Carmelita Tauber née Madridejos Baldemor enjoys the status of matriarch in her Filipino ex-pat community. Her zest for life pulls a diverse group of people into her orbit.
As the story moves from Canada’s West Coast to Honolulu and the Philippines, Legacy of a Filipina explores the immigrant experience and the universal themes of love, loss and new beginnings. Read below an excerpt from the first chapter of the book.
“Nowadays I eat with my eyes.” Carmelita Tauber née Madridejos Baldemor urged her dinner guests to enjoy second helpings, even as she left her own plate untouched. George Miller gazed at the old Filipina with equal parts affection, exasperation and admiration. Her cancer was visibly weakening her, yet here she was, bossing everyone around as always. How had his life become so wrapped up with hers?
Earlier, when he’d arrived at the West Coast style mansion on Raynord Street, it was Rey Gonzalez who opened the door. George looked down at the man’s form-fitting, faded and torn jeans. “Are those distressed jeans?”
“These skinny jeans are very popular among young people!” Rey said. “As you know, they’re quite expensive.” When George lifted a skeptical eyebrow, Rey added, “What you feel inside is what matters, right?”
George nodded. What could he say to a man in his sixties who was trying to look like a teenager? Rey had come to Canada twenty years earlier, and even though he made a point of watching hockey on TV and drinking beer when he was with “Canadians”, he never managed to fit in.
Rey continued to bend George’s ear. Rey and his wife Gloria, along with Rey’s younger brother and sister-in- law, had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas. “Gloria and I just watched. The food is cheap compared with Canada, and the alcohol, too!”
George knew nothing about the cost of drinks in Vegas, but he had heard from Carmelita that Rey made a fool of himself and was rarely sober during the trip.
As Rey wandered off, George stepped into Carmelita’s living room to say hello to the mostly Filipino guests gathered there. […]
Carmelita came over to George to collect a peck on the cheek. She hadn’t missed a word of Rey’s remarks about the alcohol in Vegas, and the Victoria police looking for immigrants in the wrong clothes. She noticed Rey’s eyes light on the wine bottle and whispered to George, “Hide your bottle away.”
“Am I supposed to drink water all evening?” he snapped.
“Of course not, professor. When you want some wine, do it discreetly. Don’t refresh Rey’s glass.” Turning to her guests, she announced, “To drink without food is not good, as we all know.”
Rey didn’t hear her comment. He was still looking for the bottle, which had vanished from the table.
Rey and Gloria were the first of the Gonzalez family to arrive in Canada, and Teresita arrived a few months later. The whole family, including the parents, eventually settled in Canada. Teresita stayed single well into her forties, and despaired of ever finding anyone to marry her. She had been considered too old for most Filipino men back home. They wanted a woman who would wait on them hand and foot, yet take pains to remain beautiful.
While still in the Philippines, Teresita hid her sadness from her brothers and sisters, who were all married with children. Her relatives, neighbours and others took advantage of her single status, making continual demands on her time. Her new life in Canada soon mirrored her old one. Emile Lim was her way out.
Teresita worked at the Lighthouse Home Care Agency and would forever be grateful to her co- worker Mei-Ling Lim for playing matchmaker. Teresita and Mei-Ling’s brother Emile got to know each other through Skype. Three months later, with Mei-Ling at her side, Teresita flew to Hong Kong to meet her future husband. They were married in a Buddhist ceremony there, then flew to Victoria and settled into Teresita’s three-bedroom condo.
Ate Carmelita arranged for a Catholic wedding ceremony at her parish church and for the reception afterwards. Teresita’s supervisor was only willing to give the bride one day off, so Ate called the manager and threatened to lodge a complaint with the province’s labour ombudsman. The agency relented and Teresita got one week off for the wedding and honeymoon.