I learned today that my grandfather, Eustaquio Ganda Galimba, may not have been born with that name, exactly. That name may have been borrowed from a cousin who was a year older, and who had signed on to immigrate to Hawaii, but when the time came to board the ship was too ill to travel, so my grandfather, then only thirteen and therefore too young to contract as a plantation worker in his own name, took his place and his name. Did his real name stay behind in the Phillipines I wonder? What was that name?
I know who my grandfather was. It doesn't matter so much whether he was born with the name or not, or what the story was. I knew who he was. I knew his flaring anger, and his great kindness, his restlessness, and his relentlessness. He had a violent temper, was arrested and jailed for abuse of my grandmother more than once, and was admired by the young men of the district for his spirited pursuit of the opposite sex well into his eighties. He was a chicken fighter and a marijuana grower. He gambled and he drank whiskey. He also raised five children, building his family up from the poverty of his childhood to the affluence of the American middle-class. He gave his children every opportunity. He was a scrambler and a person that enjoyed life. He constructed magnificent gardens in which my daughter, his great-granddaughter would wander, picking and eating delightedly. This was when he was in his nineties.
I don't know what his mother's name is. My grandfather died some years ago and now nobody remembers what her name is. I reproached my father, he said that they hardly spoke of her. It makes me think of a beautiful, powerful book of poems that I once had by a Filipino-American living on the California coast. The book was called "Without Names," I believe.
And that, as I like to say, is so Filipino. So Filipino, like eating every part of the animal, like living together as a multi-generational family, like having big dramatic domestic disagreements, like participating in illegal but fairly harmless activities, like living culture with a small c, like having a very fluid sense of identity.
It is entirely consistent with the Filipino esthetic, if there is such a thing, to take on the name of one's cousin for life, to resist or ignore the attempt to fix thing and people with names, to control, define, and perpetuate. After all, a name is the most gossamer of veils – a pattern of sound or dark marks, a point of light that might mean something, or something else. The ancient Chinese understood the double-edged power of names – the Confucian tradition was obsessed with fixing names, the Taoists with subverting them.