Reflections on Dia de los Muertos
By Heidi M. Pascual
One cultural heritage left by Spain in the Philippines is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), more popularly known in
my town as All Souls Day. It is celebrated November 1, and the cemeteries become alive with families visiting the
dead with flowers, candles, and lots of food. I was one of those who paid respects for my dearly beloved aunt, Tia
Onor, who passed away on April 9th, 2014, of Alzheimer’s Disease.
This writeup, however, is not about the practice of Filipinos once a year in cemeteries. It is about my reflections on the
beautiful people I personally knew, loved, and admired in my life, and who left the world ahead of all of us. I am sure
that on All Souls Day, a lot of you thought of your departed loved ones longer than at any other time of the year. Your
prayers and thoughts surely made their souls happy wherever they may be. The following special people were in my
thoughts and prayers:
• Paul Kusuda – my foster father in Madison passed a year ago on Nov. 10. Paul was the father I never had. He
was always there for me, despite our distance. He forced himself to learn how to use the computer just so he could
reach me to say hello, send his monthly column for Asian Wisconzine, or simply ask if there was anything else he
could do for me. Since the time I knew him when I immigrated to Madison, he made me feel I had a father who truly
cared, a friend I could confide with, and a colleague whose sharp and analytical mind I deeply respected, admired,
and most times, agreed with. I miss him a lot, for Paul truly gave me strength to continue my magazine. He said that
he was proud of being part of it, for it gave Asians in America a platform to express an otherwise silent voice. I wanted
to tell him that he was one of the very few Asian American voices in Madison who spoke from the heart, who knew a lot
of important issues that needed community discussion, who was never afraid to be contradicted, who talked sense,
and who really stood for justice and equality for ALL. Madison lost this gem of a man, but he will always be
remembered. He was definitely one of the very few people I met in my life’s journey who now occupies a special spot
in my heart. I love him dearly.
• Felicidad Manabat – my mother’s name means felicity or happiness, but her life was peppered with sad
moments ever since World War II. I wouldn’t want to discuss in detail her sorrows; I’d rather highlight her victories.
The eldest of six children, Felly became an orphan as a teenager, and had to take care of two younger siblings. She
passed the Teachers Board Exam (while in high school), which amazed the teachers’ board examiners no end and
recommended that she be given a scholarship to finish a bachelor’s degree in education. My mom was a great
English teacher, a very good soprano, and lover of books, especially literature. At an early age, she exposed me to
good English –oral and written—and music. I must admit that without this woman, I wouldn’t be who I am. Aside from
focusing on academic excellence, mom guided me well on how to be a good person, a good leader, and one whose
values are anchored on our spiritual beliefs. She was a brave woman who went to America for the proverbial greener
pasture for the sake of her children, without relatives there, just one coat, and $80. I love my mom. Her sacrifices for
us will never be forgotten.
• Leonor Manabat (Tia Onor) – My beloved aunt (my biological father’s sister) helped my family in so many ways
after my dad left us. Aside from financial help, she took care of my youngest sister when my mom left for the US. She
took care of my mom’s and my siblings’ travel to the US when they emigrated in 1968, 1971, and 1976. More than all
these, Tia Onor was my second mother who showed me what unconditional love truly is. She taught me lessons in
life that complemented my mom’s teachings and examples. A market vendor, Tia Onor would always remind her store
helpers and us, “Never cheat customers; give them the best and always be honest.” Because she was blessed in her
business, Tia Onor took a number of her nephews and nieces from the province to study in Manila. They all became
professionals and some of them are now living in Australia and the US, places she never was able to see. Tia Onor,
who remained single until her passing, died from Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition that gradually and very slowly took
her away from us. I love her so much, for like my mom, she sacrificed a lot for us. The pain I and my younger siblings
felt because of an absentee father became bearable because of Tia Onor. She was an angel.
There were other special people in my life who have left us, as well. They made remarkable memories that added
color and beauty to an otherwise “regular” living. Some co-workers and friends from the Philippine House of
Representatives’ Secretariat and from Madison had been part of my professional existence. I believe that there were
good reasons why we all met along the way. I learned from them, particularly their values, what was important to them,
and their take on issues.
On Dia de los Muertos, I pray for the eternal repose of their souls. They passed because their Earth’s missions have
been accomplished. I thank them for being part of my life. They truly enriched my life’s existence and made me feel
very lucky to have enjoyed their company.
My mom with her kids, circa 1966
My mom with her kids, circa 2002