“San Jose Forever!” That is what my Tito Ato would shout out whenever he’d see me. According to him, I’m a die-hard San Jose fan – someone who would give up everything for that little town in Partido, Camarines Sur. Every summer, I would look forward to going to the province and visiting San Jose. My cousins and I would spend the evenings on the beach, in the orchards or in the farm and just appreciate the peace and quiet away from the city. I have so many wonderful memories there and have learned to love it for what it is to the people living there and the history it carries.
What I love the most about the town is how deeply it is linked to my family. Or maybe it’s the other way around – the more I knew, the more I fell in love with the place where I found my roots.
I have grown up thinking that everyone in our little town is family. When I walk around, the people recognize me as the granddaughter of my Lolo Tatay. I was very proud (perhaps too proud at times).The summer before my junior year in high school, I found myself in the municipal library (which could have been a bodega) and found a bunch of papers containing the history of San Jose. Together with the stories I heard from the older generations, I started to put together my own version of the history of the town.
Way back in 1801, the town of San Jose was but a barrio of El Pueblo de Lagonoy – which is presently the municipality if one continues to go east. The little barrio was recognized under the name of Danlog (which is now the name of one of the barrios of San Jose). At that time El Pueblo de Lagonoy was under the rule of a Spanish (my guess is he was an insulares) priest, Reverend Padre Salvador Mendoza. His jurisdiction was over Lagonoy and all of the surrounding barrios. Salvador Mendoza would constantly go to Danlog with his faithful church dignitaries because he was planning on building a church there. The place he selected for the site was called “Cabayawasnan”. Unfortunately, an ilustrado named Laurenciano Barcillano owned the land. He refused to donate the lot to the church. Through circumstances that were beyond his control, ownership of the coveted land passed from him to the church.
At that time, there were only around 30 households in Danlog. Manpower for the construction of the church was low so the priest asked help from the people of Lagonoy. According to the papers found in the municipal hall, the priest assigned the natives of Lagonoy to finance and work the northern half of the church while the other half was assigned to the natives of Danlog and all the neighboring sitios. This information could have been exaggerated though because of the common misconception that the Spanish always exploited the Filipinos, forcing them to work without pay – and in this case, funding the whole project.
The rise of the church in that area initiated the making of the little barrio into a town. In the year 1813, the town was officially established under the name of Patrocinio and was later on changed to San Jose, which is the present name of this town. Its founders were Father Salvador Mendoza, the parish priest of El Pueblo de Lagonoy and Don Macario Agustin, first Captain Municipal of this town.
Honestly, this little piece of history was not what got my attention. What was not mentioned in the municipality’s records is that Padre Mendoza did not only establish the town, but my family as well. Somehow, he must have gotten himself a pretty Bicolana and had two sons. This was not exactly a big surprise since Noli Me Tangere taught me that things like this happen.
Counting from Salvador Mendoza as the first generation, I am part of the 8th generation. I was able to make this connection with the help of the notebooks of my grandaunt, Dra. Nita Obias, and my grandfather, Edmundo Obias (one kept nicely with my Lola, the other hidden between medical books). In the notebooks were names of our ancestors and the relation they had to each other. Some connections were quite vague though – not mentioning whether Padre Mendoza was the actual father of these two boys. The priest’s name was just placed directly above the boys with the name of their mother in parenthesis. According to more open-minded older generations, they admitted that they were the parents of the two boys – in fact, they carried Padre Mendoza’s last name. According to family records, they changed their surnames in 1836 – the first year the boys got themselves involved in politics.
The two boys were Don Benigno Mendoza and Don Agapito Mendoza. Their names appear several times in the municipal hall’s list of people who held leading official positions in the community. My immediate family comes directly from Don Benigno Mendoza. He married Josefa Ramirez (a surname that, to this date belongs to another large family in the area). They had eight children (the third generation) – including Francisco Mendoza my great, great, great grandfather. He married Leocadia Pacis and had ten children. This is where my family starts getting quite complicated. I won’t go into details – because with each name goes an incredible story. But somewhere along the line my grandparents appear.
Each family has a tale to tell – after several years, they are either highly exaggerated or very highly censored. After several generations, and admittedly, being born into a social-economic status that was educated, pampered and landed, there was a trend in the names of those in local government. There was a trend in the names of the little businesses. There was a trend in the areas that houses were located. For better or for worse – these names made an imprint on San Jose and on my life.
Undeniably, there are so many things that our family has to be proud of. But like any gossip, the hidden stories are what caught my eye. Apparently, there were many things kept from the generation of my mother.
As I continued my research, each summer discovering something new (and most of the time, more exciting), I would always think of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo or the novels of F. Sionil Jose. You have the Spanish Friar, the insulares, the natives, the mestizos, the ilustrados, and similar ways of life. Of course, not everything I found out about my family was good, but then again not everything that happened in those novels were good either.
I finally finished my article – a piece I had put so much into. I wanted everyone to know about my little town and my great family. So, with the advent of electronic mail, I sent copies to my aunts, uncles and grandparents, thinking they would be proud of me for putting so much effort in finding out all about my roots.
I got some positive feedback from some very supportive relatives, but I also got into a little bit of trouble. I had spilled the family secret: we are descendants of Spanish priests!
I was told that it was “Nothing to be proud of!” “Nakakahiya”.
Of course I was crushed. I had given so much of myself in that project – in fact, I can say that I found myself in that project. I admit that it wasn’t exactly the best news, but it was the truth. It was a fact that we came from a priest, so why make such a big deal out of it? I’m sure we aren’t the only ones who are of holy descent in this country (or the rest of the colonized world).
It was never my purpose to put the family to shame or make anyone feel uncomfortable when I wrote it. I just wanted the rest of my family, especially the younger generations, to become more aware of the family’s history and hopefully, appreciate it more.
“But you should have a bit more delicadeza!”
Delicadeza? What for? I should think that in this day and age, that people should be more open-minded when it comes to these issues. I understand how delicadeza is important in many aspects of keeping the peace, propriety and political correctness – but when it comes to our shared history – as a family, and even as a nation, is it wrong for us to talk about the these parts of our lives?
I don’t understand why we should be ashamed of the indiscreetness of our great-great-great-great-great grandfather. For one thing, it happened so long ago – and it is not our fault that any of that happened. In fact, we should be thankful, for without that we would definitely not be here right now. I’m quite proud of having a priest (actually 2) in my family tree. It makes me feel like I (or at least my family) have been involved personally in history.
Sometimes when we block away what we feel are evil pasts, it creates an unhealthy feeling of shame. There is all this focus on our dark Spanish past that we tend to forget the wonderful things that we did receive from our colonizers. There is always this tendency to blame our “awful” past. Making it difficult for us to recognize whatever it is we are capable of doing to move forward. We tend to forget that Filipino culture, Filipino identity – is really everything that has become of us because of our past and the choices that we continue to make. It is in knowing and accepting what has happened that we can understand how to make things better for our town and our country.
When it comes to our personal and even family history – the collective memories that bind us together give us this sense of belonging. In knowing our roots, we learn about those that came before us – what they have gone through, what they lived for and what they died for.
This is as close to history as I can get… and I like it… I like knowing that I came from a people who played a part in the molding of a town. I came from a family that has made a difference and continues to make a difference. The more I know, the more I love – as is the case with most things and people.
I post this challenge to the Filipino Youth – find out more about your roots, where you are from. And let’s see if you don’t fall in love with your hometown. Let’s see if you don’t fall in love with the Philippines.
This article was posted on the YTRIP website (Thankyou Clare!). The article can be found here with other excellent write-ups!