Filipinos Share What They’re Thankful for Amid Turbulent Times

by Edwin Quinabo           

Thanksgiving Day is around the corner and typically the entire month of November is a time of giving thanks, having gratitude, and showing one’s appreciation.

Often it takes crushing tragedy to bring a profound realization of the true riches in life.

For tens of thousands of Filipino residents of Maui this holds true.

Three months ago, the Maui brushfires that left historic Lahaina in rubble and ash left residents reflecting how special their simple, small but mecca-tourism of a town was before that fateful August 8. Locals there now yearn to rebuild Lahaina (38% Filipino population) as it was and to protect their famous shoreline from turning into another Waikiki.

Even more important than the loss of Maui’s commercial center, homes and businesses, over a hundred residents perished in the fires.

Thankful for loved ones and life itself
Christine Galaga, Lahaina resident, who barely escaped with her family, said “Thank ‘God that we still have each other and we’re still alive and safe and accounted for.” She said they lost everything to the fire. “We are the only things we have.”

Nelen Cesar, Lahaina resident, counts on her blessings. “You know, our life is the blessings [we take from this tragedy]. We are thankful for this. It’s so sad. Everything is gone.”

Filipinos Galaga and Cesar experienced first-hand unspeakable devastation. But the apocalyptic images of rows of homes left in contorted skeletal steel frames or images of families sheltering in the ocean from flames that chased them into the waters – these scenes broadcasted globally have not only left thousands in tears of sadness for Maui residents, but also in tears of joy that their families are alive and safe.

In yet another tragedy, unlike a sudden natural disaster as in Maui, a terrorist attack on October 7 by Hamas in Israel that left 1,700 Israelis dead triggered an ongoing (over a month and counting) bombing assault of Palestine. To date, 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, about half of them children.

Thankful for freedom, basic needs
Marline Guzman, Moanalua, said “I am grateful for the freedom, civil liberties and human rights we have in the U.S. These liberties are far from perfect and we’re constantly in need of defending them. But in comparison to the Palestinians who haven’t enjoyed such freedoms even before October 7, we have much to be thankful for.”

Guzman adds, “When I hear in the news of the Israeli blockade into Palestine of electricity, food and water, such basic things for survival, I cannot imagine going without these for myself and family. Before each meal lately, included in our family prayers is for those being denied food and water in Gaza to get these life-nourishing essentials.

“I also think of the Israeli hostages and pray for their safe return to their families.

“The situation there makes me think about how fortunate we are here. I am saddened and feel helpless that we can’t do anything for those innocents being harmed in Palestine and Israel,” she said.

Guzman, 62, a first generation Filipino American, said she knows the brutality of war experienced in her own family. “My uncle Ramon was tortured by Japanese soldiers during WWII.  When the Japanese went into Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, they seized him and saw him as a threat because of his tall and broad physical stature. They forced him to drink jugs of water then stepped on and kicked his stomach. He would vomit water. They repeated the torture for hours. They beat him all over his body and left him on the ground wanting him to die a slow death and to instill fear in the community when his body would be discovered. But miraculously my uncle survived, barely. His face was permanently disfigured from the beatings. And my mom said he was never the same emotionally.”

Reflecting on the cruelties of war in the Philippines, she said “I want the war in the Middle East to end. I pray that no more innocent lives are taken. I am thankful for the safety and security we have here.  But am concerned that this regional war could expand and draw in the United States.

“It’s been a tumultuous year for natural and made-made disasters. Like it was in 2020, the year of COVID-19, the joy we associate with Thanksgiving is much needed to uplift us from the loss and suffering we see in our state and around the world. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving,” said Guzman.

The depth of Thanksgiving
America’s first Thanksgiving is said to take place in November 1621 when Plymouth Colony settlers and the Wampanoag Native Americans came together and shared an autumn harvest feast.

But some historians argue that Florida, not Massachusetts, was the place of the first Thanksgiving in North America. In 1565, a Spanish fleet came ashore and planted a cross in the beach to christen the new settlement they called St. Augustine. To celebrate this event, 800 Spanish settlers shared a meal with the Timucuan Native Indians.

Neither of the two events have significance to most Americans celebrating Thanksgiving today compared to other holidays where reverence is still given for the person(s) a holiday is named after.

For Native Americans, the history that followed the first Thanksgiving story ended in loss of land and genocide, hardly something to be thankful for, Native leaders remind us of each year around Thanksgiving Day.  Like the history of slavery of Blacks in the U.S., the brutality that colonialism brought onto the indigenous population is considered a painful time in American history that’s to be remembered, but not celebrated.

So, what remains of Thanksgiving — which is still one of the most important holidays in the U.S. – is the meaning of coming together in goodwill and peace and sharing the gift of food as a symbol of our bond with each other.

Some say Thanksgiving Day is about reflecting on what has lifted your spirits through the year and made life enjoyable. It could be a hobby or something much grander as a life’s purpose that gives meaning like advocating for justice. Or that enjoyment could be associated with specific people.

Thankful for family
Nieva Elizaga, Honolulu, said “Every night before I go to sleep, I say a prayer of thanks not only for the day but for a lifetime of blessings.

“I’m thankful for a wonderful family with a husband (Fortunato, Fort for short, a physician) who is undemanding, patient and kind. He has never complained about being the only driver in the family after I quit a long time ago. He had to take the kids to school and to whatever activities they had and pick them up while having a busy medical practice. He had to take me everywhere. He must have sighed in relief when the children started driving.

“He loves taking care of his patients that is why he is still practicing even at his age. It warms his heart to hear them say, “I love you, Doc.”  They are worried that he will retire soon and are telling him to please not to. They love him and I do too.

“And he is funny. I often hear laughter coming from the examining room. At home, we laugh all the time at ourselves or at him.

“The thing he doesn’t want to do is to take care of finances. He leaves it all up to me — in his practice and at home. I get a headache, but it also frees me to do whatever I want. Let’s go shopping!”

Nieva and Fort have three children of whom they are very proud of. “Their growing up years were mostly worry free. They did well in school and had many friends. Our house was a revolving door of groups of kids going in and out during vacations. They have grown up to be admirable individuals. They all graduated from college and have successful careers. Our daughter is a lawyer but has stopped practicing to do volunteer work. Our middle child is a pharmaceutical representative. Our youngest is an actor. He has appeared in several TV shows and movies. His latest, Full Circle, is still streaming on HBO Max. Go watch it!

“Our three grandchildren are growing up fast. They are all doing well in academics. The thing we are most proud of is that they are good kids- loving, respectful and caring. There is much love and laughter when we get together,” said Elizaga.

Thankful for social and community engagement
Nieva says there’s much more to be thankful for, like her social life. “I’m so glad Fort got me into golf when I was initially resistant. Now I get my weekly exercise under the sun, get my vitamin D, enjoy the game and the friends I’ve made in the club. I’ve also made a lot of friends among the civic organizations I belong to. I find it fulfilling to do something worthwhile while also forming lifelong friendships. This is what keeps me healthy.

“In my membership with organizations, I meet some of the people who run the state. I’ve given them my thoughts. I’ve sent emails to some.

“Fort and are also very aware of what’s happening in the country and around the world. It has become so divisive. I am hoping for a miracle that all the strife will be resolved peacefully. It seems like a big thing to ask but what else can we do but pray,” said Nieva.

Thankful to God and for having a business
Marilyn Lowe, Waipahu, said “First I want to thank God for all his blessings and guidance he provides for me daily. My farm and my cleaning businesses are doing good. I have loyal clients and am thankful to meet a lot of nice people.”

Message of Thanks to Hawaii Filipino Chronicle (HFC)
Lowe and others in the Filipino community also expressed gratitude for the role the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle has had in the community for 31 years of publication.

Lowe said, “HFC has done a lot for all of us here in Hawaii, especially for our Filipino community. Readers of the Chronicle can learn about new Filipino achievers and leaders that often the local media would not cover. HFC reports local news especially when it comes to politics and community events. HFC covers Philippine news that’s also not regularly presented in the mainstream media.  Many businesses have closed after deep recessions but thanks to God the HFC is still running.

“The publication ran continuously as we suffered through COVID-19 and the following high inflation. Prayers and continued support are needed to keep HFC and their staff intact and working together. The content of the newspaper is valued by many leaders throughout the state. We should continue to support HFC and their energetic staff,” Lowe said.

Elizaga has been a loyal reader of HFC from the newspaper’s start. “Congratulations to Charlie and Chona Sonido for the 31st anniversary of this newspaper. They should be very proud. The editorials are always well written and to the point. The articles are informative, up to date and non-partisan. Thank you both for your unceasing effort. Great job! I wish all of you readers a happy Thanksgiving!” said Elizaga.

HFC contributor Teresita G. Bernales, Ed.D., former officer for the Media Council Hawaii, said “You [HFC publishers and staff] have worked hard for 31 years to bring quality journalism of news, insights and cultural updates to your readership. You have been a vital voice for the Filipino American community of Hawaii bridging the gap between the Filipino and American experiences and fostering a sense of community among us in the mainstream society. I congratulate you for your hard work, dedication and determination in shaping a collective identity for all of us in Hawaii.”

Bernales, who started contributing to HFC back in 2000 when the Filipino Chronicle sponsored and helped to promote events of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Alumni Association of Hawaii (she is a past president of the organization), adds “HFC is a reliable source of information enabling readers to stay informed and engaged with current events while highlighting achievements and struggles of remarkable Filipino citizens in Hawaii. You are a beacon of intelligent and comprehensive writing catering to the diverse needs of the community. Here’s to another successful year, keep the voices of the Filipinos heard throughout Hawaii, the Philippines and beyond!”

HFC contributor Edna R. Bautista, Ed.D., retired professor in JMC, HFC’s Journalism Scholarship Program Chair, joined HFC in January 1995, said “Congratulations to our publishers and editors who have survived the rapidly changing world of media. Many publications have ceased to exist, but we will continue to work hard to benefit our Filipino and Fil-Am community and hope to provide relevant information for many more years to come.”

Filipino community leader Alfredo Evangelista said “Congratulations to the Sonido family on persevering in publishing the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle. As we Pinoys love to say, ‘More power to you!’”

Guzman has been reading HFC for over 20 years. She said, “HFC is an enduring project led by professional writers and professionals from various fields like medicine and law. Our Filipino community, especially our youth born in the U.S., is fortunate to learn about our culture, our history, news that impact us, cover stories and editorials that have relevancy. In this light, HFC aids in fashioning Filipino identity. The newspaper has been the voice of our people in the state for decades. Our community knows this. Politicians know this. Hawaii’s greater community knows this.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, to the publishers and staff at HFC, thank you for producing a fine product. Know that you, your hard work and commitment to uplift our community, are appreciated by tens of thousands of us in our community.”

HFC publisher and managing editor Chona Montestines-Sonido said, “I am grateful for the hardworking, dedicated and creative staff who burn the midnight oil in order to turn around a newspaper for the Filipino community that serves as their advocate, their voice and communication channel in Hawaii and beyond. Most of all, I am grateful to God for giving us the strength, good health, bountiful blessings of family and friends to keep us going and keeping the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle alive and empowering the Filipino community here and abroad.  Thank you to our advertisers and readers for your support through all these years!  Let’s continue to pray for peace and understanding in this world and continue to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ!”

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