January 15, 2010

A gathering of families

SOMETIME in the 1860s, a gentleman named Eleuterio Acuña, he of regal European bearing with the almond eyes, met then married the fair Ramona Villaruz, a native of the town of Capiz (now known as Roxas City), in the province which bears the same name.

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.)


Ninoy said...

don't know if we're related...

anyway, i'm from bicol. as far as i can remember, i've heard from my father(now in bicol) that we're descendants of mayor ramon arnaldo of legazpi.

Stella Arnaldo said...

Ninoy, kindly leave your email address, so I may contact you directly. I won't publish it.

If your father's ancestors came from Capiz, we're probably related.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dex said...

Hello Ms. Stella and Ninoy,

I'm Dex Baldon, a direct descendant of Mayor Ramon Arnaldo of Legazpi (He's my paternal great-grandfather). I'm very much interested about my family's genealogy. I'd really like to know more about my roots.

@Ninoy, we could be related.



Stella Arnaldo said...

Hi Dex,

Sorry for this super-delayed response. So far, there is no direct relation that we can determine bet. the Arnaldos of Legazpi and those from Capiz and Cavite (actress Chin-Chin Gutierrez is one of them). But my grandfather, former Congressman Ramon Arnaldo Sr., and my dad, Ramon Jr. have met your great-grandfather, and like I told Ninoy in a private email, they all treated each other like family. Even Chin-Chin's uncle, Choy, calls me his niece.

Our surname wasn't originally Arnaldo. It was actually Qin Cha. We were descended from a Chinese merchant who only adopted the surname Arnaldo when he was baptized, as was the custom in those days. But hey, who knows? If we dig hard enough, we can probably find some direct relatives amongst us. Lots of fooling around in those days, haha!

Perhaps you and Ninoy can work to have a clan reunion as well. Wouldn't that be fun? It's a lot of work but it's all worth it. We certainly enjoyed ourselves.



jack said...

Hi, Stella!

My late grandfater, Eugenio Ealdama, Sr., was married to a Ramona Villaruz. I only learned about this in mid-2010 (when an uncle was sent an old family photo w/ her in it). She is supposedly a first or second cousin of President Manuel Roxas? Unfortunately she passed away before my grandfather. Lolo remarried many years later and had my late father at the age of 47. When dad was alive (he passed away just last April '10), he and other relatives only have "Acuna" as the surname of Lolo Inyong's first wife. I just tried my luck today and typed "Ramona Villaruz" in (where else:) Google - and your blog article made me curious. Well, I can share with you the photo soon,just tell me how.
Thanks and God bless,

Jack Ealdama

jack said...

Hi again! :)

Right after I sent you the first message, saw in the other search links that I guess we had the names wrong:
-Eugenio Ealdama married Maria Villaruz, daughter of Eleno Villaruz and Cecilia Barrios Ortiz.
(I think they had 2 daughters named "Maria" and Eugenio Married the 2nd one)
-Eleno Villaruz is the son of Paulino Villaruz and Eugenia Villagracia Andrada.
-Eleno is one of the brothers of Ramona Villaruz, married to Eleuterio Acuna.

my sources I guess are from your clan members' info:



Thank you very much and am really glad to have come across your blog. Happy New Year!

Jack Ealdama

Stella Arnaldo said...

Thanks Jack. I'll PM you my email address. I guess we are still kinda related in a roundabout way. I'm sorry that the link to my column last year appears to be missing. Will repost the entire piece later, and hope you will enjoy it.

Stella Arnaldo said...

@Jack: pls leave your email address here in the comments section. I won't publish it.



Stella Arnaldo said...

Hi Ninoy. If you're reading this, Dex wants to contact you to trace your roots. Pls leave me a message here and your email address so I can send Dex's email address. Thanks.

Hi Dex, just a note to say I received your message. Sorry took awhile to response. Hope I can get the two of you together. Akong special guest sa clan reunion party nyo ha? hahaha ;p

ninoy said...

good day ma'am stella! how are you? it's been a while since i last checked your blogs. anyway, hope your doing ok.

Stella Arnaldo said...

Hi Ninoy, you didn't leave your email addy. Dex wants to contact you directly re: family genealogy. Tnx!

Dex said...

Thank you Ma'am Stella! Of course, it would be awesome to meet new friends especially if they're actually relatives, (no matter how distant)!

Hi Ninoy! Email me, thanks!

Jeffrey Barber said...

Paulino Villaruz & Eugenia Andrada are my great-great grandparents. My grandmother, Carmen Andrada Villaruz (b.1883) was the daughter of Fernanda Villaruz, Ramona's sister. So Rosario and Carmen were cousins

Carmen married Austin Barber in Capiz in 1905. My dad Joseph Barber was born 1916 in Manila, then in 1920 moved most of the family to California.

I would love to know any other information about the family you could share!

Stella Arnaldo said...

Whoa! Now that is very interesting, Jeffrey. Lemme send your comment to my older relatives to see how we all fit in. In the meantime, maybe you can check out the Acuña family tree that we have up on www.geni.com, and see where you can add your own family.

Great to hear from you all the way from California! ;p

Justin said...

i was surprised to see this blog. i was just searching through the net for the citizenship of my great grandmother soledad and i came across this blog.anyway, sadly i wasn't able to come to prems last year. i wanted to but just was busy with work. hope to see everybody again next prems.

Anonymous said...

Hi,I came across your blogsite and thought of knowing the genealogy of the family better. I am Kristine Distor and from the lineage of Alejandro. My grandmother's maiden name, who is my mother's mom is Clarita Acuna Bernaldes. When I was just a kid, I was able to attend the prems, think it was '96 or '97? There was a reunion held January of last year, unfortunately I wasnt able to attend. I followed you on twitter.

Anonymous said...

Hi,I came across your blogsite and thought of knowing the genealogy of the family better. I am Kristine Distor and from the lineage of Alejandro. My grandmother's maiden name, who is my mother's mom is Clarita Acuna Bernaldes. When I was just a kid, I was able to attend the prems, think it was '96 or '97? There was a reunion held January of last year, unfortunately I wasnt able to attend. I followed you on twitter.

Stella Arnaldo said...

Hi Jeffrey and Jack! According to my uncle Sonny Picazo, you are my uncles on the Villaruz side. ;p Sorry I don't have much info on the relatives you ask about.

Hi Kristin! There is an Acuña family tree on geni.com Pls feel free to add your family!

Regards all!

Stella ;p

Stella Arnaldo said...

Yes, Justin, hope you can come to the next grand Prems reunion. Keep in touch!

Stella ;p

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Juan Rohrbach and I write from Spain.
My parental grandmother was Cecilia Rojí Acuña, born in Iloílo (Panay) in 1903.
Her mother was the ilonga Cecilia Acuña Aldeguer, daughter of Esteban Acuña, born in Manila, and of Isabel Aldeguer, born in Iloílo. Esteban Acuña was pilot of the merchant navy.
One ot he sisters of my grandmother, Irene Rojí Acuña was born in Cápiz (now Roxas City).
Their father Julián Rojí was a captain of the Spanish army and in 1903, after the birth of my grandmother, the family left the Philippines and came to Spain.
A cousin of my grandmother, the ilonga Consuelo Acuña Zaldarriaga, known as "Monina" was elected Miss Philippines in 1930.

Terry Acuna said...

Hi I am Eleuterio Gumban Acuna Jr., 3rd son of Eleuterio Villasin Acuna who the son of Fortunato Villaruz Acuna one of the 12 children of Eleuterio Acuna & Ramona Villaruz. I am presently living here in Toronto with my wife Imelda Maun Acuna and 5 children.