Sunset in Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place” ~ Iain Thomas, I Wrote This For You
I visited Zamboanga before and after a rebel siege in the city a year ago that left a portion of the central town bruised and battered, and kept many wary visitors away and in fear. Foreign travel advisories stay adamant. I expected to focus on remnants of a combat zone, but there were other things that captivated me more.
Laughter of kids at Paseo del Mar, a beautiful boulevard along the bay. Hope in their eyes. People sitting on the park benches just to watch the sun set. In every aftermath of a tragedy I visit, I marvel at the resilience of my people, whose will to survive remains intact even after it has been deeply scarred.
Everywhere you go are posted streamers and signs that say “No Te Vayas de Zamboanga”, a plea in the Spanish language which means “Don’t go or don’t leave Zamboanga”, which comes from a popular song composed years ago by Juan Cuadrado, Sr., a Spaniard who decided to stay and marry a Zamboanguena lass after the Spanish troops left the islands.
When the crisis struck the city last year, it became a meaningful phrase to encourage visitors and even locals to come and stay in Zamboanga. Residents speak Chavacano, a simplified dialect very much influenced by Spanish. The girls above were three giggling schoolgirls who gamely posed for me when they saw me shooting the sunset. This beautiful city is slowly getting up on its feet, and I will be there to cheer it on.
Happy Hermosa Festival, Zamboanga!