and with a clean slate. And I know as we move on from a disastrous 2016, 2017 will be much better. I know this year will bring pain, hurt, doubt, and loss, but it will also bring about love, hope, joy, and endless possibilities. I won’t let the cliché of new beginnings overshadow the realities of life, but I’m going to remain optimistic.

As you can see, starting a huge project like this is going to be difficult, because of what is currently happening in my personal life. Yet, the spark, though slowly fading, is still there…and I promise that I won’t give up on this. I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories—and I remember how much I loved them and how much they meant to me, because they had everything to do with my family and my heritage. My love for stories started with my grandmother and I know that it will continue to grow when I start listening to the stories of my kababayans. And hopefully, you will be there to listen with me every step of the way.

Bagong Pag-asa, Bagong Simula, Mas Maraming Kasiyahan… Manigong Bagong Taon!
New Hope, New Beginning, Greater Joys… Happy New Year!

Salamat,

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Just the beginning…

Let us teach our people again to be proud that they are Filipinos. Let us teach them to realize anew that being a Filipino means having as rich and noble a heritage of language, culture, patriotism and heroic deeds as any nation on earth. Let us teach a steadfast faith in Divine Providence, a stable family institution, the unhampered enjoyment of civil liberties, the advantages of constitutional government, the potentials of a rich and spacious land.
~ Carlos P. Romulo

I don’t know where to start, but I know that this is the right thing to do. So, I’ll start right here. This idea just started from an impulse– a small spark of hope, with a little hint of pride. There are times when I don’t know how to feel about my heritage, because of what is said or what is portrayed in the vast universe of the internet. Sometimes, I struggle with whether or not I should be proud of where I came from, either because of the things that people say or what I force myself to see. Yet, as I write this, a sense of pride and renewed hope overwhelms me. There are so many things I haven’t learned about my country, like the history of my people, the diversity within, and so many more–I’ve distanced myself from my culture many years ago, out of shame and what I have failed to see. To be honest, I was born in the Philippines, but was raised in a predominantly Caucasian culture. I am in no way blaming anyone for this disinterest in my heritage, but myself and my own ignorance. I want to take back the pride that I’ve hidden and to bring down the barriers of shame and stereotypes I have built around my kababayans. There are so many people that I would like to meet, to help me find my way back to the place I used to call home. The Philippines is calling me and the only way to answer its beckoning call, is to search for the answers within me and within the stories of my fellow Filipinos.

This is just the beginning–the beginning of something new, something unique, and something that is close to my heart. And I hope you join me on this road–to meet the many faces of the Filipino diaspora and to teach us that we are all connected through our hopes and our struggles, our victories and our many losses–we all just need to look a little closer at our community, remembering that there is more to just a face in the crowd of people.

Welcome to my life. Welcome to A Moreno Blogs…

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Salamat,

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