It was just a simple gathering at a house in a rural poor community and I was making a native dessert together with a Tita (Aunt in Filipino), her Sister-in-law, and a Lola (Grandmother in Filipino). They weren’t my blood relatives but that’s how it is here in the Philippines, we automatically feel like family.
In making the dessert, we were wrapping the cassava mixture with a banana leaf while seated at the living room overlooking the front yard. The children were gathering fruits from a mango tree and the men were gathering firewood as well as preparing the pot that would be our makeshift steamer. When the men were all done, they gathered around and helped us wrap the dessert while exchanging folk stories and advice for the young. We would laugh as we recount our earlier experiences. We were all just happy that our efforts would soon be a sweet edible thing that could ease our hunger. After we finished wrapping everything, we tied them together with strands of coconut leaves and put it in our makeshift steamer. While waiting, the little children showcased their talents in dancing and as they sang, we joined in chorus too. We were having a great time and shortly after, our dessert was cooked! Everyone was eager to taste our ground cassava with coconut milk dessert. We divided the dessert per bundle and sent them to our old neighbors as we invited those who can come to share the food that we prepared. We savored the moment.
When we talk about family, it is always the basic unit of society where parents teach their children significant life lessons and values that mold them to become better persons as they grow to understand their worth. In the Philippines, it is quite unique because aside from our parents, we have our Lolo, Lola, Tito, Tita, Ninang, Ninong, Ate (Elder Sister), Kuya ( Elder brother) and Cousins to the nth degree that we share our lives with. However, these above-mentioned relatives are not limited to the biological ones. Our parents’ friends become our Titas and Titos and their sons and daughters our Ates and Kuyas. The in-laws become our mamas and papas, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews too.
One of the best things that make me proud to be a Filipino is because of the close family ties that we keep which has always helped me grow to become a better person. In happy times and in tough times, it feels good to have so many people behind my back to share my joys with or to comfort me when I am sad, ease away my troubles and support me in my decisions.
After high school, I took a gap year. Throughout, I have lived with families in the slums, in the mountains, at a rural poor community, and my very own family in the city. I realized that no matter where we come from, one thing in common among us is that we have this value of love that keeps us stronger together. We cannot afford to cast away anyone but we are always willing to accept a new member in our family even if we are really not biologically related. It all lies within us as we recognize the intrinsic and inviolable human dignity.
It is a challenge for all of us to continue to create a strong family environment and to strengthen our family relationships. It is our responsibility to spread awareness as we help our family members become responsible, strong and committed advocates of love as we value life by recognizing each person’s dignity from the moment of conception to natural death. Our lives become enriched as we experience true love freely given and received within the family.
By Rejean Marie Darroca, a former intern at WYA Pacific office.