Some of my earliest memories include Sabbath morning breakfasts at my grandparents’ house. I would wake up to the smell of garlic fried rice wafting throughout the entire house, and I knew it was waiting for me at the kitchen table. My grandma would wake me up saying, “Huli na, we are late to church!” when in reality she just wanted to make sure I ate breakfast and had worship with everyone else.
That is my lola, who is famous in her own right, and known to our family and friends as “Yoya.” Anyone who has had the pleasure to meet and spend time with Yoya automatically understands why I would describe her as famous: She is overflowing with hospitality, love, generosity and wisdom. Despite having lived through experiences that no one should ever have to live through, Yoya has remained steadfast in her faith and love.
Yoya immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in her early 20s. She barely spoke English, yet was on her way to teach a class of second graders. This job would mark the beginning of her 52-year teaching career, ranging from elementary classes to college algebra. Prior to this, she was the only woman in her class for engineering school, but dropped out because she “could not draw for the life of her” (pre-computer era, obviously). While in Canada, she was penpals for a year with her now husband of over 50 years, my family’s “Yoyo.”
Yoyo was in the U.S. Navy, taking their marriage to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia. This is where they settled and raised my mother, aunt and uncle, and also where I grew up eating her garlic fried rice on Sabbath mornings.
Wherever Yoya goes, and I mean wherever she goes, Yoya either knows someone or is sure to make a new friend.
“Even my orthodontist was my student!” Yoya said. “And also my chiropractor. And actually, now that I think of it, my pharmacist. Because when I got my prescription from this guy, he recognized my name as his seventh grade math teacher. Ha!”
In addition to being a teacher at a local community college and high school, Yoya tutored on the side in order to support her three children attending Adventist boarding school while her husband was deployed. Yoya also continued to send money to help support students in the Philippines to go to school.
“I should have had some million dollars saved,” she said. “But I did not. I was helping a lot of people back home. I was always housing people. My house has always been an open home to anyone without a place to live. I had someone stay with me for three years while they finished high school. He was in a small gang, was into drugs, and stealing. Now, he’s a nurse in California.”
Yoya actually taught me and some of my lifelong, childhood best friends math too. She let me have countless sleepovers at her home for as long as I can remember, always cooking and making sure no one left her home the slightest bit hungry. Her love and support reaches anyone and everyone that crosses her path.
However, that doesn’t mean she isn’t one to become angry or passionate; she is fiercely protective of those she loves, and will raise her voice in defense of anyone who is in need of defending. As a child, she yelled at Japanese soldiers raiding her small family’s home for taking their eggs. She stood up to cruel family members and ended up supporting them financially for much of her life. She lived a life fueled by Christ-like compassion and forgiveness.
Yoya, Amancia “Amy” Carandang Follante, a strong, hardworking and incredibly mighty Filipino woman that stands tall at 4’11”, has paved the way for her children, grandchildren and eventual great grandchildren. Her impactful love spreads widely and permeates deep into the communities that she taught the quadratic formula to, into the family members and friends she sponsored academically, and into the stomachs of whoever sat at her dinner table. She turned 78 just this April 1, and I am forever grateful to have her as my, and many others, Yoya.