Parallel Generations: Familia Pison and the Malls of SM

May 2, 2011 by

This article first appeared in the Philippine Star (05 October 2008) for SM Malls 50th Year Celebration with its SM Generations Campaign. The article was later published in the special edition of People Asia Magazine in 2009. SM chose the Pison Family for its My City, My SM program along with the Sarabia Family of Iloilo City.

“We had to start going back to the university at 2:00 P.M. whenever we would go to SM Carriedo. But it was always worth the trip. SM Carriedo always had quality shoes and bags.”

This was my aunt’s SM story. It was in the days when there might be the danger of Huks lurking behind tall Cogon grasses growing in the vicinity of the UP Diliman. It was in the 1950’s. This was the earliest SM story I know of my family. I wasn’t born then. My parents, Angel and Rosalinda haven’t even met. But SM was already there in my family’s long and ancient history.

We belong to a family of traditions. The Pison family has long existed when the Chinese junk used to ply the Iloilo River. The Iloilo River is behind our ancestral home. In my vivid mind, I can imagine the junk docking there with its wind-beaten sails the horizon’s monotony. We have had breakfasts by the window overlooking the river and my grandmother once told me it was the same river that brought my great grandfather – Donato Pison, Sr. to my great grandmother – Paciencia Tijam in Bicol, Albay. He brought her back and they built one of the first muscovado centrals or sugar mills for brown sugar here in Iloilo. Now what is left of the central is the chimney that still stands in the farm in Mandurriao. And they built our ancestral house that still stands today complete with its apitong floorboards bought from ruined bridges and ships at the wharf in Lapaz. It is the same house drawn by luck and fate by my uncle, Teodoro Pison for my grandfather, Pedro Pison. My grandmother, Socorro Fuentes Pison used to frequent SM City. Tito Dodot used to bring her there on weekends in her wheelchair. They would go around the mall and eventually would have lunch there. It was an almost constant weekend bonding for Lola Coroy and her youngest son, Tito Dodot. SM was the only word in her vocabulary for malls; and “panciteria” was what she would always say to me whenever she wanted to eat in a Chinese restaurant. Anything Lola Coroy would buy – from clothes to household and kitchen stuff, it came from SM only. Cooking was Lola Coroy’s ode to life. It was from her kitchen that we ate the best Pancit Molo. It was from her kitchen that was part of the reason why the family often bonded in the ancestral home.

We keep traditions as we keep secrets like “bas-oy” – a certain kind of soup that we only eat in the family. “Bas-oy” was the Sunday tradition of Lola Pacing, my great grandmother. The soup would be served at breakfast time and it would be paired off with dried fish called “guma-a”. Up to this day, the tradition continues with the family of Damian Pison in Bacolod City. Damian was the eldest of the Pison clan. He was followed by Concepcion who married Amado Tirol, then came Antonio, Glicerio, Rosario who married Antonio Lanzar from Davao, Donato, Jr., Pedro (my grandfather) and Severo.

We keep traditions like our May 1st reunions that have been going on for years – as way back when Lola Pacing was still alive. Now we call it “Mayo Uno”. Lola Pacing, in her time, would gather all the family members with the farmhands on May 1st. I grew up thinking it was her birthday on May 1st. I realized she was really celebrating Labor’s Day. The day would start with mass. Breakfast and games would follow. After half a day of family and farmhands spending time and having fun together, the family would have lunch and dinner in the house. A picture of one of the reunions in the house dated 1936 hangs to this day. To this day, we still practice this yearly gathering even as we have reached the 6th generation of the Pison family. There used to be games in the house, too, after lunch as clusters of cousins, aunts and uncles would gather and play. All that has changed now. After lunch, part of the troop would go to SM and spend the rest of the afternoons in coffee shops or shopping. SM has been in Iloilo City long before Bacolod City had the you-got-it-all mall. And so Pisons like Tita Julie Sado and Tita Delia “Bibing” Bermejo and Manang Rose Lizares would shop for what couldn’t be found in Bacolod City. Part of an afternoon’s delight was carrying shopping bags with the SM label on it.

During the unveiling and blessing of the Pison Rotunda on May 1st of 2010

But we’re all hands down with Tita May Daquilanea Pison, wife of Tito Victor Pison and mother of Resy. We call her the “board member” of Henry Sy. Happily, she’s a Prestige Card holder. I wouldn’t dare figure this out. If we live SM, Tita May must be bigger than SM life. When she’s not at work and not at home, there’s only one place where she will be. You can blindfold her and she can still locate every nook and cranny of SM City. Tita May is our SM icon with no rivals to boot. And sans the connectivity of cellphones, Tito Vic can always find her there. I almost fell for Tito Vic’s joke once when he told me that Tita May was having a “board meeting” with Henry Sy. To sit with Henry Sy, I thought that was colossal.

Our generations have grown as SM malls have grown. From the singular shop in Carriedo where Tita Pat – Paciencia Labad (who married Blas Labad) used to shop, we have branched out, too, to other places other than Molo, Iloilo City. Tita Tessie – Teresita Pison, married to Tito Tony – Antonio Escolar who have been living in Canada since I was playing with marbles in the backyard, wish there is an SM in Canada. Tita Tessie especially marvels at the convenience of shopping in SM. For her when she is home here in the Philippines, SM is the only mall she associates with our country. We have branched out, but we go back to our ancestral home every May 1st since the 1st generation Pison in the late 19th century when the bahay na bato was only made of nipa. We live SM in our lives.

Tita Delia Pison Gelvezon (from Australia) and my mum Rosalinda Pison Piamonte (from Los Angeles) would always go to SM whenever they’re home. Their sister Tita Cynthia Pison de Leon (from New Jersey) also does the rounds of SM City whenever she’s home for a vacation. Tito Sonny – Donato Pison III, their brother (also from L.A.) buys his pasalubongs from SM City. He loves his wife much because the last time he was here he was asking me for directions where to get certain beauty products from SM City to bring home to the U.S. Hmmm… talk about a man buying beauty products for his wife. That’s romance in the 21st century. And when they’re all about to go back to the US there would be the practically requisite feasting on “ukoy” and “panara” cooked by Tita Lanette Capilayan in the house of Tita Baking – Norma Pison.

Roberto "Bobby" Pison and Victor Pison using the ancient water pump in the salt bed farm of the Pisons in San Rafael Mandurriao

When SM first opened in Iloilo City, in Delgado, mum used to bring us there to buy clothes especially as Christmas day nears. I grew up shopping in SM Delgado and eventually started directing events in SM City, Mandurriao. There I mounted an excerpt of the epics of Panay for SM City’s 1st year anniversary. And then I went on to directing the mall’s annual father’s day event called “Dads on the Ramp”. It is an electric ball of an event. If you think doing the catwalk looks simple and often plain boring, let the dads do it. These men are walking nerves. And I’m used to directing productions like musicals, but this one always gives me a good punch in the gut. Tito Dicky once had a good punch in the gut, too. He didn’t do the catwalk. In the typically crowded weekend mall Quentin, his grandson, was suddenly nowhere in sight. At least Quentin didn’t end up in the counter wailing and bawling his eyes out. He was his usual quiet self. I don’t think he knew he was lost even if it’s quite a common episode for kids to get lost – “paging the mother of a lost boy wearing….” That almost automated sound is part and parcel of SM malls.

Between May 1st and the next May 1st, we don’t usually see each other as a family. We have different lives to live. And for most of the time in a year, the house rests quiet. But on lazy weekends or holidays and even on frenetic days of mall sales or on any other uneventful day, we would often bump into each other in SM City. Tito Bobby – Roberto Pison – would be there in his perennial shorts and t-shirts. Colors and brands can change, but it’s always shorts and t-shirts for him. He flinched at the thought of having to wear a barong for the SM pictorial. That’s how we are – laid back, very casual, no-frills family. We can get loud and chaotic when we get together on May 1st. We overly delight ourselves at the sight of the lechon on the table. What matters most is that we are together. And then after the lechon at lunch, all it would take was for one to declare that it was time to go to SM with Resy Pison and girl cousins leading the pack. SM has become part of our tradition.

Six generations of Pison and SM. We can live and breathe there because the mall has more than enough for us six generations of a family.

Of all these generations, what fondly stays in my mind until now is Tito Dodot pushing Lola Coroy in her wheelchair going around the mall. Once, my mother in the US figured in an accident. She wanted to go to a mall, but she had to be in a wheelchair of course. She asked me if I wouldn’t be embarrassed if I pushed her in wheelchair. I told her – why would I get embarrassed, you’re my mum. I’ll bring you where you want to go – wheelchair and all. I suppose Tito Dodot must be thinking of the same. He and my beyond-90 Lola Coroy around SM City in her wheelchair is not an obligation. It comes with tradition. And I call it love.

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  1. Julie Ann D. Lagulao

    Hi. I had a great time reading you’re article. I am actually writing something about urbanization of Iloilo for my development project in CPU. Can I use your article and some pictures as reference? thank you

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