Ligaya Fruto: One Lingering Backward Look
by Renelaine Bontol Pfister
“Nothing that I have done, it seems to me, was planned,” Ligaya Victorio Fruto said in an interview for the Watumull Foundation Oral History Project.
The transcript for the interview is dated March 12, 1986 and can be found online. The subjects for the project were Hawaii residents who contributed in some way to the history of Hawaii.
Fruto worked at Honolulu Star-Bulletin as a feature writer from 1952-1968. She was active in the Filipino community and she and her engineer husband established a scholarship fund for civil engineering students.
Fruto was born in the Philippines in 1914 and died at age 87 on July 18, 2001 in Redwood City, California. In the course of her life, she assumed many roles: journalist, writer, teacher, wife, mother and even guerilla.
She was in living in Caloocan during the Japanese occupation in World War II when she was recruited to edit a women’s magazine that was owned and run by the Japanese.
Her editorials made her friends nervous; they told her she could be next on the list for Fort Santiago where prisoners were tortured and killed—one of her own brothers was killed there. But Fruto said, “By then I no longer cared for my life.”She wrote two books: “Yesterday and Other Stories (1969)” and “One Rainbow for the Duration (1976).” She was awarded the Jose Garcia Villa Roll of Honor of Short Stories from 1926 to 1940.
Her life was like the stuff of her own fiction. In her short story “One Lingering Backward Look,” Fruto mirrors and fictionalizes her own experiences during World War II: escaping with her young son to join her relatives in the province, the feeling of returning to the Philippines after a long absence, and the dual life of an immigrant.
Nothing she has done was planned, she claimed. When she was young, she never studied yet always got honors. She attended Far Eastern College (now Far Eastern University), where, at age 13, she was reading Chekhov, Tolstoy, and de Maupassant thanks to a teacher who gave her access to his home library.
Her stint as a young teacher at Normal College in Baguio City was by pure chance. She took the entrance exams just to go along with her friends and ended up having better marks than them. She had to teach at Normal College for two years as required by the government which was her employer.
She looked like a school kid but was taking graduate studies in English and Spanish literature and was writing. She was always surprised when magazines published her stories.
“I’m the only one (among five girls) with a Filipina name; the others had Spanish names,” she said. Her “father quarreled with the priest” and she was baptized at an independent church. Her father was gentle but very protective—he did not like his daughters having suitors, their windows were locked and no serenaders were allowed in the middle of the night.
To gain more freedom from her father’s house, Fruto got married. Luckily, her first husband, Ramon Reyes (whose father went to school in Madrid with Jose Rizal) was a kind man and allowed her all the freedom she wanted. He didn’t mind that she worked at the same newspaper he did—he was a commercial artist.
Tragically, towards the end of World War II in 1944, Ramon Reyes was killed by a guerilla bandit, shot at their doorstep. Their son Ramon Ray was still small.
After the war, in 1946, Fruto joined the press office of the Philippine president, Manuel Roxas. After that, she came to Hawaii to work at the Philippine Consulate General as a cultural and social attaché. She then got married a second time, to engineer Lorenzo Fruto.
When she moved with her husband for a work assignment in Guam, she survived the worst typhoon in Guam’s history, a typhoon 250 mile per hour winds. The roof of their house blew off and they lived in the hospital for over a month. She said there was “not a single leaf to be found on those trees along the highways.”
One could say Fruto’s stories are not as dramatic as the events of her own life: natural disasters, violence during the war, and personal losses. Her stories are subtle and frequently have nationalistic themes such as “Home is Where…”
From her collection “Yesterday and other Stories,” one of my favorites is called “Tupada,” a story about illegal cockfighting in Hawaii and the boy who has an awakening in that cockpit.
I admire Fruto’s talent for evoking imagery. Some of her lines make me catch my breath, such as this one: “…love like a sword between them, hurting them exquisitely.”She remained connected to the Philippines despite living in the U.S. for decades. The ending to “One Lingering Backward Look” is “…any sojourn in a foreign land–whether it lasted a moment or a lifetime–could be but temporary.”