Like many Filipinos in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I looked forward to each new installment of “Slice of Life,” the long-running and much-loved cartoon of Larry Alcala. The thrill was in searching for and spotting his image with the trademark mustache and black-rimmed eyeglasses hiding somewhere in the crowd, in a busy street, or in an event like a town fiesta.
My search would begin with the stacks of newspapers and magazines ever present in my in-laws’ house in Paco, Manila, where my wife Elise and I used to live. My wife’s mother, Gloria Alcala Garchitorena-Goloy, and sister, Angelina, were both journalists, and her maternal grandmother, Maria Alcala-Garchitorena, was the eldest sister of Larry Alcala’s father, Ernesto.
I was proud to call the famous cartoonist “Tito Larry,” and he called me “Cado.” I recall vividly our first meeting during an Alcala Christmas reunion at his house in UP Village, Quezon City. The Alcalas from Albay are a cheerful lot, their laughter as hearty as their appetite. Tito Larry’s wife, Tita Lupe, a Kapampangan, is a superb cook. In time I met his siblings—Tito Joventino (Benting), Bacolod-based Tito Vic, Dipolog-based Tita Aurora (Rory) Amatong, and Tita Ellen Obial, now the sole survivor.
Memories of those reunions came back to me recently when I viewed the exhibit, “Larry Alcala: Slices of Life, Wit, and Humor,” at the SMX Convention Center SM Aura in Taguig City. It was put up by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the Filipino Heritage Festival Inc., and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in celebration of the National Heritage Month of May.
The exhibit that ended on June 6 complemented the one at the Met at the BSP Complex on Roxas Boulevard, which runs till June 19, five days before Tito Larry’s 20th death anniversary.
Looking at the works on display, I relived my painstaking search for Tito Larry’s camouflaged face between dustbins, in cluttered side streets, or among istambay drinking outside a sari-sari store. The scenes were a commentary on society’s deficiencies, but they also illustrated the Filipino’s resilience and can-do attitude. There was a sense of pride and joy in being a Filipino in those days.
If Tito Larry were alive today, I imagine he would come up with hard-hitting “slices” from the recent election rallies and motorcades, probably blending with the crowd in pink-framed eyeglasses.
The exhibit was a tribute to Tito Larry, his work and legacy. Some of his cartoons were digitally enhanced so that they appeared as moving scenes, like an animated film, to the delight of young viewers. There was a children’s activity corner where youngsters (like my granddaughters Alli and Audrey Araullo) colored his comic strips.
The piece titled “Watching A Tagalog Movie” reminded me of “double-showing” movie houses along Recto in Manila and at Quad in Makati. I also re-experienced Mike de Leon’s visual narratives, recalled explicit dialogues from Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang,” and Nora Aunor’s award-winning acting in “Himala.”
Another work titled “Barrio Weddings” brought back memories of going to a baysanan (wedding party) in Batangas, sometimes gatecrashing with friends for free shots of lambanog with kalderetang kambing. for pulutan. On the eve of the wedding, pigs, cows, and goats were slaughtered for dinuguan and kilawin and prepared in huge pots and pans. (Today, online food caterers are just a chat or text away.)
A section of the exhibit showcased young artists’ tribute renderings of Tito Larry’s signature profile. One was painted on art paper using coffee, calling to mind his love for coffee after a filling meal, while enjoying puffs of Marlboro reds.
One standout work from an abstract artist featured Tito Larry’s face contoured using leaves and flowers. It intrigued me, again leaving me guessing: Where was his moustache, his well-defined chin, his black-rimmed eyeglasses?
The exhibit was at once a heightening of the senses and a rekindling of lustrous experiences, which left one resuscitated, inspired, and hopeful amid dystopian efforts to alter our heritage and history.
I hope this exhibit can be mounted in many other parts of the country so that more Filipinos may remember the way we were.
Ricardo Javier Cortez is a former marketing executive who used to sing in a band and is a photography hobbyist.