Thursday, September 9, 2004

Las Fiestas en Siete [Archive]

This article was originally published in the September 2004 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.

I am promdi. For those who are not familiar with this term, it has been popularized to mean “from the province”. In my case, I am a promdi of Cebu City. This used to be a topic that I shied away especially on my first months in Manila. Not that I was ashamed to admit that I was a true-blooded probinsiyana but because I was avoiding the curious stares and raised eyebrows of people who sincerely asked if we had cable TV in the province or if I came to Manila with a bayong in my armpits. Boy, did I wish to name all 80+ channels covered by our cable TVs. At one point, I even made an extra effort to stress that I traveled to and from Cebu in an airplane (not in a boat that they supposed took more than a week to get to Manila) and that it was very rarely that you will find a bayong circling around the baggage cartels.

I grew up in a quaint little town, north of Cebu where everyone knew the wife of whom and the cost of the neighbor’s new car. It was a charming little place where minding your own business was not in fashion and considered selfish even. It was a place where fiestas were as popular as Christmas and where it came so early that you would actually see people feeling fiesta in the air. At seven, I welcomed the sharp squeals of pigs at dawn for it only meant two things—lechon and fiesta. At seven, I realized the indispensable nature of our fiesta. Christmas could be “postponed” by storms and hurricanes but not our fiesta. You always saw it coming. You felt it “going”. And how I loved it then.

Three years in Manila did not only mean three years of homesickness but three years of missing our fiesta as well. It always fell on September and for some reason, our trimestral break never allowed me to enjoy my visit home long enough to pig out during our fiesta. This year though, is an exception. For what seemed so long, I finally came home in time for our fiesta.

I don’t know where to begin or how to describe this yearly celebration that never failed to rouse the whole town like newly-borns. The first event that was celebrated days before the feast day was the torch parade where on one night, the people lit torches and marched and danced around the town in honor of our patron saint. It was like one big mardi gras. Lost in the sea of shrieking people, lit torches, and beating drums, I felt like I was seven again.

While I used to stand on tiptoe or sit on my father’s shoulders just to see the loud commotion during the torch parade, I now stood tall beside my mother and siblings and the hundreds of neighbors parading with torches around town. When I was younger, the highlight of the evening used to be the brave men who coated themselves in black grease, danced with the drums, and “breathed” fire while the young ones clapped their hands in glee. I waited. But no, I didn’t see my greased “heroes” now. What I saw were two, fully-clothed men who held small, thin torches in one hand and a cellphone on the other. It was then that I noticed the other changes.

What used to be candles or torches for light was replaced by the blinking lights of cellphones. Why don’t we call it the “cellphone parade”?What used to be hands thumbing the rosary beads and audible voices chanting vigils and prayers were now thumbs clicking away the keypads texting and hushed voices in gossip each assuming that other people around were praying. What used to be big images of our patron saint raised above our heads for tribute, was now gigantic Bob Marley pin ups. Until now, I still wonder of the logic behind this. The ati-atihan dancing was even “upgraded” to include the ocho-ocho and siete-siete dance moves. I looked around for the giant paper mache (or higante as we call it) and the decorated caro. The caro was decorated alright, but with sickly little flowers that barely gave off sweet fragrance in the air. How disappointed our patron saint must have been! The scary-looking higantes were replaced by cheap replicas of your modern day celebrities. There was a live gay version of Marina waving to the crowd with his tail; a giant Dugong which left the little kids running for their lives; a colorful Mulawin that started the elderly wives talking about the happenings of their favorite telenovelas. You can just imagine my horror when near the end of our parade stood the higante of our patron saint, the back of its head replaced by a higante version of our town’s political candidate. Talk about religious propaganda, huh?

Was it just me or has the times really changed? How quickly it has to begin excluding or forgetting the real essence of fiestas. If I wanted to know who’s in and who’s out in the telenovelas or start learning the newest dance moves, I could just have sat in front of the tube. Are the patron saints lame excuses for extravagant feasts and shameless parades of entertainment nonsense? Or could this have already been the sad reality merely re-invented by a hopeful seven year-old?

Las fiestas en siete. Fiestas at seven. I miss home. I miss fiestas. If only I were seven again.