Oscar Peñaranda

Oscar Peñaranda’s grandfather Florentino, whom he had never met, had passed away five years before he was born. He fought the U.S. in Leyte and Samar during the 1899 Filipino American War.  Florentino’s mother was a simple woman named Isidora Peñaranda. His father was a farmer with the last name of DeMain. In the town of Barugo, the DeMains and the Peñarandas were a big clan til this day and mostly farmers. Isidora and DeMain never married. A single mother, she brought Florentino up mostly on her own. The boy took her last name of Peñaranda and became Florentino Peñaranda. Florentino was Oscar’s paternal grandfather. Among the children of his grandfather and their generation, only one, his Tia Lola, Oscar’s favorite, as he was hers, would remain a farmer.  Eventually, all would become teachers, all would get educated and finish college.

This personal background are the values and experiences that shaped him as a young child and as an adult later on in life. Growing up as a boy in Leyte, he was especially close to the area and the people, because he was the only one of his siblings born there. His brother and sister were both born in Manila and the people of Barugo knew this, and they never forgot that he never forgot. He always felt this tacit understanding from the people of his hometown, wherever he resided during his life..

His maternal grandfather, Trinidad Gutierrez, was a Spaniard. His father was shipwrecked and coughed up by the sea on the shores of Barugo. He was around the same age as his paternal grandfather. Oscar’s Uncle Ben, his father’s only brother, told him that folks used to see both his grandfathers sitting on the veranda discussing the politics of the day. We could only imagine the hot topics they would discuss; before and after the U.S. Occupation, independence, sovereignty, colonizers, statehood, etc.

It is believed his maternal grandfather was born in Barugo. Yet, others say he may have been born in Spain, the jury is still not out yet. He remembers him clearly and dearly. He was nine years old when he died.  He was fond of him because as he simply put,  “He was cool.”  For example, if all the household was in chaos,  he would instead of entering the home,  go back, and would go for another walk with young Oscar. “We’ll come back when it’s more peaceful, Ongkay,” he would say. His grandmother, a Pinay with Chinese and Spanish mix, called all the shots. He was smart because this was a lot less stress on his end, when she was in charge. He owned a lot of properties including horses and fish corrals that stretched from afar. Oscar used to go with his uncles and swim the deep blue sea while they picked the fish. Yet, his uncles, Trinidad’s sons, pretty much squandered the properties and the merchandise during their generation. There was none left for future generations, except for a small piece of land, which was the place where Oscar was born, stands empty until today. Only his paternal grandfather’s nationalistic reputation and legacy where he was marked as a revolutionary, makabayan, freedom-fighter, and later elected for the first national assembly of 1907 was respected, upheld,  and had kept the squatters away.

When Oscar worked with the farmers, the manongs, the fishermen, the Alaskeros, this was no strange experience for him. Their tight relationships mirrored his close-knit ties with loved ones and the land growing up in the Philippines. However, when he was five years old, his family moved to Manila where he also grew-up as a city boy. He quickly became savvy. He discovered two different worlds, two different languages, and two different cultures. In school, along with English, became his third language and culture growing-up. He found that he had to adjust often and rapidly, at times.

In Manila, he became street smart. Oscar sold newspapers, shined shoes, never paid for transportation, swam in Manila Bay and the Pasig River, without letting his mother or any adult know. His best friend was Gil Itim, a squatter from the banks of the Pasig.

When he turned twelve-years-old in 1956, his family migrated to Vancouver, Canada, becoming arguably the first official Filipinos residing in Canada because his father, the revolutionary’s son, was sent with about eight other families to open the first Philippine Consulate of Canada. Almost all his firsts happened in Vancouver. He grew up there from twelve to seventeen-years-old.  His first kiss, his first love (literature), his first broken heart, his first poems, his meeting with Western lifestyles and Western people. His first job was fighting forest fires in the wilds of British Columbia at fifteen-years-old. The next summer and every summer from then on until 1980, he would be away from home working odd jobs. When he turned seventeen, he moved to San Francisco and has been in the city more or less since then. In California, his summer stints did not change. He worked in the farms and the fields picking fruits, held jobs in the hotels and restaurants, and gained positions in the canneries and fisheries of Alaska, until 1980, when a murder in broad daylight in the Filipino Union Hall in Seattle exploded. He knew the two who were murdered and he also knew the folks behind the murder.

All the time, during school months, he concentrated on his studies, and was in touch with community groups and clubs advocating our heritage, language, culture and history, and Ethnic Studies. During this time, he was still continuously writing.

His brother was attending University of San Francisco, an expensive university. He attended Saint Ignatius High School, another expensive education,  Jesuit high school. During this time, his father worked at the Philippine Consulate. His salary was meager but he had some good benefits. He believed in spending for the best education which to him, was a Catholic education. His mother continued her teaching profession in California and taught Spanish at St. Joseph’s High School in the East Bay.

Oscar finished San Francisco City College and attended one semester at USF. His father wanted him to stay there, but Oscar knew his financial situation would be strained and besides that, there was one sole class in creative writing in USF at the time, which Oscar took and aced. He then went onto San Francisco State and finished there with a Bachelor in Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing, the first Masters of English in Creative Writing in the country.

While he was working one late summer in Alaska, he received a telegram from Ed de la Cruz asking him if I wanted to teach a class in the newly formed Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State.  He was asked because Mr. de la Cruz knew he was the only one with a Master’s in Ethnic Studies who could teach the class. Oscar began his teaching career as an assistant of Joaquin Legaspi of International Hotel and created several classes, one of which was a Survey of Philippine Art and Literature. While there  at S.F. State, he created three fourths of those classes which still exist to this day.

He has been writing all throughout his life and has written six or seven books at a time, a few which will be coming forth soon. Oscar writes poetry, prose, and a few screen and stage plays. He  currently resides in the newly rebuilt International Hotel of San Francisco.