“Dad, Are We Rich?
By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor
Asian Journal San Diego
The Original and First Asian Journal in America
Based on a true story
“Dad, are we rich?
Romys four-year-old son Justin asked him this as Romy pulled out of his $3 million mansion. They were inside his $150,000 late model Mercedes Benz sports car in a gated affluent community in San Diego, California. Romy was a director of one of the biggest hospitals in the county, making well over $500,000 a year.
“Why do you ask that? Romy asked his son.
“Because my friend Jason said we have nice cars and a big house and therefore we are rich.
Romy smiled. He remembered growing up in one of the poorest slum areas in Tondo, Manila, the Philippines with his three brothers and sister. They were so poor that their family could only afford to eat twice a day, once in the morning and once at four in the afternoon. He thought this was a common practice until he learned his friends and their families ate at least three times a day. When he confronted his father about it, he simply answered, “Thats too much. One should only eat twice a day.
His father passed away when Romy was ten years old. His mother and her children were forced to fend for themselves. Romy was the youngest, his brother Angelo was 12, his sister Myra was 14, Martin was 16, and Danny was 18. They ran a small funeral parlor business that catered to the community, composed mostly of the poor. When someone in the area died, people could not afford the cost of burial services, so a wake was held for days until funds were raised. One way of raising money, aside from donations from relatives and neighbors, was to hold card games, with a fixed amount given to the bereaved family in every game. Gambling may have been illegal, but the authorities allowed it during wakes in response to the financial predicaments of the poor.
The funeral parlor sold cheap caskets made by its own workers. They also rented out lights, other funeral equipment, and a funeral car. In addition, the parlor offered embalming services for the deceased, with Romys elder teenage brothers performing the tasks.
“How can they do that? a friend once asked Romy, knowing the job required special skills, if not a license.
“The bodies are already dead, he answered matter-of-factly. “All one has to do is open the stomach, remove the entrails, and put in cottons and embalming fluid. The stomach is not even sewed back since it is covered with the deceased clothes during the viewing.
Despite their poverty, Romy only remembered the happy times growing up in the slum community. Their neighborhood basketball team was the perennial champion in the summer tournaments held in the area.
One time, a new referee in the tournament noticed that the team had only three members wearing rubber shoes. The two others, Romy and his brother Angelo, were barefoot.
“Teka muna, bakit nakaapak kayo? Hindi puwede iyan (Wait, how come you are barefooted? Thats not allowed), the referee told them before the game began.
Two of the three players with shoes lent Romy and his brother their left shoes while keeping the right ones for themselves. When the referee realized that the other players were too poor to afford rubber shoes, he just shrugged off the rule: “Sige na nga (Okay Ill allow it).
Even though four members played with only one shoe, the team retained the championship for that year and multiple years subsequently.
When their father died, the eldest child, Danny, was in his second year in college for accounting. The second oldest, Martin, had just graduated from high school and was about to enter college, but the family could not afford to send two siblings to college concurrently. The others were still in high school and grade school and did not require funds for their education as they went to public institutions. Martin had to join the U.S. Navy, telling the recruiters he was already eighteen years old despite being two years younger. Martin sent money so that Danny could stay in college. When Danny graduated and became an accountant, he financed the education of the next sibling in line, Myra. When Myra was done, she sent Angelo to college. The family was financially better off when it was Romys turn to attend college. He took up medicine, and everybody in the family chipped in so that he could realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
Romy went to the United States and became a successful surgeon. His other siblings had their own families and were also successful in their careers. The boys migrated to different parts of the world. Only Myra, who married a successful businessman, stayed home. Their mother visited her children throughout the year as they held annual family reunions during the death anniversary of their father.
“DAD, ARE WE RICH? Justin asked again, interrupting Romys thoughts. He could not answer his son for he was afraid the boy might get a wrong idea. Still, the boy persisted and Romy eventually said they were.
“Were you rich when you were growing up? Justin asked again.
Romy was about to say “No when he remembered how his family members helped each other during their times of need.
“Yes, he told Justin. “We were rich when I was growing up.
“Did you have a nice car? the boy asked again.
“No, he replied.
“Did you have a big house?
“No, he answered.
“Did you have a lot of money?
“Then how come you said you were rich?
“Because we had each other.
He knew that Justin would not understand what he meant, but he would make sure that when his son was old enough, the boy would know what being rich, to Romy, was all about. – AJ