On this holiday afternoon, my family is in the park riding their bikes. I should have joined them, but I chose to have a quiet moment by myself. This choice might seem antisocial, but the reality is that while family time is confined to evenings and weekends, I actually spend more time with them than I do with myself. Self-awareness, retrospection, and security are all important to allow me to be available to my family or anyone else for that matter.
This was one of those days where I needed to be alone for just a little while. It’s not just any day either. It’s July 4th. To most everyone around me, it’s the celebration of Independence Day, but to my mother and I, it also marks the 49th anniversary of my grandmother’s death.
Sofia Calbo Villaraza died when my mother was only 14 years old. She suffered immeasurable atrocities during WWII including surviving 13 stabs from a bayonet and subsequently, living in hiding with little food or water for 48 days. More tragically, during this same attack, she lost her two daughters aged 12 and 14. It takes more than courage and bravery to survive through such horrors. Her perseverance is the only reason I exist today. She met my grandfather about a decade later and they had only one daughter, Christina, who by 14 was motherless and by 18 years old had gone out on her own and was fending for herself in a country stricken with poverty and conflict.
Ten years later, Christina met Billy, an American Airman from Clark Air Force Base in Manila. After he shipped off to Korea, she discovered she was pregnant. Born out of wedlock and “unclaimed” I was not yet an American. My mother and I were on our own. If she thought it was hard to support herself before, it was even more so now that she had a baby. She sold bananas, lived mostly on rice and fish and enrolled her baby with an organization providing nutritional, medical and educational support for impoverished families.
I survived; many were not as fortunate.
The sponsorship I received from this organization was a critical turning point in my life. Someone, somewhere, picked my picture out of a pile and chose to save my life. Quite literally. My mother could not have done without the $3 per week and when I was about 18 months old, I became very ill. The prolonged illness and my mother’s inability to medically care for me led to severe bronchitis. The sponsorship program hospitalized me, gave me the medicine that I needed and helped my mother care for me. I survived; many were not as fortunate.