‘New York through my granddaughter’s eyes’
By Ludy A. Ongkeko, Ph.D
Alina is L.A.-born, the oldest child of my oldest child, hence, my eldest grandchild; that’s how I became a ‘lola.’ And that’s what she started to call me the very first time she could utter a few words.
A UC-Berkeley alum, where she espoused two majors –legal studies and social work — my first ‘apo’ welcomed work just like most college grads. Alina related how it was comforting to have a paycheck, something she could call her own. She was glad to discharge her professional responsibilities however lengthy her work commute was in the L.A. area.
On one occasion, after work (she used to visit her elders regularly), she told me she was in a state of discomfiture. Alina recognized the cause of that state. Graduate school beckoned. Next came the LSATs. Applications to law schools ensued. She told herself, the East Coast and the aura of New York City were fascinating.
Alina was looking for a law school that zeroed in on public interest. Hence, her choice: she sought and was admitted to the School of Law at the City University of New York (CUNY), “the only American Bar Association- accredited law school with the organizational mission to direct public interest and public service lawyers.”
Next stop for Alina: The Big Apple. As we listened to the rationale of my eldest ‘apo’ about her choice of NYC, I sobbed. It seemed she was off to another world.
Even as the family saw her the evening before her flight, tears continued to trickle. Then and there, I felt I could vie with the Niagara Falls as I started to think of the distance between two coasts, the difference in time zones and the thought that I would not see her like we were all wont to doing spontaneously. It was extremely difficult to keep my emotions under wraps. One facet offered consolation: I knew family could always visit when her law school load would allow it.
Attending law school full-time has its own unique way of exposing academe’s requirements. Aiming for that jurisprudence degree would take at least three years. Alina assured us she would be home for the long holiday breaks.
Although members of our family had visited New York a number of times, we did not know much about the Big Apple. We saw the ‘musts’ that most visitors called “tourist traps,” taking cabs, relying on their drivers who assured us they could also be “guides.”
Alina’s graduation was scheduled in the summer of 2008. In her sophomore year, before the start of the first semester, Papo (that’s how she calls her grandfather) and I decided to visit our grandchild. As she met us at the airport, Alina informed us that only a few days prior to our arrival, she had lost her old reliable Civic to carnappers. She apologized with “deep regrets” that her grandparents would have to take public transportation, but the wait for the subway wouldn’t take long.
Little did she know that as we made the big city’s rounds, what we found most enjoyable of all were subway rides. Actually, we enjoyed seeing America’s most populated city through the eyes of our granddaughter who, as she took us to places hitherto unknown to us, she did so with the elan and poise of a New Yorker, even only after a two-year stay in that unforgettable metropolis. Each day had a schedule; Alina was an inspirational lodestar.
A journalist chum invited us to a Filipino restaurant. I asked for directions from our host, but Alina told us not to worry. She assured us she knew where it was – “walking distance” from our hotel at the Holiday Inn.
After a week’s stay, it was time to bid our granddaughter so long. Because we had seen how Alina knew NYC, and how she seemed to feel so at home, we went home to the West Coast feeling greatly relieved that we could be at ease. How she managed on her own as a full-time law student left us with a boundless margin of comfort.
Two weeks after our return home, Alina gave us the good news that the NYPD had located her car and gave her instructions on its retrieval. Once more, the ‘lola’ expressed her thankfulness. It was time to light another candle as most ‘lolas’ from the home front do, whether it means asking a favor or saying thanksgiving. Nothing in the world can take the place of grandparenthood, particularly in the manner ‘lolas’ play a role in bringing up their ‘apos.’
When 2008 came and Alina received her Juris Doctorate on schedule, once again, there couldn’t have been a prouder grandparent in the audience. Her first grandchild was on her way to join the ranks of lawyers who, as soon as they could, be admitted to their respective State Bar. In Alina’s case, it was the California State Bar. Thankfully, Alina did. She keeps her ‘lola’ posted about work: How going to court every single work day is what the principal commitment of her calendar looks like.
Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D., is a product of two educational systems: the University of the Philippines (public) where she earned her bachelor degrees (science and arts) as a college scholar and the University of Southern California’s Graduate School (private). Her professional career in journalism started at the Manila Bulletin in her native Philippines. “Forty Years of Writing in America” published in 2009 is a compendium of her life in the U.S. as a writer, teacher and mentor.