Papa Alba & Traveling To The Philippines For The First Time Changed My Life… (My “Noong Araw” Story for FPAC25)

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As apart of the FPAC Builders planning team this year, we were asked to share a “Noong Araw” story for FPAC25 Filipino Arts & Culture Festival taking place at Echo Park this Saturday October 8. Some of these stories will be shared in the PAN Pavilion, hope to see you all there to experience the best in Filipino music, food, arts & culture! Apl.de.ap, DJ STAHYL (My Digital Kidz / JABBAWOCKEEZ) and many more will be performing and co-branded FPAC/ALBA Legacy shirts will be on sale, all proceeds going to Fil Am Arts.

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When you are kids you think your grandparents are going to live forever, while you’re running around with your cousins, they are there at every family gathering as the center of it all, sometimes the reason why everyone came together. They are the first and last person you want to greet out of sign of respect but also because they always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world, even when there were dozens of you. It was no different with our Papa, Miguel Alba, he had 7 kids, dozens of grandkids, great grandkids and ‘Jacks,’ (because he couldn’t remember everyone’s name he called our boyfriends Jack #1, Jack #2. etc. =) He was the sweetest, funniest, and strongest man I knew, especially growing up without really seeing my paternal father, he was my father.

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Every week, twice a week, he walked over 2 miles round trip to buy lotto tickets right before the LA Lakers game and tell us what he was going to buy for us once he won. Stressed at work? Didn’t have money for a new car? Don’t worry! Papa was going to win the lotto soon to make it all better and once he won the lotto he was going to take us back to the Philippines where he loved more than any place in the world. Every Sunday as he got older I used to take him to church than to eat Filipino food, at the restaurant, he was always the center of attention telling the waitresses what he was going to do for them with his upcoming lotto winnings and he would listen to what I thought were school, love & work problems at that young age and laugh. “Bullshit!” He would say and remind me again not to worry because he was going to win the lotto and bring me to the Philippines to meet my cousins I had never met that he would tell us stories about. It amazed me that he was able to travel back and forth alone thousands of miles across to the US and the Philippines, while I was always terrified to fly in a plane longer than 7 hours.

Traveling to the Philippines is very expensive in regards to flights, accommodations, etc. plus the amount of time it takes to get there and back would require a significant amount of time off of work, they were the many reasons I didn’t get to go when I was a younger workaholic, although I always wanted to. Looking back I wish I had gone back sooner but as the story progresses you’ll see it was all in “God’s timing.”
Sadly Papa died on my birthday March 12, 2003 at 93 years young. I remember being at the hospital wishing that I should have spent more time with him whether it was walking to buy lotto with him or walk next to him rather than run when he was walking me home from school. As I said earlier, you don’t realize that the strongest man you know won’t be there forever. You always feel like there will be another day with them. Sundays were hard because I didn’t have him to tell my problems to and suddenly they seemed heavier than they were before, not being able to feel his love no matter what I chose to do in life which was confusing during those early college years. I would have done anything to have one final lunch with him just to tell him how much I loved everything about him and how I was going to say “Bullshit!” to all the doubt I had in myself and doubts I heard about pursuing a career in the non predicting music industry.
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A year later, in 2004, after hosting a few ‘Lumpia’ movie screenings with director Patricio Ginelsa, Pat sent me a treatment to the new song by Apl of the Black Eyed Peas called ‘The APL Song.‘ that he wrote. The treatment centered around a Filipino American veteran that gradually grew older in the United States with age and experienced his later life in an elderly home getting occasional visits by his grandkids, reflecting on his life in both countries. Immediately I was drawn to the story thinking of Papa and visually saw the vision that Patricio had and it brought me to tears, to be honest I was familiar with the song but because I didn’t speak Tagalog I didn’t completely understand the meaning behind Apl’s words that were written at a very difficult time for him. The treatment was something I think everyone needed to see with that song, it was something our community needed. I immediately sent the treatment to Polo Molina on Apl’s team and we wound up producing an amazing video with an all star cast of Fil Ams in entertainment like Dante Basco (playing the young war veteran), Joy Bisco, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, DJ Rhettmatic etc. all making cameos. I am also in a scene playing cards with an actor playing my grandfather at the elderly home and I remember being on set remembering all the times I picked up Papa from the elderly home and how eager he was standing outside in his church clothes waiting for me at the door, upset at me if I was ever more than 5 minutes late and it always brought me to tears pulling away from the house as he stood in the driveway waving for several minutes and then on the street until he could no longer see my car.
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While on set I helped gather the clothing for Ap to wear in every scene and one that struck me the most was the scene where the video projections on the wall of the Philippines while the grandfather looked on. I couldn’t help but feel emotion towards not only the song but visualizing all the stories my Papa or Mom had of their homeland. They have a few photos but nothing like those projections shown in the video that were Ap’s old photos. We promoted the video with all of our hearts into it, we traveled to New York and stood outside of MTV’s TRL trying to get it on the countdown and we had a launch party for the video that coincidentally was one of the very first MySpace.com parties hosted by the Black Eyed Peas. Again, I wished my Papa was there to see the music video, wondering how it would make him feel.
Fast forward to last May 2016, Apl, Audie and team organize an influencer trip to the Philippines with artists and celebrities like Jo Koy, Liane V., Cassie, Will.I.Am & executives from companies like Netflix and Google with the Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines. At 36, I still hadn’t traveled to the Philippines and I was very reluctant at first to go again, I was afraid of my anxiety on the long flight and also taking so much time off of work at our mydiveo startup, but I saw an anxiety counselor to help walk me thru the process to get over my anxiety and the courage to get on the plane. (Plus any plane flight is easy when you have Jo Koy on it to make you laugh the entire time. 🙂 As soon as we landed, all that changed as soon as we left the airport and rode thru the streets of Manila, seeing the Jeepneys, the food salesmen on the street, everything my mom, Papa and sisters spoke of was literally in front of me. Being surrounded by the love and respect that Filipinos have was also overwhelming, I felt at home even though I was thousands of miles away. I finally got to meet my cousins that Papa spoke about and it amazed me that we were thousands of miles apart but yet had similar mannerisms, humor and facial qualities.
We traveled to Boracay, Cebu and Bohol by bus, flight and boat and I found myself wrapping up food in napkins (Baon) to take and share with the group in the same way my Papa did. At times I sat alone, next to the window in tears, full of emotion, admiring the beauty but also feeling sad about certain areas of poverty and wanting to help. People joked on the trip that I was always in tears. But most importantly, what I loved finally truly understanding of why Papa loved being there so much, this was HOME to him. To add to the amazing experience, we were guided by ambassador and Philippines ‘president’ Apl, this was his home that he loved and shared with the world through his music. We were living music videos like “The Apl Song” or “Its More Fun In the Philippines” in person. When we walked through the streets people would yell Apl’s name and cheer or dancers would perform at the airport/hotel and he greeted them all with love and appreciation with a humble yet charismatic personality that reminded me of Papa.
In writing this ‘Noong Araw’ story I hope it makes you not only yearn to spend more time with your loved ones, especially the elderly, but to talk to them about where they are from and take the time to visit the country where you are rooted, wherever that may be to learn more about your history and culture. It took me 36 years to get there, but similar to The Alchemist story, the treasure I was looking for in life was right at home. As soon as I got home I looked for ways to get more involved in the community and coincidently met Tina Bulchand, the executive director of Fil Am Arts and she invited me to the FPAC planning meeting and here we are today. Reflecting on the long circular and coincidental story now, all the times I wished Papa was there, he WAS there all along helping make it happen, he might not have won the lotto while here on Earth but everyday he is helping us win in our everyday lives, such as the day our company, mydiveo was acquired.  Thank you Papa for the strength and luck you give me each day since you taught me how to pray, I can’t wait to see you again and sing your favorite song “Here I Am, Lord.” =)
P.S.
Interested in going to the Philippines for Spring Break with Apl March 12-19? Visit facebook.com/famcore. 🙂
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