Bob Dela-Cruz, in his chapter “The Filipino American Society of Magnolia” in “Magnolia: Making More Memories,” tells of an ironic and wonderful love story full of unexpected twists and turns between his father, Lescum Dela-Cruz, a member of the very poorest class in the Philippines, and his mother, Acuncion Buyson, a member of a well-monied and aristocratic Filipino family. It was a Romeo-and-Juliet situation and, had they remained in their homeland, a never-to-be love story.
He was a soldier fighting for the United States in the Philippines in World War II, widowed at a young age, with two sons.
She had studied to be a nun there and was too frail at the time to make her vows. He went on to become a U.S. citizen with a well-decorated military career and survivor of the Bataan Death March.
She was sent to America to recover from her frail health and live with a sister who worked as counsel for the Philippines.
Their paths crossed, by chance, at Fort Lawton. Through all and against all odds, the couple finally began courting while he was an officer at Fort Lawton.
“My father knew that my mother’s family would not accept him. So my father reverted to his previously successful tactics when it came to romance. After only a six-month courtship, my mother and father eloped. They were married in the Main Post Chapel at Fort Lewis, Wash. My mother’s family, especially her sister, had to finally admit defeat and accept the marriage.
“By the late 1970s, a large number of Filipino families had settled in Magnolia. They attended church services, but they existed primarily in small, isolated family groups. Father Howard Lavelle, then pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, noticed this and asked church members and Magnolia residents Mr. Lescum Dela-Cruz and his wife, Asuncion, to bring these families together. Thus was born the Filipino American Society of Magnolia (FILAM).
“The organization’s purpose was to preserve and promote Filipino culture and traditions; foster camaraderie and close relations among its members and the local community; and encourage involvement in charitable, social, cultural, religious and educational activities.
“Lescum became the Filipino American Society’s first president. When he became too ill to continue, Asuncion was elected to take over his role. The members called Lescum ‘Captain,’ his former military rank, because he provided direction and discipline for the group. Asuncion received the nickname ‘Mommy,’ in honor of her motherly ways toward everyone in the organization.
“One of the main objectives of the FILAM was fund-raising to support various Our Lady of Fatima School and parish activities. Chief among these activities was the yearly celebration of Flores de Mayo (“Flowers of May”) in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an event held at Fatima on the first Sunday in May.”
Today, according to Bob Dela Cruz, the FILAM still remains vital in Magnolia; the group maintains a mailing list of more than 100 Filipino families in the neighborhood.
“Lescum and Asuncion have passed away, and their oldest son, Rogelio, has become the unofficial president — unofficial because, after all these years, the organization doesn’t really need any one person to lead them. Every decision is made as a group.
“For more than three decades, the FILAM has continued the tradition of celebrating Flores de Mayo at Our Lady of Fatima with a procession of the statue of Mary into the church. All of the participants carry flowers and sing hymns. Once inside the church, Mary is crowned with a wreath of flowers. The Filipino choir sings traditional Filipino hymns at the Mass, and after the service, Filipino food and entertainment are provided for the parishioners. This annual celebration is eagerly anticipated by the members of Our Lady of Fatima parish and also draws Filipino people from outside of Magnolia.”
This year marks the 35th Flores de Mayo celebration. The event will take place on May 5. The procession begins at 10:15 a.m. outdoors and leads into the 10:30 a.m. Mass.
“We always worry about rain,” Dela-Cruz said. As far back as he can recall, it has never rained for Flores de Mayo. “Our first belief is that Our Lady Mary is watching over us. Now that my parents are deceased, we say, ‘Mom, Dad, make sure it doesn’t rain!’”
The celebration and meal are offered free to the public, but donations are gratefully accepted.
For more information, visit www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org.
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