Cultural potpourri | A Brief Escape to My Hometown

JUST before the solemn observance of the Holy Week, my cousins decided, upon the request of my not-so-well-conditioned Velez relatives in Negros Occidental, to hold our first family/business meeting in our hometown of Silay City, Negros Occidental. Thank goodness for the convenience of a straight flight from Davao to Silay City being offered by Cebu Pacific. The fully booked trip, with passengers from the Luy clan of Davao on their way to a reunion in Bacolod City, was convenient. I was excited to see again my cousins and their children and grandchildren who are the descendants of my dad’s eldest sister, the late Erlinda Dakudao-Velez. My family is very close to them as we grew up in Negros Occidental. All of us children of Dr. & Mrs. Santiago Lacson Dakudao, Jr. though were born in Davao City.

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THE MANSION in the 1920s and now

THE MANSION in the 1920s and now

The old hometown looks the same as we stepped down from the plane. The Bacolod-Silay Airport is situated in the midst of vast sugarcane plantations. Thank goodness that there were no stray carabaos milling around when we arrived by seven o’clock in the morning. And there to meet us at the arrival area was our cousin, Bigot Dakudao Velez, the former Mayor of Silay City like his dad was before him during the Marcos regime. Another car was driven by his son, Denden Cordova Velez, my first ever godson in baptism when I was just graduating from grade school.

DINING at The Mansion with Dakudao, Velez and Locsin relatives

DINING at The Mansion with Dakudao, Velez and Locsin relatives

Hungry but excited, we had to drop by Bigot and Ruby Velez’s residence in Silay first to have our much anticipated breakfast of the popular and so delicious Ereneta chorizo, Ilonggo uga (dried fish) and eggs. As Negrenses are known for, chismis and long chats comprise part of every shared meal that it took us hours before we stood from our seats fully satisfied and contented.

The venue of our meeting was at The Mansion of the Locsins at Calle Ledesma (the street where many Locsin and Ledesma families of Silay settled and intermarried with each other) which was designed by the Italian architect Lucio Bernasconi in the Antebellum architectural style of the 1920s. Bernasconi also designed Silay City’s amazing Church of San Diego de Alcala in 1925 as commissioned by Don Jose “Pepe” R. Ledesma, then considered the richest man in the island during that period. Because of the construction of the San Diego Church, Pope Pious XI conferred on Don Pepe the Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great.

DINING at Italia with cousin Kokoy and Gia Locsin

DINING at Italia with cousin Kokoy and Gia Locsin

After a hearty luncheon meeting at The Mansion, my heart started throbbing fast as we passed by relatives’ old ancestral houses and friends’ homes which, in my youth, we would sometimes gather in to watch from the second floor with its wide, sliding, capiz-paned windows the procession of amazing life-size statues of saints wending its way to or from the present San Diego Pro-Cathedral designed by Bernasconi. I felt like I was going back to the way we were while still living in Silay. It brought back a rush of fond memories of the good, old, pre-Marcos days. How I wished my mom and dad were still with me. Goodness, but I felt like I was in a setting of Peque Gallaga’s celebrated film, “Oro, Plata, Mata” except that the Silay town plaza is now in the modern style. I missed the original plaza which would have complimented well the design of the San Diego Cathedral.

CHILDHOOD friends (l-r): Binggay Legaspi-de la Paz, Michael E. Dakudao, Allen Benares, Kokoy A. Locsin, Nino Gosiengfiao and Freddy de la Paz

CHILDHOOD friends (l-r): Binggay Legaspi-de la Paz, Michael E. Dakudao, Allen Benares, Kokoy A. Locsin, Nino Gosiengfiao and Freddy de la Paz

This is my old, laid-back hometown and I am back. Silay evolved from being an old Spanish settlement and was founded in 1760. Several families from Iloilo, including my Lacson ancestors on my lola Carmen Lacson-Dakudao’s side, migrated to Silay and gave vitality to the place making it an important commercial and agricultural settlement during the Spanish era. It was in 1846 that the cultivation of sugarcane pioneered by Yves Leopold Germain Gaston (ancestor of my relatives Theresa Gaston-Dacudao and her brother, German Lacson Gaston) made the town very prosperous and thus, created the town’s sugar barons. Oh my, but Silay’s prominent families loved intermarrying with each other that in the end, everyone is somehow related to everybody.

For the wealthy sugar hacienderos and their families, the turn of the 19th century up until the 1960’s was a glitzy, golden age. With the prosperous sugar industry, the hacienderos were afforded a lifestyle of the rich and famous. Silay, then the capital city of Negros Occidental, was known as the “Paris of Negros.” An elderly relative narrated to us stories about the hacienderos’ mansions which were luxuriously supplied with life-sized paintings, heavily carved furnishings, opulent ceramic pitchers and basins from Europe, Luis Quince style table lamp of baccarat crystal, among so many others. Important guests were entertained in their opulently appointed dining rooms. The aristocratic hacienderos demanded nothing less than the best. And they got what they wanted delivered — from European performing artists to the newest car models to come out. Life couldn’t have been sweeter for the Ilonggos.

A DINNER of delicious inasal

A DINNER of delicious inasal

But things came to an abrupt end in the 1970’s when sugar prices hit rock bottom. A relative commented then that she never dreamed that the Negrense azucar would one day loose its sweetness. My family went back home to Davao in 1977 right after I graduated from La Salle High School amidst the economic crisis. We left with a heavy heart.

Now, the cities of Silay and Bacolod that I visited seem to have none of the excesses of the past when my moneyed classmates rode in polished Mercedes Benzes driven by uniformed drivers and accompanied by pampering yayas.

The enchantment with the glorious days long gone lingers still among the good-natured Ilonggos. Long after the curtain fell and the applause subsided.

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