University City

She found family history in a museum exhibit

Cynthia Germaine stood at a photo exhibit at Charlotte Museum of History in east Charlotte with tears flooding her eyes.

Among the 30 or so photo panels on Filipino history she had found a photo of her father, just as a family friend had told her she might.

The 3-year-old boy, Felino Bacalzo, is shown in a picture with his mother and brother.

Standing there, Germaine felt closer to her father than she had in years.

"She probably stood there for about an hour," said Halley Cella, the museum's membership director, who was on duty at the time. "She stopped everybody who came in and told them, 'That's my dad.'"

The University City resident's relationship with her parents has been distant for about two years because of a disagreement between her mother and husband.

Her mother, Loretta Bacalzo, has refused to take her calls, Germaine said. She and her father, now 77, have spoken only a little.

After seeing the exhibit, "Singgalot: Ties That Bind," in Charlotte through Oct. 16, Germaine has begun to feel a stronger connection to her family and her heritage.

That's exactly what the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit is designed to do. Singgalot, a Filipino word for knot, speaks of a bond between the people, their homeland and their history.

She has decided to do whatever she can to mend the relationship with her parents. Her father's health is failing.

"It makes me want to be closer to him," said Germaine, 46. "It makes me wish my mom would talk to me. It makes me want to write more friendly letters than I have in the past. I never write. I email."

The Huntersville Elementary School teacher also wants to learn more about her roots.

Seeing the exhibit helped Germaine better understand the hardships Filipinos endured after the United States annexed the archipelago in 1898.

She said she admires the islanders for their perseverance as U.S. colonial subjects and while fighting discrimination during their struggles for full citizenship throughout the last century.

Her knowledge of her own family's history before and after migration is sketchy.

Her paternal grandfather, Alfonso Bacalzo, was the first to arrive in 1917. He served in the U.S. Army and raised two sons with his wife, Maxima Rillera, while working for the U.S. Postal Service.

Germaine's father married a woman of Filipino and German descent. They have two daughters.

Germaine has decided to make sure more of the family's history is available for her sister's three children.

"I see family history kind of like a Bible," she said. "If I can leave a legacy of who Alfonso was, they can stand taller. That's what it does when I look at my history. That's what I love."