Student Gallery: Back Together Again
May 24, 2006
Philip Ramilo ’07 recalls afternoons as a five-year-old boy, building tree houses with friends and playing patentero in the streets of his hometown.
"We weren’t poor; we just don’t have so many toys in the Philippines," he explains. "You had to have a crazy imagination to play there."
Those playful, carefree days ended when he was seven. His father died of heart disease and his mother moved away. Those events are touchstones for a series of paintings the 21-year-old art major presented in Detchon International Hall during January’s Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work.
"For me, painting has to be intensely personal," Ramilo says. "Because of what I’ve been through in my life, the personality I’ve projected has been a mask, a veil.
"Art is my only way to communicate my emotions without being embarrassed. My paintings are who I am."
It was a special day between my dad and me. We were doing gardening work in front of my grandmother’s house. He bought me some food. We were just a father and son hanging out.
The next day, he was in the hospital. His immune system was weak, they said, so we weren’t allowed to visit the next two weeks. I was taking exams at school when my aunts came in, crying, to get me. The next time I saw my father, he was in a casket.
This is my dad helping me to step into the future. I wasn’t ready for it.
We had been honor students; the most disciplined, perfect kids. But I start
As soon as my dad passed away, my mom left for the United States. She married someone she didn’t
love so that she could stay in the U.S. legally. I didn’t know she was doing it so she could bring us over here. I felt betrayed. For a year or so, I wouldn’t speak to her when she called.
My little brother Adrian and I lived in our old house next to my grandparents, but there was no adult in the house, no mother or father looking out for us.
ed doing bad in school. No one was going to look out for us, so I did. I got into so many fights.
Drugs were a big thing in the street, and I had to do them, drink and all that stuff, to fit in. I was doing shabu, a kind of meth. When I was 10, my youngest friend was 21.
Sometimes I feel like I didn’t have a childhood. I don’t have childhood memories from that time.
My mom knew she had to bring us to the U.S. Moving in with her and my stepdad was like being reborn. In the Philippines, I felt like an adult. I knew who I was. I thought I knew everything. Then I move to Indiana, and I can’t even talk to these people. People would say, "What’s up?" and I didn’t know how to respond. In eighth grade, I talked to five people all year.
I worked in my stepfather’s cleaning business as a janitor—a kid who didn’t cook or clean in the Philippines, now cleaning toilets! But I was happy to make money. I felt almost independent. I put my whole paycheck in the bank for four years. I saved $6,000 and bought an orange Ford Mustang when I was 16. Every penny in that car was mine.
In ninth grade, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to fit in somewhere. I made all the teams—football, basketball, baseball—and I made friends, by being a teammate.
That year I had a 3.9 GPA and was athlete of the year. When my basketball coach handed me the award, he said, "If my son works half as hard or is half as determined as you, I’ll know I’ve done a good job as a father."
That touched me down deep.
I felt like I had broken myself and put myself back together. But I’d also rearranged myself. Who was I?
When I got to high school, I didn’t go out for any sports. I began to focus on art.
One teacher called me a chameleon—said that you could put me in any crowd and I could blend in. It was the way I survived.
When I came here, I decided that I wasn’t going to try to impress anybody. I wasn’t going to do anything just to fit in.
Guys would say, "If you don’t, you won’t have any friends." I thought, then I don’t need any. I was so mad to have to go through this again. I refused to.
My freshman year, my mom got sick. Leukemia. And the wall between us was demolished. We got real close. I remember one letter she sent—after I read it, I started crying.
She was going through treatment, and I was going home every weekend, crying and wanting to transfer out of Wabash. It was too hard, I’d say. I wasn’t getting any sleep.
A lot of people encouraged me not to give up, especially my mom. And all this time, she was battling cancer!
This painting is a thank you note to her, along with her likeness. Inay is mother in tagalog, the Filipino language. "Thank you for everything that you’ve done for us," it says. "I love you."
My mom is still taking treatments for leukemia. This painting is a portrait of mom and my little sister, Hannah Nicole. It was a Mother’s Day present. When I gave it to her, she…well, she was Inay.
And her eyes really are that intense. When she looks at you, she gets your attention. The background is a Philippine pattern. I’ve become really attracted to my Filipino heritage. This year, I started writing down everything I could remember from that time. My friends, the games, my father.
But what I’m really attracted to is my past. I’m taking back my childhood a little at a time.
I went back to the Philippines over Christmas break. My grandma had come to visit us, and she got hurt. She thought she might die. She wanted to go home. Mine was the only current passport, so I took her there.
As soon as she got home, she was like a little kid. She changed her clothes and went around the neighborhood to talk to everyone, as if nothing had happened.
But I hated the Philippines! Not the people, but how everything had changed. I wanted to play patentero—I just wanted to play those games, but no one, not even the little kids, play that anymore. They’re losing their own childhoods, but they don’t know it. Going back to the Philippines, I realized it’s not what I thought it would be. It’s not home.
Doing art, when I’m in the zone, that’s home. I feel like that kid again, coming home at six o’clock, when my family was complete, when I was talking with my dad, when I was playing with my friends.
When I paint, I feel like it’s time to be home again, to feel so loved.