Growing up of mixed-race parentage, I never grasped what it meant to be Filipino. It took a few visits to Bahay Nakpil-Bautista — The Bahay, as we fondly refer to it — before I realized the value of the patriotic and artistic legacy of my forebears. The epiphany was simply awe-inspiring and this is the story of how it all changed for me.

A visit in 2017 with friends, one of whom, Gabie Prieto, who could also trace her roots to the Legarda ancestral home just around the corner from Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, on R. Hidalgo St. and being guided on the significance of each part of the Bahay really made me appreciate our ancestors’ artistic and historical legacy much more.

Photography by: John Oranga

This year, I had a chance to go back to the house with a couple of friends and family.  It was the first time for all my friends to visit and it was really gratifying to see them very engaged with a personal tour by President and Curator, Ma. Paz Santos-Viola gave and the stories told by my father and his second cousin, Dr. Fernando N. Zialcita.

For the preservation of galleon stones used as the floor of the garage, the machuca tiles at the foot of the stairs, the Viennese Secession architecture, and memorials to the residents’ involvement in the revolution against Spain, the efforts of Julio Nakpil’s direct descendants, along with the support of the National Historical Commission, and generous private sponsors, to preserve the historical sites at the heart of Quiapo, Manila deserve praise and gratitude.

A Journey of Awareness

With English as a first language, a former colonial subject’s preference for all things foreign, and a mistaken perception of a backward nation in vicious downward spiral to failed-state status. I shamefully admit that I was apathetic — until I learned that my ancestors; namely, Gregoria de Jesus (nom de guerre: Lakambini) and Julio Nakpil (nom de guerre: J. Giliw), were storied members of the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galang, Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, more commonly known as the Katipunan — the Filipino revolutionary movement to declare full-independence from Spainish dominion.

This insight brought a spark of nationalism and over time, reinforced by experiences during a semester spent studying overseas, I realized that progressive countries all have a strong sense of national identity. Behind all the beautiful art and historical landmarks is a country that prioritizes the preservation of their own culture.

Fortuitously, I also managed to enroll in a class in Philippine History taught by Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, an educator himself inspired by the late writer-historian Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, at university which brought me further enlightenment and a deeper sense of patriotism; not to mention, my only grade of ‘A’ that I ever received. Influence had come full circle.

My journey into Philippine history did not end at the university. Conversations with my father would invariably feature his recollections of the recent history that he lived through that were surprisingly illuminating. The more invested I was in these stories; the more I wanted to make an impact into Philippine society by making history relevant again.

The Independence Day Concert at the Ayala Museum on the 16th of June, 2017, timed to celebrate Julio Nakpil’s 150th Birth Anniversary could not have come at a better time. I took the initiative to learn more about our family by volunteering to help my aunt Ma. Paz Santos-Viola with the planning of the concert.

More work is required to preserve The Bahay and its historic environs. Looking out from the rear balcony at the estero (creek), one cannot escape the deep sense of loss. For, what was once a natural swimming pool and sustainable navigable waterway between Manila’s districts just 3 generations back has turned into a communal cesspool, dank and fetid.

Realizing my dream of seeing a green and sustainable Philippines — today’s revolutionary idea — traces its way back to the values imbued by The Bahay and the spirit of its former occupants. Nation-building cannot just be a matter of campaign speeches; it is a matter of roots.