My mekeni roots

Cezario Ocampo and Epifania Alfonso. My lolo’s from Sta. Rita while my lola’s from Betis.

I’m in my 30s and I’m in this stage of my life where I want to know my purpose, my roots and what I can do for myself and for the world. I sometimes envy friends and online acquaintances who know their family history, their relatives and colorful stories in the past. They have a province or an ancestral home to visit during the holidays. My family used to do that but I only have vague memories of an old house, the scent of fresh grass, native chickens and a language that is not Tagalog.

Lola Panyang in her younger days.

It was last year when my lola passed away. I miss the old woman and I regret not being able to keep my word to visit or even call her. I tried and succeeded but found it more convenient to make excuses. A traditional Kapampangan woman, Epifania Ocampo knew her way around the kitchen. She can transform an ordinary instant noodle into something truly malinamnam. My favorite dish that I still long for is her lutong toyo, which I later found out to be called asado.

Lola Panyang’s family hailed from Betis. She told me that during the war, they weren’t really affected that much because the Alfonso family was involved in supplying food for the town. They were pretty much well-0ff. She married a lanky young man from Sta. Rita. His name was Cezario Ocampo.

My Lolo Sario came from a poor background. He only finished elementary but it was through his skill, perseverance and adaptability that he was able to raise 10 kids with my lola and have them all finish college. He was a carpenter and learned the ropes in construction as a foreman, which helped him in establishing bottling plants in the country. Even in his sleep, it was said that my lolo would give orders to his workers.

Lolo Sario and his hommies. He’s the fourth guy from the left.

My grandparents make me proud of my Kapampangan roots. It also helped that food drew me closer to it. I associate Pampanga with its sansrival, petit and turrones de casuy that were a huge treat for a sweet tooth like me. It is however unfortunate that I only know a few Pampango words but I can tell if one is Kapampangan in a public place by their tone of speaking and some words that I’ve heard whenever my relatives would talk among themselves.

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My lolo worked in Manila and would go home on weekends to be with his family in Pampanga. He eventually had a regular client who gave him a big break by assigning him to set up bottling plants in exchange of land in Manila. What they didn’t know was that the property was located near the public cemetery. Lolo Sario probably didn’t mind. His eldest finished college and was able to help in supporting the studies of the other kids. They then built a mom-and-pop store on that plot of land in Caloocan and named it “El Pinoy”.

El Pinoy of Memory. It’s a symbol of hard work and love of family.

We don’t know how they came up with it but it inspired my little brother to adopt it as his name in the art world. He puts it best in an interview “the pseudonym is to remind me that with real hard work and an honest goal, you’ll be able to accomplish great things.” Perhaps it’s my lolo speaking through him.

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