Only Knowledge Left

My grandmother’s name is Liwayway Espino; she is also known as “Li” or “Baby” by her friends and family. She was born in the Philippines and came to the United States when she was thirty-three. She is new sixty-six years old and around five foot one. She is very sweet and caring toward everyone she comes across, and she has eight grandchildren between the ages of two and twenty. She is a small, Catholic woman with a big heart and a wicked sense of humor. My grandmother is very generous. If she has some food, she will always offer some to you or she will pay for something that you want. She likes to spend time with family, but if she isn’t with family, then she’s either in the kitchen or watching shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She is one out of six sisters and tries to spend as much time as she can with them. She constantly gives out advice to my cousin, sister, and I, along with an occasional haircut. Every day when I come home from school, she’s there, either to greet me or taking a quick cat nap. My grandmother is always there when you need her and can always put a smile on your face.

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Liwayway came to the United States to be with her family, as her oldest sister and mother were already here. For her, the United States was a very big country with many opportunities for immigrants. Luckily, she already spoke English when she came because English is the medium of instruction in the Philippines. I asked my grandmother to speak of some memories about the Philippines. She began to tell me about World War II.

For Liwayway, what she remembers about the war is the Japanese occupation. Liwayway says, “Since I wasn’t born at the time, the only knowledge I have is from the stories of my parents and the books I read.” She remembers that “the Japanese occupation was full of cruelty and suffering for the Filipino people.” Some families weren’t as lucky as hers during the war; because of their young age, they weren’t able to join any military forces in the Philippines. She says, “My mother and my mother’s siblings were all in their early twenties, so they could not join any military forces in the Philippines.” She did know some people in the war, though, like  her neighbors. Liwayway said that some people weren’t in the military but used guerilla tactics. They were people who decided to fight against the Japanese, despite not being in military forces.

When Liwayway came to the United States, her knowledge about the war hadn’t affected the way she thought of the country itself because during the war, America and the Philippines had fought side by side. In fact, she says, “the Philippines are greatly influenced by the United States. They have everything that the United States has, [such as], McDonald’s. The government in the Philippines believes in democracy, just like the United States.” In terms of custom, the Philippines are influenced by Spaniards, who are more conservative. Now that it’s modern times, Filipino people are very similar to American people. As an example, in America they have basketball. The Philippines has basketball, too. The Philippines has a lot of the same things America does because they have a lot of the same influences. The Philippines shares many of the same things that the United States has here.

As of today, Liwayway lives in San Francisco with her son, daughter-in-law, and two of her eight grandchildren. Since she is retired, she spends most of her time doing work around the house, relaxing, being with family, or taking walks around the neighborhood. She hasn’t had the time to fly back and visit her home in the Philippines, so the closest she has to home is her family and her memories. Liwayway’s knowledge of the war is very helpful to us, even if she wasn’t born at the time, because now that her mother and father have passed on, her and her sisters’ knowledge is precious.

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This interview helped me understand more about my family and my culture because before this, I didn’t really know much about the way of the Philippines and its people. This interview taught me more and brought me closer to my family, specifically my grandmother, Liwayway. We hadn’t really talked about life in the Philippines before, besides stories she told me about my father’s childhood. I knew a little about my dad’s childhood, and a little bit about the old tradition of harana. Harana was a way of serenade back around my great-grandmother’s time. A young man would sing to a young woman through her window, professing his love to her. This practice is long forgotten, and not many haranistas are around anymore. I learned this knowledge from the documentary my Auntie Fides and Uncle Florante made. Overall, this interview helped me understand my culture better and I had a lot of fun.

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