When a nanny is more than a mother
LOS ANGELES — Last January, three Filipino-American siblings from this city arrived in a small town in the Philippines to attend the funeral of a woman who lived her life caring for them as children growing up in America.
Maricar Babaran-Buan, 42, and her younger siblings Joseph Patrick Babaran, 41, and Nicole Babaran, 34, braved heavy rains, floods, and mosquitos in Palo, Leyte province, on Jan. 12 to pay their last respects to Luz Pedrosa, their longtime nanny who meant more to them than any other woman in the world.
Four days earlier, the 82-year-old woman who they call “Yaya Luz” died from complications of dementia, the memory-robbing disease that afflicts older people in their twilight years.
Before she decided to finally retire in Leyte in 2008 to reap the rewards of her hard work in America, Pedrosa was present in almost every aspect of the lives of her “alaga” for nearly 30 years, according to her wards.
“Yaya Luz was an amazing woman! Her story of love, great devotion, and sacrifice for us is worth telling,” said Nicole, a physician assistant at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in LA, and the youngest of the brood.
“She was our superwoman who raised us as her own, taught us patience, perseverance, and how to be strong,” said Joseph, also known as JP, a business executive who works for a big California car company.
The emotional bond between nanny and child would be passed on to another generation as Maricar, the eldest, became a mother on Sept. 19, 2018. She named her first child Luna (moon), to reflect a connection to her Yaya Luz (light).
Luna, who is now 4 years old, had frequent video chats with the woman who took care of her mother when she was just 3 months old, when the Babaran family was still living in Manila in the 1980s.
“Motherhood is a gift, but it is nobler — even heroic — for women like Luz to take care of children not their own,” said Jennie Urbina-Kriz, a hotel executive in LA who is also Pedrosa’s cousin.
In 1990, Pedrosa took a difficult path many Filipino women undertake as a life choice: leave family and homeland, some leaving their own children behind, to work abroad as domestic helpers, babysitters or au pairs in far corners of the world.
In 2013, National Public Radio reported that about 15 percent—or as many as 300,000—of the estimated 2 million domestic workers in the United States that year were Filipino women.
In Pedrosa’s case, she was nursing a broken heart after the death of her boyfriend. Looking for a way to alleviate her grief, Pedrosa left for the United States to work as a nanny, using an assumed name on a tourist visa, with the help of the Babaran family.
Cooking for Arroyo
The three Babaran siblings and their social media comments may offer a clue on why they gravitated closer to their nanny than their biological mother, Lucy, who is married to their father Joselito Babaran, a US-trained doctor who finished his medical degree from the University of the East in Manila in the 1980s.
“You were an angel in the shape of my mum. Yaya Luz, you were truly my mum,” said Maricar, who is a California family doctor, like her father.
“Yaya Luz took the bus to pick us up every day from school even though my mother did not work and she had a car,” said JP.
“All that I learned in life, I got from her,” said Nicole.
But it was their mother’s connection that gave Yaya Luz her ticket to America.
Their mom’s father, Arsenio Romero, was a close cousin of Diosdado Macapagal, the ninth Philippine President.
Their mom’s cousin is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), the 14th Philippine president whose powerful American friends included former US President Bill Clinton, Arroyo’s classmate at Georgetown University in the 1960s.
“I have cooked and served dinner for GMA. That is one of the highlights of my life,” Pedrosa once told this reporter, who also hails from the same town of Palo, Leyte.
“Yaya had the photos to prove it,” JP said.
The former president often visited the Babarans in their Woodland Hills home here in California during the 16 times she officially visited the United States in her 10 years as president, according to JP.
When news of their nanny’s death reached them, the three siblings changed their Facebook profiles to show each one of them tightly embracing their beloved nanny.
But they were curious if their Yaya still had them in her thoughts, even as the ravages of dementia ate away at what was left of her.
The answer came when the siblings were shown a video of the lifeless body of their nanny on her deathbed.
She was holding close to her heart a blue elephant doll. It was the last gift they gave her as her life slowly ebbed away.