This book may not be available in bookstores, but we can hold it up as a sterling example of how literature, in this case family history, preserves golden moments that are all of a thread, unifies and further strengthens an already formidable Fililpino clan, and ultimately serves as a model on nurturing local family traditions.
Generations: In Search of Family is a privately published coffeetable book that lists Chulia Jimenez-Azarcon and Ramon T. Jimenez as its copyright owners and editors, Rina Jimenez David as managing editor, Pie David as having been in charge of design and production, and Rolando A. Santos as graphic artist. The Dedication is written by Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, and the Introduction by "Tita Chul" and "Tito Ramy."
Although it may be said to owe its provenance and inspiration to an "original" couple – Ildefonso "Ponso" Docta Jimenez and Paz Figueroa Tabuena, both of Sorsogon, Sorsogon – this excellent volume betrays no Mom & Pop operation, but a fullblown production that has been superbly conceived, written, edited and designed, in big-book horizontal format that is enhanced by well-preserved black-and-white photos, sidebar features, blurbs and pertinent marginalia.
The celebrated Jimenez clan has done a signal service not only to themselves, nor simply memorialized their pride in their forebears, and the stories they will eventually hand over to the next generations. They have shown the way for other extended families and clans on what to do with the living treasures that are their collective memories: put them together and turn them into a book.
The book then becomes more than a private keepsake or family album. It stands as a record of little histories woven together as a tapestry of intimate documentation, and ultimately serves to define what stands to be our greatest resource as a people.
It is the Filipino family that is exalted. Traditions and rituals, recollections, reveries and idiosyncracies merge into one seamless reminder of how it is to have cherished roots, and to figure as part of yet another fruiting branch of a distinguished family tree.
Ponso and Pacita Jimenez, through their eight children and extensive travels throughout our archipelago, have spawned generations of Jimenezes that still stand strong together, and immensely enjoy themselves together (as may occasionally be gleaned from Rina Jimenez-David’s accounts of clan reunions in her popular newspaper column), however widely they may have disseminated themselves as to engender a Fil-Am branch or two.
Ponso, born in 1889, and Pacita, born in 1890, eloped in their early 20s and had to exile themselves to an obscure "barrio by the sea" in Sorsogon, bereft of family on account of the privileged Tabuenas’ opposition to their union. Ponso persevered to learn English and review for the civil service exams, and at 25 "qualified for the post of Assistant Provincial Treasurer in 1914."
Their firstborn Ernesto came while they were still in Sorsogon; the rest of their children were born all over the country, as they "began what would become over 40 years of official assignment all over the Philippines" – Puerto Princesa, Cagayan de Oro, Naga, San Jose in Antique, and Bontoc. (The elegant book cover shows the Jimenez couple with their eight children and their dog Beauty in Bontoc, with the youngest, Chulia, on her father’s lap.)
"The growing family would move six more times after Chul’s birth: to Baguio, Capiz, Tagbilaran in Bohol, Tacloban in Leyte, Bacolod (where Pacita passed away in 1946), and Iloilo.
"‘This might explain why this is a family without heirlooms,’ says Ramy, noting that Ponso and Pacita and their growing family crossed the length and breadth of the archipelago at a time when there were still no airplanes, superhighways or fast ferries. Each move, each transfer, was made by boat or land, on the most rudimentary of transports, roads and facilities. And with every new assignment, Pacita would have to set up a new household, find schools for the children, train a new crew of househelp. She had neither the luxury of collecting possessions nor the inclination to accumulate them."
Serendipitous irony would eventually have us marvel at how a couple that began in isolation and exile, and became seasonal itinerants, would lay a firm foundation for the generations of Jimenezes that would in turn accumulate the greater treasure of family stories that have been turned into a priceless heirloom with this book.
It is not so much a mere family biography that is offered here, but a compendium of charming little stories and sidelights that reflect on pioneering family, let alone regional and national conditions.
"The traveling Jimenezes often ushered in change and ‘modernity’ to a place of new assignment. Ponso drove his new Model T-Ford to Bontoc, and astonished the locals with the sight of the first car to travel its roads. When they arrived in Bohol, which the younger siblings remember with fondness, having spent two terms or eight years there, they introduced popcorn, baked pies and cakes, macaroni, and even mahjong! Pacita, having grow up in an afluent household, never had to learn domestic skills. But by the time Chul was born, Pacita had turned into an accomplished cook and had begun accepting catering jobs to augment the family income. Her specialties were ensaymada, pancit molo, German sausages, home-cured ham and a concoction called ‘bibingka royale,’ which Ramy describes as ‘the best bibingka I have ever tasted. ‘Pacita also prided herself in making her own mayonnaise, enlisting the children’s labor in the tedious process of beating calamansi juice into egg yolks and Wesson oil. As a result, Nick, Chul and Baby developed a life-long aversion to mayonnaise."
The book takes us all the way through to Generations 4 and 5, so that pictures of clan re-unions in the ’90s feature several scores of nearly indistinguishable faces crammed together in yet another happy snapshot.
The children that represent the Fifth Generation are more privileged; they have solo shots unless they’re still being carried as infants and toddlers. The caption to this doublespread says it all for this worthy family effort:
"Four generations down the line from Ponso and Pacita, their heritage lives on. Most of those belonging to the fifth generation may be too young to appreciate what it means to ‘be’ Jimenez. But even now they are being molded in true Jimenez fashion – in the bosom of family, as important and indeed lively participation in family occasions and rituals, taking to heart the lessons of generosity, openness, togetherness and loyalty.
"As they take this family into the next millenium, may they never forget these lessons and more importantly, teach them all to those who will follow..."
Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc writes in her Dedication: "Sentiments, not heirloom pieces have been passed on to the succeeding generations. There is not one Jimenez living room that displays a priceless antiquity from its forebears. But we have a closetful of family albums, each documenting lives lived with feeling.
"...It is good to know that some things remain the same even as the century turns and there’s a new world out there. There’s the family tree of Lolo Ponso and Lola Pacita. The tree towers into the mist and is rooted where the earth meets perpetuity. There, under its generously fruity and leafy branches, the Jimenezes will always find shelter – together."