HOW many women enter the orbit of a 10-year-old boy’s attention?
Only one, as I happened to learn one night when my son, Juan, and I played with the Cebu Province’s Heritage Cards.
A friend had given me the maroon box, which contained cards showing the photographs and profiles of the “Cebuana Trailblazers (Sugboanang Tag-una).”
Launched in August 2006, the heritage cards honored 60 Cebuanas, selected by a research team drawn from the academe and non-government organizations during the 437th founding anniversary of the Cebu Provincial Government.
Although I’ve seen the maroon box displayed at the University of San Carlos’ Cebuano Studies Center, I never got to scan the contents until that night.
And I might never have explored the cards if Juan had not asked me about the lady on the box’s cover.
The photograph showed a Cebuana, in native finery, posed against a painted studio background of oversized leaves. The sepia tone, the shadow of a smile hovering along those prim lips, the butterfly sleeves in gossamer piña brought to mind a gentle spirit warming some pre-war hearth.
Except for those anachronistic eyes. With a stare as direct and unflinching as any pants-wearing, take-charge alpha female of the Now generation, the cover subject seemed to coolly appraise me as I faltered before Juan’s question.
Hers were not the only eyes that saw through my ignorance. Juan, a schoolyard veteran at trading cards, and I had wrangled over his Filipino assignment a few nights ago.
Aren’t you a teacher? Juan asked, much too innocently, the woman with the butterfly smile.
I frowned but still barged into the trap when I explained, feebly, that I didn’t know the woman as she was born decades before my time.
To make up for that asinine excuse, I shuffled the deck until I found her card: Ines S. Villa-Gonzalez. According to the researchers, she was the only woman among four Cebuanos given the Premio Zobel, the country’s oldest award for excellence in Spanish literary writing.
In the 1930s, Gonzalez was an educator, a journalist, and an advocate for women’s suffrage. The woman with the butterfly smile and fighter’s eyes made me ashamed that I failed to cast my vote in three national and local elections.
Juan and I ended up taking turns, flipping 10 cards at a time and challenging the other to correctly name the Cebuanas. My three-decade headstart allowed me to show off (and recover face) before Juan.
But, gradually, I felt proud for another reason: to be mentored by and to work with Cebuanas like outstanding teacher and researcher Felisa Etemadi, journalist and historian Concepcion Briones, broadcaster Virginia Vamenta and gender advocate Portia Dacalos is to be aware that “heritage” is not old history but continuing present.
For 10-year-old Juan, heritage was even stranger than mastering verbs in Filipino. He wondered if the prolific writer Lina Espina-Moore was the mother of Hollywood actress-singer Mandy Moore. He took another look at Julia Ramon-Gandionco only after I explained that it was her avatar (using computer lingo for the gaming alter ego) used in Julie’s Bakeshop, maker of his favorite cheese bread and cornbread with the crunchy tips.
Juan did perk up when I flipped one card. “Gwendolyn F. Garcia,” he crowed. “Horse lady.”
When we came to slain lawyer Arbet Sta. Ana-Yongco, Juan said she was a “hero.” A teacher told their class that Yongco helped many women and children “find justice.”
One of her sons is his batch mate. He was on the second floor of their home when someone shot his mother, narrated Juan. “If (my classmate) didn’t see (the killer’s) face, how will he take his revenge?”
History can’t be dead if it raises such a bristling harvest of questions.
* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 30, 2008 issue