Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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Reflections on Dia de los
Muertos
One cultural heritage left by Spain in the Philippines is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), more popularly known in my town as All Souls Day.
It is celebrated November 1, and the cemeteries become alive with families visiting the dead with flowers, candles, and lots of food. I was one of
those who paid respects for my dearly beloved aunt, Tia Onor, who passed away on April 9, 2014, of Alzheimer’s disease.

This write up, however, is not about the practice of Filipinos once a year in cemeteries. It is about my reflections on the beautiful people I
personally knew, loved, and admired in my life, and who left the world ahead of all of us. I am sure that on All Souls Day, a lot of you thought of
your departed loved ones longer than at any other time of the year. Your prayers and thoughts surely made their souls happy wherever they may
be. The following special people were in my thoughts and prayers:

•        Paul Kusuda – My foster father in Madison passed a year ago on Nov. 10. Paul was the father I never had.  He was always there for me,
despite our distance. He forced himself to learn how to use the computer just so he could reach me to say hello, send his monthly column for
Asian Wisconzine, or simply ask if there was anything else he could do for me. Since the time I knew him when I immigrated to Madison, he
made me feel I had a father who truly cared, a friend I could confide with, and a colleague whose sharp and analytical mind I deeply respected,
admired, and most times, agreed with. I miss him a lot, for Paul truly gave me strength to continue my magazine. He said that he was proud of
being part of it, for it gave Asians in America a platform to express an otherwise silent voice. I wanted to tell him that he was one of the very few
Asian American voices in Madison who spoke from the heart, who knew a lot of important issues that needed community discussion, who was
never afraid to be contradicted, who talked sense, and who really stood for justice and equality for ALL. Madison lost this gem of a man, but he
will always be remembered. He was definitely one of the very few people I met in my life’s journey who now occupies a special spot in my heart. I
love him dearly.

•        Felicidad Manabat – My mother’s name means felicity or happiness, but her life was peppered with sad moments ever since World War II. I
wouldn’t want to discuss in detail her sorrows; I’d rather highlight her victories. The eldest of six children, Felly became an orphan as a teenager,
and had to take care of two younger siblings. She passed the Teachers Board Exam (while in high school), which amazed the teachers’ board
examiners no end and recommended that she be given a scholarship to finish a bachelor’s degree in education. My mom was a great English
teacher, a very good soprano, and lover of books, especially literature. At an early age, she exposed me to good English — oral and written —
and music.  I must admit that without this woman, I wouldn’t be who I am. Aside from focusing on academic excellence, mom guided me well on
how to be a good person, a good leader, and one whose values are anchored on our spiritual beliefs. She was a brave woman who went to
America for the proverbial greener pasture for the sake of her children, without relatives there, just one coat, and $80. I love my mom. Her
sacrifices for us will never be forgotten.

•        Leonor Manabat (Tia Onor) – My beloved aunt (my biological father’s sister) helped my family in so many ways after my dad left us. Aside
from financial help, she took care of my youngest sister when my mom left for the US. She took care of my mom’s and my siblings’ travel to the
US when they emigrated in 1968, 1971, and 1976. More than all these, Tia Onor was my second mother who showed me what unconditional love
truly is. She taught me lessons in life that complemented my mom’s teachings and examples. A market vendor, Tia Onor would always remind
her store helpers and us, “Never cheat customers; give them the best and always be honest.” Because she was blessed in her business, Tia
Onor took a number of her nephews and nieces from the province to study in Manila. They all became professionals and some of them are now
living in Australia and the US, places she never was able to see. Tia Onor, who remained single until her passing, died from Alzheimer’s
disease, a condition that gradually and very slowly took her away from us. I love her so much, for like my mom, she sacrificed a lot for us. The
pain I and my younger siblings felt because of an absentee father became bearable because of Tia Onor. She was an angel.

There were other special people in my life who have left this world, as well. They made remarkable memories that added color and beauty to an
otherwise “regular” living. Some co-workers and friends from the Philippine
House of Representatives’ Secretariat and from Madison had been part of my
professional existence. I believe that there were good reasons why we all met
along the way. I learned from them, particularly their values, what was important
to them, and their take on issues.

On Dia de los Muertos, I pray for the eternal repose of their souls. They passed
because their Earth’s missions have been accomplished. I thank them for
being part of my life. They truly enriched my life’s existence and made me feel
very lucky to have enjoyed their company.