When I was growing up, I had two sets of parents: my mother and father, and my tata and nana. I would love going over to my tata and nana’s house to spend time with them and talk story about their life growing up in the Philippines and the reason they migrated to Hawai’i. My nana would always tell me, “Without me, none of you guys would be here. You all should be grateful that I brought you guys here.” And till this day, I am grateful that we live in America, but I have always wondered what made them want to come to O’ahu, and why they moved away from a place that they grew up in. All I knew was that my tata and nana wanted to provide us with a better life. This is why I wanted to take this time to ask all the questions and get the answers from them.
As we sat in their living room, we talked about how they used to watch over my sisters and me since we were babies, and the room filled with laughter. As the laughter died down, my tata’s face changed as I asked, “Why did you guys move to America, Tata?”
As he explained why, he had this look of relief in his eyes. The reason why they left was shocking; I didn’t know that they had experienced things so terrible. He talked about the war, when Japan tried to take over the Philippines. “I was scared for nana and your grandpas because they would kill children and rape the women.” I could tell he wanted to cry because he had never told this to anyone. “I told your nana to bring Ricky and Bert to the mountain to be safe.” He explained how grateful he was that he rushed them to the mountains because if not, then we wouldn’t be alive. “This is why we left, Stephanie! You happy, right! If not, you wouldn’t be alive.”
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “Thank you for that.” To me, this was a big shock. I didn’t know that there had been any sort of war happening in the Philippines while my tata and nana were living there. I wanted to cry because the emotion of despair that my tata was giving me made me sink into my chair as there was a really long pause. My sisters and I just kept looking at each other, and their facial expressions showed signs of relief that my tata and nana were okay. I could not imagine a life without them. They are important to our family and basically, the beginning of our family.
It all started with my nana; she grew up on the Big Island with her mother and father. While growing up, she would always tell us about her father being deported to the Philippines due to a crime. She never did tell us much about her father. My tata explained why they chose O’ahu over the Big Island.
We moved to O’ahu from the Philippines because of the war that were going on. I believed it was safer for us to leave. We wanted to move to the Big Island because your nana grew up there, but it was too expensive and I was not able to find work. So finally we settled on O’ahu because I found work at Dole Plantation. It was hard work, but we had enough money to have a house and provide food for all of us. You know, I worked really hard for your nana, Ricky and Bert. Overall, I am glad we live on O’ahu because the Big Island is a boring place to live. Oahu has better opportunities and nicer houses. Especially since the family got so big. I truly love your nana even if I don’t show it often.
My tata then talked about how he met my nana. I could tell from his face that he is in love with my nana, no matter what she is putting him through right now with her dementia. As he was telling the story, I could hear my nana saying, “I never loved him, from the start! He was old man already.” All of us laughed, but we all knew that they loved each other. They are 16 years apart and still in love.
“Yeah, I was old,” my tata said. “And she was young, but when I seen her, I knew she was the one I wanted to be with, so I forced her to love me by being the best husband and father I could be.”
“Did it work, Tata?” I ask.
He laughed and smiled at me and said, “Yes, you think she would still be here if I never worked?”
I started to tear as he explained their life together because it was like a romantic comedy. In the beginning she hated him because he was too old and not her type, but it did not stop him from making her fall in love with him. After all these years, my tata takes wonderful care of my nana. He still provides everything that he can to make her happy. She has her off days, but when my tata gets a glimpse of how they used to be, it makes up for all the pain that she has caused him because that is his one true love.
January 27, 1945, was the day my tata and nana decided to become husband and wife. My tata was 32 years old, and my nana was 16 years old.
“Yes she was young, but it was legal,” he said. “I got her parents’ approval and hers; that’s all that matters. It has been 68 years since your nana and I got married, and it has been a ride full of ups and downs, but mostly up. Thankfully, she got to know me better throughout the years and she has come around to loving me for who I am. Without her no one would be here. She sacrificed being with someone younger to be with an old man who forced her to love him. I take great care of her, even if she’s’ crazy.”
They moved to O’ahu, Hawai’i, on August 5, 1966, with their two sons and two daughter-in-laws. “It was hard work to live here, but it was for the best for the family.” Both my tata and nana worked at Dole Planation as pineapple pickers until they retired. “I worked hard for my family, I was an emigrant and had no way to get a professional job, even if I was a straight A student in the Philippines.” His eyes opened widely while he talked about the issue of discrimination against immigrants. He explained how his bosses didn’t promote him because he would speak his mind on the unfair wages and the hours they worked. He was disappointed in himself because he couldn’t provide as much as he would like for his family. His face changed from a smile to a frown as he talked about not being able to make enough money. “I felt like a failure because I am smart. But I couldn’t get a better job.” He did the best thing by moving his whole family to America to create a better life for them. “I worked till my shoes broke.” That is how dedicated he was especially since my nana couldn’t work because of an accident at work. “A tool cut her face; she was bleeding so much she went home and stayed home.” They had one income and still managed to keep their home and provide food for their family.
We talked for three hours, and I learned a lot about my tata and nana. They are amazing people, and I am honored to have them in my life. They provided our families with many things like finances, wisdom and love. Honestly, I didn’t know much about their past, but I am glad I do now. They ran away from wars, stayed away from poverty and still managed to love one another through it all. My tata would always tell my boyfriend, “You have one life, one love, and you must take care of that one love.” He is an amazing son, brother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Throughout my life, I have looked at him as a second father because he has taught me so much – from random facts about Hawai’i to math and boyfriend advice. I am truly lucky to have such an amazing tata in my life, and he will never be replaced.
Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II