A celebration of roots – Santiagenians of the USA 45th anniversary

Another sentimental journey last weekend, the 45th anniversary of the Santiagenians of the USA (SUSA) held in Stockton, California. SUSA is my late husband’s hometown organization made up of members who either originated from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, or are children or relatives of those who did. As to be expected, the common medium for communication or conversation was Ilocano, a language so different from Pilipino or Tagalog, and seasoned with rich guttural sounds that create a consistently accented pattern of speech. I can pick up some words, a few that I learned from my husband who claimed he wasn’t really adept in Ilocano since he and his family moved to Manila when he was a little boy. Nonetheless, he could speak good conversational Ilocano. So, all throughout this two-day event, there was this rich language floating around me. Totally fascinated by it and teasing myself, I reflected this was one of the times when I listened so much more than I spoke. A great feat, I dare say.  But of course, English was the common fallback for a universal and inclusive form of communication.

At that anniversary weekend, there was a myriad to celebrate and enjoy.  An event much looked forward to now has become a gold medal on the club’s wall of memories and fame.

The elegant banquet and dinner/dance Saturday evening turned out to be a showcase of colorful Filipino attires in various styles and fashion. The “terno” or “mestiza” dress (with wide butterfly sleeves) was a common site, matched in numbers by the men’s “barong tagalog”, generally a thin and delicate fabric tailored with elaborate embroidery patterns on the front. The barong is a long-sleeved formal wear not tucked in but allowed to hang below the waist. The featured folk dances of the program were in essence a parade of costumes. What particularly stood out was the Maria Clara with a translucent blouse and a fluffy, long skirt atop layers of petticoats. This gala event seemed more like a native fashion show of sorts, and better still, a grand cultural extravaganza.

The folkdances were well choreographed. But one very special to me was “Sarong Bangui” (One Night), originated from Bicol, my region in the Philippines south of Manila, and way south of the Ilocos province. I softly sang with the music, struggling to remember the Bicol words that spoke of love, devotion, romance and some fragile teasing. The melody is most haunting. The dancers’ movements were gentle and calculatedly coquettish, dramatizing the clever coyness of a maiden as a camouflage to the invitation for courtship from a handsome suitor. I was of course delighted that the Bicolano dance was part of the repertoire of the Ilocano program.

Several other folkdance numbers demonstrated female grace and agility of the male. These presentations never fail to liven up the evening, and draw oohs and ahs with vibrantly colorful and attractive costumes. The leadership and stamina of the dance instructor (Narcisa Tuliao) had much to do with the performances’ success and appreciative audience’s reaction. And then, there were the modern group dances, various styles of line dancing that spirited participants to exciting patterns of whirls, side steps, hops and turns. These were choreographed by a self-made dance artist (Mino Escalona, who co-emceed the program along with Irma Sipin and Narcisa Tuliao). I wanted so badly to join the dance. Rhythm is in my system. Whenever I hear a good beat, my impulse is to move in syncopation with the music. But this time, I held back. First, I didn’t practice like those dancers who diligently and frequently studied the dance steps. And second, I was trying to ignore a hurting knee whose pain was actually less nagging as it was days before. But guess what, I couldn’t resist – I braved the dance floor for 15 minutes before the evening event ended. Dancing was cream on top of my sumptuous chicken dinner! Totally satisfying.

The invited guest speaker did not arrive due to a much delayed flight from Chicago. Instead, a short message was delivered, almost impromptu, by Raquel Belmonte Young, one of the founders, a past president and current adviser of the organization. In a capsule, she relayed some of the highlights of the club’s achievements over the years; among them: scholarships for deserving high school students of the hometown of Santiago, Ilocos Sur, donations of musical instruments and sports equipment to the schools, and food given to seven children’s day care centers in the communities.

A significant part of the program — SUSA awarded plaques of recognition to graduates and  retirees, a gesture that boosts family pride, and appreciation for the organization’s support of its members and families.

Joel Miranda, a guest and an award-winning performing artist stationed in London, surprised the audience with several numbers most enjoyable of which were old Ilocano songs. His renditions drew crowds to the dance floor.

The picnic the next day completed the tradition of the annual event. As usual, lechon (roasted pig, donated by Jovencio Rendon) was the center piece of the vast buffet spread. A hodgepodge of Filipino dishes included the Ilocano pinakbet and diningding, both a blend of vegetables the latter of which was slightly salted with a dash of bagoong (shrimp fry). Of course, in the buffet was seaweed salad, always a favorite of mine, plus pancit (noodles) and fish.

I love laughter, wholesome banter, quirks and funniness — so, Alex Dimalanta’s comical antics dramatized to exaggeration to elicit chuckles and reaction from bench sitters, as he waltzed between tables at the picnic, were simply entertaining and cheerfully distracting.  He could do a one-man comedic act.  A natural, I think.

The weekend anniversary celebrations added another feather to the cap of the Santiagenians of USA (SUSA). Considerable effort by club president Sam Nuezca and his wife Juvy moved a host of officers and members (ie., Malou Elefante, Alex and Thelma Dimalanta, Gabriel and Emma Elefante, Vim De Peralta, Elizabeth Al-Rousan, Magilyn Mapanao, Vangie Echavarre, Constante Etrata, Rowena Pena, Rey and Majencia Cabaccang, Doming and Erna Miranda, etc., etc.) to create another event as a memorable and remarkable addition to the organization’s long-held traditions.

As for me, I would not have been able to join this gathering at Stockton, were it not for the offer of transportation from kind people as Vim De Peralta, Raquel Young, Vivencio Sabado and Jovencio Rendon. That, I think, is just one fine example of the bayanihan (helping each other) spirit of SUSA.

Mabuhay (Long Live) SUSA!

Linda P. Jacob

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