Before I Forget

‘Our great-great-grandma was this guy’s wife’ (pointing to Andres Bonifacio)

Far away from home, we learn and keep the gift of the Bahay Nakpil

Author’s sister Rafaela with facsimile of Parisian lady by Juan Luna in Ariston Room of Bahay Nakpil (Photo from Peachie Gaston)

The author before facsimile of Juan Luna’s ‘Parisian Lady’ at Bahay Nakpil (Photo from Peachie Gaston)

As I write this, I’ve just come from an afternoon bonding with close friends, enjoying the rest of our summer before Ontario schools reopen in September. Last time I had seen them face to face was in June, a week before our first trip back to the Philippine in nine years. This afternoon, amid the Mario Kart and spicy noodle challenges, my sister Rafaela and I found ourselves recounting some highlights of our trip (such as the loss of power of my phone in Palawan waters), and we off-handedly mentioned the Bahay Nakpil, where we had our last set of pictures taken for our Summer ’22 album.

We found ourselves trying to explain our family home, with all the complex history involved. The simplest thing we could think of was fishing out a P5 coin from my sister’s coin purse, mixed with Canadian loonies and nickels, and showing it to our friends (all non-Filipino) and saying, “Our great-great-grandma was this guy’s wife,” as we pointed to Andres Bonifacio.

Of course, they were surprised—only important people get their faces on money, and that’s a given internationally.

After we showed the coin, we talked a little about Gregoria de Jesus (the Mother of the Philippine Revolution against Spain—Editor), whom we know as Lola Oriang. My best friend told her mom something along the lines of, “Can you believe this? They never told us.” I was a little surprised, too, that my best friend didn’t know about our family ancestral home and our Nakpil family history. Didn’t I ever mention it to her?

As interesting as our family history is, it is not exactly something we parade around, which makes me think of how my younger sister jokes about it: “It’s a cooler thing to talk about it in parties rather than brag about it outright.”

It can be quite challenging to explain the story of Lola Oriang

But truthfully, it can be quite challenging to explain to anyone, not just our non-Filipino friends, the story of Lola Oriang and her descendants going all the way down to us, without sitting down and really getting into it. It would be quite a task to tell it all and make people understand our family and our history, when and where it all occurred, because we are thousands of miles away from the Philippines.

I’m sure my own immediate family had quite a difficult task on their hands as well, doing exactly that: keeping me and my sister connected to our roots in the Philippines despite our growing up abroad. It was something many immigrants whose children grew up overseas faced. How do you build and maintain a connection between home (Philippines) and a foreign land, a world away?

Thankfully, I had my own memories of the Philippines despite my young age during my last visit, but these were accompanied by FaceTime calls and Viber messages where we would regularly receive updates on the Bahay Nakpil and learn about our family history. We were raised to be proud of being Filipinas, as well as connected to our original homeland. Yes, finally, God gave us the blessing to harvest more Philippine memories this year!

Therese and Rafaela with their maternal grandmother Peachie Santos Viola Gaston on the staircase of Bahay Nakpil

I enjoy recounting my own memories of Bahay, its wide staircase and high ceilings, running in and out of the spacious rooms while my Lola Bobbi worked. I remember I hated touching the banister leading upstairs when I was little because of the dust (sorry, Lola). In my more recent experiences this year, after nearly a decade of being away, I loved leaning out the wide windows to watch the bustling street below; its history is just as important to the Bahay as the Bahay is to it. How many Black Nazarene processions have passed down this street?

Sisters Therese and Rafaela in Katipunero Room at Bahay Nakpil (Photo from Peachie Gaston)

Meanwhile, my sister lamented how comfy the old wooden chairs in the parlor are because she enjoyed taking naps on them whenever we visited. We had fun looking at the family reunion photos downstairs, where the more recent generations of the Nakpil descendants gathered. One of the photos shows me and my younger sister as a baby in the arms of an uncle, and I was crying because I hated having my photos taken when I was little.

We both know we are lucky to grow up with the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista as part of our childhood. And beyond the Bahay, we grew up hearing stories about our ancestors, like how Lola Oriang drank an ungodly amount of coffee on a daily basis; could shoot a rifle during the Revolution; bravely hopped from one place to another carrying the documents of the Katipunan; and how she would whip up the recipe that Lolo Ariston would just describe after his trip from Europe. “Buo ang loob!” is what Mamita is passing on to us, from Lola Oriang to Lola Iday and her. It seems our family has endless stories to tell, and we love telling them.

Therese and Rafaela with maternal ‘lola’ Peachie Santos Viola Gaston cosplaying to get that 19th century vibe at Bahay Nakpil

It can be easy to lose these stories to home and history. But I believe in stubbornly retaining that connection, through any means possible, even if it’s only built upon small memories and stories, because I know I have a lot of pride to boast where I come from. However uncertain the future ahead of me and my sister, the experiences and the knowledge will last a lifetime, just like the Bahay and its story.

About author


She is an outdoor aficionado, soon to be 16-year-old grade 11 student in Windsor, Ontario, who can combine lines and colors on a canvas, or play with words to write her coherent ideas when inspired. She did a research paper on Japanese prison camp in Canada that is now on the website, which students use as reference. She is a caring “ate" to her 14-year-old sister and best friend.

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