Every time a person asks me what I want to become in the future, I always think about Mama’s graceful beauty: her humble smile, rosy cheeks, and storied eyes. Unfortunately, when it was time for my genetics to decide, they decided against it. I was born quite the opposite of her. In fact, I was the exact carbon copy of my father, from his eyes and his hair to the organs that dictated the sex I was born with.
This caused a lot of pain and confusion growing up. What the world was expecting from me was different from what I imagined myself to be, which forced me to embark on a quest. In search of the person I’m meant to become, I asked myself a lot of questions—the biggest of which was probably where I came from.
At birth, there was only one thing I inherited from Mama, and it was to everyone’s dismay: her stubby nose. I know Mama, who grew up praying with a clothespin on her nose, got it from my grandmother Nanay Dory, who liked smelling all 12 of her grandchildren with it. Nanay Dory, in turn, got it from Lola Nene, whose real name was Gregoria. But I didn’t know that until recently. I didn’t even know who Lola Nene was, let alone what her nose looked like, until I was 16.
Lola Nene’s stubby nose was something she also had to live with. Like Mama, she coped with meticulous effort. She had a routine dedicated to her brows, lips, and cheeks, probably in an effort to draw attention away from her nose since she had to face different people every day.
During the 1960s, she ran a factory of slippers in what is now our ancestral home in La Loma, Quezon City. As a businesswoman, she was just as particular with her business as she was with herself. She struck a balance between tough love and motherly care, always taking people that she can mentor under her wing to bequeath the ins and outs of running a business. Everybody who learned from her learned well, including her own children and younger siblings.
As one of the eldest of nine siblings, she was also very generous. What little she had after her five children, she shared with the rest of her siblings. It helped that she also had a beautiful singing voice. She was a soprano fit for opera theaters so she used it to earn a few extra coins from birthday parties, weddings, and even funerals.
But despite frequently singing in churches, Lola Nene was always more attracted to the smell of luck. Once, a seer told her there was a goldmine right beneath their factory, holding a fortune unlike anything she’s ever smelled before. Blinded by this vision, she didn’t hesitate to spend money excavating the land her very business stands on, holding stubbornly on to the belief that somewhere under their stubby noses was a better future lying in wait.
In the end, however, there was nothing but soil. Fortunes were spent, her business was ruined. Everything she had was gone, while the people she trusted went away with her money. Little did she know, the gold she was sniffing was already in her hands and it was her that people were excavating all this time.
At first, it seemed funny to me. The Lola Nene I’ve come to know by then felt wiser and fiercer than the next person. But as I continued digging into her life, I realized that there was a reason she held, very stubbornly, onto that luck.
At that time, her husband was already frequenting nightclubs with women who looked exactly like her except for one thing: her stubby nose.
Perhaps, she needed the goldmine to secure herself from a cheating and abusive husband. She needed the goldmine to protect her children from a marriage that was quietly falling apart. She needed the goldmine because she didn’t have anything to leave her siblings with besides the nose they all shared with their parents.
When I entered puberty, genetics once again decided to shed the only thing I shared with Mama, Nanay Dory, and Lola Nene. Instead, much to everyone’s relief, my nose turned into my father’s sharper and defined one. However, it was already clear to me at that point that what I have inherited from the women who came before me goes beyond genetics and material wealth.
Lola Nene’s story lent Nanay Dory the strength she needed to endure her own abusive marriage. Nanay Dory’s story gave Mama the willpower against her own cheating husband. Mama’s story, up to this day, inspires the courage that I need to be who I am today. The foundation that this long line of women has built is where I, and my cousins, stand. Stories of grit, love, and faith continue to empower us in resisting and fighting the very cycle of abuse and prejudice they’ve all once faced.
The women in my family may not have passed much to me through genes or testaments but what they have left is enough for me to finally end my quest and become the person I’m meant to be in the world—a woman.