My Hero, Lola Asyang
MY HERO, LOLA ASYANG
At some points in our lives, we are privileged to know and cherish our own heroes. Life’s journey is fraught with heroism that touches our lives along the way, and make us better human beings. In one such occasion, I remember one sweet hero. She is Mrs. Ignacia Abenes-Rivera.
The humble community where I found her during one of my field research on my hometown history calls her Lola Asyang. She smiles and laughs her way among people, declaring she’s the youngest thereabouts.
Fast approaching her own centennial anniversary, she was 95 years old when I met her, but not aging and ailing. She relates with everybody with her infectious laughter and warm tender hugs. Her flighty countenance suggests unquestionable endurance and grace. In 1927, she was among the pioneering batch of Ilocano migrants who came all the way from far Naguilian, a town in the province of La Union, Ilocos Region in the far northern part of the Philippines. Her flock introduced a new culture in my own homeland far down south, and henceforth pushed civilization forward.
A child of hearts, the centenarian-to-be Lola Asyang prides of a loveful birth, being born on Valentine’s Day of 1909. At 18, she had the debut of a lifetime when she left her hometown for good. Her whole family heeded the invitation of her elder brother, Engracio Abenes, for them to migrate to the abundant and peaceful Zamboanga Province, my beloved homeland. So, sometime in 1927, along with her flock of relatives, Lola Asyang migrated to this part of the “Land of Promise” – Mindanao.
A train ride to Manila from their barrio billeted them to a sea voyage to Cotabato in Central Mindanao. From there, a boat carried them off to the coastal sitio of Labangan in my home province, where they settled at what is now her community – Tawagan Norte. Such a long turn-around journey, as there was no land transport available from the nearby settlement, Ozamis, which could have been a much shorter route. The only other alternative was to take the boat from Ozamis to Lintugop, a coastal sitio of a nearby town – Aurora, and then hike all the way through mountains, rivers and thickets to reach what is now my hometown. And really, some of the early migrants had chosen this route!
At 95, Lola Asyang was the only one of her migrant companions who was alive then. And living merrily and gracefully! Having nine children, she survived the four! She vividly remembered the time she packed up for her most exciting journey that uprooted her from her hometown for life. Her elder brother, who had by then comfortably settled in Labangan, had left their hometown ahead of them with her cousin named Paulo Sabado. Her elder brother, Engracio, sired Labangan’s own Town Mayor, while her cousin, Paulo, became the first (appointed) Vice Mayor of my beloved hometown, Pagadian, upon its creation as a municipality in 1937.
Lola Asyang recalled with amazement how they could own all the land they could cultivate. Vast and fertile lands all around, for one to have if one willed it!
As I listened to her awe-inspiring life story, I saw the woman who laughs out issues on the energy crisis, insurgency, terrorism, the draining economy, the dwindling governance – concerns that shock, enrage and embitter the lot of us. Obviously for her, all these will come to pass, and there is nothing that this life can not beat – in God’s time. In Lola Asyang’s own time, she lived her life, outlasting the challenges and the pain, in good shape and in grace. What more can a human being wish for?
Lola Asyang, asking life for a life like yours is too much for a favor because only the likes of you deserve it. I can only hope I could live my life the way I deserve it, and envy your way of living and aging laughingly, a sure conquest of the world, which you proved so well. Thank you, Lola Asyang, for a life worth emulating, for the model of survival in humility, courage, patience and grace – even if only for the image of a dream. My Lola Asyang, my hero!