It started as a whisper,
but re-reading my journals, scribbles on ripped notebook paper, and lines of unfinished poems, I’ve written it over and over again. My recurring dream, always somewhere on my long list of things to look forward to.
Live at my Lola’s house [Lola, the Filipino word for Grandmother] and listen to her tell stories about the days before I was born.
What kind of child was my mother? How did you fall in love with my Lolo [Grandpa]? What hopes did you have for your 11 children? When did you learn to sing the Tennessee Waltz?
Maybe I’ll make her look to the future and ask, What do you hope for now?
When I arrived at Lola’s house in Bogo, a town in the Cebu Province in the Philippines, we sat at the dining table, said a short prayer and began to eat our dinner.
The house was filled with the sounds of three generations of Cataratas [Catarata is our family name, it means waterfall], and there was no shortage of flowing family gossip, rib-crushing hugs and belly laughs.
At the end of the night, my Lola was telling me how happy she was that we came to visit, and told me that she has been forgetting a lot of things lately. I explained, “I heard you calling to me in my dreams.”
She smirked so that I could see all the wrinkles around her eyes, and said, “Yes, I always do.”
Introduction to the project
As the matriarch of our large family, Lola is the sweet spot and perhaps the only thing we can all agree on. She is a beacon of hope, reminding us that hard work pays off, that freedom is a gift and that family should be cherished and loved. With each passing year, family members from The States who have visited the Philippines have come back saying that she is getting older, losing her memories, and that “she’s not the same Lola anymore.”
I pick and choose how this impacts my days, my thoughts, my prayers, but this year I had a stronger call back to a home that has never officially been my home.
With the help and support of my cousin Michelle [affectionately called Iday or Iddi, Filipinos are all about our nicknames], a native New Yorker who has spent the last year in the Philippines reconnecting with our family and heritage, we brainstormed how to record our Lola’s stories together for Iddi’s last month in July. This snowballed quickly, as I was urged to bring a camera, take video, and attempt documenting the process. After a month of major life changes and a high frequency of phone calls with my parents, I bought a one-way ticket and uprooted, knowing that plans, timelines and all the rest would change and fall into place.
So, here I sit, at the end of a long table set for 10, listening to a rooster crow despite the hour, and children giggle as they walk on an unpaved road on their way home from school. I’m on the same plot of land that my mom was born on, waiting for Lola Abundia Catarata to wake up from a nap and tell me more stories, to remember a few things, or maybe, just to meet me again.
Documenting the trip has proven to be more difficult than natural. Maybe it’s my resistance to interrupt the moment, but when my aunties and cousins request for the camera to be shut off, I happily oblige. People don’t say the good stuff until they see the machines are powered down.
I’m trying to be culturally respectful, I’ve got to learn how to push back sometimes, and I need to be aware that everyone has their own sensitivity to what a family history project intends to uncover.
Slowly, I’m getting better at leaving things on and we’re all getting better at forgetting that they are there.