Journey to the Motherland

“Beautiful Motherland, with tears of joy, your son has returned.”

That was my first twitter post I did the first chance I got when I arrived in the Philippines. That’s exactly what happened when my plane touched the tarmac on Ninoy Aquino International Airport. This is my 4th time back to the motherland in 6 years, and each time I come back I become more attached to the land of my ancestors. Although I was born and raised in the U.S., the land of my parents and ancestors always felt more like home to me. This was my goal way back in August 2010, when I twittered “The homeland is seriously calling me back. Pagbabalik ko sa Pilipinas, summer 2010.” Perhaps it was the rollercoaster of emotions I was feeling at the time being overwhelmed with my duties as a community organizer with SanDiwa, Bayan-USA, and PEP, coupled with the passing of Pres. Cory Aquino. Nevertheless, I truly felt the motherland was calling me to come back.

Now that I’m here, it’s an incredible feeling to know I’m beginning to accomplish that goal. I spent the first couple days going over my expo program with Bayan-Philippines and Migrante International. I wanted to do so much with the cultural work and human rights sectors that I realized my wild ambitions were taking over, which tends to happen with me a lot. The kasamas gently reminded me to slow down and just take things day by day, and first and foremost, “enjoy just being back in your motherland.”

My first adventure was to visit the family of my grandfather, Juan “Johnny” Agbayani Raymundo, the most important father figure in my life, who passed away in 1997. I still feel his spirit even though he’s no longer physically around. I stayed with his oldest living sibling, Lola Doting, and the family of his nephew, my Tito Eddie. They live on a quiet 5-hectare farmland in the province of Isabela known as the Raymundo Estate. My family has owned and farmed on this land for over 4 generations, but unlike big comprador landowners like the Ayalas or the Cojuangcos, my family doesn’t have any tenants and they farm the land by themselves. Whatever they grow, harvest, and sell, they own 100%. This is something I’ve never heard of before, farmers in the Philippines actually owning the land they live and farm on. I can only hope all land in the Philippines will one day be returned to its rightful owners, the peasants. And compared to the huge estates of the Ayalas or Cojuangcos, 5-hectares is really not that big. Although my family lives and farms on this small piece of land, they still live in meager conditions. Their income is largely dependent on the weather, and the recent El Nino dry spell has really affected their income. My Tita Hermie’s husband actually works abroad as a construction worker in Qatar to help with the family income. Same with my Tita Lorna, who travels back and forth between Isabela and around the world working as a domestic helper. I’m trying to help Tita Lorna with the immigration process to the U.S., where she can be the live-in caretaker my Lola really needs. When I asked about the socio-political climate in Isabela, namely the effects of the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, my Tito Eddie said this:

“For the most part, it is peaceful and quiet here. We have a name for the “insurgents”: the Nicest People Around! Whatever you read about them in the news; gangsters and terrorists, is really not true!”

Wow, Nicest People Around. I’ve never heard that before! I had to laugh, because all we see about them in the news is very negative and criminalized.

Tito Eddie shows newly harvested monggo beans

My Lolo Johnny and Lola Mely's wedding picture (1946) at Tita Hermie's house.

To be able to see where my Lolo Johnny grew up and perfected his craft as a farmer was very special to me. It made me appreciate all he did and sacrifice for our family even more. He was the first in the family to go to college. He survived the Bataan Death March as a soldier in World War II. He held multiple degrees in Engineering, yet worked in the U.S. as a humble repairman. He was able to bring my Lola and all 5 of his kids to the U.S., my mom included, and put them all through college. He is the most hardworking man I’ve ever known, and now seeing where he grew up, I now know why he was such a hard worker. He is still very highly regarded in Isabela. My family talks about him as if he was still alive.

Each time I come back, I am truly humbled and reminded not to take my privileges for granted. It’s only been 10 days and I feel the personal and spiritual growth. I can’t wait for my next adventure here in the motherland.

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2 Responses to “Journey to the Motherland”

  1. […] Seeing my family in Isabela, Philippines, for the first time. I finally got to see the land where my grandfather grew up and harnessed his […]

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