Sunday, August 8, 2010

Remembering Helen Toribio

I was cleaning and thinning out my library (books and vhs) when I came upon an old VHS tape from 2001. The tape contained segment of a Bay Area Backroads feature on Arkipelago Books and South of Market sites and Daly City. The other segment is the booklaunch event of my first book, Coming Full Circle, emceed by Helen Toribio. Other participants are: Dr. Rosita Galang, my USF mentor, Marie Romero, Evelie Posch, Michelle Bautista, and the other authors of the book Teresa Ejanda, Laurie Quillopo, Peter Golpeo, Ruth Constantino, Luz de Leon.

At this event, Helen was commemorating and honoring the legacy of Virgilio Enriquez, NVM Gonzales and Bullet Marasigan as influential persons in the Fil Am community's decolonization movement. How strange it felt to be watching this now; watching Helen do what she does best - bringing people together, exhorting the good in the work that we do as individuals and as a community. Tears welled up as I remembered her and even as I type this now, I feel my heart sing in gratitude for having known Helen.

Helen was always the first to sign up for the Kapihans at my home or in other folks' home in the Bay Area. These Kapihans in the 90s  were small gatherings of scholars and activists interested in the intellectual vocation.  Whenever a scholar was visiting from the Philippines, we would gather and take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with them. At these gatherings we have been fortunate to meet NVM, Ver E, Jimmy Veneracion, Johnny Francisco, Melba Maggay, Delia Aguilar, Felipe De Leon Jr., Rogee Pe-Pua, Beth Marcelino, and others. We have been enriched by these Kapihans.

Once, Helen asked me: do I still need to decolonize if I've spent most of my life as an activist? I remember telling her that her life work is an example of what a decolonized consciousness looks like. We often struggled with the language issue because she didn't speak Filipino. But she intuitively understood all the concepts we were talking about -- kapwa, loob, dangal, etc.  Helen helped me sharpen my own perspectives because of the kinds of questions she asked.

In introducing my book, she said "at last...we have a word for what we have been doing all along: decolonization."

During that time I have not developed my understanding and knowledge about the Babaylan tradition and practice. But today I can say that Helen is a Babaylan in my life.

Recently, we had Prosy and Enrique at home and we discovered our common link thru Helen. Prosy said that Helen's home in San Leandro has always been her spiritual home in the Bay Area. She said that ever since Helen passed away, she has missed visiting her. We talked about Helen's presence in our lives and how her spirit continues to inspire us to this day.

Today is a good day and I have Helen to thank for it.


  1. yes, leny, i had brought some of helen's altar items to the babaylan conference last april and set it up in my suite after grace nono's concert saturday night and where i took a short meditation on sunday morning. with all the rush and heavy schedule of a first-time conference as it was, helen's special altar would not be in a workshop that could not be scheduled after all. for those activists like helen who took a stand against the marcos dicatatorship in the 1970s and who came to know the history of our homeland before the conquering marauders of the 1500s. then the 1900s, we cherished a history and a culture that was more linked to the land of our ancestors where a oneness in spirit would guide justice and equity.

    i join you in remembering helen today ..... she is a bright ray in our hearts for a kinder more humane world for all.

  2. Helen Toribio was always open to give herself, her talents, her resources. She embodied ALOHA at all times. When she died, my spiritual home in her and Abe felt like it closed. But, it closed in my mind, not in reality.

    I came to find out there were more spiritual homes opened for me: Abe and Christine, she is not Helen, but she too is wise, open and giving. I also found the Strobels, great organic cooking, decolonization conversations, babaylan. Then, the Castillas, who taught me how love endures while the empty nest is real and how Pilipino culture stays alive, and even more alive through writing, through bicycling events and through TFC, through caring for an aging, sick parent.

  3. Lady T and Prosy - someday a proper commemoration of Helen's life is in order.
    thanks for your reflections.