Nay Lourdes’ brother, Rufino Chan, was also known in China as Huang Jin Sha (黄金沙) and Zeng Jin Sha (曾金沙) in Eni village. Photo shows Chan with his wife Lin Ji (林及). (Top) Nay Lourdes is flanked by (counter-clockwise) her daughters, son-in-law and a granddaughter.
By Eduardo Chan de la Cruz Jr.
Published by Tulay Fortnightly
Chinese Filipino Digest – June 19-July 9, 2012 ~ Volume 25 ~ Issue Nos. 1 & 2
It was noontime but it rained so hard the sky dimmed as if dusk. The sky wept endlessly and streets began to flood.
A small procession of cars, pedicabs, and people in white were slowly winding its way through the narrow streets of coastal communities in Catarman, Northern Samar.
It was a difficult journey, as if to reflect the difficult life of the woman being laid to rest.
This is the story of my grandaunt, Nay Lourdes.
A widow, Lourdes Dy Chan-Gallano was 82 when she died early last year. Affectionately called Nay Lourdes, she was grandfather’s cousin, thus grandaunt to us. She lived in Barangay Baybay, a fishing village. Some of her 10 children and grandchildren live as fishermen in this coastal community.
Nay Lourdes never went to high school. Unskilled, unschooled, she could not earn a living. So, she stayed home as a housewife. She was poor most of her life.
Her skin was brown from the beach’s sun. She spoke fluent Waray and was very Filipino in her ways. Only the almond slant of her eyes suggested that she is pure Chinese. She does not speak, read or write Chinese.
In 1994 when I was doing interviews to seek out relatives in China, an aunt mentioned that my grandfather had a cousin, Nay Lourdes, whom they said was pure Chinese but spoke no Chinese.
A lot has happened since that interview but my curiosity about her story continued to nag me like an incomplete school assignment.
Today, I have found my relatives in China and when dealing with extended families in two different countries with an almost different culture and language, it is very difficult to explain to both sides how one is related to the other.
So I created a family tree to show relationships with photos and names. Pictures do speak louder than words, especially when words fail, most especially because I do not speak Chinese.
And when these pictures spoke, they told a touching story of siblings lost and found. And that of Nay Lourdes.
May 2010: tale from China
Completing our family tree was the main reason for my third visit to the family hometown near Quanzhou City.
I presented my draft to uncle Zeng Huan Zhang (曾焕章), second cousin to my mother Nimfa. He liked the family tree very much and recounted so many stories but I could not understand him. So he wrote down some of them so someone in the Philippines can translate them for me.
For great-grandfather’s generation on the family tree, he added more names to show four brothers. He gestured towards the sea, indicating they left for the Philippines. Great-grandfather died and was buried in Samar. Did the other three return to China?
He did not know.
His daughter, Zeng Na Na (曾娜娜), said two years back, she and uncle had traveled to Xiamen for the funeral of a distant relative. Under great-granduncle Julian Chan’s name she added two more names: great-granduncle’s sons. The younger son was the relative who died recently. The elder had been forcibly drafted into the Kuomintang army in his youth and never heard from again.
That was all they knew.
June 2010: tale from the Philippines
A month later, in Catarman, a family tricycle stopped in front of our house. Onboard is grandaunt Nay Lourdes, 82. She paid a rare visit to mother. She was ill and needed to see doctors in Tacloban City, Leyte. She asked for money and a ride from my father, the provincial administrator.
Meanwhile, mother asked about her life history and took notes for our family tree.
Nay Lourdes was born Oct. 8, 1928, in Brgy. Polangi, a village in the hinterlands of our town. Daughter of Julian Chan and Dy Ken Yu, both immigrants from China, Nay Lourdes said her father was brother to my great-grandfather, Maximo.
She had two elder brothers, Francisco and Rufino. Her mother died of illness a few months after she was born. Three days after his wife died, Julian, overcome with grief, drank poison and died. Orphaned, the three children were taken in by great-grandfather Maximo who raised them as if they were his own.
Misfortune followed in 1937, when Maximo died of an unknown disease that caused ulcers on his skin.
Orphaned again, they were to return to China with their Di-um Justa Macaso, a Filipina married to their father’s second eldest brother – Emilio Chan (Zeng Da Mu 曾大目), also my second eldest great-granduncle.
Justa was living in China at the time, and had traveled to the Philippines to fetch them. The older boys went back to China with her.
Deemed too young to travel, the young Lourdes was left behind in Catarman with an elderly Filipino couple. At 15, she was wed in an arranged marriage to a farmer nearly 10 years older.
In conversation with my mother, Nay Lourdes admitted her unrelenting search for her brothers since their separation more than 70 years ago. She learned only that one of her brothers had become a soldier, nothing more.
She knew the Filipino names of her parents and brothers, as told by acquaintances when she was still young. She had no pictures, no documents and letters, no physical evidence to trace her brothers’ existence.
July 2010: Questionnaire
When mother gave me her interview notes, stories from my Chinese relatives and Nay Lourdes seemed to click. I had a strong feeling these were of the same family but I had no proof. I had helped others find their relatives. Surely I can do the same for my own kin.
I asked cousin Zeng Na Na for a contact with the family of our deceased granduncle, Chan Bon Tieng Meliton (Zeng Wen Cheng 曾文呈), in Xiamen. He was cousin to my maternal grandfather. If Nay Lourdes was who I thought she was, he would be her cousin as well.
I got a phone number, then asked my sister Christine to email her Chinese colleague in Shanghai to call for a house address. I sent a letter with my questions. The response came by email.
August 2010: Di-Um Justa
During our town fiesta, we invited Nay Lourdes over. We had good news for her. But first we wanted her to tell her story again. Mother asked: What was the name of the person who took your brothers away?
“I was told it was our Aunt Justa Macaso,” she said.
The aunt who had separated the siblings became our cementing evidence, the missing link that would bring them together again.
I asked Nay Lourdes’ newly-found relatives to visit her, especially now that she is frail. In November, her niece Huang Yu Lian (黄玉連) and grandniece Wu Yu Xia (吴裕霞) arrived in Catarman. These were granduncle Rufino’s daughter and granddaughter. Cousin Zeng Na Na also came to visit for the first time. We had a grand reunion and gave them a taste of the famous Filipino hospitality.
December 2010: an era passes
Northern Samar experienced an unusually wet Christmas that year. It would rain for weeks on end. By mid-December, Nay Lourdes succumbed to pneumonia and other complications from her long fight with myoma. She was in and out of hospital for a week.
A few days into 2011, she passed away.
For my family, 2010 was a historic year. In nine months, our family tree took shape, traced from a single root that branched out across history, across the sea, and across generations to bear very diverse fruits but united in one familial bond.
Looking at the family tree, the death of grandaunt Nay Lourdes, the last of grandfather’s cousins, signaled the closing of an entire generation.
But in its wake, a new realization sets in, particularly with my generation. There is now a deeper understanding of our lineage and of how we came to be. The story of the previous generation, previously buried in memory and might have stayed buried forever, has been unearthed and will live on in hearts and minds.