San Jose Archives - StoryCorps

Lola’s Work: What a Grandmother Taught Her Family About Love

To Crescenciana Tan, family meant everything. Her grandchildren called her Lola. And they grew up hearing stories about where she came from and the many sacrifices she made for loved ones.

Lola was born in the Philippines and survived the Japanese Occupation of World War II. After her father passed away, Lola, the youngest of four siblings, started working to support the family. She worked the rice fields in the hot sun. She rode to market in a cart pulled by water buffalo to sell dry goods. And when she became a parent herself, Lola left home to work as a servant to earn money for her children.

Photo: (L) Crescenciana “Lola” Tan with grandson Kenneth and daughter Olivia at their home in San Jose, California in 1990. (R) The family in Oakland, California in 2016. Courtesy of Kenneth Tan.

Eventually, after years of labor, Lola came to the U.S. in 1982 to help raise her grandchildren. She passed away in 2016, at the age of 96. She spent her final years in the company of her grandson Kenneth, who has immortalized her stories in the artwork featured here.

This October Kenneth came to StoryCorps in San Jose, California to tell his mother Olivia about the greatest lesson Lola ever taught him.

‘Dancing Shoes’: One evening during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, Lola attended a dance at a neighboring village. In the middle of the dance, someone alerted the crowd that Japanese soldiers had arrived. Fleeing for safety, Lola hopped onto the back of a cart and made her way home. Along the way, she dropped one of her red shoes. Painting courtesy of Kenneth Tan.

Top photo: Young Crescenciana working as a cashier at a local grocery in the Philippines in 1960. Courtesy of Kenneth Tan.
Bottom photo: (L) Olivia Tan Ronquillo and her mother Crescenciana at the Manila Airport in 1965. (R) Olivia and mother in Oakland, CA in 2016. Courtesy of Kenneth Tan.

Originally aired November 27, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.