By most accounts, Acuña was not a native of Capiz but was from Luzon who had frequently visited the town in the course of his business. There are also differing versions of what trade he had actually practiced – one being that he was a purchaser of molasses for Manila-based distilleries, the Panay region being a center for sugar plantations, or a hatmaker from Binondo, leading his descendants to believe that he may have been a Chinese mestizo.
Another version also puts him as a civil servant, having been sent by the Spanish government to supervise infrastructure projects in the town.
Or perhaps, he was all three at different times in his life, which perhaps will come as no surprise to his descendants today, many of whom are in similar pursuits - government, business, politics, as well as education, medicine and the arts.
One thing is for certain, Acuña, rose to prominence and with his wife, became one of the most respected couples in Capiz. That marriage spawned 12 children, each with his or her own unique personalities and characteristics, which are also apparent in their own progeny to this day.
There was Rosario (Roxas-Picazo), the eldest, who was dignified, strong in character and dispassionate; these traits served her well when her first husband was gunned down by two drunken guardia civil, and instead of becoming hysterical, she calmly fetched his lifeless body. She was followed by Tito the first among the siblings to be sent abroad to study medicine, and unsurprisingly, became a classmate of our national hero Jose Rizal. The second daughter of the Acuñas was Socorro (Yotoko), dubbed “La Aristocrata” for her imposing discipline, but with a flair for the arts.
Then came Josefa (Hernandez/Viterbo) who was also well-educated like her sisters, but whose main virtue was said to be her frugality. The third son was called Rafael who finished Dramatic Arts in Spain but perhaps owing to parental pressure, resumed his law studies when he returned to the Philippines. The sixth child was Paz, who married a Cebuano Manuel Valiare, but the couple died childless.
Ricarda (Arnaldo) was apparently the most headstrong among the siblings, having rebelled against her father’s wishes by marrying a rising politician Manuel Arnaldo. She was followed by Pilar (Roxas-Moreno) who is remembered most for being always optimistic and pleasant. Alejandro was the bohemian of the family, living a life of wine and other pleasures, favoring a laidback lifestyle unlike his more serious brothers.
Soledad (Sanz) was always cool as a cucumber, that people believed that the world could end the next day, yet she would still remain calm. Jovita (Barrios), lived in exotic Mindanao for a short time with her husband a lawyer then judge, which enabled her to amass interesting stories to regale her children with. Fortunato, grew up under his sisters' care after their mother Doña Ramona died while giving birth to him; although the last of the Acuña children, he was the first to own a car in Capiz, among many other “firsts”. (Source: The Acuñas of Capiz, Prems 1983 souvenir program)
THE first time I attended our clan reunion was in April 1983 – a three-day affair, dubbed “Prems ‘83”, held by the beach in Roxas City. (“Prems” is a derivative of “primo”, the Visayan term for cousin.) It was the summer before I was about to begin my university studies, so it was the best time to goof off with impunity with my cousins and newfound relatives. Our parents were in the prime of their lives, gamely performing onstage, and leading the charge in the fun activities for each day, with our grandparents shimmying not too far behind.
Twenty-six years later, a number of those in the second and third generation have passed on, but their exuberance still lives on. This was most evident in our latest clan reunion held last Saturday, with some 500 relatives filling up the convention hall of St. Paul’s College, Pasig. (I am told there are about 300 more living abroad.) It was a massive affair due to the sheer number of people that had to be contacted; and took over a year to plan.
It was a great time to reconnect with our cousins from the other branches of the clan, especially now that many of us are much older, have families and little ones, or like some, are just visiting for the holidays, being residents of far-away lands.
While it was a much-scaled down event unlike our first Prems gathering, everyone still had a grand time. I especially enjoyed the stage performances from the little tykes who bravely shook their little butts to nobody, nobody but us. And of course, no family affair would be complete without our San Miguel beers and Coca-Colas to keep us sublimely lubricated throughout the evening.
Having not seen many of these aunts, uncles and cousins for the longest time, there is not enough time to actually catch up with all. Then again, there were those who simply did not know what to say when meeting up with a relative one had not seen in ages. How to begin the conversation?
The key to attending affairs of this nature is to just put on your widest smile, and pucker up. Kiss and say hello to everybody, whether or not you actually know him or her. It’s the right time to shake off one’s shyness and just strike a conversation with the person next to you in the buffet line.
I used to shirk away from family reunions because I found them boring and just filled with ancients who kept asking when I was going to get married. Now that I’m older, I find that such gatherings give me a sense of identity. As we share a common heritage, these social interactions provide us with positive affirmations of who we are and how we are distinctly special from other families.
In our first clan reunion, there were still no cellphones, computers, much less the Internet, so the relatives we met then were difficult to keep in touch with. With Facebook and smartphones these days, it’ll be much easier to keep abreast of what’s happening in each other’s lives.
So cheers dear cousins! Don’t be a stranger.
(This piece was originally published in the BusinessMirror, in Jan. 2010. My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)
Reunion of the Acuña clan of Capiz. (Other photos contributed by Mary Rose Peña.)