an exclusive feature for grandparentslink.com by Vina Mogg*
This past February, my father would have been 98 years old.
Today, on Father’s Day instead of his warm hand on mine, I hold his Congressional Medal of Honor. This Medal was bestowed upon Filipino and American soldiers of the Bataan Death March in a ceremony this past April. My father was recognized for the sacrifice and atrocities endured to defend this country and the American Flag. The flag my father so respected was draped around his casket and handed to my mother during a 21-gun salute. I still to this day never forget the sound of those guns at his funeral.
At his bedside in 1998, twenty years ago, he quietly spoke and revealed to my older sister the story of his approach to the Golden Gate Bridge on the deck of a ship in 1952, as she, a toddler, stood by holding his hand ever so tightly as they passed under the monument that signified their entry into America.
“We will have a good life here,” he whispered into her ear.
My father was a silent man, of very few words. We three sisters had never heard this story, his last spoken before his last breath 24 hours later in the Army hospital where I was born.
The port of San Francisco was achieved through his service as a Philippine Scout in World War II, and his survival after escaping from the Bataan Death March. After his escape, his journey entailed 60 miles by foot, emaciated with malaria, carrying his weary feet all the way back to his home in the Philippine province Santa Igancia Tarlac. There my father hid for two years until the liberation in 1945, where he jumped onto the US Army trucks rolling past his home back to Manila to join the US forces and Mac Arthur in Leyte.
From America he would send stipends to his mother in the province. She proudly had a gate made to the entrance of her home that said, “Sgt. Jesus C. Bermudez, US Army.”
My father, in so many ways, was the gatekeeper for others to come to this country; the one who would open the doors decades later as a sponsor for his brother and his family, my mother’s sisters and their families, all to pursue the good life that my father dreamed of as he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. They came to pursue the dream. A house. A car. An education. All in the name of freedom.
Over years of waiting for papers, for job opportunities, these dreams materialized not only for my father’s generation, but also mine, and now our children. My father, his dreams and strength have carried forth for all who are in our family.
These first and second generation Filipino family members, now Americans because of my father, are living the American dream my father longed for: living in areas from Seattle to Orlando and many cities in-between. We drive cars and we have educations to be proud of: USC, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Ohio State, and careers to make him proud: doctors, dentists, accountants, software engineers, NFL producers, professional golfers.
Our own children came to the shores of our Philippine homeland, the land of my father, for the first time last Christmas of 2017. The children and grandchildren and nephew and nieces of my father, their Lolo (grandfather), gathered on the island of Boracay to serve on a medical and dental mission to the Ati people, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines, who are shunned because of their deep coloration.
On dirt roads of my parent’s homeland, fifty of us—brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, nephews, nieces — gathered under a makeshift shelter and thatched grass huts of a remote village to bring medical and dental care to a people who had been outcast and isolated for the darkness of their skin.
We called it the Kamay Project. Kamay means hand in Tagalog, the Philippine language. Our families joined hands and resources to help the Ati people. We saw 230 patients that day, giving basic medical and dental care, distributing medicines we had collected, sharing bible stories and balloons with the children, and the biggest draw, playing basketball with the kids.
Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand to hand,
Hands extending to extract a tooth, to take a blood pressure reading, to lift a child up on a shoulder
Extending over generations, language, economics
Hands reaching out one to another.
The recipients were not the only ones receiving a gift; the ones handing out received smiles and hugs.
Kamay is also the word that describes how we bring food to the mouth when we eat by hand. In Filipino tradition the food is spread out on the table on banana leaves. The great-granddaughter of my father’s mother Melissa Miranda, a rising Filipino chef recently honored at the James Beard house in NYC, prepared a traditional meal of fresh dried fish, shrimp, pancit, rice, arranging it artfully atop banana leaves on rickety wooden tables for the villagers to enjoy.
As our family worked together side by side, hand to hand, my cousin who was one of the dentists, grabbed my hand. Earlier that day he had extracted and examined teeth for over one hundred patients. He smiled at me ear to ear, the way I first remember his smile when he was eight years old and just had arrived from the Philippines. He had the same look in his eyes as the children before us. At this same age, he, his mom, and his three siblings, all who were helping tonight with their own grown children, had lived with us for nine months preparing for a new life in America.
“You know we all would not be here it was not for your mom and dad,” he said, nodding towards the tables where my cousins, our siblings, our children, and their spouses stood shoulder to shoulder side by side preparing a dinner for the villagers.
We hugged. We cried.
Drops of rain pattered on the tin roof of the shelter.
Wind blew water through glassless windows. But nothing would dampen that evening of smiles and laughter and feasting and dancing and music as generations and lifestyles and bloodlines merged, a night of celebration.
Today, we honor and celebrate you, Dad, for it was your hand that opened the gateway for us to give us life. Happy Father’s Day Dad.
Decades later, we have returned to help others.
For more information on the Kamay Project, an ongoing outreach to the children and families of the Ati village in Boracay, Philippines, please go to kamayproject.org
*A Father’s Day Tribute is an exclusive feature for grandparentslink.com by Vina Mogg, blogger and artist, who is now a recent empty nester, learning to fly after raising four children. She is launching various workshops across the continent and beyond (including Harvester Island, Alaska, and Puy l’Eveque, France) in writing and painting to find her wings. She is an advocate for caregivers after caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s for the past ten years, and is working on a memoir about her caregiving journey. Recently Vina was published in an anthology of essays, The Wonder Years: 40 women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength, by Leslie Leyland Fields, and the Oasis Journal. She is a member of the AlzAuthors writing group and a guest writer on mudroomblog.com. Various stories about Alzheimer’s and caregiving can be found on her blog, seaglasslife.com, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vina is also a grandmother to her grandpuppy, Milo.