This past Wednesday, September 24, 2014, someone who I never met (that I can remember), Renee Agoncillo-Frial de Faeldonea, a grand daughter of Don Perpetuo and Doña Fidela Agoncillo (they are pictured at left) and daughter of Maura Agoncillo de Frial, of Dumalag, Capiz. passed away. Rest in peace. My prayers and condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.
I wanted to begin this blog first with the passing because it all relates to my year long (seems like a lifetime of) research about my direct ancestral connection to the first Flag of the Philippines especially for this month of October's Filipino American History Month (Filipino American Heritage Month) as well as my rich family history -- at least, from my mother's side of the family. Plus, I'm a history nut! So, I may be incorrect with some of the dates here or even the relationships of my family...believe me, there is so much information out there as well as too little to confirm online. This blog may be re-edited after it is published.
Since the first time I visited the Philippines in the Summer of 1977, I slowly accepted and embraced my Filipino heritage. You see, for years, even recently, I don't see myself as a Filipino, or even the term, "Filipino-American" or "Filipino American" for that matter. Where does that double terminology identity apply towards? Immigrants from the Philippines coming to America or people like me born and raised in the United States by Filipino parents? It can't mean both? I usually call myself "American" or if I'm feeling jovial, it's "American-Filipino" because honestly, I do not speak a lick of Tagalog.
Nevertheless, that doesn't stop me from learning something new about my culture, my heritage and even my family every time I'm in the Philippines. After a one-year stint living there from 1980-1981 and subsequent summer vacations thereafter, there was always something I'd pick up but, unfortunately forget about it later. Until 1995 after my grandmother passed away. She took care of my younger siblings and I during our one year stint in the Philippines. Aside from meeting my many, MANY relatives back in 1980, many of them were at her funeral. So, assembling everything I heard and was informed about my rich and historical Filipino lineage in 1980, 1995 and as recent as 2013, this is what I gathered...
This is my Great-Grandfather, Dr. Antonio Marasigan Agoncillo from Batangas, Philippines. His family owned vast land even in present day, Makati. He was the first doctor who studied in the U.S. and the first to own a car in Batangas. He was good friends with then-President of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon. He was jealous of the President when he danced with my great-grandmother at their mansion in Batangas. Unfortunately, he died way too early...and ironic as I think about it. My Great-Grandfather was on his way home from treating a patient when it started to rain. He was on horseback and perspiring, got sick due to pneumonia and later died in his early thirties.
I have so many surnames of extended families, it's very difficult to keep track. But, the four that has always been consistent are the following: Santos (my Dad's side), Monroy (my mother's father's side), Teves (my mother's stepfather's side) and Agoncillo (my mother's mother's side). Through the years, it's the Agoncillo side I found fascinating. My grandmother was an Agoncillo and so was my great-grandmother (left photo; in Chicago) who was married to the aforementioned Dr. Antonio Marasigan Agoncillo (photo above). It was the Agoncillos I first met the first time I went to the Philippines in 1977 and thereafter. My one year stint was spent with Agoncillos. The first time we moved to Los Angeles in 1981, we were greeted and welcomed by Agoncillos. And, well into the '80s and '90s, I met more of my extended Agoncillo family from Taal, Batangas and around the globe. I learned this past summer that there is a town called, Agoncillo, a fourth class municipality in the Province of Batangas, Philippines. Historically, on April 17, 1949, Executive Order No. 212 was issued by then President Quirino authorizing the immediate organization of the Municipality under the name of Agoncillo, in honor of Don Felipe Agoncillo, a native of Taal and one of the first Filipino representatives to the Spanish Cortes. Someday, I will take a trip there...
The first photo you see above this blog are of Don Perpetuo Agoncillo and Doña Fidela Marasigan de Agoncillo, a prominent couple from Taal, Batangas in the mid to late 1800s. Both hailed from landed families and had eleven children. Don Perpetuo ran a highly successful shipping business during the latter years of the Spanish rule up to the time of the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines. They are either my 5th or 6th generation grandparents! Perpetuo was a close relation of Felipe Agoncillo (illustrated on the Philippines national stamp below and related to my mother's side), the first Filipino Diplomat and husband of Marcela Agoncillo, who sewed the first Philippine Flag. ZOINKS?!?
Marcela Agoncillo, her legacy as the principle seamstress of the first and official Philippine Flag, gave one of her thimbles to Maura Agoncillo. This was donated by one of her daughters to then First Lady, Imelda Marcos during President Ferdinand Marcos' regime. The thimble now sits on display at the Malacanang Museum in the Philippines.
She was a daughter of a rich family in her hometown of Taal, Batangas. Finishing her studies at Santa Catalina College, she acquired her learning in music and crafts. At the age of 30, Agoncillo married Filipino lawyer and jurist Don Felipe Agoncillo (who was the Filipino representative to the negotiations in Paris -- that led to the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War) and gave birth to six children. Her marriage led to her important role in Philippine history. When her husband was exiled to Hong Kong during the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, Agoncillo and the rest of the family joined him and temporarily resided there to avoid the anti-Filipino hostility of some foreign countries. While in Hong Kong, General Emilio Aguinaldo requested her to sew a flag that would represent their country. Agoncillo, her eldest daughter, Lorenza and a friend, Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, a niece of Jose Rizal (HELLO?!?) manually sewed the flag (in Hong Kong) in accordance with General Aguinaldo's design which later became the Official Flag of the Philippines. The flag was made from fine silk which Marcela bought in Hong Kong. It was embroidered in gold and contained stripes of blue and red and a white triangle with the sun and three stars. It became known as "the sun and the stars flag". It was finished in a period of five days, through a difficult process. Marcela, Lorenza and Delfina worked manually with the aid of a sewing machine. They had to redo the flag when the rays of the sun were not placed in the proper direction. Their eyes and hands suffered due to the prolonged work. The flag was personally delivered by Marcela to Aguinaldo, which he brought back to Manila. It was hoisted from the window of Aguinaldo's house in Kawit, Cavite during the proclamation of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898. Marcela was not able to witness the first public display of the flag because she had to stay with her husband, who was still in exile.
Last July 4, 2014, we commemorated the 68th Anniversary of the Formal Recognition of Philippine independence by the United States of America. Although General/President Emilio Aguinaldo initially Declares the Independence of the Philippines back in June 12,1898, it was not until July 4, 1946 when the United States of America officially recognized Philippine Independence. (below photo).
Whew! I learned more about my Filipino heritage here than I did when I spent a semester studying Pinoy history at St. Anthony Novaliches High School in Caloocan City during my one year stay...
While the flag itself is the perpetual legacy of Agoncillo, she is also commemorated through museums and monuments like the marker in Hong Kong (where her family temporarily sojourned), at her ancestral home in Taal, Batangas which has been turned into a museum, in paintings by notable painters as well as through other visual arts (below photo).
At an Agoncillo family birthday party this past summer, I was informed I am a 4th generation descendant of Marcela Agoncillo, the woman who sewed the first Philippine Flag. So, today, I have high respect for the flag (as well as my culture and my heritage) because of my lineage to it. To see it everywhere from social causes to sports to social justice and to entertainment, I have a deeper understanding for it. I may be born under the national flag of the United States for which it stands but, there is historical importance to the Philippines' national flag more so than ever before. I guess you can call it (and, honestly, I really don't like this word but), pride.
I may not have any direct connections to world leaders, diplomats or national heroes ... patriots... but, I try my best as an actor and a producer in Hollywood to represent Filipino Americans well in the media and giving us a voice. I have many cousins who are also in the arts doing their thing (as I discovered while doing this initial research) Still, there is much more to learn about our rich history... So, I suggest you look into your family lineage. You'd be surprised to discover how much you're lineage is knee deep into history!
Happy Filipino American History Month, everyone!