Monday, January 10, 2011

Jeepney Press 2011 Pasahero

by Amelia Iriarte Kohno


At the Kyoto Utawit Singing Competition last September, Lucy participated and sang “Matud Nila,” a song in her Cebuano/Visayan dialect loved by many not only for its melody but for it's lyrics. One interpretation of the song is, it's a longing for love lost. She must have chosen the song to express direct personal feelings at that time, because two months later when I was interviewing her for this article, the meaning of that song had a strong resemblance to the story of her life.

Lucy, born April 2, 1963, was only nine years old when she and her seven siblings became orphans. The family was very poor and their eldest brother was left to work in their small farm which was their only means of livelihood. To help support the family, Lucy, being the oldest of the three girls, had to work as a maid in a family who owned a furniture shop in Rebe Lala, a small town of Lanao del Norte.

It was the worst of times. At an early age and with only two years of primary education, she had to do work as a baby sitter and other household chores, when children her age were going to school and could play with their friends.

Not long after, her employer lured her to live with them when they transferred to Manila, without the knowledge of her siblings. Although, the new found family was good to her, she always felt the pain and anguish of leaving her own family and not being able to communicate with them for sixteen years since the day she left. She tried sending letters but got no answers. Or the letters did not reach them, Lucy, sadly reminiscing the long years of longing, of wanting to play, or simply of being with her sisters and brothers. She was already twenty-five years old when she finally met them, just before leaving for Japan.

It was at the insistence of her employer, now married to a Japanese, that she came to Japan in 1988, again as a nanny. Perhaps, taking advantage of her innocence, not having a formal education, and proven goodness, she was not given a definite salary for two years of employment. Lucy, did not complain. She knew nothing of her new environment. She just worked hard, a quality noticed by the husband of her Filipino employer. Hence, after they divorced, he proposed to Lucy and that was the start of her first own family. They had a son, Atsushi. But the marriage was not for long as her husband got involved with another woman. When she lost her custody case in court, she had to stay away and earn a living for herself. Her son is now 18 years old, and “it hurts,” she says, because she has not seen him since he was three years old in Ibaraki-ken. Her only consolation is that her husband is a good provider for their son, and he sent him to good schools.

With this unhappy memory, Lucy had to go far. And in Kyoto, she found a job working at a karaoke club. There, she met her second husband, who made life easier for her then. But this again, ended in failure. She would have given up if not for her strong character to fight and keep going when the odds were against her. The two failed marriages, though hurting and painful, even gave her more courage to go on with her life and make it more fruitful. With the experience of singing in Japanese bars, she studied “enka” songs. A style of singing, similar to our Filipino love songs – songs straight from the heart, she adds. And she has learned to love enka. Even with her limited education, she worked hard at mastering it, joining singing competitions wherever they were held.

That was during those trying moments in her journey through life that she met her third husband! For Lucy, love is “loveliest” the third time around. It is a very happy relationship. They both love each other and have been since eight years ago. And if heaven permits she'd like to stay it this way.

“Marrying Mr. Nishikawa is really a blessing and I have never been happier in my life. Living with him is also self-fulfilling. He has a good, stable job, we own a big house with a spacious garden, my in-laws are good to me and I have freedom to pursue my singing activities. He even encourages me to join contests at different places,” Lucy relates with expressions of happiness.

With the useful advice of Mikiko Yamada, owner of the convenience store where Lucy works, she has participated in many “enka” singing competitions. She practices her songs at the karaoke bar near her house, also owned by her friend Yamada-san. And who could ever imagine the many achievements she would get! In the last couple of years, she won prizes in almost all contests she joined, winning the Grand Prix Singing Contest in Kyoto, the Ryoichi Kuwata Certificate for Teaching Enka Songs, Oka Chiaki Singing Contest, and the “Top 6 Level Toru Funamura Award,” held in Tokyo, September 19, 2010, among others.

Not only is she a proven enka singer, but she already has the qualification to teach enka in Japan.

Still, another success in her life which she humbly confides, is being able to help her siblings back in the Philippines, by buying houses and lots for her brothers and sisters, plus a lucrative space in a condominium in Quezon City.

The world has really changed for Lucy Montebon Nishikawa, the little orphan girl from Lanao del Norte!

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