By: Maria Girlie Pascual
It was 1978. I just arrived in Los Angeles, California with my mom and dad, eager to go to Dineyland and Universal Studios like they promised. I was on summer break from the University of the Philippines where I was in my last year as a senior, but because of a boy (yes, a boy), my over reacting mother who was married at 16, decided to lure me to coming with them for some sightseeing and a visit to my grandparents who were both living in L.A. at the time. Unbeknownst to me, they had plans of leaving me there to “change my perspective on life”, and at 18 years old, destiny seemed to point me in that direction when a student visa was granted to me on that trip without requiring me to return to Manila to wait for it. Yes, I panicked, who wouldn’t ? But in my young girls’ mind, this was also a chance to live independently from my parents and five brothers, and this is where Tito Rey and Tita Pet came in.
Tito Rey, the focus of this article, was married to Dra. Perpetua Zuniga Roxas and she was my mother’s cousin from her father’s side. They actually signed the petition on my student visa, not a small feat because they swore to the US Government that I will not be a burden to society, and that they were my “sponsors” until I graduated. Little did they know that they just added another “daughter” to the fold, with Reyza, Reyna, and Reyda tugging at Tita Pet’s sleeveless sun dresses that she loved to wear back then. Tito Rey never missed a weekly delivery to me and my Lolo and Lola, of Filipino longganisa and tocino, Spam and rice, stipends perfect for someone that didn’t know how to cook. Back in the 70’s, they already had a Fiipino Store at 21822 Carson Street in Carson City, then known as one of the major hubs of Fiipino immigrants in LA County. After a mere six months of staying with my grandparents, a diabetic attack forced them to return to the Philippines, and Tito Rey and Tita Pet became my surrogate parents. Many stories and with three more Roxas childred added in the 80’s, their family was complete with JR, (Rey Jr of course), Reynirere and Reymund popping out to join the sisters. It was a happy, messy clan, but along with the size of their household, Tito Rey’s business grew as well.
You see, Tito Rey was the kind of guy who was never satisfied, never doubting his ideas or business ventures. He tackled each and every project with gusto and perseverance, his vision for the outcome his guide and compass. There was the store, import export, Magnolia Ice Cream ( His cousin was the controller for Magnolia Ice Cream in the Philippines and gave him the original recipe which Tito Rey told me was locked in his safe deposit box), lots of concerts, food manufacturing and finally, Manila Sunrise. Tita Pet supported each and every endeavor, sacrificing her own profession to keep businesses, household and family in order. This was no small feat because in between all of these and through the years, they both never failed to help with new immigrant “kababayans” (countrymen) their homes open as a way station for those that needed help upon landing in the U.S. with no other support than the Roxases of Carson City.
Good karma and their work with the St. Filomena Church has certainly been kind to Tito Rey and Tia Pet. The little RP Trading Store on Main Street made it possible for them to acquire that corner lot, which led to a restaurant that Tita Pet runs, and is now known as Manila Sunrise of Carson, specializing in their line drawing “Pancit Palabok” which is the cornerstone of their food business. Other branches ensued, but with the children’s lives changing with the times, branches in West Covina, San Diego, Sacramento were all streamlined into the current two facilities in Union City, up in Northern California, and the main store on Main Street in Carson City, a suburb 30 minutes south from Downtown LA., going towards the beach cities.
Sure, their life was not perfect, and Tito Rey was not a perfect man. However, when he passed last July 6, 2017 at age 77, Facebook was the site for an outpouring of support and sympathy for the family, and when he was buried last week at the Green Hills Memorial Cemetery in Palos Verdes, his favorite city, no less than 500 attendees showed up to pay their last respects at St. Filomena Church in Carson, and over half followed the hearse to his final resting place above the city. Some people thought that a city official had passed, and it was a fitting observation for a man who went out of his way to help countless “kababayans” land softly in the City of Angels.
Tito Rey, you are as unique and original as your ideas, You loved your family, went for broke in all your business endeavors, and fought for every dime you made until success finally came to you. You started relaxing only when you stated having grandchildren who are still looking for you daily, a tough reminder that you are no longer with us. Still, your last words to me in one of our excursions to re-visit your old branches prior to your demise was, “I am ready. I know my children will be fine. It’s only your Tita Pet that I am worried about. “ Tito Rey, these last few days I have seen how your family came together for Tita Pet. I know that they will respect your wishes and incorporate your dreams for them with their. own. They will raise their children with wisdom, happiness and with tough love as you have raised them, care for their spouses and partners the best way they know how, and will be always be there for their mom, your wife, as you have been with her for the last five decades.
Your mission in life, as you have said countless times, albeit jokingly, is to make the woman of your dreams happy, and that Tito Rey, you have achieved. Tita Pet keeps remembering fondly how you wooed her, how you won over her mother, and strict father, and how hard you worked to make sure she never regretted her decision. Because of this example you have shown to your children, they will give Tita Pet love, respect and laughter as you have given her all the years of your life. You have accomplished every parent’s dream. You made a good life for them growing up, made sure they all went to, and finished college, and have raised all of them to believe in God. Now it’s your time to rest.
Finally, I would like to end this piece with a moving excerpt from Reyda Roxas, his second daughter, and whom the siblings call “Switzerland” as she is their voice of reason, their neutral zone: FROM REYDA ROXAS, R.N.
Hello my name is Reyda and I am the third child out of six, also the youngest of the girls. And at times everyone mistakes me as the eldest (because my two older sisters act like little kids).
One of the earliest memories I have of my dad was him pulling out a small comb from his back pocket and combing my long hair when I was in kindergarten. I remember me saying every few seconds “ ow, ow, ow daddy.” Until this day I still use a comb daily instead of a brush, not because it’s better or more convenient but because it reminds me of how my dad loved and always took care of me.
Today I stand before you, and again I feel like that little five year old girl but now I am sad because I miss my daddy very much.
My dad was one of the biggest influences in my life.
Because of him, hard work comes natural, this I learned at the tender age of nine when I used to bag groceries in our old store, RP trading.
We didn’t have a normal childhood like everyone else. Whenever there was a school vacation it just meant that we all would be working. Every Christmas season meant that we had to work longer and harder. We couldn’t enjoy the holidays on time because we were to busy at the restaurant. There were times that we worked through the holiday season so much that we couldn’t open Xmas gifts till New Year’s Day. The silver lining to the whole situation is that you can shop the day after Xmas and take advantage of the deals.
My dad was strong, courageous, kind, understanding, stubborn and passionate .
He was strong through all the tough times of the businesses, through the multiple fires that were set on the store, through the gangs that threatened violence, and even during our “suman” days, the making of “Filipino rice cakes” which was our sole income during tough times. He was always there for us, he always believed, he was always strong, he was our rock.
I remember driving with my dad to deliver suman from Long Beach, to LA, West Covina, and Eagle Rock. I remember the long car rides that as a kid seemed forever. But now, how I wish to have one more delivery with my dad.
My parents did the best they could and always managed to provide for us.
The last few months was tough on dad, we had been to the ER multiple times. He was pretty stubborn and still kept the same unhealthy routine of soda, caramel frappucinos, sushi, Taco Bell and any sweet he found that day.
Towards the end of his days I saw dad getting tired and weak. I knew when he decided to stop driving, that something had changed.
He always said that he never regretted anything because he always did as he believed. Dad always said he did everything he ever wanted to do. Every time I tried to lecture him on his bad eating habits he would simply say “ I only live once, and I’ll die happy.”
My daddy loved hard and always tried to help people to the best of his abilities. There were times he was so passionate that he didn’t always see eye to eye with friends, in this way he was stubborn. My dad kept his kids to a high at many times unattainable standard. But in the end he supported every one of us. Even though I didn’t follow his footsteps and wishes in the family business, he grew to respect my career choice and eventually was proud to call me his daughter the nurse.
My daddy was the one who always made me feel safe and secure. He always reminded me everything would be ok. No matter how dire the situation was, he was always optimistic that everything will turn out right. He said he would think about it, then offer it up to God and let it go. He always said that “ it’s GW” or “god’s will” and at times I really became annoyed with that saying growing up. The day I had to say good bye to my daddy the only thing that helped console me was the same saying. I felt my daddy saying,” it’s ok Reyda this is God’s will.”
Daddy I will forever love you for all that you have done and taught me. I promise that along with my siblings we will take care of mommy. Although I’m sad and my heart aches, I know you are in a better place and no longer suffering. I love you!
Remembering Reynaldo Roxas Sr.
Sad but Beautiful Memorial
A family in grief
The Roxas Family – Tita Pet seated in the center w her 6 children and spouses– Reysa w Miguel, Reyda, Regina, JR w Leslie, Reyniere, Reymund w Clarizcel and their grandchildren at the funeral
Sonny Madera sings for Tito Rey
A scene at the first day of the wake at Green Hills Memorial Palos Verdes, CA
Atty Reynaldo Roxas Sr and Dr Perpetua Roxas in San Francisco last June
Early Portrait of the Roxas Family – Tita Pet and Tito Rey, the three daughters (L-R) Reyda, Regina and Reysa the eldest of 6, da Roxas boyz (LR) Reymund, Reyniere, JR and Reyda’s husband Miguel Villarica
Their last, happy family event in June at the wedding of Reymund to Clarizcel in SF