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Valentine’s with Rizals | Philstar.com
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Sunday Lifestyle

Valentine’s with Rizals

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star
Valentineâs with Rizals
Valer Laurel, Dina Velasco, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, author Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura, Naty Pappas, and Mia Sy-quia Faustmann.

Gemma Cruz Araneta, the first Filipina Miss International in 1964, is a Rizal descendant, the first major beauty contest winner in our country that became a trailblazer for major beauty queens like Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran. Now she is the organizer of Rizal lady lunches. Her son Leon owns an Indian and a Mexican restaurant where we lunch.

“We,” because Gemma or Mimi and I, the Sy-quias and the Aldabas, are all first cousins, descendants of Maria, the sister immediately before Jose. Maybe I should begin by tracing the relationship. Let’s name Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonzo as the first generation for this article. They had 11 children:  Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olympia, Lucia, Maria, Jose, Concepcion (who died a toddler), Trinidad, Josefina, Soledad. Paciano and Jose never married so there are no descendants who carry the last name Rizal, except for the descendants of Narcisa, who once carried the surname Lopez-Rizal, the traditional Spanish way of the father’s surname first and the mother’s surname last. These were the second generation.

The children’s children were the third generation. Many were women who married different surnames. We descended from Maria, who married Daniel Cruz and had two children, Encarnacion and Mauricio, surnamed Cruz. Encarnacion married Banaad. The Cruz surname disappeared for her descendants. We descended from male Mauricio. The Cruz surname stayed, but when our mothers married we became Sy-quia, Gonzalez, Aldaba. We are the fourth generation. Our children are the fifth, their children/our grandchildren the sixth and our great-grandchildren, the seventh generation. We fear that our fourth generation is now the depository of Rizal stories. With a few exceptions our children onwards don’t seem to know very much about our great-granduncle Jose Rizal, who was a great talented man and our national hero.

Gemma organized a Valentine’s Day lunch at Kashmir at The Fort. Saturnina was represented by Bambi and Rufy Virata; Paciano by Marlene Jacinto, Esther Azurin and Elisa Lopez; Olympia by Rose Filart and American husband Gil Scott; Lucia by Teddy and Grace Herbosa; Maria by Mauricio’s grandchildren Gemma and Leon; me, Didit Sy-quia and her granddaughter Sophie, Mia Sy-quia Faustmann and husband Tato, Peeney Aldaba Abacan,  Nancy Aldaba Felipe, Julia, Jack Aldaba’s daughter and Marty Aldaba; and Encarnacion’s grandchildren Encarnita Laurel, her first cousin Dina Laurel Velasco and Dina’s brother, Valer.  Their mothers married two Laurel brothers.

Then there was Naty Arranz Pappas. She married a Greek shipping magnate. Her grandmother was an Arguelles, sister of our grandmother, related to Soledad Rizal. We were 23 people getting together to celebrate love — not romance — for relatives that were close, and not so close, but love was definitely there.

Foreground, right: Teddy and Grace Herbosa, Esther Azurin, Barbara, Marlene Jacinto, Marty Aldaba and Gemma. On the left: Ricardo Pinzon, Bambi Virata, Elisa Lopez, Rose and Gil Scott, Peeney Aldaba Abacan, Julia Aldaba, Val Banaag, Ica Laurel, Dina Velasco.

We are — largely — unfamiliar with Indian menus. The one Indian thing that stuck to my palate is mango chutney because my mother used to make it to eat with chicken curry and a variety of condiments. Now I realize that curry was served at The Manila Club for the Brits. My stepfather was British. The Sy-quias had British friends and sometimes they would serve that for Sunday lunch.  I think it was the colonial version of Indian curry specially formulated for the Brits. I loved it as I love sweet and sour pork, which, I learned, was formulated by the Chinese for the Brits.

We went to the buffet and tried everything. “I have a plateful of mysterious food,” I whispered to my first cousin Marty. But it was genuinely delicious, especially the mango chutney. It should be bottled and sold to people like me who still misses her mother’s chutney and now will eat it with anything.

We talked about ordinary things.  Bambi talked about their wonderful visit to Malolos to watch the movie of Nick Tiongson about the Women of Malolos. She said I should have come, but I was too busy making rosaries for Christmas and taking care of my husband to leave. Also I had watched it already the first time it was shown. Valer and I remembered the last time we saw each other was when we were little children.

I reminisced that I missed the fruit balimbing. The sisters Elisa and Esther had a tree and it was now bearing fruit so they said they would send me some. That was totally delightful. We talked about possible activities too early to write about now. I could not take my eyes off the bracelet Grace Herbosa wore. She got it from Chiang Mai in Thailand, which she said has turned into an artist’s community. Maybe I should go there before I die, I thought, but where would I wear it? To my grave?

So what happened during Valentine’s Day with our Rizal relatives? We got to know each other better, talked about new things, had a wonderful time. Now the pressure is on Gemma to schedule another one. Maybe we should have a Rizal lunch monthly? That would be loads of fun!

Nancy Aldaba Felipe, Sophie Sy-quia, Didit Sy-quia, and Marty Aldaba.

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