Today I’m writing about my community, surrounded by loving people at home and around the world, guided by the legacy of our faith, bound by a common thread of cultures and traditions, connected by the memories of youth, and inspired by the institutions that evolved over time.
It has been almost fifty years since I left my hometown, Morong, Rizal, Philippines. I left as a young aspiring person, aiming to get a good college education, to land a good job, to help my parents, and to help my siblings most of whom were just starting to have a family.
In those early days, people walked from their place of residence to go to school, church, market and whatever they needed to do in town without relying on public transportation, therefore, no traffic jam, the word pollution was unheard of. People moved freely, quite studious and hardworking. They knew everyone in town, they were relatives, neighbors, friends or town mates who were born and raised in the same neighborhood where their parents brought them up, attending the same school and church.
A centerpiece of the community is the Morong Catholic Church, built during the Spanish occupation, sitting atop an elevation that overlooks the town from every direction. It serves as a beacon of light to welcome the residents, always there for us when we leave and when we return. Its patio was once surrounded by huge acacia trees, where my brothers and their friends spent many summer days to play while their kites flew from sun up to sun down.
There was also the public market in the center of town that had a daily abundance of fresh produce and poultry from the local farms, delicacies were delightfully available after school in the public market. There was a local café, called “Ling Ling’s”, where the elders, including my father, hangout every morning to talk about politics, share family news, who died recently, and a daily grind of topics. Then there were the young men (we called them Flat Top boys!) who took over the bridge after school to ‘harass’ the young women passing by with their whistles, jokes and (crazy) terms of endearments.
At the center of the town is the municipal building referred to as the “Commandancia”, where citizens pay their taxes, get copies of their birth records, apply for marriage licences and sometimes get married, and all the necessary transactions of a local government.
Directly across was the gathering place referred to as the “Plaza”, with a basketball court where local basketball leagues were held. In the center of the plaza was a “Glorietta”, built from funds donated by citizens who migrated to the U.S. in the 1920s to work in the agricultural farms in Hawaii, California, and Arizona. Debates, entertainments, municipal events, school activities, and dances were held in the plaza with the Glorietta used as the centerpiece. To everyone’s disappointment and lingering dismay, the Glorietta it was replaced by a concrete stage.
Decades later, a group of citizens living abroad donated the money to construct a replica of the old, called The New Glorieta.
As a natural course, the elders got older to hang out at the café, or simply passed like my father and his friends. The public market burned down, but rebuilt away from the center of town. The church patio lost most of the acacia trees to make room for the school playground of the Catholic school.
The roads became more congested with vehicles of all kinds – cars, jeepneys, trucks, tricycles. Air pollution became a serious concern, traffic congestion everywhere, students no longer walk to school, people take tricycles from one place to another, and the houses in front of the main road were converted into storefronts for banks, pharmacy, furniture, clothing and mini-groceries. And as in many crowded towns, garbage became a major issue for politicians and the town folks.
My high school went through a number of name changes and eventually got merged with a university, University of Rizal System. For many years, the demise of my high school’s name was very sad for thousands of students, but this evolution brought prominence to my town as a premiere academic destination, along with the growth of a four-year college, Tomas Claudio Memorial College.
A few years ago, a major supermarket came to town and the homeowners along the main road got an offer they couldn’t refuse to make way for the town’s major grocery store. I developed a sentimental feeling for the small vendors whose business got affected. When we visit, my husband and I take a tricycle to the public market to buy our fish, fruits and vegetables for the day. The friendly and happy faces of the hard working people touched me. I asked some of them how everything was — they told me things were good, and from what I saw the vendors were thriving amidst the competition that confronted them a few years ago.
Farmers, fishermen, carpenters, vendors and laborers were some of the most inspiring citizens of our town for their energy and self-reliance to get up with the sun to earn a living for their family, so that when the sun sets they can share the fruits of their labor with their family.
One of the bright things that makes my community unique is the spirit of volunteerism of its citizens. The town has a volunteer group, Morong Emergency Volunteer Response Team (MVERT), who stands ready to respond during emergency situations. During catastrophic events MVERT performs at the highest level of rescue operations, peace and order, and food distribution.
Many citizens who went abroad to seek a better way of life never forgot their roots. They left, yet their hearts remain caring for the welfare of their relatives, neighbors and friends at home. They take on and support many projects for the schools, church and community. Those projects are built with the true spirit of giving, a legacy of a community who inspires its people to seek, to find and to share.
On the street where I grew up, my relatives remain, except the houses are now considered ancestral, owned and occupied by their children and grandchildren. My husband and I fixed up my ancestral home where we stay during our visit; as normal practice of my parents, the door is always open to welcome our neighbors, relatives and friends. My neighborhood remains familiar, with the same blooming bougainvilleas, flowering pikake plants, orchids and fruit trees. Every visit gives me a feel of being reborn, new and re-connected.
Normita Fenn studied journalism at University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
She earned her MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University-San Francisco. She
resides in San Ramon, California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow her on Twitter: @NormitaFenn