Zambales & Pangasinan

Touring around this country for the last few weeks has been amazing. We’ve been shooting the whole time at a pace that I was not totally prepared for and I’ve been amazed at every twist and turn the Philippines had to offer thus far… And then we come to this… After we’ve enjoyed the tourism part of the country, we finally get to the villages from where our family comes from. Zambales. Pangasinan.

This trip had no need for another airplane ride, this would be a road trip, family style, with my siblings and our stripped down crew which consisted of our two cousins, as cameramen. One cousin from my mother’s side, one cousin from my father’s side, and the rest of us pile into a mini van and head north. We spend the better part of the day in our air-conditioned chariot, piloted by our Uncle that we just met. He didn’t speak much, but he was a very apt driver, especially for these Philippine streets. See, once you leave the city, there are no highways or freeways. What there is instead is a road… This road serves as the only connection from the south to the north, it’s mostly a two lane road, but the need for expertise driving skill is due to what shares the road, namely trikes and little motorcycle that have not the same power as a car so there’s constant weaving around them. Also, buses called the Victory Liner are seen traveling up and down this road, they act like Greyhound buses, shuttling people from town to town. Of course, the Jeepneys are sharing this road, the left over tricked out WWII jeeps that the locals fixed up for transit, kind of like your local buses, only every one looks different, as if they were dipped in chocolate and candy, like every Jeepney is it’s own, one of a kind ice cream sundae. Now, along with the vehicles are the animals. Dogs everywhere, sometimes they’re just laying on the road, I guess they’re just relaxing from this brutal Philippine heat, and I can’t say I blame them. Sometimes it feels like the dogs out here run the whole area, running around free, at the very least, they seem to live a pretty good life. Along with the dogs, it is not out of the ordinary to have a caribou crossing the road. A caribou is a big Filipino cow (more or less) that farmers use in the rice fields that line this road and the farmers use the side of the road to dry their rice, so, these people must be dodged too. Also, this road is lined with a bunch of roadside stores called “Sari Sari” stores and houses, houses that change as you move up and down the country. All and all, these houses are an amalgamation of the last few generations of what has been happening in the Philippines. They range from bamboo huts… to tin huts… to cinder block projects… to houses that incorporate all of these forms of architecture. So along with all the previous obstacles, you have to watch out for kids running back and forth this makeshift freeway. I must say, I was thankful that I was not driving.

After of hours of maneuvering through the road north, we arrive at our first destination just as the sun began to set… Iba, Zambales. Now, we are in the province, which is another word for “country” out here. See, the province is outside the city, outside the over crowded hustle and bustle, the concrete streets and skyscrapers of Manila. In the province, the traffic is replaced by chickens and dogs running wild and the urban landscape is replaced by acres of rice fields with the back drop of green mountains. We are greeted in the province by literally a village of people who are related to us on our mother’s side. The introductions are endless and overwhelming. These are people who share my mother’s last name, some aunts, some uncles, most cousins. There are even grandmothers, or lolas as we say in the Philippines, who are the two last remaining sisters of my late grandfather. The dinner was hosted at the house of my uncle who’s nick name is Ama, which means means father or dad. I asked him if it meant “big daddy,” he laughed… I’m sure it did somehow within this community. Uncle Ama proceded to give me and my siblings a rundown of our family history starting with his father, my grandfather’s older brother, who was a judge. He went through the list of my grandfather’s nine siblings telling the most miraculous stories of how my grand dad got to America and how as our family became a success. He explained how poor we were in this little province and how my grandfather joining the American Navy at 15 changed the fortunes of our family forever. He also told me of how from poverty our family has made itself into a pillar of the community which now consisted of several attorneys including himself, as well as several other professionals such as teachers and engineers and also government officials, again which was himself, Uncle Ama. He is bigger then life and the stories he tells not only fill me with enjoyment and laughter but also with overwhelming pride of people and the place I come from. One great story he tells us is of our great grandfather, Papa Dino. He tells us that in this town, Papa Dino, was a great orator, and beyond being a phenomenal public speaker, he was an actor and director and would do shows in the the center of town, which acted as his outdoor theater. This is where he would do one man shows and even direct his children in some pieces. And that’s when things started making sense in our family lineage… My siblings and I, were not the first actors in our family, no, it’s been in the blood since before we were born. Our connection to the homeland is not only in bloodlines and national pride but also in the heart of the artists…

The next day we awake early to continue further north to the province, Pangasinan, and to the village, Alaminos, the place where my father’s father is from. Here we are greeted by a familiar face to me, my Uncle Dom. See, I grew up with this uncle in America, we even lived together for awhile. Uncle Dom is as American as I am, he used to come to our ball games and we would all play basketball in the park but a few years ago he decided to move back to the Philippines, he fell in love, got married and had a kid. He said he wanted a simpler life and I must admit he looked like a changed man. I’m not sure if was the woman in his life or fatherhood, but the Philippines looked good on him. His energy was filled with elation and joy… I was tickled to see him so happy… And I must admit I was a bit shocked to really see him out here in the province… and to see him so happy. See, it is one thing to meet family you never met out here in the Philippines and experience their life for a moment, it is an entirely different thing to see someone who you grew up with, lived with and spent so much time with, out in a place which is so far out of your mutual element. I’m almost in awe to see the trasformation and the possibility of living a life here. He and his family take us for a picnic to a place called 100 Islands. It’s right off the shore of Alaminos and is a stretch of the coast that literally host a hundred or so islands. The sight of these little islands, mostly uninhabited by humans, are truly beautiful. Just pristine, miniature islands peppered across the ocean that seem to hold some sort of secret, even if its only the mystery of how they came to be. I was later informed that this was the first national park of the Philippines. After our picnic and boat ride through the islands we went to farm that my grandfather grew up on. We rolled into the country and roll up on this rice farm and now we are greeted by another village people. I come to find out that this village of people share my last name and then an old women walks out that shared the face of my late grandfather… She’s youngest sister of my grandpa and the last sister alive of his siblings. We walked onto the property to see that it is almost the same as it has been for the last hundred years. My lola tells us of how this land has been in  our family for over a hundred years and how they live like they always have, off the land… the rice and the animals. There is still bamboo houses on stilts called, “Bahay Kubos” that some of my relatives still live in today. No running water, no electricity, just the land and the people, a river running through the back yard, a river my father says he used to swim in. An enormous mango tree was being cut and made into fire wood and charcoal. My father walked up to the tree, my lola told him the tree had been struck by lightning and they were salvaging the wood. My dad began to recall playing in this tree and told stories of his father playing in this tree. He said this massive mango tree was well over a hundred years old and then he began to recall his dad and got choked up and tears formed in his eyes. The weight of the moment was heavy upon all us standing there, a circle had been completed with my father bringing home his sons and daughter to a place where his father played and the presence of my grandfather’s spirit was very tangible in this land that I was so connected to, even though this was my first time here…

Through all our travel around the Philippines it finally brought us here, to the actual place where we are from. To the people that share our names and likeness, to the land that was and still is my family’s lively hood for over the last century. We came here in hopes to find our roots and was, truthfully, not really sure what to expect, and what was revealed was our roots are still here… flourishing in this beautiful country… It’s almost inexplainable the feelings I feel, the utter, awe inspiring feeling of being apart of something so much bigger then yourself, to be but a piece of fruit on this amazing family tree, that you can only hope to add to in the most loving and honorable way. Somehow, I am certain we accomplished what we came here to do, yet, this is only the beginning…

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About dantebasco

actor, poet, writer, producer I grew up in LA, in the industry of "Hollywood"... I think I turned out alright. View all posts by dantebasco

One response to “Zambales & Pangasinan

  • Kat

    I didn’t know your roots are in the north. My dad’s side is from Zambales too, about 45 minutes away from Iba. Thank you for sharing your journey. :)

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