A walk in the past!

By Emmanuelle

IN Coelho’s Alchemist, the boy’s heart told him ditzy things like “most people see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” Zoom the perspective to the here and narrow, most people see a town as a threatening place, and because they do, the town turns out to be, indeed, a threatening place.

Most people could be so very wrong.

Let a friend, a self-proclaimed gypsy, take you back to when and where one of her many lives began.

This town sharply angles away from the highway to and from the cities of the north and south. Like the big old towns of Pangasinan, its poblacion seems to have been naturally zoned-out to accommodate a quiet walk in the park under fantastically huge ancient trees. And at the end of the walk is the old Catholic church, as the fathers would have cryptically laid it down. Alongside the main streets, linger still houses of wartime, postwar and the 60’s era, almost uniformly outsized with wide yards planted to a variety of fruit trees and flowering shrubs and bushes. Back and beyond, there spread the endless fields – green and sometimes browning where the sun blends with the wind, without clutter, without fuss.

Long before the infrastructural changes undertaken during the recent years, the downtown and market area appeared straight out of Marlboro country! Boardwalks fronted the stores, restaurants, and other commercial establishments. Shoppers’ feet went ka-plonk ka-plonk its length, right round the main corner and on to the very end to where served the best brain-freezing halo-halo in town.

This is the town where the very sickly, very maligned, very misunderstood Carlos Sampayan Bulosan had his roots. Filipino by birth but American by choice, he made “America laugh with his stories when laughter was a rare commodity” with The Laughter of My Father, The Tree of My Father (translated into Italian, Danish and Swedish), America is in the Heart, The Voices of Bataan, and others.

One can be forgiven the foolhardiness of seeing through rose-colored glasses, but to the gypsy, the people of this town seemed more children of the earth, yet children of the world. They knew where they came from, they knew where they stood, they knew where they were going thereon. The fathers of their fathers of their fathers had fueled the initial rush of pre-war exodus, to the pineapple acres of Guam and Hawaii, to the orange and apple orchards of California.

Bulosan did not speak for himself alone. He wrote and spoke for the Filipinos who had chosen foreign citizenship over that with which they were born. One did not give up one’s old thick blood for new thin one, just for mere whimsical folly. One went through the whole tiring and draining transplanting, transfusion process, for three real tangible reasons – a secured life for one and one’s family, a more secured life for one and one’s family, and a most secured life for one and one’s family.

In the hearts of these transplanted, transfused Filipinos though, throb the lonely echoes of a longing for home.

Maybe this explained the seeming vastness of this town as the gypsy perceived it at the time. Its sight was not limited to this place, to the boundaries of time and space. It extended beyond the horizon, even beyond the permanence of resident visas. It went beyond shrugging off of old loyalties and swearing in of new yokes.

They, who had left, were forever of this place.

The gypsy’s fascination with this town began when, as a prospective transferee, she took her first look at its high school. And what was a self-proclaimed gypsy wanting to do in school? Gypsies have to be educated, too, yes? She took that first look. Then she marched off straight to the first section of her year level. As the gypsy child began anew to learn, she also learned the mayor’s family had donated most of the grounds her feet would walk on for many months afterwards.

Ngarud! Lanti! To give freely away what one has plenty of is a very unthreatening gesture of generosity! To have a school the beneficiary of such largesse is, too, a very unthreatening gesture of foresight.  Years later to this date, three institutions will share the same grounds: the original high school, an extension of the National Science High School, and a division office of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). Hundreds and thousands of graduates later, the sons and daughters of those who till the soil shall rub elbows with the intellectually gifted, the privileged upper and middle class, the ordinarily maudlin and the bureaucracy that wields the stick and screeches the boards over this part of the province.

Am not being very witty at hiding the identity of this town, am I?

(To be continued.)

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