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wilfrido david
wilfrido david THERE IS nothing like a family gathering during the Christmas holidays, or so they say. Chances are, you have just been notified or have been invited to a family reunion. Now you find yourself in a dilemma—are you enthused, or is it kind of iffy? It is the height of hypocrisy, or shall we say naiveté to be all excited about it, for after all, last year's reunion wasn't all that great. To say the least, it might have left a bitter taste in your mouth.

Family reunions are analogous to class reunions in more ways than one—you feel attending one is mandatory when it's more a case of curiousity. What's new with rest of the clan, who has gone up in the world, who got married, who died, how many new nephews and neices, how many new in-laws, and who's in trouble?

The host is usually the one who has the biggest house, with room enough to accommodate buffet table(s), househelp to help attend to the guests. It could be a potluck as in most cases, or it could be catered. There is food galore, games, raffles, and entertainment. The host family sees to it that everybody is happy, after all, this is but a yearly affair, and we all have to make the most of it.

The clan, of course, comes from all walks of life. Some super rich, some so-so rich, some residing abroad, some OFWs, some from the working class, and yet some with inferiority complex trying to be as unobtrusive as they can, some trying to be on a par with the more well-to-do. It is all a matter of trying to belong. It is, subtly, also a contest of wits.

It all starts when members of the clan start coming in from all over—some in fancy cars, some by taxi, some by jeepney, some by bus, and some by hitching rides with those who are willing to accomodate them.

The balikbayans get the most attention because they are seen in a somewhat different light—Americanized, Europeanized, Middle-Easternized, or whatever. The fact is, they haven't changed all that much, except for those who were born abroad. They are "spokening" English but they still understand the native tongue and, perchance, speak with a twang. (One nephew accidentally hit his head on a shelf and cried "Eyroooy ...!" [Aruy!]) How amusing!

The funny part about our Filipino culture is our innate shyness. We hesitate to mingle and instead tend to look for familiar faces (for "closeness") and choose to sit at their tables with our plates in hand, where we are most at ease making conversation. Or we wait until the more outgoing nes introduce themselves; then, and only then, do we start feeling that we are, indeed, members of the family or clan.

Now the fun begins—depending on what the word "fun" means to you. One classy looking lady with blondish hair takes the mike while you are eating your food and starts introducing herself and members of her immediate family. "Hello, komusta ko ngan! I am Toni (Antonia) and we just landed from New York last night." She then proceeds into details about her, where kids are going to school, their accomplishments, that her older sons are working on Wall Street, being graduates from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, etc. "We were afraid we were not going to make it to this reunion because our flight from London was almost cancelled due to bad weather. Medyu magtipid kami, iniya migbakasyun na kami king Europe bayu ke tinaglus keti." (How nice—at least they tried their best to be with the relatives for this reunion.)

Another lady cousin with brownish hair, heavily laden with gold jewelry obviously from Dubai, and in a mini-skirt so tiny it leaves little to the imagination. (A fig leaf could have sufficed.) Nevermind the cellulite and varicose veins, she thinks her jewelry is the center of attraction. She has family in tow, also decorated with gold jewely, a veritable walking pawn shop. They speak very little Tagalog or Kapampangan, like "Oo" or "Hindi," "Ayaw ko," "Akin yan," and "Shiyet," but sorely lacking in "Opo." Somehow the Muslim culture seemed to have rubbed off on them so much so that they show no respect for their mother at all. They are, in a sense, of the nouveau riche, and they make no bones about it!

Then there is Uncle Steve (aka Teban), whose family came in a spanking new beemer (BMW). He is blessed with a job at the Bureau of Customs, courtesy of, and thus beholden to GMA. His adult children, he brags, are studying abroad, and the younger ones are in exlusive Catholic schools. His wife, Georgina (aka, formerly, Atching Goreng before the Customs job), was looking younger than ever—in fact, 30 years younger (not due to a happily married life though, but more out of her lifted spirits after numerous facelifts, breast and butt enhancements, re-virginizing surgery). The younger relatives barely recognized her, but her bow-legs gave her away. No plastic surgery can ever fix that!

Do you remember cousin Timmy (aka Tembong in high school), who had a rock band, played lead vocals and guitar? He still sports long unruly hair but now fashionably tied in a bun, unkempt facial hair with matching bad breath from too much smoking which has finally gone to pot, literally. Well, he is still the wierd, beer-guzzling rude dude, badly in need of a shower. Nobody wants to be related to him—but that's the way it is, you can't choose your relatives.

How about cousin Pilita, who has tree kids by different fathers? She has since been unhappily married to a scion of a well-to-do political family and she is in fact planning to run for Mayor of her town. She looks gorgeous in a skin tight dress, with the hem reaching up to the cheeks of her behind. She is genuinely down-to-earth, greeting everyone like she has not seen them for the last ten years. How is that for PR? Her husband, Mattie (Mateo to you), looks like he's been let loose in the kitchen. No wonder his wife is making googly eyes at a distant macho cousin, the one with the moustache and glistening white dentures.

Everyone gravitates to the family matriarch, Apung Juana (aka Doņa Juana). She is the figure head of the whole clan, the highest on the totem pole—with her hacienda still intact despite heavy gambling loses. She has a mansion on the Tagaytay foothills, a great vacation place for the rest of the clan. She dispenses wisdom, is aware of what's happening all around her—but lately shows signs of dementia. So, naturally, all are showing some undue concern over her well-being.

Our late lolo, Apung Juana's husband, died well ahead of her. He was always a man of few words, who spoke rather out of necessity than by choice. He could hardly get a word in edgewise with lola whenever she was around. So he pretty much kept to himself (sometimes secretly with the househelp inside the closet whenever he got the chance). His portrait hangs in the living room, very much a part of the reunion. He died a happy man, a Tiger Woods minus the golf clubs, in his heyday.

The poorer section of the gathering now starts shifting in their chairs. Are they also supposed to go up there before the microphone?—"Oh , no, what will I say?" "But my kids come from our local elementary school and the older ones barely made it through the local public high school. Makarine yata!" You drag your feet to the dais and muster enough courage to stutter yourself through the proceedings, thinking, "What am I doing here?" or "Why did I have to go through this sham of a gathering?"

A fairly decent looking lady is on the microphone, her demeanor visibly nervous demeanor and in a trembling voice utters, "Aku pu y Josie, asawa nang Peping." She goes on in all humility, "Mekisake kami mu pu kang Bapang Pidu keng owner na [that favorite low-rider jeep made of stainless steel], menibatan king barriu Kapaya. Yng asawa ku pu [almost apologetically] metung yamung empleyadu king municipio ning balen. King lunus ning Dios, milalabas kami. Deng pung anak mi, madalas lulub la king eskuwela a alang bakal. Pero kapilan man eke megpalimus o meniawad saup kaninu man. Inia pasalamatan ku na tinggap yu kami bilang kamaganak—kalulu kami pu." With her lips still quivering, she slowly returns to her seat, among the others who found themselves similarly situated, who hug her and give her an encouraging pat on the shoulder, almost applauding her for what she has just said. They felt she was speaking for them. She has become, unanimously, their "hero"!

That certainly took some guts to say, amid all these high-flying relatives from out of town. But it was all planned, and it took a year to gather the courage to say it—just to get even with the way her family had been treated last year. Moral of the story: "Don't get mad, get even!" She wouldn't have missed the opportunity, at any cost.

The next time you get invited to a family reunion, don't think twice about attending. Go for it—prepare, and deal with everyone in the clan on an equal footing, and always look on the positive side. Set your inferiority complex aside and replace it with guts and good acting skills, show the best plastic side of your being, and you will be surprised that's all it takes to "belong."

There are things in this world that we cannot control. For the most part, we just have to learn to accept what confronts us and deal with it the best way we know how. If we must go along with what the Bible says about our origins, that we all came from Adam and Eve—who are we to contest that? If so, undeniably, we are all related to each other.

Relatives are people, too! You certainly cannot choose them, just as you cannot disown them because you share the same DNA. For that fact alone, we must accept them. We have no other choice!

Now that I have properly psyched myself for next year's family reunion, I can hardly wait. But I will come in peace...

[About the author. Wilfrido David first retired as Computer-Analyst from the Ayala Group of Companies. He immigrated to the US in 1985, worked there for another 25 years in the Medical Field (Medical Lab Tech), until he retired for the second time. Sometime ago, he was involved with FAANM (Filipino-American Association of New Mexico) as correspondent-contributor-writer-editor, publisher—all rolled into one. He says about that stint, "I ran out of energy, patience, and money but kept on with my duties until the next set of association officers were voted in." The earliest writing he did was for his high school paper in Holy Angel University. His present writing derives from the perspective of a Filipino expat in the US who faithfully keeps up with what's happening in the home country, as gleaned from his Filipino channels on DirecTV, aside from CNN and HLN.]

-Posted: 8:58 AM 12/31/09 | More of this author on eK!