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A Monument to My Roots

Postcard from Bacolod City, Philippines

Behind the rows of palm trees, through the dense traffic at the city center, past the yellow bakery and shopping mall, sits a hospital.

The building was once a two-floor, five-bedroom house nestled alongside a whispering sliver of a creek. When my grandfather founded it, it was simply called “Riverside.” My dad and his seven siblings lived upstairs, and had their first jobs ever working below, running errands for the family. In the 1950s, there were rows of sick beds instead of a living room; no true kitchen, I’m told, but rather a cramped cafeteria managed dutifully by my relatives.

Things, I notice, have changed in the decades since.

This is my fourth trip to the Philippines. I’ve spent the summer thus far sweating: walking the halls of a place which boasts—among other new additions—a renovated nursing school, medical arts building, and pharmacy. The fresh coats of paint, air conditioning, and wireless internet all put my sophomore suite in Old Quincy to shame. (The airy spaces and pleasant color on the walls assuredly shame this year’s suite in New Quincy, as well.) Amid the droning of the intercom, crowds of cell-phone-toting, text-messaging college students bustle from class to class.

Increasingly, it’s hard to mistake present-day Riverside for a time when, during busy periods, my grandfather’s bedside manner was said to be practiced at the side of his own mattress. My relatives, for one, have long since left that original two-story house. I have personally witnessed snapshots of the past seven years of the hospital’s growth—enough, at the very least, to see it thrillingly renamed the Dr. Pablo O. Torre Sr. Memorial Hospital, in honor of its founder.

The hospital, no matter what the incarnation, provides something unique for me: a glimpse into what life used to be like here, and maybe what my own life could have been. My grandfather died before I was born, but I have more cousins and uncles and aunts here and in Manila than I can count on my hands and feet. Running the hospital very much remains the family business, and nearly everyone works for it in some capacity. Several cousins my own age are even enrolled at the nursing school, classmates in addition to lifelong friends. With my grandmother’s house next door acting as a central hub, they all live within a few minutes’ drive of each other. I’ve realized I can honestly claim no more than a handful of friends who are even Filipino; and being a lifelong New Yorker, I still can’t legally operate a car.

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Here, I’m guaranteed to run into an extended family member at any given meal. It’s a simple thing, sure, but precisely what I lack in Manhattan and definitely in Cambridge. Of course, I don’t speak the language, and every stilted conversation I’ve had over such meals makes the deficiency obvious. All my relatives speak English, but socially, I fail to get jokes and tend to fall silent amid idle chatter. I also find otherwise banal things overly amusing: that “super-sizing” your meal at McDonald’s is called “going big-time,” for example (and strictly biologically speaking, I begin to perspire on cue the second I leave any air-conditioned room.)

I’ll admit that usually—lost in the life my own family has led in the U.S., lost with school, and yes, lost with writing for this very newspaper—I tend to forget that so many of my roots are found right here. I was born and raised in a condominium in New York, so things like geography and language and culture obviously stand in the way of any true reunion between the two locales.

In this place, though, right behind the palm trees—constantly growing and changing, even in my absence—there sits a mirrored monument of a reminder.

Pablo S. Torre ’07, a sociology concentrator in Quincy House, is an associate sports chair of The Crimson. He woke up at 9:00 a.m. to watch Game Seven of the 2005 NBA Finals and has never felt more unified with his people.

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