An article about my creative process in writing Dear Nanay (Gagatiga and Flores, Lampara House, 2013). This article will appear in MirrorsWindowsDoors this month since the website features the Philippines, Philippine diaspora and the Overseas Filipino Worker in Philippine Children's Literature.
: How It Came To Be Nanay
By Zarah C.
, on her experience, reflections and creative process writing an OFW story for children. Gagatiga
I was born in Manila in 1974. Two years after the declaration of Martial Law. I grew up an only child until I was twelve years old. Our household was small but my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family lived next door so cousins flitted in and out of the family compound. Nanay* Leony, my maternal grandmother, ran a sari-sari* store that sold everything from safety pins to San Miguel Pale Pilsen. There were also Tagalog comics for rent. I read them after school as part of my
reading list. We had a garden abloom with flowers all year round because recreatory Leony knew what to plant during the dry and the rainy seasons. Her vegetable garden produced root crops, tubers, herbs and spices, and greens that often ended up Nanay a dish on our dinner table. Trees grew in the backyard: coconut, mango, banana, palm, in santol * tamarind, camias* star apple, , atis * to mention a few. ,
Everyone knew everybody in the
. I played with my cousins and the neighbourhood kids. I walked with them to school. We heard mass on Sundays. On lazy summer days, my cousins and I would take naps in the afternoon. We would wake up to late noon snacks of neighbourhood ginataan * , turon *porridge, kamote* fries or biko* , especially cooked by our , aunts. There were stories and songs to share until it was time to watch Voltes V and Mazinger Z. We were heartbroken when these TV shows were cancelled. We were too young to understand what it meant. favourite
When the rains came, we bathed. When big storms brought in the flood, we waited until the water receded. The nearby creek would swell and this gave us a reason to launch our homemade paper boats. Water leaked in easily in the paper boats, so we would either swim or catch fish next. We got lucky on some days to bring home Gourami and
. No one dared bring home tadpoles since none of us wished to bear the brunt of our grandmother's wrath. Fishes were alright. Frogs, not so. tilapia
I could say I had a happy childhood. My world was safe and secure from the violence and horrors of Martial Law. My parents and the adults in my family tried their best to keep life simple yet abundant with laughter, songs, stories and playtime. They surrounded us with the basics, enough space to move about and the freedom to express oneself, though, controlled at times. But unexpected events in life, big or small, can throw anyone off balance.
|Liza Flores' study for Dear Nanay|
The Philippine economy collapsed at the onset of the 80s and this prompted my grandfather to work in Saudi Arabia after an early retirement from the Philippine Navy. A year after, my father, who was at the time an esteemed public school teacher, followed suit. My grandfather and my father became Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).
I wasn't spared from the effects and repercussions of Martial Law at all. At nine years old, I accepted my mother's explanation of the situation. Papa will bring home dollars. Savings for a better future. Never mind the long years apart. Sacrifice today for a better tomorrow.
Nanay who was pragmatic and practical, a survivor of World War II, took it all in her stride. But I got a sense of their longing and loneliness. There were nights when my mother cried herself to sleep and Nanay Leony kept singing sad Bicolano songs. It was a confusing time. The Sanrio toys, dolls and cool gadgets from Saudi Arabia did little to justify the empty chairs at the dinner table, especially on birthdays and during Christmas. After two years working abroad, my father decided to go come back home for good. This filled me with joy, but it took me a while to reconnect with my father. Leony
It is this experience of growing up with an OFW parent that is the backdrop of Dear Nanay (Lampara House, 2013). But it was my trip to Singapore in 2002 that was the lynchpin for the poem that became a narrative in verse and eventually, a picture book for children.
My attendance at the 2nd Storytelling Congress in Singapore that year allowed me to meet and interact with Filipinos working away from home and their families. There were professionals working in the IT industry and the Library and Information Science sector. I met teachers and professors, domestic helpers and
. I was even mistaken for a household help by the immigration staff when my host from the National Book Development Board of Singapore bade me a tearful farewell at the airport. The immigration staff asked if she was my boss and I, her domestic helper. I said no, she is my friend. The immigration staff gave me a warm knowing smile. I told her the truth, of course, but I knew she had a different context to my answer. labourers
|Liza Flores' narrative layering included Nanay's job not mentioned in the original poem.|
In the airplane, the economy class was filled with Filipino men and women all noisy and eager to get home. They all carried bags and boxes of pasalubongs*. Many spoke in Tagalog but there were a few chattering in Bisaya and Ilocano. While many of the passengers slept and some quietly talked to each other, I wrote a poem in my notebook about a child missing her OFW mother. A week in Singapore had made me homesick. I missed my husband and two kids terribly and wished they could have joined me on the trip. It was that moment I recalled my own childhood growing up during the last stretch of the Martial Law years. I remembered my father and grandfather, my mother and
Leony and what they had all sacrificed. I was in awe of the courage of the Filipino overseas worker, but saddened by the reality that one of the many reasons why they leave home is due to the economic and cultural problems caused by twenty years of dictatorship.
is illustrated by the amazing Liza Flores. Using paper cutouts as her medium, she added visual layers to the story by depicting spreads that show gaps and distance, longing and loneliness, through empty rooms, calendars and time pieces. I did not reveal nor mention Nanay's profession in the narrative verse, but I particularly liked Liza's take on her as a chef. Not all OFWs Nanay domestic helpers. Nonetheless, our book shows the reality children face in light of a parent leaving home to work abroad. are
|One of my favorite illustrations in the book.|
I still grapple with the question of what is more important for a parent to do: to provide for his or her children’s needs by working abroad or to stay with the family and endure the economic and political hardships, as well as the social injustices of living in a developing country like the Philippines. I console myself with the thought that, despite this reality, there are still opportunities for Filipino writers and illustrators to tell stories and that there are people in the Philippine book industry brave enough to create and publish stories for children depicting the plight of the Overseas Filipino Worker.
atis - sweet sop, custard apple
- rice cake biko
camias - tree cucumber
ginataan - food cooked with coconut milk, like porridge or sweetened stew of tropical fruits, sticky rice and gluten
kamote - sweet potato
nanay - mother
pasalubong - homecoming treat
santol - wild mangosteen
-sari store - convenience store sari
turon - banana fritter