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Blak Beuty



Gouache, ink, and image transfer of the artist's maternal grandparents, Teodoro and Carmen Araneta on vintage edition of Anna Sewell's 1877 novel

12" x 15" framed

Collection: Stories we are told

Text from The Living History Project 2013: Carmen Narciso Araneta—a letter to her great granddaughter, transcribed by her daughter, Edita Camila Araneta Reyes




Yes I am staying with your grandmother, Meema, but I have a separate unit on the ground floor. It has a sala, a dining room for four, and a small kitchenette. My small bedroom leads to an indoor garden where I sometimes have my coffee. I have breakfast by myself but for the other meals I go upstairs with your Tita Carmen (she was named after me) and your Meema. So it’s a nice arrangement: I have my privacy and yet I am not alone. I can still be with family and Carmen’s new dog, Butler.

I used to teach; I took up Education for my college degree. That’s what I did before I got married to your Papalolo. But then soon after, he asked me, “How much are you earning as a teacher? I will double your salary; so you are free to take care of the family.” That was a great offer don’t you agree? An offer I could not refuse.

As for historical events, let me narrate what happened soon after we got married in December,1941. The Empire of Japan invaded the Commonwealth of the Philippines shortly after the declaration of war against your country, the United States of America. The Japanese attacked Pearl Habor in December 7, and in ten hours, December 8, also attacked my country. We were staying in Davao, a south-eastern city in Mindanao, one of the three main islands in the Philippines. With bombs exploding all around us, we had to flee the city; that started our 1-month trek from Davao to Zamboanga City. I had just come from work, so I still had my high heels and stockings. We just left everything immediately!

But amazingly, all throughout the experience, no one got sick, in spite of being exposed to the elements: rain, mud and heat. I didn’t see any snakes or any wild animals in the virgin forest of Mindanao. God must have kept them away from us. We walked all together, resting at night, and trekking up the mountain and then down, all the way through two provinces. Don’t ask me how we got to our destination: we were just going with the rest of the hundreds of evacuees. No one got hungry either. The Lord provided fruits for us to eat all the way. At first I was hesitant because I was afraid that the fruits were poisonous; but Papalolo said, “Look, the birds are eating it so it must be OK to eat”. That trek was my “honeymoon”; what an adventure! I didn’t plan for that kind of honeymoon; it was an experience I will never forget!

I remember my childhood always with a smile; my dad, Lolo Vicente to your grandmother, was a gregarious man, who loved music. He played the violin. So he encouraged all of us to play an instrument: would you believe I played the drums?! So every afternoon, when he comes home from work and we come home from school, we would have our family band. It was so much fun!

My mother, Lola Juliana, was the perfect homemaker. She would prepare perfect meals for us but we would take so long in finishing our meals because between my dad and my older brother, the stories/jokes they would tell would keep us laughing, to the point that my mom would ask, “Don’t you like my cooking? Nobody is eating!” My dad required that the home is always happy with music. If he happens to come home and everybody is quiet he would complain, “Did someone die? Why is it so quiet here?”

I was the fourth of seven children. I was the “morena” one, the dark-skinned “mestiza;" all my siblings were fair-skinned. So that gave me a slight inferiority complex but my parents always affirmed me so it didn’t become a problem, but it made me “delicada” (choosy) in my food preferences; I didn’t eat anything that didn’t appeal to my eyes. Knowing that, the rest of my siblings would always play this trick on me: especially when the food was good, and they wanted to increase their “share”, they would tell me that my portion got dirty, or that someone had already tasted my portion. So I will refuse my food—that leaves them with more!


Drama and sports—that’s an unusual combination of talents! I am so proud of you! Just like you, I also love to read. Yes, it’s amazing how words can make the story come alive. I hope to see you as the “Mad Hatter”. My advice to you my dear great granddaughter: pursue your dreams, you might be surprised to find out that you set your sights too low.

My talent is to set up a party spread that everyone will enjoy. Papalolo would describe me as the “hostess with the mostess,” to plan the table settings and the menu. Papalolo always invited friends over, often without prior notice. Our advantage here in the Philippines is that we have house-maids to help us. So it was no trouble to ask my cook to come up with really great tasting food within a few minutes. Even as a widow, I was hired because of this talent. My travels all over the world helped me improve in this skill. One of the top hotels in Zamboanga City asked me to be a consultant, training the employees how to set the table properly and serve food the right way. I enjoyed working there from age 70 until just a few years ago, until I was 85.

Sports was not my high interest. I tried my hand at golf, simply because Papalolo played. So I tried it too. I loved dancing; unfortunately Papalolo didn’t but he tried to humor me by learning a few simple dances like the “pasadouble, cha-cha, and the boogie-woogie”. Just like you I loved to sing. I took singing lessons; my favourite song was “Estrellita” (My little Star).

My Star is Papalolo, your great grandfather. He was a successful businessman but his passion was politics. He was the man behind mayors, congressmen, senators. He loved to strategize the campaign; he knew exactly where to focus the campaign so that his candidates always won. They called him the “King-maker” Don Doring Araneta. He never ran for public office, except for the Constitutional Convention in June 1, 1971, under Ferdinand Marcos regime. He ran as a delegate, to review and rewrite the 1935 Constitution. He was one of the 320 delegates elected. I helped him during his campaign. Although he had a speech writer, I edited and simplified his speeches to make it understandable to the simple folk of our province. I was also his speech coach, teaching him to just be himself when he made a speech; to pick out one person in the audience and talk to him casually. Most of all I advised him not to follow what the other candidates were doing, shouting when they spoke. We went all over our province and met all kinds of people: rich, poor, young and old, shaking their hands and asking them to vote to “Senor Doring”. And they did.

I love this project, Living History. It brings back pleasant memories! When one is as old as I am, 90 years old (I will be 91 in September) the pleasant memories strengthen the bones. Please congratulate your teacher, and school for such a creative way to connect generations together.

I hope to see you soon. I am taking care of my health, eating healthy food that your grandma “Meema” prepares and exercising (going up and down the stairs is my daily exercise). I am doing all these so that I will be able to visit you soon!


I love you my dear great granddaughter!

Mamalola passed away a few months later, the summer before her 91st birthday.

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