Bayanihan Spirit

It all started on a Friday evening about two years ago. My dear sister-in-law, Marla, and I were sitting at the island in my kitchen having a glass of wine discussing the goings on of the week. I noticed that she was more animated than usual and wondered what was going on. It wasn’t long before she pulled from her purse a very old and worn diary. I was instantly curious. She told me while going through her Grandfather’s WWII memoirs she found his war diary. The diary revealed this poignant story.


While serving with the USAFFE 2nd Lt. Albert Bacani was captured by the Japanese just weeks prior to the Bataan Death March. Bacani was beaten and tortured. The Japanese soldier who was in charge demanded that he give up everything in his pocket but when Bacani offer up the rosary that his mother had given him before going off to war, the soldier folded it back into his hand and told him to keep it.   By some miracle, that his writing doesn’t disclose, he escapes from his captors and is rescued by a Filipino rice farmer and his wife. By the time he made it to their thatched hut, he was dying of malaria and dysentery. Despite the fact that he had contagious diseases and if caught by the Japanese for harboring a fugitive for which they would be executed on the spot, they made the courageous decision to bring this stranger into their home and nurse him back to health. Because of their unselfish decision to come to his aid, Bacani went on to live to the age of 102 years old and was the first Filipino World War II veteran to receive financial compensation he so richly deserved.


I was completely captivated by this amazing story and knew that I needed to capture the essence of this epic in sculpture form. I immediately went to work.  I had done figurative work before, but this would be the first time that I would attempt three figures in the same vignette. My goal was to capture the split second that the rice farmer and his wife made that pivotal decision to save Bacani’s life.  I worked on this piece on almost a daily basis for four months. Throughout this process, I researched Filipino culture and the role that the Filipino’s played in the war. Initially, I thought that what the rice farmer and his wife did was extremely unusual but, to my great surprise, discovered that for Filipinos to take in perfect strangers during the war was, in fact, not uncommon. What this rice farmer and his wife did, as did so many others, demonstrates the epitome of the Bayanihan Spirit. Stay tuned in another blog to find out step by step how this piece was brought to life.

Along For the Ride

The following is a guest post by Marla Miranda, a first-generation Filipina, describing her experience of coming along for the Ride and collaborating with me on Bayanihan Spirit.

I laughed hysterically as I stretched out on Laurie’s deck furniture cushions arranged on top of industrial-sized trash bags spread on the floor of her studio. When I regained my composure, Laurie slathered cold, wet, and gooey alginate all over my face. She said she was fresh out of Filipina models and that because I work all day, she needed to life cast my face so she would have something to work from in between patients.  Alginate is a material normally used to make dental impressions, but can also be used to make molds of other body parts, among other things! This gave a whole different meaning to lying down on a therapist’s couch.  Then again, this is no ordinary therapist!  When you enter Laurie’s studio, you never know who or what magic will happen.  As a sculptor, she brings with her all the sensitivity from her practice as psychotherapist when she brings forth stories in clay, molded by her hands.    

Lying there on the floor, I thought about how just weeks before, we sat at her kitchen island on a Friday afternoon, wine glasses in hand sharing  the events of our lives.  I told Laurie that I was going through my grandfather’s belongings which included his fragile World War II diary.  It contained an entry about his capture and escape from the Japanese just prior to the Bataan Death March.  Malaria and dysentery had almost consumed him but he was desperate to return home to his wife and two young children.  Traveling for weeks on end through rice fields and blistering sun, he could not take a step further and collapsed at the nipa hut of a rice farmer and his wife.  This couple took him in, despite grave risks to their own safety, and nursed him back to health.   Their actions were the epitome of the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit.

 “Bayanihan,” I explained, “is that Filipino instinctive sense of unity with one’s fellow man.  We are not alone in the world.  We all have each other’s backs in our moment of need.  We are a community.  That though the Philippines is made of 7,107 big and little islands, its people are ONE and ‘no man is an island entire of itself’.”  Laurie smiled, eyes sparkling, and said, “This is my next sculpture!”

So there I was on her studio floor, alginate mold goop all over my face, breathing through a straw so Laurie could have a model with Asian features to work with. When alginate is backed by plaster, it’s not your typical beauty mask treatment on a Saturday!  Never having done an Asian piece before, this sculptor always wants to get it right.  Ever get that feeling when you know something happening is going to be extraordinary?  That was my feeling as I lay on those cushions, very still, breathing through that straw and happy I was along for the ride.

Join me in coming blogs while we journey through the making of this special piece as Philippine history and culture come to life!