The Tapestry of Lola Remedios Felias

August 2002
Brookfield, Wisconsin

The sun streams in through the wall-sized window, casting afternoon light on our family room. Outside the trees sway vibrant and green, shade a small figure of Mama Mary. She welcomes me too with arms stretched and hands waiting. Inside, noise percolates from every room of the house. I am home. From my suitcase I pull a salmon colored tapestry. When you first glance at it, the greens, blues and reds flash a beautiful montage of color. The folds unwind and reveal the fine embroidery.

I’m telling my mother and sister-in-law that when Lola Remedios learned I was coming, she began working on this piece as gift to me. It took her all six months to get this far in the tapestry. Every piece – every letter and image has been cut from other fabrics and painstakingly hand-sewn into the cloth. Except for the missing D where she has sewn, “(D)ecember 20, 1942, Dito Ako Nahuli Sa Lugar ng Baryo Esperanza,” it’s all there – the Dagitan River, green mountains and lush trees, the nipa hut where she grew up. Every piece has been meticulously etched onto the salmon slate.

On the top border she declares in large green letters:

My Name is Remedios Felias From the Province of Burauen Leyte Barrio Esperanza And I Was Born On Jan 29, 1928.

The rest of the text, scattered across the cloth is in Tagalog, borders scenes of Lola as a teenager running through the fields and leaping over barbed-wire fences. She catches her leg on the spur of a fence and on the fabric there is a trail of red chain-stitching. Close behind are soldiers running with their bayonets pointed up to the sky, their legs straddled in a sprint, their white scarves flapping in the wind. One soldier has skewered a baby on his sword. She has sewn two black x’s in its tiny face. These are the eyes. Red thread flies from its round form. It is all there, embroidered and pieced together in a non-linear montage. She has made tiny Japanese soldiers like paper doll cutouts. She has sewn herself into the lining and stitched her hair wild and black, blood everywhere. It is all there, the capture, the torture, the raping. It is all there, the planes and the white and red sun of that flag, the garrison and the bars, and her face behind them:

Dito Ako Ikingulong.
Here is where I was kept.

She has set her story free on this canvas. She has given it to me so I can bring it with me everywhere I go, so she can speak for herself long after she passes away from cancer of the stomach. It is the testimony she has given to the Japanese courts, to the media, and now, to me, in this one foot by three feet piece of cloth.

I hold the tapestry up and my sister-in-law and mother are just beginning to understand the images when my just turned four year old niece walks into the room, says, “What’s that?” I fold the piece in two. I tuck it under my arms. Say, “Just a blanket.” I lean over and pick up her sippy-cup and coax her into the kitchen. “Want some more milk?” I think the moment is over. But on the ride back to their home, my niece considers what she saw, a blur of colors on an old piece of cloth, and from her car seat, she calls out, “Mommy, if I am pretty enough, will the soldiers leave you and Daddy alone?”