See Mina’s Connections.


Looking for US Pinoys to interview


From :  Mina delos Reyes Saha SPCM HS'77 < >

Sent :  Monday, November 15, 2004 9:39 PM

To :  Paulinian Friends


Hi fellow Paulinians,


Once again, you’re first to come to my mind when I was looking for help in finding people to interview. I am looking for Filipino husbands or single men to interview for a Filipinas Magazine feature. I will be asking these men about what being a Filipino male in the U.S. means to them. I will be asking questions about being macho, about having queridas, about doing household chores, being the breadwinner or not, views on homosexuality, etc. Therefore, I would prefer men who have immigrated here from the Philippines and are therefore familiar with those issues. Filipino men who were born and raised in the U.S. would probably have a totally different perspective and maybe even a different set of values. I need interviewees who can be honest and frank and preferably are willing to be identified and provide their pictures. This is a rush assignment so I need people to respond as soon as possible. I'm looking to complete all interviews before the Thanksgiving weekend.


Above: SPCM HS'77 mini-reunion at the Saha home in San Jose CA, 26 Jan 2002 (l-r from bottom): Mina delos Reyes Saha and daughter Tara, Audrey Portugal, and Mina’s husband, Sujit Saha; 2- Victor, Menchie and Andrew Portugal; 3- Alexa and Ana Velasco, Belle Salvador; 4-Jay, Zachary and Vicki Brodrick. Source:


If you know of anyone who wishes to be part of this story, please ask him to e-mail me right away so I can set up a phone interview appointment. All interviews will be done by phone or e-mail, whichever the subject prefers.


Thank you very much!



Romina D. Saha

Correspondent, Philippine News

Contributor, Filipinas Magazine

Freelance writer and editor

San Jose, CA 95120

(408) 268-1927



Get that Edge


By Romina D. Saha, Correspondent, Apr 16, 2003

Philippine News, Life & Entertainment


Fil-Am venture capitalist Dado Banatao and wife, Maria Cariaga Banatao SPCM HS’63 / AB Psych ’67. Photo from UC Berkeley Engineering.


AFTER earlier fussing and refusing to sit on her grandfather’s lap for a family photo, two-year-old Isabel climbs on the chair and proudly looks around. The photographer sees his chance and begins snapping some shots. Grandfather clowns around behind the photographer, trying to elicit a smile from Isabel. “Look at Lolo, look at Lolo,” he urges the toddler.


This scene could have been a Sunday trip to a mall portrait studio by any regular family. Except this is no studio and this is no regular family. The setting is the Palo Alto building lobby of Tallwood Venture Capital, a multimillion-dollar firm owned by one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.


“Lolo” is Dado Banatao, the technology whiz from the Northern Luzon province of Cagayan whose creations significantly affected the course of the computing industry worldwide. But at this moment, he is just Isabel’s Grandpa, her Lolo, and nothing else matters but making the little girl, his only grandchild, smile.


When I asked him what the most important thing in his life is right now, he answers without hesitation, “My family.” Success in his career and business, the 55-year-old Banatao admits, came at the expense of his family to some extent.


Especially in the earlier years when he was still struggling to establish himself, first, as a technological developer in the semiconductor industry, and later, as a businessman, Banatao spent many nights with an average of five hours of sleep. Now he tries to spend more time with his family. Nowadays, he says, only half jokingly, he can afford to sleep at least six hours a night.


That he sleeps at all does not even seem possible, as this man is a self-confessed workaholic. Banatao had realized early on that the only way to get ahead in the cutthroat environment of Silicon Valley was to work harder than everybody else.


“Always try to get that edge. Always solve the extra problems in the back of the book,” he says, the latter a reference to his school days strategy of doing extra math and physics homework.


His strategy paid off: He graduated cum laude from the highly regarded Mapua Institute of Technology in the Philippines; he earned a self-designed master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Stanford University; he has a permanent place in the history of technology, not just in the United States, but worldwide; and he has made millions and millions of dollars doing the work he loves to do, including the “extra problems.”


In a nutshell, Dado’s innovations made computers cheaper, faster, and more people-friendly.


“He has loosened up a little,” says oldest son Rey. “He has found that balance between working hard and having fun.” Rey, 29, who will earn his doctorate in bioinformatics from the University of San Francisco this spring, is considering a postdoctoral position at Stanford University.


“Dado is one of the most grounded persons I’ve ever met,” says Gemma Nemenzo, who is working on Dado’s biography. “It’s rare to see one as focused as he is on what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. But he can be fun loving, too. According to his college barkada, maloko daw yan at pabling noon.”


Rey credits the Banatao work ethic and discipline for his own drive and success in school. Dado Banatao was raised in rural Cagayan with his brother and sister.


His father Salvador was a rice farmer who did whatever it took to send the Banatao children to school: While his wife Rosita tended a sari-sari store, he went to Guam and became a grocer and a butcher, earning enough money to buy another rice farm when he came home.


In the late ’70s when Salvador and Rosita came to live with them in San Jose, Calif., the young Rey gained another role model in Salvador. Accustomed to long hours of work, the elderly Salvador found himself a part-time job as a janitor at a Motel 6 in Santa Clara. “He would get up before the crack of dawn, make himself his baon, and take the early bus from San Jose to Santa Clara,” Rey recalls. “He enjoyed himself working there.”


For Dado, working hard was not enough. He had the gift of foreseeing the uses of technology, years before they were actually manufactured. “I remember him saying that someday, we will have this and that product. He has always been a visionary. He has always had an innovative mind,” says Maria, Dado’s wife of 30 years.


With a little push, Dado finally took the big leap, giving up a big salary to go on his own. He sat Rey down and told him that he was about to embark on something that could make them very poor if it didn’t work. The whole family threw their support behind Dado.


There were three things Dado had to be confident about before launching his first startup, Mostron, in 1984 – his abilities as an engineer, as a manager, and as an investor. Mostron, funded with only half a million dollars, was not successful because he did not yet have a track record. He hit it big with his next two startups, Chips & Technologies in 1985 and S3 in 1989.


Again, Dado is quick to point to hard work as his key to success. “There was a little bit of luck involved but luck translated itself into timing – who grabbed the opportunity first,” he says.


“Education had a lot to do with our success,” adds Maria, who used her master’s degree in educational psychology as a counselor at Foothill-de Anza Community College for 16 years until 1994. She says she and Dado instill in their three children the value of education beyond college. Desi, their second son, is taking graduate studies in materials science and electrical engineering at UC Berkeley. Daughter Tala, a political science and mass communications graduate of UC Berkeley, will go to law school.


Both Dado and Rey confess that their typical dinner conversation often gravitates toward topics of science, technology, and business. While Rey enjoys the mentorship of his father, he does not plan to join him at Tallwood. “I have my own business aspirations,” Rey explains. “I’ve always wanted to do my own thing.”


On weekends, the Banatao family enjoys typical family activities such as attending Catholic Church, traveling, and eating out. The manner in which they do these things may not be so typical.


Although Dado will not go on record in this interview about his assets and finances, previous published reports say he owns two jet planes, which he sometimes flies himself, homes in Sonoma and Lake Tahoe, and a twin-turbo Porsche. His net worth is anybody's guess but it is a fact that he has invested $50 million of his own money in Tallwood and will reportedly pump in another $200 million this year.


In an article he wrote for the Startup Journal, a Wall Street Journal publication, he admitted at one point having earned and lost $350 million in the same day. Asiaweek magazine has reported that he may be richer than the Philippines' Ayala family, whose fortune is reportedly estimated at $1 billion.


Ever mindful of his humble roots, Dado and his family have made it a mission to share their fortune in the field responsible for his success: engineering. Through the Asian Pacific Fund, they have set up the Banatao Filipino American Education Fund that yearly sponsors five high school seniors planning to major in engineering, math or science.


At UC Berkeley, they have set up the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, with a cornerstone pledge. Once a year, they also sponsor the computer sciences department chair at the University of the Philippines to study at UC Berkeley for a few months.


Dado’s advice to young Filipino-Americans? “Never forget where you came from. Be a good person,” Dado says. “And always do the exercises at the back of the book.” This is a mantra the Banatao children know by heart.



Tara Rani Saha in Ballet San Jose's Nutcracker classic!

12-28 Dec 2003, San Jose (CA) Center for the Performing Arts


Mina’s 20 Dec update: Ballet San Jose-Silicon Valley's production of the Nutcracker ballet has been a very successful run so far. Tara has already performed in two shows and has five more shows to do. For those of you who have seen it or are planning to see it on the days she is performing, it is easy to spot her: She's the first mouse to hop onto the stage, leading the 29 other mice. Above are a couple of photos of Tara in her mouse costume. The black and white one is her official photo. The other one includes me, taken backstage just minutes before a show.
Merry Christmas to all!
Mina de los Reyes Saha


Mina delos Reyes-Saha's INQ7 Connections

A compilation of articles written by Romina delos Reyes-Saha SPCM HS'77, posted in her column called "Connections" in, the Philippines' most popular news site. A 1991 Stanford University John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists alumna, Mina is a full-time Mom / freelance writer and copy editor based in San Jose CA. She can be reached at (Mina’s new address effective 1 Nov 2003). 

May 03: Spring in California: Salads and the labor movement - Apr 03: A big, fat Filipino wedding - Mar 03: Missing Mr Rogers: war and the age of innocence - Feb 03: Do nuns go straight to heaven? (*a must-read article ref SPC Vigil House and Paulinian Global Foundation) - Jan 03: A dozen promises - Sep 02: (4) Sept 11 through the eyes of artists (*ref Lorna Molina 82's Freedom in Our Hearts painting) - (11) A virtual memorial - (18) off

Aug 02: (28) The invisible Filipinos - (21) A summer of promises - (14) Angels in my life - (7) Substance abuse makes victims of us all (*ref Meena Sehwani 77's Living Free Foundation -- a non-profit self-help center for codependency serving the Philippines and Asia.)

Jul 02: (31) 'Tosino' by any other name - (24) I struck gold online (*ref SPCM HS77's 2002 Silver Jubilee / reprinted in August 02 PAAM Newsletter with sidebar on SPCM HS websites) - (17) Writing about people in a high-tech setting


Spring in California: Salads and the labor movement

(From Posted:1:51 AM (Manila Time) | May 28, 2003 -- )

SPRING in California brings an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to both chain supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Consumers enjoy a wide variety of produce: asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, spinach, arugula, and many more I have not even tried. As I enjoy these bounties of nature on my dinner table, I hardly remember the sweat and toil of the thousands of farm workers responsible for growing them. In fact, as I savor each bite, that is all I care about – that each mouthful be scrumptious.

Every spring, though, two events happen in California that remind people to pay homage to farm workers. The birthday of Cesar Chavez is celebrated on March 31 and his death anniversary is remembered on April 23. These events, usually marked by marches and rallies widely covered by local media, remind people every year who were responsible for establishing California’s agriculture industry, long before the state became high tech country. Why? Because Cesar Chavez was the president of the United Farm Workers Union. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, he led and organized farm workers toward better wages and working conditions in California’s fruit and vegetable farms.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of his death, the U.S. government honored Chavez nationally with a 37-cent stamp bearing his image. The stamp commemorates the Mexican American union leader who grew up in San Jose for his contributions to labor.

Chavez rightfully deserves credit for the principled battles he waged, making personal sacrifices to attain his goals. Three times he fasted for weeks, drinking only water to sustain himself, proving that violence was unnecessary to win. He also used boycotts and pickets as weapons.

So every year, as I enjoy my salads, I become more and more familiar with Chavez and his accomplishments. He is regarded as a hero, a role model, and a source of deep pride for Mexican Americans. Recently, however, a friend pointed out to me something I had not seen in mainstream media: that Filipino American union leaders -- decades before the United Farm Workers Union was founded -- began the fight that Chavez continued and brought to national prominence.

Indeed, I found this information as I did my research. An article written by Larry Salomon in the journal Third Force (“Filipinos Build a Movement for Justice in the Asparagus Fields,” Center for Third World Organizing, Oct. 31, 1994) contains this account:

“As the newest recruits into the labor force, Filipino workers were paid the lowest wages in the industry, and in the case of certain crops like asparagus, growers found it more profitable to work more laborers per acre, ensuring efficient and more productive harvesting. Of course, this profit-making strategy also had the effect of decreasing the already low wages of the workers.

“Typically paternalistic and complacent, the big growers believed that labor organization was too complex for young Filipinos to master. Apparently, the growers were ignorant of labor history in Hawaii, where Filipino and Japanese laborers went on strike in 1919. Three thousand workers stood fast, demanding that sugar planters pay higher wages, provide an eight-hour work day, create an insurance fund for retired employees and give paid maternity leave. Despite attempts by the white owners to break the strike by importing laborers from other countries, the workers won most of their demands.

“So when conditions demanded a similar response in California’s fields, many Filipino workers had the organizing sophistication and experience, having already been involved in work slow-downs, stoppages, and full-fledged strikes.”

In 1964, Larry Dulay Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and Pete Velasco, organizers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), led the first grape strike in Delano. Chavez’ National Farm Workers’ Association (NFW) soon joined the strike. Later, AWOC and the NFW joined forces to become the United Farm Workers, with Chavez as president and Itliong as vice president.

As I enjoy one of my favorite vegetables, the asparagus, I will try to be always thankful for the sacrifices the farm workers from decades ago to the present -- of Mexican, Filipino, and other races -- have made so the California agricultural industry can grow and prosper in a just environment. For what would spring in California be without fresh fruits and vegetables?

A big, fat Filipino wedding

(From Posted:1:51 AM (Manila Time) | Apr. 03, 2003 --

AFTER about a month of being away from her Las Vegas home to attend her son’s wedding in the Philippines, my sister sent me a three-line e-mail to let me know she was back. “Sige, wala pa akong maisip sabihin (I can’t think of anything to say right now),” she wrote.

I, on the other hand, knew she only needed a gentle nudge to get her going. “Tell me all about it,” I urged her.

That started a feverish exchange of e-mail and instant messaging between her and me. The text filled up eight pages, single-spaced, when I printed out all the messages. The dam had broken and my sister burst with stories of her son’s wedding at a “pechay” and “upo” vegetable farm some 11 miles from her house in the Novaliches district of Quezon City. Hungry for news, I swallowed every bit she threw at me and asked for more.

It was so refreshing to hear the details of a wedding that involved no catalogs, no couturiers, no rehearsal dinners, no RSVPs, no vellum-lined invitations. It was just a simple family-led wedding held at a friend’s field-sized garden smack in the middle of a subdivision near the busy Caloocan City-Quezon City border. Well, actually, it was just the reception. The marriage ceremony itself had been done a day ahead at a Quezon City judge’s courtroom. That is a story in itself. In a hilarious incident worthy of a Hollywood screenplay (in the genre of ”My Big, Fat Greek Wedding,” which I have not seen but have heard much about), the non-professional wedding planners (namely, the bride, the groom, and the family members) had announced that the wedding would take place on a Saturday. It was to be followed immediately by the reception. The desktop-published invitations had been printed and delivered stating so. Shortly before the big day, they found out that the judge couldn’t perform a wedding on a Saturday because the court was officially closed. To do it on a Saturday would have required a special permit that would have taken two months to process (in typical Philippine bureaucratic speed). To wait for that, of course, was out of the question. So they had to be married on Friday.

And so it was that my nephew Charley and her new bride Mai signed their legal marriage papers one day and received their spiritual blessings from a pastor the next. (They could not be married in church because Charley was raised a Catholic while Myra was raised as a member of the Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ) sect -- but that’s another story.)

My sister’s narrative description of the reception at the farm was long, sometimes funny, and filled with delicious details and names of people whose relationships to one another confused me. Add to this that some of their names gave no clue as to gender and that my sister, without missing a heartbeat, wove in certain events totally unrelated to the wedding.

During the 13 years I have been away from the Philippines, new nieces and nephews have been born, or nieces and nephews have gotten married and borne children. Relations have moved in, moved out, or made friends. In our emotionally charged culture, friends sometimes become so blended into the family that eventually, everybody forgets they are not blood relations at all. It took me a while to understand the entire, endearing scenario. Did I say earlier this was a simple wedding?

This is a condensed translation from Tagalog of my sister’s almost stream-of-consciousness narrative, from her point of view:

“I cooked lengua con champignon, beef caldereta, embotido, laing na kuhol (the Filipino answer to the French’s escargot), and fruit salad. Rowena, wife of Arman who is the son of Ter and Floring, cooked sweet and sour lapu-lapu fillet. Junie, my daughter, made buko pandan. Agnes, my other daughter, cooked pansit bihon. Ate Luding, my sister-in-law, made relyenong bangus. Omer, Junie’s husband, bought a lechon. Mai’s aunt made 400 pieces of lumpia shanghai. She also cooked about 19 kilos of halaya de ube, made from six pieces of gigantic ube (purple yam) dug up from the mountains of Norzagaray by a friend of Eric, Agnes’ husband. The six pieces, averaging three feet long and 10 inches wide, weighed a total of 25 kilograms uncooked. The son of Dikong Juan, my brother-in-law, helped cook the ube in a borrowed humongous wok, stirring it with a borrowed boat oar. There was so much ube that we were even able to pack some for the owners of the wok and oar. During all the cooking, the friend who brought the ube taught us a vegetarian recipe using minced banana hearts. We used the recipe to extend the meat of our hamburger patties. We were able to make 25 five-inch wide patties. We also made six kilos of menudo, a must because it is Omer’s favorite. We served 10 cases of Coke and 10 cases of light beer. Somebody gave 25 gallons of bottled water as a gift. There was also tossed salad and a three-tier lemon chiffon wedding cake.

“We had about 300 guests. Mai has 13 siblings. We hired a videographer-cum-photographer. Junie and Agnes did the flower arrangements and decorations. Nads, Omer’s sister and owner of the farm, had all the trees and walkways decorated with lights. We rented a videoke (karaoke with video). Alvine, Agnes’ teen daughter with the golden voice, sang. Somebody played the saxophone. A friend of Nads who was supposed to sing had to leave because she had a singing engagement at 9 p.m. The party was supposed to start at 6 p.m. but many people got lost and arrived late. Some people blamed the map, saying it was wrong. The truth was that a lot of people had the map upside down. So the blessing ceremony didn’t start till 8 p.m. The newly weds did the sayaw sa pera (money dance). Olmos, Khaye, Alvine, and Nikoy, my grandchildren, served as ushers. We used Styrofoam plates and plastic flatware but reserved some nice plates for the five ninong and five ninang (godparents). The entourage consisted of the maid of honor and best man, three bridesmaids, and three flower girls.”

Now Olmos (for “almost” -- because his real name is Nicki and he was born on the same day as Nikoy, his sister, whose real name is Nicole, therefore they are “almost the same” -- you would never have figured that one out!) is a boy. Alvine is a girl whose real name is Alvina. Khaye is a boy whose real name is Calvin Khaye. Alvine and Khaye are siblings.

“Before the party started, we watched Tsikiting Patrol at Emy’s house inside the farm compound. Emy is the mother of Nads and Omer. Tsikiting Patrol is a children’s TV show. Khaye is one of the stars. Nads is a co-producer. Emy’s house was packed with guests watching a video of the show. By the way, Nikoy got a medal for Best COCC (youth military training). Nikoy starred in a play. Nobody knew about it because nobody saw her rehearsing her dialogue at home. Good thing Charley went to the play with his video camera. Alvine graduated in the top six of her class. She will also compete again in the aikido national championship. She is now reviewing for UPCAT (college entrance exams). She had a medal but I forgot to ask what it was for. Olmos’ name was displayed at the SM Arcade (a shopping mall) with a score of 296 in basketball. He only had two misses. He’s already been recruited to the varsity team for next year when he enters high school. He’s also a killer in billiards, beating Richie (our nephew) the first time he picked up a cue.

“The party ended at 1:30 a.m. but it was more like 3:30 a.m. by the time we had packed up everything and cleaned up.”

Now what kind of party starts two hours late without losing at least half of the guests, goes on till the following morning, gets everybody in the community involved in the cooking and other preparations, and is loads of fun? Only a big, fat Filipino wedding.

Missing Mister Rogers: war and the age of innocence

 (From Posted: 0:26 AM (Manila Time) | Mar. 20, 2003 -- )

“IS it true, Mama?” my six-year-old daughter came to me tearfully one night a few weeks ago. “Is it true that Mister Rogers is dead?”

She wept in my arms as I hugged her. I wished I could give her more comfort. My little girl saw the announcement on the public television station PBS after she had just watched one of her favorite cartoons, “Dragon Tales.”

“I’ll never see Mister Rogers again!” Daughter sobbed.

“Of course you can,” I assured her. “They have lots and lots of his shows on video, you know. So they’ll just play them again and again.”

Later that night, my husband and I tried to soothe Daughter’s feelings. “Do you know where Mister Rogers will stay forever?”

Daughter smiled. She knew what we were driving at. We had this conversation about three years ago when her grandmother died. She put her hand on the left side of her chest. “I know, here in my heart,” she answered.

My daughter’s reaction to the death of Fred Rogers, the dearly loved star of the children’s television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, has been on my mind since President George W. Bush started bearing down on Iraq. Now Bush is past the point of bearing down. He has given Saddam Hussein an ultimatum: Get out or get bombed! The possibility of war has become more and more real -- it could happen this week, it could happen today. Tens of thousands of people -- Iraqis, Americans, soldiers, civilians, torturers and innocents, non-Iraqis, non- Americans, anyone who happens to be in the line of fire -- could be killed. All of them could die and yet Mister Rogers and my daughter are still in my thoughts.

It is quite surreal. I will always treasure the memory of a little girl’s tears for an old puppeteer who sang about his neighborhood while changing into his sweater and sneakers. I would like to preserve that moment of innocence when a little girl grieved for the cheerful man who spoke calmly and simply, and explained complex concepts in a way little kids can grasp. I am sure my daughter was not the only child who cried for Mister Rogers.

I am also sure my daughter is not the only child unaware that countless other children may soon be grieving en masse for the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, or friends they had just lost in a violent event none of them is responsible for.

I wonder how Mister Rogers would have explained this looming war to a small child. I wonder how he would have explained death and destruction caused by war. I’m sure he would have found a way to tell kids that it’s okay to be afraid, to be sad, or to be angry. He always encouraged children to express their emotions.

I know what he once advised parents about helping children deal with tragedy: “What they need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything they want and that we'll do all we can to help keep them safe no matter what goes on in the world.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center, Mister Rogers advised parents: “Don't wallow or obsess. It is not healthy for anyone to watch nonstop television, especially coverage of terrorism and war. It can be very dangerous for kids, especially those "little listeners" who cannot differentiate between what is distant and what is close, what is pretend and what is real. Older children know when they are being lied to. We must not deny the reality of terrible events. But televisions can be turned off, sensational newspaper and magazine stories filed away, and table conversations that add to children's fears kept to a minimum.” I can almost hear him uttering similar words in reference to the current threat of war. I am so glad he had written down his words of wisdom.

Ironically, as I was researching for this piece, I discovered that President Bush had awarded Mister Rogers and 11 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom in July 2002. In his speech, Bush said, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civil honor our nation can bestow. And we award it today to 12 outstanding individuals. The men and women we honor span the spectrum of achievement. Some are fighters; others are healers; all have left an enduring legacy of hope and courage and achievement.” I’m sure Bush was referring to Mister Rogers as one of the healers. This just added to the surrealism of this time as I absorb the constant media reportage and analysis of impending war while my daughter’s mourning for Mister Rogers remains in the back of my mind.

Now that President Bush is about to launch an attack on Hussein’s Iraq, I am even more saddened that Mister Rogers is dead. As thousands are sure to die and small children in safe homes will inevitably learn about it, either from their parents’ own carelessness in allowing them to be exposed to adult media or from outside sources, the calmness of Mister Rogers will be sorely missed. The constant reassuring smile he brought into countless kids’ lives is the kind we all sure can use now.

To read more about the Mister Rogers’ thoughts, follow these links: (“Helping Children With Tragic Events in the News”) (“Kids Still Need Help with Sept. 11”) (“Remembering September 11th”).

To learn more about Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, follow these links:

Some helpful links to sites with information about how to talk to children about war and death:{5FE84E90-BC77-4056-A91C-9531713CA348}

Do nuns go straight to heaven?

 (From Posted:0:13 AM (Manila Time) | Feb. 20, 2003 -- )

IF you ever attended a Catholic school run by nuns, you may have mixed memories of how these women affected you: Were you awed by their piety, thinking they had a direct line to God? Were you comforted by their compassion and readiness to listen, thinking they were lucky to have no problems of their own? Were you moved by their selflessness and heroism, thinking they had dedicated their lives to serving God and other people? Were you terrified by their discipline, thinking they made up rules impossible for ordinary humans to follow? In fact, did you think of them as extraordinary, people who are not like the rest of us, in a category of holy and therefore superhuman?

Where do nuns go when they are old and gray? Do you think they lie peacefully in a serene setting, perhaps a lovely cottage surrounded by a garden that is spring-like all year round, until an angel comes for them to take them straight to heaven? If you think that, you have been reading too many fairy tales.

We may have a romanticized image of these ladies in gray, white, or black robes, their hair veiled at all times. We may imagine them to be saint-like, as many of them do exude such aura, and therefore immune to the harsh realities of life. But the truth is that they are all normal people just like the rest of us: They grow old, they get sick, and they suffer, before they die.

In reality, the nuns of our childhood memories are regular people, just like us. Before they go to heaven, their bones grow brittle, their joints start to ache, their hair turns gray, and their memories become less sharp. But where do they spend their last few years? They do not have spouses or children to take care of them in their own homes. When they entered the convent in their youth, they pledged themselves into the service of Jesus Christ, marrying into his family, for the rest of their lives. They left their biological families for their spiritual family. These "brides" of Christ call themselves sisters -- and truly that is what they become: sisters who take care of one another until their last breath.

If they are nuns belonging to the Philippine branch of the international congregation Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres, they live out their final years at the "vigil house" in Quezon City, a home for nuns who have "retired" due to old age or illness. Yes, they do get old and they do get sick. The facility was originally built to house only 40 people but is now packed with 70 retired nuns, 30 of whom are non-ambulatory.

The cause to improve the living conditions of these aging nuns has spurred into action Saint Paul College alumnae in the Philippines and in the US, spanning many generations. E-mail after e-mail (collected in tells of emotional visits by the former Paulinians to the Vigil House.

"We were all teary eyed upon seeing our dear sisters helpless and really wanting for attention. Sister Josefa would not let go my hand and kept asking me to come back to visit her. I had a hard time fighting back tears as I remember how she was when she was our Dean of the Commerce Department," wrote Sol Balda-Ilagan, class of 1965.

Ilagan now chairs the board of the newly formed Paulinian Global Foundation in Maryland, United States, a non-profit organization whose first major project is to raise funds to build a new vigil house in Pasig City. When this is done and the retired nuns have been moved from the old to the new facility, the old vigil house will be converted into The Saint Paul College Socio-Pastoral Development Center. The latter will be used as a home for the rehabilitation of street children, specifically young girls in the Quezon City area, a crisis intervention center for battered and abused women, and a training center for caregivers caring for the sick and the elderly.

The new Vigil House being envisioned will be a four-story building with medical and geriatric facilities, a chapel, and an elevator. It will have enough room for the elderly nuns as well as for younger nuns assigned to care for their retired sisters.

"We reminisced about old times. … The stronger, healthier nuns hovered around us like we were VIPs. The frail, elderly ones looked on and smiled. The three nuns in wheelchairs joined us at the courtyard but they really looked sick and frail," recalled Nancy Guevarra Narciso, class of 1965. Narciso said the facility was so congested that only cloth curtains for privacy separated the nuns’ beds.

Eileen Niguidula-Redoblado, class of 1976, found her second grade teacher at the vigil house. "Sister Saturnine, 88, now totally deaf and legally blind, walked with a cane but still needed to be helped by another old nun."

Redoblado also found her fourth grade teacher, Sister Bienvenida, who still "walked regally like a queen, despite being 86 years old." She saw Sister Claire Scott, who recognized her immediately, despite her one eye being shut. "She took care of my dad as an infant when she and my paternal grandmother were together at the home for half-Americans in Mindanao."

The alumnae who have already visited the vigil house agree that it is a moving experience that all "balikbayan" Paulinians (visiting foreign-based alumnae) should include in their itineraries. Organized visits have produced not only gift bags containing toiletries and food items but have also offered entertainment. Some Paulinians with the right connections have even brought influential people, including Senator Nene Pimentel who reportedly donated a five-figure amount to the cause.

Mary Ann S. Miranda, class of 1976, noted that the nuns use firewood, instead of gas, for cooking to save money. She suggested that a donation of kitchen appliances might be welcome. Miranda said other things urgently needed are wheelchairs, adult diapers, and toiletries.

"I don’t know how many more of the girls found old nuns they knew," wrote Redoblado. "Many of us just sat content witting with the nuns."

"The stronger nuns helped the other nuns. Talk about ‘sisterhood.’ The arthritic nun guiding the blind. The deaf walking with the old. The nuns were weak, old, sick, maimed. They gave us the best years of their life. And now, they are in the Vigil House happy together, enjoying their sunset years," Redoblado summed up her visit.

Nuns may end up in heaven but they retire first after a lengthy service to humanity. In the case of St. Paul nuns, this service is mainly in the fields of education and social service. Sister Mary George Siriban, my former principal at St. Paul, told me a few months ago that nuns do not have a set retirement age. "They continue to work as long as they are able to because there is just too much work in the apostolate," she said. If forced by old age or illness, they live at the vigil house to recover or to live out the rest of their lives. Those who are still strong enough create handicrafts for sale as part of their self-sufficiency program. They sell rosaries, rugs, towels and other items to help support their needs.

When they retire, they know that they have helped mankind. When they retire, they need help themselves. If you have something to contribute, please write Sister Mary Magdalen Torres, Saint Paul of Chartres Philippine Provincial Superior, Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres, P.O. Box 1065, 1870 Antipolo City, Philippines or the Paulinian Global Foundation, Inc., 2328 Deckman Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20906, USA.

('75 webkeeper's note: For more info on the SPC Vigil House assistance program, please email Paulinian Global Foundation chair Mrs Sol Balda Ilagan HS'65 at Thanks!)

A dozen promises

 (From Posted:11:19 PM (Manila Time) | Jan. 30, 2003 --

Happy New Year, everyone! Yes, I know we’re almost a month into 2003 but to me, the year has just begun. There was a month there over the holidays when I walked around in a daze, propelled only by pure adrenalin and a combination of antihistamines, antibiotics, and ibuprofen. I survived the hectic holiday season in medicated stupor.

Needless to say, I had to put a lot of things on hold. That included coming up with a list of New Year’s resolutions. I guess I could look at it positively. After all, I will only have eleven months instead of twelve to have to actually act on my resolutions.

Before I list them, I must say that I believe the most effective way of getting people to make good on their promises is to get them to announce their resolutions publicly. That way, they can be called to account for them at the end of the year. If a sense of responsibility doesn’t move them to keep their promises, perhaps a fear of public humiliation will. (Of course, this may not apply to politicians who are neither responsible nor thin-skinned.)

So, at the risk of shaming myself at the end of the year, I am publicly sharing my list of resolutions for 2003:

1. I will read more -- books, magazines, newspapers, the fine print in contracts, prescription medication directions and contraindications, freeway signs (so I don’t keep missing turns and exits). The only thing I will read less of is junk e-mail. For that, see the next resolution.

2. I will automatically delete more junk e-mail and unsubscribe myself to as many commercial mailing sites as I can. I figure that by doing this, I will save myself dozens of online hours a year, which would be better spent reading (see above) or writing (see below).

3. I will write more – articles, personal letters, diary entries, phone numbers and addresses of friends (who I keep bothering every year when it comes time again to invite them to parties).

4. I will not forward any chain e-mail, no matter how heart wrenching the story is or how worthy the cause might seem (you know, the little girl with cancer who raises a nickel for cancer research every time the mail is forwarded to one address; the prayer for world peace promising that its attainment gets nearer for every forwarded mail; the promise of good fortune if you forward a message to ten other people). I especially will refuse to forward any mail that threatens me with bad luck or misery if I fail to forward it. Most of these chain letters have been proven to be hoaxes.

5. In connection with the previous resolution, I promise to be more careful and more selective in the e-mail that I do forward to friends, including jokes, anecdotes, and heart-warming stories. I will take care to avoid disseminating anything that promotes hate of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

6. I will exercise more. Ooops. I mean, I will exercise, period. I haven’t really exercised in the last fifteen years and the aches and pains in my joints are telling me I ought to get started.

7. I will try to appreciate nature more. By this, I mean actually going outdoors and touching nature – the redwoods, the sea, snow, the grass in the park across the street from our home, my backyard – rather than just watching nature shows on public television and the Discovery Channel.

8. I will try to learn more about sports. I’ve never been athletic, not even a sports spectator. The only sports I enjoy watching on TV are figure skating and gymnastics. But this year, I will actually try to learn about sports that use balls – baseball, football, basketball, and golf. I will try to learn the rules of these games and maybe even learn who their great players are.

9. I will try to take up more creative projects. I will try to do some painting (both on canvas and on the walls of our home, which badly needs an interior makeover) and some crafting, perhaps some sewing.

10. I will try to pursue hobbies that I have always dreamed of doing but have put off for years, using the age-old excuse "I just don’t have time." This includes singing and guitar playing. I have enrolled in a voice class and a guitar class but am not sure I can actually stick with them through the end of the semester. Declaring it publicly might help.

11. I will try my best to share what I have – whether that be skills, talent, or material things – with the less fortunate. This might be the most important thing I can teach my daughter – that it is better to give than to receive. This is not as selfless as it may sound. I have seen people who have less than what I have and yet have given – to my embarrassment – more than I have. They seem much happier and contented than I am. I want the same kind of happiness and contentment one gets from giving.

12. Lastly, I will spend more time with my daughter doing the things we both enjoy doing – reading, writing, singing, painting, and playing. She is the reason I want to improve myself as a human being. In the end, she – and not fear of public humiliation – will be my greatest motivation in keeping my promises.

A virtual memorial

 (From Posted:12:19 PM (Manila Time) | Sep.. 11, 2002 --

THIS week, death and heroism are on the minds of many Americans. I think it's safe to assume that for many years to come, these things will be remembered whenever Sept. 11 approaches.

It is sadly ironic that often, people become heroes in a moment that they will never be able to relive. They go home to no heroes' welcome; instead they go to a place from where no one comes back. We prefer that our heroes be alive to pin medals on, instead of in coffins over which we drape flags. We prefer that our heroes be alive to shake hands with instead of dead with their fingers stiff and cold. We prefer that our heroes be alive to wave to us atop their floats in parades instead of dead for us to wave to them in a funeral cortege. But when our heroes are dead and we have no choice but to honor them posthumously, I hope to God we do so with such fervor as if we are trying to make up for their shortened lives.

Today, there will be a proliferation of memorials for the heroes and victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Speeches will be delivered, statues will be unveiled, plaques will be engraved, and the mass media will recount the events of that day and replay the images in print and on television. Every bit of remembrance will help celebrate the lives of those who died. Every tear shed in grief and outrage will help comfort their families. Every word of condemnation of the acts of terrorism that led to these deaths and destruction will help keep the fire within us burning -- for peace and freedom.

One form of memorial we may not readily associate with the traditional kinds is that which can be found on the Internet. Doing a casual search using the keyword "September 11" I was astonished to get more than six million hits. From these search results, I culled a few websites that seemed notable. You may find it worth your time to click on some of these and spend a few moments in remembrance. You might forge a virtual solidarity with those seeking an alternative outlet for their grief and anger. You might find some of your questions answered, especially those pertaining to the minute details of the events. You might read the accounts of other ordinary people -- where they were when the events occurred, how they felt, what they have done.

Individuals, organizations, schools, government agencies, and others created these websites to document and preserve the memories of Sept. 11. As stated in one of them, "The web has no memory -- unless it is created." Here they are in random order, some with a brief description I have not thoroughly examined all of these sites so please do not take their being on this list as my endorsements. Consider this list as a starting point. - Archive of screenshots of online news sites on Sept. 11. - Archive of television news broadcasts from the period following the attacks. - Sept. 11 digital archive, including a Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History "Bearing Witness to History" project - September 11th Fund for the victims - A library of web content from around the globe - A site offering free downloads of "e-ribbon" images for posting on websites - A site intended as "a place to remember and celebrate the lives of those lost on September 11, 2001" where visitors may sign a "National Book of Remembrance" - Resources - Journalists' resources - According to this site, 15 Filipino citizens were identified as victims as of August 2002 - A project of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Project - An official government site which lists 86 countries whose nationals were among the victims of the tragedy

We relive every horrifying detail of September 11 in every way possible and recount every inspiring act of heroism for every person who can no longer relive his own moments of courage. Every bit of documentation that can be found online, on paper, and in broadcast media goes into our collective memories and into our own personal archives, right in our own hearts, where they can always be accessed whenever we need a reason to believe in the future.

Sept. 11 through the eyes of artists

 (From posted 1:24 AM (Manila Time) | Sep.. 04, 2002 --

IT was a day that many Americans will never forget, a day when terrorism hit them where they lived: in the worldly symbols represented by the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- financial success and internal security. The crashing of those planes into mortar, steel bars, and glass, killing thousands but injuring many more emotionally and mentally, was meant to send the chilling message: You are not invulnerable.

Today, even as America tries to heal and move forward, that day a year ago is remembered in many ways. Artists are using the pain as an impetus for creation, perhaps to encourage the audience viewing their work to make sense of the violence, to put it in perspective, or just to use their art as a collective outlet to vent anger and frustration.

Two Filipino American artists have risen to the challenge of allowing their work to serve as a motivation to create, instead of to destroy.

Lorna Molina Sanchez, a Filipina artist based in Florida, has created "Freedom in Our Hearts" a 30-inch x 80-inch painting in oil on raised panel bi-fold wooden doors. The painting, a vibrant explosion of colors depicting three firefighters raising the American flag on a flower-lined path, is currently displayed at Silent Heroes LLC, 304 Hay Street, Fayetteville, North Carolina. Sanchez will donate the work to the fire department in Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Sept. 11. (Photo of Lorna on the right -- with "Freedom in Our Hearts" in the background -- was from A SPCM HS'82 alumna, she's the webmaster of, -- '75 webadmin.)

Sanchez felt she could relate to the thousands who lost loved ones in the attack or who suffered anxiety while awaiting the safe return of their loved ones who had been called to duty. She is married to a member of the Air Force who was called to join others in defending and protecting freedom. Feeling the need to do her own share, she began painting. Sanchez has produced 1,000 numbered and signed prints of her work. The 18-inch x 24-inch prints can be viewed and purchased for 50 dollars through any of the outlets listed at Proceeds will benefit the Families of September 11 Fund and America's Fund for Afghan Children.

The colorful garden in the painting symbolizes "peace, hope and the heroes that paid the price," the artist says, while the choice of doors as a medium symbolizes "the door to our hearts." The painting may also be viewed at, the Museum of the City of New York's "Virtual Union Square."

Another artist, Oakland, California-based photographer Rick Rocamora, has chosen to do his share by depicting Muslims in their everyday lives. Rocamora, who has photographed numerous subjects in his remarkable social documentary style and received awards for them in the last two decades, is exhibiting his work in a collection called "Freedom and Fear: Bay Area Muslims After September 11, 2001" at the San Francisco city hall throughout September.

In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Rocamora said he was moved to document the Muslim community after he heard about the fatal shooting of a Bay Area Sikh who was mistaken for Middle Eastern. "My goal was to convince the public that Muslims are not just from the Middle East," he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "They're everywhere among us, with many different faces. They're Americans, too."

Rocamora, whose photographs have been published coast to coast, has also documented the lives of Filipino World War II veterans, children in Manila's jails, and Indian Americans in Silicon Valley. "As an immigrant," Rocamora says, "I have focused a great portion of my social documentary photography work on issues affecting my own community in America and issues that concern me in the Philippines."

"With passion and purpose, I have taken these images for those who live in my dual communities to remember their lives and their struggles. This is my personal statement as a Filipino photographer living in two worlds," Rocamora writes in, the California Arts Council's web page for the 1998-1999 Visual Arts Fellowship Awardees.

Some of Rocamora's photographs for the Sept. 11 exhibition may be viewed at

About last column

JOURNALIST Howie Severino wrote in response to my last column ("The Invisible Filipinos," Aug. 28, 2002) that Filipinos are not the largest Asian group in the United States -- the Chinese are. As of last official census count (see, Chinese outnumbered Filipinos by more than 682,000. My apologies for using an outdated source.

Far from being invisible last week, Filipino-Americans made a big splash in San Jose and San Francisco by holding the First Global Filipino Community Networking Convention and the First Global Filipino Business Conference. The events were attended by Filipino American business, community and academic leaders.

The invisible Filipinos

 (From posted 11:04 PM (Manila Time) | Aug. 27, 2002 -- )

NOT a few non-Filipino friends of mine have expressed surprise when told that Filipinos make up the largest Asian group in the United States, and the second-largest immigrant group next to Mexicans. "Really?" they ask. "I thought there were more Chinese."

This common reaction might be because Filipinos do not seem as visible as other ethnic groups here. This may be due to the fact that assimilationist tendencies have been deeply ingrained in many Filipinos, just as the American colonizers in the early 1900s wanted.

Physically, Filipinos easily blend into many different ethnic groups. They are often mistaken for other nationalities. I myself have experienced that. In New York, I was mistaken for Puerto Rican. In Bangkok, I was mistaken for Thai. In Bali, I was mistaken for Balinese. In Calcutta, I was mistaken for Indian. In California, I have been mistaken for Mexican and Vietnamese. I have realized that if I spoke a thousand tongues, I could easily disappear into many different cultures.

Filipinos also are very Americanized in their manner of dressing. While you can still see some elderly Chinese and Vietnamese in California wearing their chinoiserie for everyday use, and certainly see numerous adult women of Indian heritage shopping at malls in their elegant, flowing sari, you would never see a Filipino man or woman wearing "barong Tagalog" or "baro't saya" as everyday attire. Such clothing are typically reserved for the occasional formal Filipino gathering or historical reenactment. We are so accustomed to Western clothing that our men often travel or do business wearing their business suits, which we call "amerikana", of course.

Filipinos speak English well. With or without a college degree, many of us can speak, read, and write in English fairly fluently, compared with immigrants of other ethnic origins. While this is considered a definite advantage in employment, it can be a cultural disadvantage. Even among ourselves, we tend to speak in English. Many of us do not speak to our US-born children in Filipino, lest they acquire an accent.

I believe this attitude is a result of the American-style education that began to be enforced on us a century ago. I remember a rule in my elementary school in Malabon in Metro Manila that forced us to speak only in English while on school premises. My school, which was run by American nuns, must have collected quite a bit of money, as even "aray! (ouch!)" resulted in a five-centavo fine.

Today, I am hearing more and more about second- and third-generation Filipino-Americans trying to reclaim their "lost" heritage and rebelling against the fact that they cannot speak their parents' mother tongue fluently, while their peers of Mexican, Indian, Chinese or Vietnamese heritage easily switch from English to their ethnic language in everyday conversations.

Even food, usually a distinguishing cultural element, does not easily define the Filipino. The most popular dishes are "lumpia" and "pansit", but they are usually thrown in the general category of egg rolls and noodles. Because of this, in fact, most non-Filipinos think Filipino cuisine is basically Chinese. When you speak of "adobo" or "mechado", many of them think more readily of the Mexican dishes of the same names. Many of them are surprised to know that we have sour soups such as "sinigang", or that we use green papaya in a dish called "tinola", or that only a few of our dishes use chili, or that we use both fish sauce and soy sauce. Many of them are not aware that we use tomato sauce and coconut milk in many of our dishes. Moreover, Filipino restaurants in California are few and far apart, while there is a Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant every few blocks.

In terms of work habits, I have often heard of Filipinos being described as hardworking and reliable. Many of them here in California are highly skilled, employed in technical jobs at high-technology manufacturing firms. They come to work and do what is expected of them, with nary a fuss about anything. This has probably also contributed to their being "invisible."

So where are the Filipinos in America? We are everywhere. We are not lost. But somehow, we have hidden ourselves in the folds of American culture and everyday American life. Yes, we have assimilated ourselves -- so well, perhaps, that sometimes we don't even recognize or acknowledge one another. We have become the perfect immigrant: We are everywhere and yet we are not noticeable.

Silently, over the years, we have done our share in shaping our adopted homeland, especially California, whose agricultural success -- which preceded its high-technology achievements - owe much to the early Filipino settlers who tilled its land and picked its fruits.

Perhaps it is time for us to be more visible and make our presence known.

A summer of promises

 (From posted 0:31 AM Manila Time | Aug. 21, 2002 --

THE SUMMERS I remember from when I was a child were hot and unbearably long. Summer meant school was out and therefore there was neither homework to be done nor tests to study for. I was glad for that until boredom set in. Holidays and long vacations meant staying home with nothing to do. My mother, an only child, always had to be home to care for her ailing mother. So we never went anywhere farther than a jeepney or bus ride away.

This is probably why I had resolved to provide my daughter with summers to remember, summers filled with fun and adventures I never had, summers worthy of colorful scrapbooks and photo albums and stories to be repeated for years to come.

Naturally, it is always easier to make the resolution than to carry them out, as anybody who swears on New Year's Eve to cut down on sweets and to exercise regularly knows.

I had made a mental promise to my daughter that she would have wonderful childhood memories to look back on when she grows up. I thought it was safer not to speak this promise aloud, just in case I couldn't make good on it. But more than that, I knew it would take some time before I could really be spurred into action.

There were always excuses, after all. It's too hot today. It's too cloudy today. I'm too tired today. I'm too busy today. We have to do laundry today. We have to do shopping today. We have guests today. We are somebody else's guests today. That's too expensive. That's too far. That's too hard. That's impossible. But that's what they were -- excuses.

Finally, at the beginning of this summer, I asked my five-year-old daughter what she would like to do during her school break. She had a short list, I was happy to know, of things that actually seemed doable. Why, this was probably going to be the year when wonderful things could happen!

On top of her list was to get a pet hamster. (This had been a long-postponed granting of a Christmas wish, repeated as a birthday wish in February.) So we got Harry.

Then there was summer day camp, in which she spent a full month. In those four weeks, she went on her first field trips -- two chaperoned by me, two with only her teachers and fellow campers. She had other firsts: played mini golf, went on the water slides, visited a ranch with a petting zoo and hayrides, and rode the bus. And her biggest summer camp adventure -- spending her first night away from her parents at a make-believe campsite her teachers had set up at the school grounds. My husband and I, almost unbelieving that she would actually go through with it, stuck around on camp night till it was almost time to roast their marshmallows. We secretly wished she would change her mind and ask us to take her home. She didn't. We half expected to get a call in the middle of the night from her teachers, asking us to come get our daughter. There was no call. My daughter was ready for the separation more than we were.

After summer camp, I took a leave from work and planned to carry out the rest of our "must do" list. We went to the library more often and signed her up for its summer reading program. We went to the Discovery Museum by light rail -- another first for her. One Saturday, we went to the zoo, another long-delayed wish granting. Another weekend, we went to the beach, still another first for her. Though it was too cold to swim in the ocean, as it typically is on Northern California beaches even in the summer, my daughter had a blast just walking barefoot on the sand and collecting seashells.

We also managed to arrange a play date with her best friend in pre-kindergarten, whom she had missed dearly. My husband and I and her friend's parents spent a day at a nearby lakeside park, where together we fulfilled one of the most important summer promises to our daughters.

Last week, I took out my old painting supplies, in storage for more than two years, and showed my daughter the basics of oil painting. We painted a picture together first and then, the independent little girl that she is, she struck out on her own and painted a portrait of Harry.

And then there was the haircut, for which my daughter received a first haircut certificate, and the ear piercing, which, once she had decided to do it, she could not be dissuaded from doing.

Summer is not yet over and there are more things to do. I've learned that it doesn't really take that much time or that much money to create the memories of a lifetime. What we really shouldn't have room for are excuses not to do things.

My daughter is already showing signs of being fiercely independent. Before we know it, she may want to spend summers away from us. We hope that's a long time away, and that it doesn't happen till we've fulfilled the rest of the summer promises I'm already making -- mentally, that is.

Angels in my life

 (From posted 10:57 PM Manila Time | Aug. 13, 2002 --

I HAD a couple of surprise visitors these past two weeks: two old friends whose sudden communication made me look back -- so far back -- to some turbulent periods in my life. Though the visits were virtual -- only through e-mail -- the memories they triggered almost caused my chest to tighten, my eyes to well up with tears.

Did you ever have friends who had little in common with you and yet seemed to be inexplicably connected to you? Did you ever wonder if they were serving a purpose in that particular moment in your life? Perhaps their presence helped you overcome certain obstacles you might never have tackled all by yourself? And yet, years later, you lose touch, go on with your own life, get busy with endless mundane chores, and never give them another thought. Some call friends like these angels -- they mysteriously appear in your time of need and just as mysteriously disappear. Until you get an e-mail from them.

The first was from a college friend who couldn't have been more the opposite of me. We sat together in journalism class and somehow hit it off. She was from a well-off, intact family; I was a struggling, self-supporting student from a family that might as well have been defined dysfunctional. She was studious and diligent and never missed a class; I always struggled to keep my eyes open in class after a long night at the press for our student paper, or after an exhausting student demonstration for something or other. She was always well-groomed and stylishly dressed; I wore faded jeans, oversized T-shirts, and leather sandals. And yet she liked me, and I liked her.

We only hung out together at the mass communications building. We each had other friends -- friends who were more similar to ourselves -- outside the building. Strangely, the short time we spent together in class seemed to be enough to develop a deep friendship.

I call it a deep friendship when that friend takes you into her own home, offers you a bed in the middle of the night, and asks no questions about why you were knocking on her door so late. I call it a deep friendship when all that mattered to us was one question: "Are you happy?"

Years later, we became reporters for competing papers. We saw each other occasionally, usually in professional circumstances. We rarely had a chance to talk, always being under pressure from deadlines. I thought she might be going through some tough personal times, and I hoped she would come to me if she needed someone to talk to. She never did, making me think she was tougher than I might have been. I secretly wished she was happy.

Now we are both mothers. And she has e-mailed me after reading my column, saying she wished to keep in touch. I hope she will because I never got to tell her how much her friendship meant to me. In some of my darkest nights, she kept a light on for me in her home. Who knows what might have happened if a door didn't open for me when I needed it?

Shortly after I received the first e-mail, I got one from another old friend. Like my college friend, I didn't think I had much in common with him. He was my co-worker, married, and the father of a little girl; I was single. I was a beat reporter; he wasn't. I hung out with other beat reporters; he hung out with the editors. We hardly spent any time outside the building and yet we somehow bonded deeply enough for me to introduce him to my mother. In his e-mail, he mentioned that he remembered the time I asked him to listen to a song I had written (and which was set to music by another friend). I don't quite recall that incident but I have no doubt it happened, as he could not have otherwise known about that song. It was extremely personal to me.

We are now both living overseas, in different continents. He contacted me after reading my column. His daughter is now in college; mine is about to start kindergarten. We have a lifetime of experiences apart, and yet he remembers my song.

I am thankful for friends like these -- friends who would rather know I'm safe than know where I had been out so late from; friends who want to know if I'm happy; friends who remember a song I had written a lifetime ago. They were there for brief periods in my life, or so I thought. Actually, they have been there all along.

Substance abuse makes victims of us all

 (From posted 10:57 PM Manila Time | Aug. 06, 2002 -- . Photo from : L-R -- Meena Sehwani, Honey Tordesillas, Marice de la Cruz, Christine Cruz; taken during SPCM HS77's Silver Jubilee Grand Reunion at Manila Polo Club, Forbes Park, Makati, 25 Jan 2002.)

RECENTLY, I learned about a remarkable story of connection through a former schoolmate. Several years ago, five women who were struggling with their loved ones' drug or alcohol addiction found one another in recovery group meetings. Finding strength in one another, these women decided to impart what they had discovered to others who may need the same help they once did. They founded the Living Free Foundation in 1998 as a nonprofit, self-help center for codependents, the term used to refer to people who are indirect victims of drug abuse or alcoholism. Today, my schoolmate Meena Sehwani is chair of LFF, which is one of the recipients of our class of 1977's fund-raising proceeds.

In a society in which these destructive diseases are often denied in shame, it is extremely courageous to encourage bringing them out in the open and helping people whose lives have been changed by them. The LFF recognizes that drug addicts and alcoholics are not the only victims. Friends and family members whose lives have been affected by them are victims as well. I take my hat off to you, Meena. And congratulations on your newly launched website,

I know too well how destructive addiction to drugs and alcohol can be. I have seen its devastating effects on some people I love. I have seen how these addictions can take over the lives, not only of the addicts, but also of those around them.

I only recently heard of the term "codependency." When I searched the Internet, I was surprised to find more than 48,000 sites about or related to this concept. Some of them summarize the hundreds of books that have been written about codependency. Some of them are reviews of these books. Some of them contain in-depth discussions of the concept in psychoanalytical terms while some of them place it in biblical context. How do you know if you are a codependent? On the Web, you will find extensive descriptions, lists and do-it-yourself tests to help you determine if you are one.

Simply put, you are a codependent if, in caring for someone you love who is chemically dependent, you have entrapped yourself in the victim's needs, whims and lifestyle. You have set aside your own life goals in favor of full-time care for the victim. You have defined yourself by what and how much care you are giving to the victim. You have lost your own sense of self, just as if you were dependent on a chemical substance yourself.

In Philippine society, it seems that there are so many cultural and social attitudes that hamper people from acknowledging the existence of chemical dependency, more so codependency. These traits often even contribute to the development of chemical dependencies.

"Nakakahiya naman (It's too embarassing.)" is an all too common excuse not to butt in on other people's business, as is "walang pakialam (none of your business)."

"Nakikisama lang (I'm just going with the group.)" is often heard to justify one's excessive drinking.

"Hindi ako makatanggi (I couldn't say no.)" is another dangerous social alibi for getting in over one's head. On the codependent's side, family members are expected to stick it out to the end if one of their own is a substance abuser, no matter if it is to the detriment of the caregivers. They are expected to care for their "sariling dugo (own blood)," often to the point of becoming codependents.

If someone you love is addicted to drugs or alcohol and you have devoted your own life to caring for him or her, it's time to claim back your life. Throwing your own life away will not cure your loved one of his or her addiction. An addict needs professional help and you need to help yourself. Seek support from others who have gone through the same things you have by contacting organizations such as the LFF or learn more about codependency from the countless available resources on the Web.

'Tosino' by any other name

 ( posted 10:57 PM Manila Time | Jul. 30, 2002 --

IF you were driving around California, what's one of the surest signs there are a lot of Filipinos living in that area? Well, a Jollibee restaurant is one. We discovered one last week as my husband and I drove through Daly City to take our daughter to the San Francisco Zoo.

I knew, of course, that Daly City was well known for its sizable Filipino population -- about 32 percent of its 100,000 residents. And I knew from TV commercials on the Filipino channel that there was a Jollibee there somewhere. I just had not planned on eating there that day.

In fact, my husband and I were looking for a McDonald's for a quick snack and a restroom stop before heading to the zoo. We drove for blocks without seeing one, and we thought that odd. Well, we should have known. In Filipino country, of course, you'd find a Jollibee before seeing a McDonald's.

We had to stop at Jollibee. Or rather, I had to, and I convinced my Indo-American husband to do so. Overcoming a mild protest from my daughter, unfamiliar with Jollibee, I led the way.

I expected to see tapsilog and tosilog, shortened terms for the combinations tapa, sinangag at itlog and tosino, sinangag at itlog, on the breakfast menu. Instead, these were the choices given: tender beef rice, smoked breakfast sausage rice, tasty corned beef rice, and sweet pork rice. I quickly figured out from the pictures on the wall that the "tender beef" was the tapa, the "smoked breakfast sausage" was the longganisa, and the "sweet pork" was the tosino. I had to explain what these dishes were to my husband and daughter.

What disappointed me was the use of English words for the dishes I enjoyed back home. Why couldn't they call tapa "tapa," longganisa "longganisa," and tosino "tosino"? To me, just hearing these native names evoke fond memories that trigger sensations on my taste buds. I can almost taste the sweet tosino in my mouth as I pronounce the word. So to me, a Filipino client hungry for not only my native food, but, more important, for the memories I associate the food with, it makes sense for a Filipino restaurant outside the Philippines to call the Filipino dishes by their native names. If I saw the word tapsilog on the menu, I'm more than half won over as a customer. It makes no sense to me and stirs absolutely no hunger in my stomach nor in my soul to see tapa called "tender beef" or tosino "sweet pork."

What's more ridiculous is that being in Daly City, you'd expect that majority of the restaurant's clientele would be Filipino. And therefore, there would be no need to translate into English the dishes' native names.

Even if the goal was to attract more non-Filipino clientele, it still doesn't make sense to me. I have eaten in a number of the many Indian restaurants now scattered all over California. I have yet to see one calling samosa a "spicy turnover" or murgh tandoori just "grilled chicken." Do you think the Vietnamese restaurants that abound here would call their pho just plain "noodle soup"? Or would the numerous Thai restaurant owners here refer to their tom yum as simply "spicy soup"? Even a French restaurant would not dare call foie gras "fattened goose liver." It just wouldn't be the same.

As a result, so many non-Indians, non-Vietnamese, non-Thais who frequent these ethnic restaurants are now familiar with the names of the popular ethnic dishes. In contrast, the only Filipino dishes many of my non-Filipino friends know by name are lumpia and pansit.

Weren't Filipinos in California long before all these other ethnic groups? You'd think that by now, kare-kare, sinigang, or tinola would be part of the American vocabulary. The use of native language names, I believe, is one way of introducing the native culture to foreigners.

Jollibee's website says it has eight restaurants in California alone and it has restaurants in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and some U.S. territories. I don't know what its menus in other places look like. But wouldn't it be nice if eating in one brought you more than just a fast-food meal -- the feeling of being home because of familiar language -- even if its restaurant interiors and menu style (down to the "value meals") do remind you of McDonald's?

I struck gold online

 (From posted 1:05 AM Manila Time | Jul. 24, 2002 -- Photo from : L-R --Menchie Noble, Vicki Villongco, Ana Velasco, Belle Salvador and Mina de los Reyes; taken during their Silver Jubilee reunion at Mina's home in San Jose CA, 26 Jan 2002. Not in photo was Gee Leano who was sick.)

Late last year, I became convinced of the awesome power of the Internet to find connections to people I would otherwise have never found, not in a day at least.

I was testing what the Internet could do for me. So I decided to see if I could find some of my high school classmates at St. Paul College of Manila. I started a search. Within one day, I struck gold. Or rather, green and gold, the Paulinian colors.

Finding the school's official website had led me to other links until I reached the class of 1977's newly created website. I was one of the first to make contact. Over the next few weeks, more and more of our classmates had discovered the website. Pretty soon, there was a flurry of e-mail messages going back and forth, each containing questions and answers and stories and reminiscences in a frantic effort to fill the gap of 25 years since we parted ways. I was one of many giddily anticipating the string of e-mail messages at the end of the day. By the end of the year, a core group in Manila that had been meeting for two years had firmed up plans for our class' silver jubilee celebration. Paulinians who hadn't visited the Philippines in years now had an excuse to go home. Arrangements were made for more meetings, mini-reunions, and parties. Finally, the day of the silver jubilee came and the girls who tearfully said goodbye to one another in 1977 now met again as women - mothers, doctors, lawyers, writers, business owners, teachers, and so on. These women who shared their precious formative years together have reconnected.

Meanwhile, back here in California, I hosted a small luncheon coinciding with the day of the reunion in Manila. I invited a few of the Paulinians I had discovered were within a short driving distance. (One, an international flight attendant, flew all the way from Detroit and spent the previous night at my home.)

Strangely, as the party wore on, an unexplainable bonding seemed to blossom. None of us had been close in high school. We each had hung out with different people. And yet, it was as if seeing one another had brought us back to high school. We giggled like little girls, relished old gossip, retold old jokes. Suddenly, we were back in the '70s.

All my apprehension about the meeting disappeared. I had wondered how it would turn out. Would we have anything in common? Would we have anything to say to one another? Perhaps we'd eat lunch and after a few pleasantries, say our goodbyes again and never see one another for the next 25 years. After all, I was close to none but a handful of girls at St. Paul. As it turned out, we talked till evening, replenished our plates between stories as lunch stretched into dinner (nobody was watching her waistline), and even had an impromptu makeup session. Our dear husbands and kids busied themselves watching TV, playing, and talking, allowing us women to rediscover one another.

Perhaps one of my great discoveries that day is realizing that we have all survived our adolescent fears, insecurities, loneliness, heartbreaks, or just the general angst that every teenager occasionally encounters. Yes, high school was tough because of all the physical and emotional changes we all were going through as teenagers. But adulthood, with its attendant responsibilities and accountability, is tougher. That also makes it more rewarding.

Our little group of six here in California is planning to meet again this summer. Perhaps we can locate a few more Paulinians who would like to join us. I am excited about the next opportunity to reconnect and learn more about the varied, interesting, and challenging lives we have led. Maybe I'll tell you all about this reunion someday.

(The above article was reprinted in full with permission from in the inaugural (Aug 2002) issue of the Paulinian Alumnae Association of Manila's "Paulinian Alumnae Newsletter" with the following sidebar.)

Paulinians go online

The Internet has served to link the Paulinian community worldwide, helping us to re-kindle old friendships and make new ones. From just one SPCM HS website on 14 Feb 1999 --- Eileen Niguidula's SPCM HS'76 "Valentine's Day" e-group, there are now 19 known active e-groups and websites belonging to 12 batches:

HS '65 / College '69 website:; e-group:

HS'71 egroup:

HS '73 e-group:

HS '75 website: ( ); e-group:

HS '76 website:; e-group:

HS '77 website:; e-group:

HS '78 website:; e-group:

HS '79 website:; e-group:

HS '80 website:

HS '81 website:; e-group:

HS '82 website:

HS '84 e-group:

Writing about people in a high-tech setting

By Romina Saha

(FIRST ISSUE! From posted 5:04 AM Manila Time | Jul. 17, 2002--

WHAT does the word "connection" mean to you? In Silicon Valley, where I have lived for the last 12 years, it can mean many things.

A connection can be electrical. Connections of metal lines are arranged in very logical and specified ways on a bed of silicon. This metal maze creates electrical impulses that enable it to perform a specific function. That's what a computer chip is. That is what Silicon Valley -- a term coined in 1971 by a journalist -- is named for.

For those who have kept abreast of developments in the high-tech world, you may know that Silicon Valley is not a geographical name. You will not find it in traditional maps. Northern California's Santa Clara County, which includes 15 cities, has laid claim to the name "Silicon Valley."

Silicon Valley is where hundreds of businesses geared toward the creation of technology that is better, bigger, smaller, faster, simpler, more complicated, cheaper, costlier -- at least one of these -- are headquartered. The name "Silicon Valley" pays homage to the stuff of which computer chips are made -- silicon. Why not? Every high-tech product you can think of -- computers, video games, kitchen appliances, laboratory equipment, weapons, medical equipment, and even the machines that make computer chips -- has a computer chip in it. The computer chip changed our lives and the course of human history. It certainly deserves its birthplace to be named after it.

When you think of computers, you also think of the Internet. The World Wide Web, so named for its ability to make almost unlimited virtual connections from a single starting point, is also a staple in Silicon Valley life.

But "connections" don't just refer to electrical or electronic links. What about the connection of events that led to the founding of most of the successful high-tech corporations in the first place? You have heard the names -- Hewlett Packard, Intel, Apple, Sun Microsystems, to name a few of the semiconductor industry giants found in Silicon Valley.

And what about connections in the context of networking, a term that applies to computers as well as to the business practice of contact building? You must have heard about the pink slip parties in recent months after the Sept. 11-induced US economic downturn. These are parties attended by people who have lost their jobs. They hope to find comfort in these gatherings from other people similarly displaced but more than that, they hope to find at least a lead to a new job. Pink slip parties are gatherings of people who have been handed their termination notices and who in turn are handing out their business cards to other people who are also handing out their business cards.

It is in this setting -- Silicon Valley, the place built on connections of all kinds -- where I will be writing this column, simply called "Connections." But contrary to what you might expect from what I have written above, I will be writing about connections of a different sort, on a different level. I will write about connections to people and between people, connections to their emotions, ambitions, and aspirations, connections to ethnic cultures, traditions, and values, connections to history and geography, connections to the past, the present, and the future.

I will not write about computers or technology alone. I will write about the people who create technology, the people who use it, and the people affected by it. I will not write about matters connected only to technology. True, even preschoolers these days know how to use a mouse and navigate a simple children's website. But there are still many people for whom a mouse is just a rodent. I would like to write about them, too. Silicon Valley is just a backdrop for stories about human lives.

California is rich with people from all over the world who have brought with them not only their languages, traditions, and tastes, but also their family histories, their struggles and their tragedies, their losses and their victories, their dreams and their hopes. I wish to write not only about Filipino-Americans like me but also about people of other ethnicity who somehow have affected me. Like everyone else who has come to the United States and embraced life here, I have brought with me my own history. I have my own connections.

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