I’m from that lovely little city on the eastern side of Metro Manila called Marikina. I grew up on a street inhabited by people of kith and kin, the kith part of which was sure to be related by marriage anyway. I continued residing at my parents’ house until 2004 when work made me move to Subic. I lived in Subic for two years, after which my husband and I moved back in with my parents for another two years before finally finding our own place to live in. Unfortunately, that move took us away from Marikina again. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that I have this deep yearning to go back to live there.
Marikina is a beautiful little green valley with charming hillocks and a meandering river. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a wonderful place to live in. It’s not only because it’s one of the best cities in the country, but also because I have a sense of attachment and other strong sentiments for the place. My mother’s side of the family traces its roots to the founders and early dwellers of this town. They were among those who built its reputation as the shoe capital of the nation. My grandparents used to manufacture footwear. In fact, the area in the compound where my parents built their house used to be where the factory stood. My grandmother owned a shoe store from which my toddler self had a steady supply of cute little “step-ins”. I grew up visiting friends in houses the first levels of which were small shoe factories (dismal places illuminated by mini fluorescent bar lights with the curious bouquet of leather and glue solvent). My father pastored a church with a congregation composed mostly of shoemakers. Every other house had a sign that said “Wanted: Mag-aareglo (shoe uppermaker)”. It was never a problem having shoes custom-made; the next person whom one bumped into could do it.
As I grew older, cheaper, albeit inferior, shoe imports from China appeared and the once overwhelming presence of shoemaking began to diminish. Many small businesses were affected and erstwhile shoemakers found themselves in another profession. Don’t get me wrong; the industry lives on, but work is no longer as homogeneous as it once was. Notwithstanding that, the locals cling stubbornly to the shoemaking tradition. The old-timers, from the judges and doctors to the retired lamyaan regulars, all claim to have started out as shoemakers. I used to make the sweeping statement, as did many of the youngsters who had no business doing so, that everybody in Marikina knew how to make shoes. This, of course, led to smart alecks wanting to get technical with you (“Really? You know how to make shoes?” “Sure. You just – uh - turn, pull, hammer, cut and sew… Duh?” “What the -! You got that from a song!”). The wiseacres made a good point though. My only shoemaking involvement was a summer gig threading leather strings through eyelets. Other than that, I have no shoemaking experience and don’t know beans about the process.
If I’m to go by myself, it may be an unfortunately correct assumption that the children of Marikina are not learning the art of shoemaking. This is supposed to be our legacy to pass down for posterity. I’m not sure if the movers and shakers of the city or even the remaining family businesses are doing something about it, but I hope they do. I, for one coming from a clan of shoemakers, am interested in exploring this aspect of my personal history. I want to be able to say, “Hi. I’m Ivy. I’m from Marikina and I can make shoes as did my ancestors before me.” Actual learning and finally doing used to all be some distant plan I had no qualms procrastinating on, but then I found a crochet pattern for indoor shoes. I know. Crochet! Don’t even suggest that’s anything close to actual shoemaking! I tried making the crocheted shoes though (you can read about that here) and my shoemaking forefathers who tooled with leather, nails, heavy buckles, etc. may roll over in their graves at my audacious shoemaking claim, but at the end of the day, Marguerite, my daughter, loves them and wears them all the time. You know, on her feet. Like real shoes. Because, most probably, they are, in fact, real shoes. And if that’s the case, I, Ivy of the Supok (long story) clan of Marikina, have made shoes. Okay, I don’t have the actual nerve to say I’m a shoemaker, but I can say without cringing that I. Made. Shoes. Voilà!
I’ll let Marguerite wear the first pair until I’ve completed the next crocheted pair and then I’m storing it in her box of firsts (although technically it was my first). I hope to go beyond crochet and continue making shoes for my daughter. I’ve already looked into simple leather Viking shoes and felt boots. I’ll eventually get to the wood-leather-metal shoes stage and then, maybe I’ll finally deserve the label. More importantly, I hope my daughter will learn along with me. As another daughter of Marikina, it’s in her history as well. The chain may have been broken in a generation or two, but it can be mended. We can later look back at that pair of crocheted shoes and recognize it as the point where the repair began.