“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” –Maya Angelou
On our way to a four-hour trip to Mashantucket, Connecticut on July 28, I met Jerome.
A Chinese mestizo-looking, Jerome Yap Ramos was my seatmate in a crowded bus. He sat near the window; I was in the aisle.
It was not until he decided to strike a light conversation with me when the bus arrived in Norwalk, the sixth populous city in the United States, that I learned he was a Filipino who arrived in the US in April 1973 and never to return again.
A flurry of smorgasbord discussions ensued.
“Are you a Filipino?” volunteered Jerome, his gassy eyes reminiscent of Genghis Khan, the Great Khan of Temujin and founder of the Mongol Empire.
“Yes, I am,” I quickly retorted.
“And you come from a place where the dialect isn’t Tagalog?” he mused.
“You got it right,” I shot back. “I’m from Iloilo City in the Visayas.
“I came from Hinoba-an and we spoke Ilonggo there,” Jerome continued. “I mean I used to speak Ilonggo but I can no longer speak it now although I can understand when I hear the dailect.”
“Hinoba-an is in Negros Occidental and people there also speak Hiligaynon just like us in Iloilo City,” I answered.
“We don’t speak Hiligaynon, only Ilonggo,” Jerome sighed.
I wanted to tell Jerome that Ilonggo is a person or someone who lives in Iloilo and parts of Negros, while Hiligaynon is the Ilonggo’s dialect.
Hinoba-an, with a population of 54,624, is a first class municipality in the province of Negros Occidental, Philippines. It is the southernmost town of the province.
Jerome left the Philippines together with his brother chaperoned by his uncle and aunt. His parents, already in the US, had difficulty bringing them to the US. The Philippines was under Martial Law.
He did not believe that the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos gave the Philippines a bad reputation. “In fact,” he enthused, “he made the Philippines proud.”
Jerome asked why the 1978 world chess championship match between champion Anatoly Karpov and Russian defector Victor Korchnoi was held in Baguio City and why Magnus Carlsen, the current FIDE world chess king, is being compared to the late American genius Bobby Fischer.
Jerome, 54, wanted to reconnect with old friends and former classmates in the Philippines. He doesn’t have any social media page but is planning to create a Facebook account so he could “upload” the poem he made for Vicky, a “special” woman he met in a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, New York.
The poem, entitled “Vicky”, reminded me of Peter Abelard’s love letters to his student, Heloise, thousands of years ago.
Jerome’s four-paged poem dedicated to Vicky lives in a time of broad antiromanticism when teenagers, according to The Times Magazine, have given up on relationships altogether and adults write to the editor to salute their wisdom. “Romance?” scoffed one correspondent. It’s just “an excuse . . . to work off sexual energy.”
“I wanted Vicky to read the poem I made for her. I wanted the poem to be published in a newspaper. If I have a Facebook account, is it possible for Vicky to read it? I have no contact with Vicky now. She was no longer connected in the restaurant where she used to work,” explained Jerome.
Our conversation was interupted when an ovebearing male black passenger sitting in front scolded us an hour before the bus arrived in Mashantucket: “Hey, you have been talking a lot since we left (New York). Can you stop now…(inaudible)?”
Jerome approached my left ear and averred in a lowered voice, “Never mind him. We were not loud.”
We stopped talking. After a few minutes, Jerome’s body reclined forward. He fell asleep.
In my brief conversation with Jerome. I found him very interesting, compassionate, generous, and oozing emotional intelligence.
Vicky could become this generation’s Heloise after reading Jerome’s poem./WDJ