Deepening sense of Cebuano identity
While Bryl Jan Yucaran, then 8 years old, was strolling with his mother, Magdalena, in downtown Cebu City, something struck his attention that would guide him to where his interest really was.
It was a pamphlet on the history of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, which he begged his mother, a financial advisor, to buy him a copy.
More than a decade later, Bryl is doing exactly what he loves—giving free educational tours to some of the city’s heritage sites every January, in time for the annual Sinulog Festival in celebration of the feast of the Holy Child Jesus.
“January is not just a month of Sinulog celebration, but a celebration of Cebuano heritage and culture. It is also my birth month. It is my way of paying forward,” he said. He turned 22 on Jan. 11.
Since childhood, he has always been interested in unraveling the stories behind “old things.”
“It’s nice to trace the history of the church (basilica),” he said. “It’s one of the oldest structures in the city, but it still exists until now.”
Bryl’s father, Loreto, died when he was young. His elder brother, Adrian Ryz Yucaran, 24, is a freelance IT specialist.
Saving on history books
While growing up, Bryl was different from other boys his age. While they would be interested in toys, he would save money to buy books.
“My mom and grandma, Paz Salazar, used to read me story books… and that nurtured me to be inquisitive,” he said.
Salazar would often tell stories about World War II, fueling his inclination toward history.
Since he was always with his grandparents and other older relatives, he was captivated by talks about how life in Cebu City was during their time. These intrigued him.
Magdalena supported her son’s passion for learning by buying him more books, mostly related to history.
While he was taking up a course in communications at Cebu Normal University, he attended a class on local history and heritage tourism.
In 2009, Bryl became involved with the AFS Intercultural Program, an international youth exchange program. The following year, a group of European and Asian college students under the program went to Cebu City and wanted to learn more about Cebu.
An idea came to Bryl’s mind. He volunteered to tour his guests around Colon, the oldest street in the country. “Knowing I had some knowledge about local history, I decided to give it for free,” he said.
They met at a mall in uptown Cebu City and took a jeepney ride to Colon. Approaching Fuente Osmeña rotunda, Bryl told them that the fountain in its inner circle could be spotted on the old P50 bill. When one of the students pulled out the money, he began to narrate the history of the fountain, which was built in 1912 as part of a water system during the American colonial period.
“I wasn’t expecting the other passengers to listen intently. There was one guy who really took out a bill to check,” he said.
The tour gave him a different sense of fulfillment, knowing that he had helped contribute to the knowledge of someone else. It started a tradition of holding annual heritage tours to those interested.
Bryl does not charge any fee for his tours, which are now on its sixth year.
“I’m in it for the fulfillment. It’s nice to know that they learned something. If they know about our culture, then they learn to appreciate it,” Bryl said.
Bryl doesn’t only cater to foreign exchange students but also to locals and his network of friends outside Cebu, mostly youth leaders who are interested in Cebuano history. Every year, about 30 people would tag along during the tour.
This year, Bryl’s tours will be on Jan. 15 and 16, starting from the provincial capitol to Osmeña Boulevard, passing by famous sites like Fuente Osmeña and University of San Carlos and proceed to Plaza Hamabar on Parian Street, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza Independencia, Fort San Pedro and Magellan’s Cross.
While Cebuano youths today have knowledge about the history of Cebu, it is not deep enough to merit appreciation, Bryl said. Former college classmates who joined his tours acknowledged that their lack of knowledge felt like something was missing in their identity.
“It gives me fulfillment that I am able to help fill the gap within themselves,” he said.