My Filipino Roots

Jose & Eugenie Montano- Wedding Day 1927

by Angeline Lesslar

A tribute by Angeline Lesslar in memory of her grandparents, Jose Montano & Eugenie Adalia, as narrated through the eyes of her grandfather

“I was born in 1897 in Cavite Luzon Island, Philippines.  My parents, a sister and two brothers moved to Zamboanga, Mindanao, as my dad found life as a musician extremely competitive in the big cities.

We heard about Malaysia, especially Penang, and a big decision was made by my parents to immigrate to Malaysia! Here, I met Eugenie Adalia, a Filipino of Hong Kong Portuguese descent. She was the most beautiful woman in the world to me and the love of my life. We had three sons and four daughters. 

Music was in my blood.  My passion for music enabled me to master a variety of musical instruments but the Cello was my favourite. I taught music and performed nightly at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, patronised mainly by expatriates.

In 1941, the Second World War disrupted our lives as we experienced tough times and near- death experiences moving at short notice from one abode to another to avoid the bombs and fear of being captured by the Japanese.

When things settled after the war, I was appointed Band Master of the Chung Hwa School Union Band. I led the band in street parades during the yearly Pesta Pulau Pinang celebrations. This attracted tourists worldwide who lined the streets to see the colourful Chingay Performances and other processions.

On the 15th day of Chinese New Year, we would give a solo moonlight performance at the Esplanade in Penang. We entertained the big crowds with popular Chinese, Malay and English songs sung by their favourite singers.  I used to write song sheets for different instruments in the band for every song! It was painstaking but a labour of love. The Penang State government honoured me with a PJK award in recognition for my contribution to music.

In 1969, I was selected to participate in a big orchestra, led by Ooi Eow Jin, in Kuala Lumpur with the King in attendance. This was an honour and an opportunity I did not want to miss.  Despite a failing heart, I made the trip to Kuala Lumpur and attended all rehearsals.  I was 72 years of age then and the hectic schedule caused a massive heart attack and my demise in Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the performance.

I never got to fulfil this dream but on the night of the opening of Orkes Malam Irama, the orchestra and King observed a one- minute silence in my honour and memory. My Cello was next to my empty chair in the orchestra. 

I was buried in my mother’s grave in the Western Road Cemetery in Penang. I left behind a lovely family of children and grandchildren I loved dearly. I may not have fulfilled my dream but am confident my children will in their lifetime. My hope is a better life for all of them in Malaysia, a country we have come to love and call home.”

Jose Montano (1897 – 1969)   

About the Author – After 26 years in the communication business Angeline is now focused on pastoral work in the Catholic Church of Saint Thomas More, Subang Jaya. She heads the PMEIA Ministry in the church centred on building relationships with Christian and other religions. She leads an interfaith committee of Buddhist, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and other Christian churches within Subang Jaya/USJ. The objective is to build bridges with other faiths and develop relationships that will collectively make a difference among residents within that community. Together more can be achieved for the good of the whole.

By MyCerita Rakyat

This blog is repository of stories of Malaysian life from anyone who wants to contribute to share with us a true experience as a Malaysian and anyone who lives in Malaysia. We accept stories from all ethnicities and groups. Our only request is that you honor diversity and inclusion and use this forum only to share experiences that reflect the reality of Malaysian living. We ask that you restrict political commentary and stereotyping, and not go beyond the facts of the story you share. We reserve the right to accept, edit and publish any narrative that is submitted. Thank you. The Cerita Rakyat Team

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