Camino Libre Eulogy Filipino px)


fernando ladiao alura

By Sara Alura

30 jul 2022

A few times a day when I am living in Chile, I am asked where I’m from.
I say that I am American, that my mother’s family immigrated from the Philippines. But if I were to tell people where I truly feel I come from,
I would not point to a place on the map. I would point instead to the life of one man, who out of his love and perseverance made my life possible.

Before I am American,
more than I am Filipino,
I am the granddaughter
of Fernando Ladiao Alura.

Lolo with baby

Many of us who are here today are alive because a skinny boy on the other side of the world learned to swim.  He learned early to love the ocean that gave sustenance to his town of Maydolong in Eastern Samar. Though life and loss would take him far from his hometown, he would forever carry in his spirit the values of community and simplicity that Maydolong instilled in him. 

Maydolong Philippines

Fernando, known as Dan or Dando, was the last child born to Marianito Alura and Mikaela Ladiao. The year was 1930. Marianito died when Dan was barely two years old, leaving Mikaela to raise their seven children. Dan was raised under the tender gaze of his mother, with whom he was very close, and by his older sisters. Mikaela’s relatives converted her to Protestantism, which is how the Alura family came to found the first Protestant church in Maydolong. 

One of my grandfather’s greatest traits was the youthful openness of his heart, which was wide-open and hopeful since the day he first became smitten with his future wife—around the age of six. Josefina Montes, or Pening, as friends called her, was the daughter of the town mayor. She was Dan’s competition for top of their class and his after-school playmate at the beach. She would grow up to be the town beauty, always just out of reach of Dan’s hopeful gaze.  He wooed her with handwritten love notes, Christmas gifts of sticky rice, and small fish he would catch. 

When Dan and Pening were in third grade, Maydolong was partially destroyed by the occupying Japanese soldiers. The entire town of fisherfolk escaped to the mountains, where they survived in the jungle for almost four years. They built temporary houses, planted their crops on the steep mountainsides, gathered rainwater, and dug wells. Four years surviving in the jungle instilled in Dan the value of manual labor and an affinity for growing plants. It taught him how to rebuild a community in the wilderness.

Young Filipino man

When the townspeople finally emerged from the jungle to rebuild their town, fifteen-year-old Dan had gained a life-long sense of identity as a survivor. 

When Dan finished high school, he left Samar by boat to build a new life for himself in the capital of Manila. To fund his Bachelor’s degree in Law, he worked several jobs at once, including as a houseboy and as a streetcleaner. He was proud that his tenacity allowed him to afford an apartment and food. 

When it came time to take the bar exam, Dan failed because he couldn’t afford the textbooks. He took the civil service exam instead, which after passing, qualified him for a government job in the bill division of the Philippine Congress. He worked there for over a year, until a congressman from Eastern Samar hired him to be his assistant secretary. When the head secretary died, Dan took over running the congressman’s office, a position he would hold for the next nineteen years. 

Philippine Congress Alura
Philippine Congress Alura

It was during these years that Dan built the first of many communities he would create over his lifetime. When he was thirty, he married a beautiful woman named Venus Bote. She was a home economics teacher at an elementary school, the daughter of Leonila Bote and Reverend Cornelio Bote. Dan and Venus had three children: Jhona Emma, Ruthlynn, and Nelson. 

Over their nine years together, Dan and Venus supported their own village of extended family. They took in nieces and nephews and paid for their food and schooling. This was perhaps the first instance of Dan’s life-long custom of opening his home to take care of others. 

In 1968, the family suffered the loss of Venus’ older sister Adoring. Soon after, Venus discovered she too had cancer. She passed within months at the age of 40. 

Filipino family

Heartbroken, Dan took his young children to Maydolong where he could grieve. 

It is here where Dan’s life, though seemingly ending, was only at its midpoint. He was a survivor of war and relocation, a provider for many relatives, and now, a single father of three whose job, unbeknownst to him, would soon be rendered obsolete by the Marcos dictatorship.  

Fernando was thirty-nine. Fifty-three more years of life awaited him. 

. . .

Filipino couple Manila

Many of us are here today because out of Dan’s midlife tragedy blossomed an unexpected second chance at love. Dan’s love for Josefina had continued throughout college. When she accepted an arranged marriage with a Filipino-American, Dan had to let go of the hopeful love he had nurtured since childhood.   

But then the unimaginable occurred. Josefina divorced her husband, a rare act for an immigrant woman, and rekindled her communication with Dan (not exactly in that order). Their weekly letters crisscrossed the Pacific.   

Dan and Josefina were hastily married in Manila—just in time to gain Dan and his children visas to the United States months before the Philippines plunged into martial law.

Within two years, Dan’s life had changed unrecognizably: he had lost his wife and regained his childhood sweetheart. He had two new daughters to get to know, a new language and culture to navigate, a new career to build in his third language, and no possibility in the foreseeable future of returning to his homeland. Yet this was not the first time that Dan had had to leave everything behind and build a life out of the rubble of grief and in the wilderness of a strange land. He called upon his unfailing tenacity, daring creativity, and the guiding spirit of his Savior. He opened his heart wider than it had ever been opened—and got to work. 

. . .

Within a week of arriving in the U.S., Dan’s children were enrolled in school. He ensured his kids felt both accepted as Americans and proud of being Filipino, a parenting feat he accomplished by ensuring they knew that before they were American, more than they were Filipino, they were the beloved children of Fernando Alura. He earned the respect and love of Myrna and Rhona, his new daughters. He became a father figure to countless neighborhood kids, nieces and nephews. Dan and Pening opened their house over and over again to relatives in need of sponsorship and housing. They took in their niece Wilma, their brother Sebastian and his three sons, giving them a safe foundation from which to begin their lives in the U.S. 

Filipino Los Angeles
Filipino American family

Everyone who grew up in  the warm chaos of the Alura household knew Dan as a tireless provider, who despite working over twelve-hour days, made time each evening to sit his kids on his lap and ask them about their days. Josefina was his steadfast ally, working just as tirelessly. Their legendary marriage—formed under the duress of loss and migration—was passionate and enduring.

Filipino couple Los Angeles
Filipino couple California
Filipino couple

Though the massive metropolis of Los Angeles was the antithesis of the tiny community of Maydolong, Dan nevertheless worked his magic on the city, building and strengthening community in all circles of his life. He served as a deacon in his church and lent his skills to help establish various Filipino churches. 

Within a few years of moving to the U.S., Dan opened a small Filipino market in a former gas station, envisioning the corner of West Temple as a future hub for Filipino businesses.

Filipinotown Los Angeles

Dan’s grocery store, Temple Mart, became the first Filipino grocery store in Los Angeles. For sixteen years, he would wake before 5 a.m. to handpick the fish he would sell. Dan expanded his store’s offerings to include insurance, real estate, a money exchange and a travel agency—all administered by one Mr. Alura. He helped found the Filipinotown Businessman’s Association, which petitioned the City of Los Angeles to designate Dan’s corner of West Temple as the heart of historic Filipinotown.  

Filipinotown Los Angeles
Filipinotown Los Angeles

Dan and Pening saw that all five of their children obtained Bachelor’s degrees and beyond. They raised each others’ children as their own, creating a close-knit and joyful family. When each of their children got married, they welcomed their new sons and daughters-in-laws as their own children. They celebrated the birth of eight grandchildren. As Edward, one of Dan’s sons-in-laws once said, Dan accomplished an incredible feat: he raised two generations of happy people. 

Filipino grandchild
Filipino grandparents
grandkids Filipino

. . .

When Dan finally gave up his store and Pening retired from teaching, they were in their early sixties. Retirement didn’t suit Dan. He continued to work a succession of jobs, including as a salesman of cemetery plots (which he sold mainly to his own children). Yet Dan’s spirit was calling him to fulfill his dream of becoming a pastor. As soon as he graduated from divinity school, he and Pening moved back to Maydolong so that Dan could serve as the head pastor of his childhood church.  

In Maydolong, Pastor Alura used his salary to expand the church buildings. He procured funding to house students. He waded into rivers to baptize his people. He blessed babies and prayed over the sick. Dan and Pening lived in Maydolong for twelve years.  Their last visit to the Philippines was at the age of 85. 

Filipino pastor

In the last decade of his life, Dan resisted the onset of old age. He continued to garden, climb ladders, lay cement, drive cars (and occasionally crash them), and go to Vegas. Dan and Pening enjoyed dancing traditional Filipino dances well into their eighties with their friends at the Filipino Seniors club. As the circumference of their lives grew smaller, they nonetheless were beloved and admired wherever they went. 

Filipino man California

Though Dan despised how his body deteriorated with each passing year, his spirit continued to reach beyond its physical shell. He communicated his love for us through hand squeezes, advice, and chuckles. He continued to flirt with his wife, with whom he was madly in love. He never lost his flair for the dramatic nor his will to survive. Fernando pulled off his final act by dying exactly one day after reaching ninety-two. 

. . .

Sara Alura
Sara Alura

When I consider my Lolo’s prolific life, the awe I feel isn’t so much from how long he lived but from how deeply he lived. How richly he seeded each decade of his life with service, loving devotion, laughter, and daring ventures.

At every juncture of his life, he didn’t know how many more decades he would be given to live. So he seized each opportunity God placed in his path.
He ate with gusto.
He loved with intensity.
He invested his money in other people’s education and housing, preferring to die having left a flourishing community rather than to have amassed great material wealth. 

Filipino family California
Filipino bath

Though Fernando lived an extraordinary life, he did not carry himself as if he were an extraordinary man. He boasted only of his wife and family. He gave thanks for every meal and every blessing. He ate fish down to the bone. He slipped money to his grandkids and quietly sponsored the education of his great-nephews and nieces in Maydolong. 

He never forgot where he came from nor who he was, and this imbued him with both great pride and deep humility. 

Samar Philippines

. . .

A few days before my Lolo died, I interviewed a Chilean man. He lamented that the majority of Chileans lack a sense of cultural identity. He said that this lack of identity is his country’s greatest poverty. 

As I listened to him, myself a foreigner, I realized that no matter where I go in this world, I will never suffer from that kind of poverty. The true wealth of our family is that we know where we come from and who we are: We are the beloved descendants of Fernando Alura. 

Filipino descendents

We are the inheritors of the land cleared for us by the sweat and machete of Marianito. 
We are the choir that keeps alive the hymns of Mikaela. 
We are Venus’ living trust. 
We are Ruth’s dearest treasure. 

With this incredible wealth of inherited identity comes the priceless choice of deciding who we continue to become. 

We are the stewards now of the land that sustained our ancestors. How we steward that land for future generations matters. 

We are the village that will raise the next generation of the Alura clan. How we pass on our family identity will become their life’s foundation.   

We are the witnesses to the truth of the Proverb: The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him. 

Filipino grandparents
Sara Alura

– Sara Alura

June 2022

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