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Magdalena Hafalia Sagun


Petite. Resilient, strong, assured. Loving, generous, kind. Beautiful. Heart-felt chuckles and smiles. Lilac and grey plaids. Soft, colorful scarves.  Biko, a sweet rice dessert baked in lots of brown sugar and fresh coconut milk. That’s how I remember my godmother Magdalena Hafalia Sagun.

Ninang Deling is what I called her.  Ninang means godmother in Ilocano. I had several godmothers growing up. I’ve always thought of Ninang Deling as number one godmother. She was part of my life for 36 years, from the moment I was lifted out of Mama’s womb. (I was a Caesarean birth, thank goodness for both Mama and me, a story for another day.) Ninang Deling  taught me to count in Ilocano. Four year old me recited, happily bouncing on the couch beside her, maysa, dua, tallo, uppat, lima, innem, pito, walo, siam, sangapulo. One to ten. After which, she’d point to the parts of her body, eye, ear,  mouth, arm, and so on as I identified them in Ilocano. Bounce, bounce, bounce.

Magdelena Hafalia was born in Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur, Philippines to Andres Hafalia and Francisca Aquino on July 17, 1903. She was the oldest of seven boys and three sisters, the youngest sibling born when she was nearly 26 years old, married with one son, Leo. 

Magdalena married Mariano Acosta Sagon (later changed to Sagun), also from Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur, on July 7, 1924. Making a living was very difficult in the Philippines at that time. Mariano, like so many thousands of young Filipino men, both married and single, headed to America with the goal of making enough money to bring home for their families to have a good life. Mariano sailed from Manila on January 28, 1928 to Hawaii. He worked there for a few months, then sailed onward to San Francisco.  Magdalena reunited with her husband on December 27, 1950 when she got off the airplane at the San Francisco Airport.

Twenty-two years apart? Yup. Mariano sent money whenever he could (how much could one send making 10 cents, more or less, an hour) while Magdalena worked as a farmer, seamstress, and produce vendor at home. She made sure their son got an education. Because the province (Ilocos Sur) didn’t have a high school, Leo was sent to Manila for school. Magdalena said that she visited him once a month, bringing onions and vegetables to sell. Before going home, she bought tomatoes, mangoes, anything that wasn’t available in the province, which she then sold. A sharp Mama, she was.

She was 47 years old when she left home, at her husband’s request to be with him in America. Mariano had become a U.S. citizen. Magdalena had a good feeling about moving to an unknown world. “This is where my family was, so I come here,” she said when asked why she immigrated. Her son immigrated to the U.S. in 1946. Three of her brothers were also living in America, two in San Francisco and one in New York. 


I enjoyed visiting Ninang Deling. Her husband, not so much. He liked to talk about things that interested him. Mariano was my godfather because he was married to Ninang Deling, which was the way according to my parents. A good daughter, I showed Ninong Mariano respect, sometimes sarcastically when I was an oaf of a teenager. He was an okay guy, after all Ninang Deling could’ve said no to the stranger who was, by 1950, a husband in word only. She raised their son alone, she lived through the Japanese occupation during World War II, and let me not forget that American soldiers were still fighting Filipino guerrillas during the first three or four years of her life. Who knows what else she may have prevailed through in the Philippines.

In her 80s, Ninang Deling had a stroke. Physically, she came back.  Mentally, her words and names of people and things that she learned from the time she lived in America were wiped away. She no longer spoke or understood English. I didn’t speak Ilocano but I understood it clearly, so we got by. Ninang Deling smiled as she apologized  to me for feeling like she knew me but she couldn’t remember who I was. When I told her my name, she lit up. “Susie, yes.” Sweet woman. 

 
I thought Ninang Deling showed the woman she was while she recovered from her stroke. Before her stroke, she let her husband take lead, tell her what to do. She spoke softly around him, even when she didn’t agree. Not after her stroke. I was visiting once when she told him essentially where to get off. Good for her, I thought. He suffered it well, fortunately.

Magdalena Hafalia Sagun died on July 3, 1989. She was 85 years old. Cheers to Ninang Deling!







Comments

  1. Susie, I'm not sure why or how I lost track of you but what a sweet and wonderful story to come back to. I loved reading this and am a bit envious that you grew up with so many wonderful godmothers -- and this in addition to "the mother" who I remember well from when I visited your great blog regularly. Glad I found you again.

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    1. Hi, Sallie, I was wordless and trackless for awhile. I’ve been scribbling on the blog for a few weeks, but only began visiting blog friends again. It’s great to be back. I missed you, too.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this, as I wondered what happened to her. alex

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    1. Hi, Alex. Working on her story got me thinking about finishing the history of our extended family growing up in Hollister.

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    2. That would definitely be a must read for me....

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  3. ...what a list of adjectives for this dear lady, I wish that I had met her!

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    1. She would’ve smiled broadly at you, greet you warmly, and offer you a piece of biko, if it was available.

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  4. Sounds like she had quite the life. Amazing woman. (Believe it or not, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing on July 3, 1989. Strange coincidence.)

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  5. Great story! I was excited to see your comment on Tom's blog. Like Sallie, I had lost your blog address. I remembered your first name and the drawing of you as a child and I'd wondered what you were up to. So hello again!

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    1. Hi, Linda! Glad you enjoyed the story. I appreciate that you sought me out. :-) Good to see you again.

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  6. Wonderful story of your godmothers and #1 godmother was truly special to you.
    It is good hearing from you after so long. Thanks for dropping by my blog
    Stay Safe

    Much💜love

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    1. Hi, Gillena! Thank you. It was about time I wrote Ninang Deling’s story that I knew. I’ll be seeing you. :-)

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Thanks for the good cheer. :-)

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