If you were physically separated from your significant other, for whatever reason, would you still want to get back with him or her after a year? Five years? Thirty?
About a month after the Only and Older Bionic Brother was born, the Daddy, a naturalized U.S. citizen, returned to the United States. He realized that there would be more and better opportunities for his children in America than in the Philippines. This was in the late 1940s. He worked hard and within a year, he made enough money to book ship passage for the Mama and their son. The Mama did not want to leave her home and family. The Mama's mother told her that once she married, her life was with her husband's. She, the Mama, no longer belonged to the Grandmother. Thirteen months after the Daddy left, he and the Mama were reunited in their new home in California.
The stories of my two ninangs (godmothers) were different from the Mama. They waited much, much longer to reunite with their spouses. The story of the ninongs (godfathers) and the Daddy, were similar, and to put the godparents' separation in context, I'll tell you a bit of that history. In the 1920s, the Philippines was a U.S. territory, which probably made it easier for Filipinos to travel as U.S. nationals. Throughout that decade, many of the young Filipino men, from all over the country, decided to go to Hawaii and the United States for the many jobs and good pay they were promised by agricultural recruiters and bragged about by friends and relatives who were already abroad. Most of the young men planned to work for a few years then return home with plenty of money to marry and start a family, if they had not one already. The Great Depression foiled their plans.
Ninang Deling and Ninong MarianoShe was 21 years old and he was nearly 24 when they married in 1924. A son was born two years later. In 1928, Ninong Mariano and his brother sailed for the United States where they worked the farms for meager wages. Said Ninong Mariano, "The first time I came here, the wages were 35 cents an hour. During Depression, fifteen cents an hour. That was the best I could get. Some places it was twelve-and-a-half cents an hour."
He sent money home when he could. Ninang Deling made money for the family by taking vegetables from the province where she lived and selling them in Manila, then before returning home, purchased products to sell back home. She also made a living for her and son by sewing clothes. She said, "I was a seamstress. I sold clothes when I could. Sometimes I make five dresses for someone to buy. They used to pay me three pesos."
Ninang Deling and Ninong Mariano reunited in 1950. She was 47 years old. She had no conflict about leaving her home when her husband told her to come. Her son and her brothers were already in the United States. Ninang Deling said, "This is where my family was, so I come here. . . I (have) a good feeling."
Ninang Maxima and Ninong VicenteThey married in 1925 when she was 19 years old and he was 27. They had two children before he took off for America in 1929. Over the years, he found jobs as a farm laborer and house boy. For 10 years, he worked in a Navy yard in California. Ninong Vicente said, "I liked to go back to Philippines, but no money. So I stay here. If you go there, you need lots of money to spend for the plane."
With the money her husband sent and the earnings she made from her sari-sari store, Ninang Maxima managed to make a living for her family and send her son and daughter to school. Ninang Maxima said, "I am homesick to see my husband. When wartime, about five years, he didn’t write us. (There was) no mail to the Philippines."
Ninang Maxima finally reunited with her husband in 1959. "I didn’t recognize him when I came here. I didn’t know his face because it’s different. When he came here, he was young yet. When we got together, he’s old. I (was) 53. He was 60."
I'll do the math for you: Ninang Deling and Ninong Mariano were separated for about 22 years, while Ninang Maxima and Ninong Vicente were apart for 30 years. Amazing, isn't it?
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