So, after days of dithering on the matter, I’ve decided to go with Ambeth Ocampo as the writer I’ll send a letter to Ambeth Ocampo. I haven’t written a sem-formal letter for a long time though, so I’m not sure how it will turn out, and given my bad habit of condensing things to a bare minimum, I’m not really sure how I could fill out the minimum 2 pages Dr. Cruz is requiring us to submit, but I’m going to strive to do so anyway.
To the Esteemed Mr. Ocampo,
My name is Dirk Lowell Escalada, a student at De La Salle University taking a Post-Graduate course in Creative Writing. Although I am no historian, I am an avid reader of your column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and actually own two of your books, Rizal Without the Overcoat and Mabini’s Ghost. I will readily admit though that the impetus for their purchases, all those years ago, was due to the fact that they were required readings in my Araling Panlipunan subject. Since then, though, I have found them joys to read on their own merit, as they take the gloss off the historical personages we so often read of school books, takes them off their lofty pedestals, and reminds us that they were people too, and all-too human. The books also make history more, hmm, personal? Definitely more digestible and accessible, especially for a layman like myself.
Anyway, the initial intent for this letter is that it is supposed to be a requirement for Dr. (Isagani) Cruz’s class. Simply put, write an author, maybe comment on their work a bit, maybe give some critiques, and then wait for the response of the recipient. Easy, right? The thing is though, what can I even say about your books that hasn’t been said before, by people who actually have a background in History? Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, some of your books were actually used as reading material for lessons in high school.
So, with apologies to Dr. Cruz, I’ll have to pass on giving a critique (and possibly say goodbye to that .5 added to my final grade this semester). However given how rare it is for me to gather the nerve to write a known author, I hope you don’t mind if I ask a very minor favor. A point in the right direction, if you will.
Now, I’m a Manila Boy of birth if not demeanor, having been born right here in the Capital, but I have my roots in the Visayas. My mother, a teacher by trade, came from Negros Occidental, from the town of Hinobaan, while my father, a Geologist for DENR’s Bureau of Mines (or was, before he retired), came from a barangay just outside of Ormoc City. The thing is, aside from occassional get-togethers with the relatives during (increasingly infrequent) reunions, I can barely come up with words to describe the respective hometowns of the two branches of my family tree, Ormoc more so that Hinobaan. It’s lead to many an awkward conversation, where many of my co-workers can rattle off (relatively) vivid descriptions of the provincial origins of their families, and some of historical trivia.
Me? The most I could come up with is the fact that, Ormoc was hit by that flood that killed hundreds, that my father (apparently checking on the Geothermal project located nearby) was actually there during that day, and how my grandmother, thinking that he was among those washed away, went from morgue to funeraria trying to find him… Yeah, definitely an event for the history books, but not exactly something you’d like to remember about your tatay’s hometown.
This deficiency is… Annoying? Well, it’s kind of close to that feeling. To not know about where your family came from.
Now, you might be thinking at this point, well, why not just ask them about where they grew up? That could definitely be an option for my Mother’s side of the family — it would be very hard actually not to run into her extended family (the Gonzaleses, but also the Tenajas and the Anlaps) in the Hinobaan/Sipalay area — and given the fact that some of them have actually held government positions in that area in the past, access to the town records shouldn’t take too much effort.
Not so for my father’s side of the family. My father, well, he’s as stubborn as he is old, and is nominally close-mouthed about his childhood in Ormoc and, frankly, I don’t think he knows much of his hometown’s history either. At least, about the time before he was born, before the War years (and indeed, the events afterwards, as he left Leyte for Manila to study high school).
This brings me to my point. Although it might be too early at this point, I’ve decided to try and map the history of my father’s hometown, and use it as the topic of the final project of my course (if and when I actually get to that point)… Was a study of this nature (and indeed, on the same topic!) done before? I don’t know, but I want to find out.
I know that DLSU has an extensive library, and the National Archives is another treasure trove just waiting to be mined, but (and here comes my small request) is there any particular title, or any specific historian or writer I will need to pay attention to, as I start in this endeavor?
Ah, pardon my ramblings. I have taken too much of your time, and have imposed on you enough. Thank you, at the very least, for indulging this young fool’s of-yet incoherent plans for his thesis.
Okay, I’ve embarrassed myself enough. Now to actually mail the thing…