On my paternal father’s side, there is a legend of our surname’s origin. ‘Labra’, stemming from the Spanish ‘Labrador’, a single ancestor, a thief and a rebel, successfully fled Spain.
There are no details spared: we don’t know his first name nor his city of origin. We only know his intent: he needed to get away. He shortened his name to avoid capture. My grandfather doesn’t know why our ancestor chose the Philippines, or if it were a choice at all. Perhaps the archipelago, this cluster of islands, were simply happenstance.
I am filled with vigor and pride for this lone man; how thrilling it is to be related to a rebel, to have been born from his supposed courage… until my grandfather nonchalantly describes how this same ancestor forced himself upon one of the Filipino natives and she bore him twelve sons and one daughter.
This ancestor would not have known (or perhaps he did, making it worse) the splintered identity, or lack thereof, of the indigenous Filipino people. They did not even refer to themselves as ‘Filipino’ until the Spanish occupation, as they claimed our land as theirs, dubbing us, ‘La Isla Filipinas.’
But, my grandfather tells me this story, so I know to be kind to anyone whose surname shares ours. ‘Labra’, also meaning unbreakable in its new country. He tells me this because he laments having six granddaughters from his sons. He voices his languish so blatantly in front of my sister and I.
I often wonder about the thirteenth daughter, where my distant cousins are and how they’re faring. I also wonder about the Filipina native, and how I don’t know her name. I don’t know how I may honor her.
Keana Águila Labra (she/her) is the Editor-in-Chief of Marías at Sampaguitas. She is the co-editor of Chopsticks Alley Pinoy, a regular contributor for Royal Rose Magazine, a Poetry Reader for Homology Lit, a Magazine Contributor for Ayaskala, and the anime and manga columnist behind Closed Captioning for Headcanon Magazine. Knowing the importance of representation, her work is evidence that Filipino Americans are present in the literary world. Medium & Twitter: @keanalabra
Photo by Isiah Gibson.