People and Events That Impacted My Life…

All of us experience some events and share lives that affect us more than others do.  I have had my share of family, community, Philippine and world events that made an impact — some were causes of celebration, some were tragedies.  Somehow, each of these events and people left a mark in my heart and in my psyche — marks (sometimes, scars) that helped shape what I am and how I think today.


Yan Clan Logo

Cover of the Yan Clan History, a book published a couple of years ago.

My father was my type of hero.  Strong, silent, unheralded.  He was not a world figure.  He was not known nor admired by anyone but his family.  He was not rich and famous — just an ordinary man living an ordinary life. The lessons he taught me were lessons learned through the examples he set — examples I strive to emulate, but have never been able to live up to.

Mariano “Menito” Yan was never blessed with wealth, comfort, or luxury.  We, his sons, did not inherit material wealth or goods.  But his whole life was spent trying to build up a nest egg he could leave behind for us.  He never succeeded, but he left a legacy for me whose value far transcends a peso (or dollar) sign.

I will never forget his zest for life, and the laughter that accompanied it. I will always treasure his commitment to family, a commitment that forced him to leave us behind and work overseas — Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam war, Malawi in Africa, and finally Oakland, California — for so many years, just to be able to provide for us.

He showed me how life should be lived, how adversity should be met, how failure should not defeat my spirit.

My heart will forever cry when I remember his words when Rica and I were finally together in the US in July of 1986.  “Now I can die in peace — you are here and the family is whole again.”

For Thanksgiving Day in 1986, he and my Mom drove down to West Covina from their Hayward home to spend my first US Thanksgiving Day with us.  He never made it back to Hayward.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, he and my Mom were supposed to drive back to Hayward.  He woke up feeling lost and disoriented.  We called 911, and the paramedics took him to Queen of the Valley hospital, where they diagnosed him as having a stroke.  In fact, he had died, but they resuscitated him.

He spent the next six months in a coma that he never awoke from, and died on March 13, 1987. My lifetime’s hero was gone, and I have never stopped crying.

Like him, I cry silently and alone.  Like him, I never show the tears of loss.  Like him, I never share the pain and emptiness I feel in my heart.  But they’re always there…the pain of loss, the sadness and emptiness, the tears mourning the time we never had together..

To me, in my mind and heart, in my pain and sorrow, my Dad lives…

Wait for me, Dad.  We’ll laugh together.  Take long walks together. Together we’ll make up for the time lost.  Share the dreams we never shared, the triumphs we never had, the glorious days of a son reveling in his father’s embrace, the warmth of your love, the resolve of your strength…  We’ll be together, Dad, with no more tears.


martial law - FM declaring

Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972.

On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos, citing a national security emergency, declared martial law through Presidential Proclamation 1081.

In the beginning — and for many years — I believed in what martial law could do, if implemented with fairness, dignity, and integrity.  I believed in the need for discipline, and after so many years of “democracy,” I then believed the Filipino has begun to lose all sense of responsibility.  I also believed the Filipino studentry at that time had exceeded its moral limits, and the communist-inspired bombings, rallies and protests actually served the ends the communist element rather than the Filipino people.

martial law - express

The Sunday Express headline. The Express became a pro-Marcos newspaper after martial law was declared.

I still believe I was right — that the communist elements were the true benefactors of the lack of Filipino discipline.  What I was wrong to assume was that Marcos was the leader who would inspire and maintain dignity and integrity among the Filipino people.

After two or three years of laudable change immediately after he declared martial law, Marcos — through indifference, a lust for power, and greed — allowed, and even fostered, the growth and empowerment of an oligarchy with his cronies as the beneficiaries of his government’s policies.

Marcos would remain in power for 14 more years, until February 25, 1986.  The people finally took to the streets in a show of national defiance and, using what has now come to be known as People Power, forced Marcos and his family and close circle of supporters to leave Malacanang Palace for exile in the United States. It was the same pride I felt when Marcos declared martial law that I felt when he was overthrown.  It was a pride that stirred my heart, when he left.

I recognized then the value of the many lives that had been lost among those who fought the degenerative policies of the Marcos administration.  It took the deaths of two men for me to finally understand that no good end will ever be served by the destruction of human rights.


aquino - ninoy

Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino: his assassination in 1983 marked the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

August 21, 1983 marked the actual end of the Marcos regime. Although Marcos remained in power for three more years, the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, his most influential critic, sparked what was to become the People Power revolution. Ninoy was gunned down by Armed Forces soldiers as he alighted from a China Air flight that brought him home from Boston, Massachusetts.  Although the Marcos regime insisted that he had been shot in the head by rogue soldier Rolando Galman, no Filipino believed that neither Marcos nor wife Imelda did not have a hand in his murder.

aquino - ninoy collage

The murder and funeral of Ninoy.

I will always remember sitting and staring at the TV as they played and replayed the last moments of Ninoy’s life.  From the moment soldiers boarded the China Air flight to the moment his dead body was ignominiously dragged and dumped into a waiting Armed Forces truck, the coverage was absolutely numbing.

To be sure, it was not truly unexpected, but the reality of what we, as a nation, had collectively feared was too much to absorb in one sitting.  So as one people, we all sat in our homes, watched, and prayed.  Prayed that somehow what we had witnessed was not real.


martial law - edgar jopson

Edgar "Edjop" Jopson: the "grocer's son" became a major thorn in Marcos' side.

Ed Jopson was the president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) during his student days.  He was also my classmate, a dear friend with whom I had spent many childhood memories.

His parents owned Jopson’s Supermarket, and we would occasionally stay at his house while our parents went out together.  As president of the NUSP, he was more popularly known as “Edjop.”  He was also named one of the country’s “Ten Outstanding Young Men,” an award bestowed annually by the Philippine Jaycees — one of the most prestigious awards in the country at that time.

A career as a labor leader and union organizer led him into notoriety. He was a moderate, and even met with Marcos occasionally.  Then at one meeting Marcos said something that changed Edjop from a moderate oppositionist to an active member of the Communist Party, then headed by Jose Ma. Sison. At a Malacanang meeting, Edjop continually urged Marcos not to run for another term.  Marcos cut the discussion short by saying “Who are you to tell me what to do?  You’re only a grocer’s son.”

Eventually captured and tortured, he escaped and headed for the hills of Bataan to continue his struggle among his “brothers” in the CPP and NPA.  On September 21, 1982 — the tenth anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Edjop headed home from visiting NUSP friends.  Late that night, he heard noises, peeked out the window, awoke six other people in the house, then fled. He was gunned down and killed as he ran…


berlin wall jfk visit 6-26-63

President John F. Kennedy visited the Berlin Wall on June 6, 1963.

August 1990 marked the start of the demolition of the Berlin Wall, the ignominious symbol of the “Iron Curtain” that divided the East and West during the Cold War, which lated for decades. The East German Republic (probably egged on by the Soviet Union), began the construction of the Berlin Wall in August of 1961.  It effectively cut off passage between East and West Berlin, and encircled West Berlin completely.

The Berlin Wall was made up of 96 mi (155 km) of barbed wire barricades and concrete walls with an average height of 11.8 ft (3.60 m). The Wall divided Berlin for 28 years.

berlin wall reagan speech 6-12-87

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." -- President Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987

In June of 1987, President Reagan stood before the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate and challenged the Soviet Union with those famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” In an unexpected development, a press conference was held on November 9, 1981, where the SED government announced that travel restrictions for East Germans had been lifted.  That night people from East Berlin flooded into the western part of the city and hundreds of thousands celebrated throughout the city.

berlin wall fall

The Berlin Wall was demolished by the people of Berlin in 1989.

Soon thereafter, the infamous Wall that hundreds had died trying to cross came down.  The Cold War between the US and USSR thawed,and eventually ended.

On November 9, 2009, Berlin celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with a “Festival of Freedom”, during which over 1,000 foam domino tiles over 8 feet tall were stacked along the former route of the wall in the city center and toppled.



John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

John F Kennedy 1963 The Observer - high resresized

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.

On November 22, 1963, I was walking home from SLU.  As I turned right on Session Road from Assumption Road, I was surprised by the scattered newspapers fluttering in the wind on Session Road.  I picked one up and as I read the red headline, my heart sank. “Kennedy Assassinated.”

The words rang through my mind and for a brief moment, I went numb. The next 24 hours were spent watching TV coverage and reading newspaper accounts of the assassination, the swearing in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the capture and killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Walter Cronkite announcement of JFK’s death.

I did not feel that the world was right, and I silently mourned JFK’s death.


On ______, Robert Kennedy suffered the same fate as his brother John.

I did not feel the same deep sadness again until years later, when JFK’s brother Robert, who was on his way to becoming President of the US, suffered the same fate in a hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic primary.

The Kennedy legacy — many called the Kennedy years “Camelot” — ended when youngest brother Ted died in 2009 from cancer of the brain.


Jackie Kennedy moments before JFK was shot and assassinated.

But to me, Camelot ended with the death of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, JFK’s widow, on May 19, 1994.  To my mind, Ted Kennedy took a leftist path that his brothers John and Robert would not have followed. Today, the Kennedy era is dead…never to be forgotten, but never again to be relived in all its glory, splendor, hope, inspiration, and faith.



US newspaper the day US astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

July 21, 1969.  On this day, man first stepped on the moon.  US NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong took that first step, and uttered those now-famous words, “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”

(Ironically, it was the same day that Ted Kennedy was charged in the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne.  See article on lower left of the front page of the newspaper.)

This was the culmination of John Kennedy’s commitment in his inaugural address:

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it.  He said, “Because it is there.”  Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.  And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” Within ten years, as JFK had promised, man was on the moon.



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