Several things happened for me when I set foot into the serenity that is Paco Park. First, I realized how much smaller the world around me seems as an adult when compared to the memories of childhood. Paco Park is an immense oasis of green in my memory and the chapel on the grounds is an enormous ancient temple. The reality is that it is quite small, maybe a city block back in the states. The chapel is a small building. Just about the only thing that remained faithful to my memory was the ancient feel of the place. Second, I was struck by how amazing it is that my father – a white kid from Indiana – married a Filipina in the heart of Manila without any friends of his own or family present. Third, I was reminded of how sad my Mother’s life has been. I’m so familiar with the sadness that has been present in her these past ten or fifteen years that I have forgotten how hard and foreign her childhood experience is to my own.
Paco Park sits in a bustling area of Manila with intense traffic, wall to wall people and an almost incomprehensible number of little shops and street vendors. It is also the first area of the city I’ve visited since arriving where I have seen an abundance of homeless and begging people. A lady outside of the park (which is open to the public but requires a small donation to enter most times) was begging with her three very small children. She said she lives there, on the corner outside the park.
The atmosphere outside the park is loud, busy and often more than slightly depressing. This is one of the neighborhoods my mom grew up in. The insanity of the area a distant but clear memory in her mind. Paco Park was where she went, often with her baby siblings in tow, to get away from the hustle and to hide from her own mother’s fits of rage.
For my mom, Paco Park was truly an oasis within the city. A place of refuge. Her happy place. Within the walls, amongst the funeral niches of fallen Filipino heroes, she found hope and comfort.
It is no wonder that when she was facing the choice of where to get married she chose Paco Park. Thankfully, I have recorded a conversation with her on the grounds of this sacred place. I will be posting the video as soon as I can get to a place where the internet will allow a large upload.
In the meantime enjoy these photos of this magical place. The start of my parents married life – 40 years ago this year. The beginning, in many ways, of my own life.