Elsa Tingabngab Fista

Elsa Tingabngab Fista Bio

I was born August 11, 1937 in Kinuigitan Misamis Oriental, Philippines.

My real name give to me at birth was Binbineda. During WWII when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, my uncle killed a Japanese Colonel. Since my uncle’s last name is Tingabngab, the Japanese Army wanted to kill everyone in our family who had the Tingabngab name. So we buried all our precious things and went to live in the mountains to be safe from the Japanese soldiers. When the war was over, we came down from the mountains and returned home. Our town hall was bombed so my birth certificate was damaged. So when I had to prepare my papers to leave the Philippines to go to Hawaii, they found only a part of my birth certificate. Elsa was my baptized name and the name that I often used so I was given a choice to keep my name Elsa.

My mother’s name is Simprosa Babate, born in 1900 at Mambajao Camiguin, Philippines.

My father’s name is Liberato Tingabngab born January 12, 1873.

My grandparents on my father’s side are Filipe Tingabngab and Gregoria Rugay. My grandparents on my mother’s side are Antonio Babate and Isabel Equacion.

My parents had 9 children I am the youngest. My siblings are: Anatalia Galacio sister died 1980. Braulia Velasco sister lives in Manila, Philippines. Nepomuceno Tingabngab, brother died in the Philippines, Simplicio Tingabngab, and brother died 1963. Sigunida Pahayahay, sister lives in Hawaii and Monica Velcorza, sister lives in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. Romana Estrada, sister and Jesus Tingabngab, brother died in the Philippines.My parents were older when I was born; most of my siblings had married and were living nearby. My mother sold Jewelry in different towns and my father was a Foreman in Carpentry, so I spent a lot of time growing up with my father. He helped build our local church and various buildings in our town. We lived in a two story house with running water and electricity.

My father would share our water with our neighbors. He was a very good man. One day, I decided that I didn’t want to share our water so I stood in front of the water hose to stop our neighbors from getting water. A crowd grew around me and one of the boys got mad and threw a glass bottle near me and the shattered glass cut my leg. I still have the scar today. I ran and told my father and he bandaged my leg and told me that is why we share. That taught me a lesson and that is something I teach my children. We share everything. Another lesson that I have learned from my father was to help everyone when they need your help. He once told me before he died that I was going to be rich. Not necessary with money, but with love and people in my life. I feel that is true even today with all of my children, my family, and my friends.

I was very happy growing up. We lived in Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao. Our dialect is Visayan. We lived near the beach where I often would play volleyball and baseball with my friends. I love to sing our Filipino folk songs and dance with the music. My favorite food growing up was adobo and poso (rice in coconut leaves). I went to school and learned how to speak English. I went to Holy Cross High School at Camp Phillips for one year until I married. Many of my family members lived in Cagayan, they were teachers, policemen, members of the Philippine Army, and my sister, Segundina owned a small general store called a Sari-Sari. She and her family lived upstairs.

My brother Jesus and I were the youngest so we often played together. We would have to watch our sister’s store sometimes when she had to go upstairs to do something. Sometimes my brother would take some pesos from her money box so we can rent bikes to ride around town. My sister had a small hole in the ground of the second floor so she could watch the store from upstairs. So I had to be the lookout person when my brother Jesus would take the pesos.

Meeting my husband Victor

I am very close to my sister Segundina her nickname is Dina she was like a mother to me. She is 10 years older than me so I would often baby sit her children. She lives in Hawaii now so we talk and visit with each other often. My nickname is NingNing so she calls me “Ning”.

Segundina introduced me to my husband, Victor. He was a Hawaii born Filipino. He is an American citizen. Segundina wanted to go to America and Victor had noticed me growing up and told his friend that one day he would marry me. Back in the day, my father was very strict he believed that a single girl should never enter a single man’s house. So my sister and Victor’s mother, Leona would set me up. My sister had me go over to Victor’s house to ask for some coffee. I asked her why you want me to go there when we have coffee in the store. She told me just go so I went. I knocked on Victors’ parent house door and no one answered so I pushed open the door and walked in Victor was hiding behind the door and put his hand up and said I am not going to touch you I just want to marry you.

In the meantime my sister called my father and told him that I was at Victor’s house and he was very angry. He went there and saw me in the window talking to Victor. So he called up outside and had Victor bring his parents and we all met at Segundina’s house he wanted us to marry now that he has seen me with Victor. I was shocked and surprised and asked my sister why but she denied that she had anything to do with it.

Married Victor

Victor and I married May 16, 1954 I was 16 years old. He worked in Del Monte Pineapple Plantation as a tire-man and a mechanic. We have 8 children: Leonisa Meyers born July 19, 1955, Ricardo Fista born September 23, 1957, Salome Amuro born on July 6, 1959, Gilfred Fista born October 14, 1961, Frederick Fista born on July 6, 1963. They were all born in the Philippines. We moved to Guam, USA where Victor got a job working with Black Heavy Equipment as a mechanic. That is where Rosemary was born September 22, 1965. Than we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where Rackel Haskell was born January 9, 1968 and Annabelle Evans was on born January 10, 1972.


We lived in Hawaii for many years. Victor worked for Hawaiian Rock. He got a job overseas in Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands and worked for Martin Zachary as a heavy Equipment mechanic. He would come home often to visit me and the kids and sent $500 to me every month. So I had to budget, I paid our rent, feed, and clothe our children, and saved for our future house. Also with the money we saved, we paid for Victor’s mother Leona, his sister Ceferiana, and his brother Manual (a few years later) to come to Hawaii from the Philippines. I also helped my niece Amparo to come to Hawaii and find a husband so she eventually helped her mother my sister Segundina, her father Emilliano Pahayahay, most of her siblings to move to Hawaii.

In the early 70’s, when Victor was still overseas money was very tight so I would work odd jobs such as ironing baskets of laundry, various cleaning jobs at Hickam Air Force Base, we also would stand in line every Christmas so the soldiers would give us free presents for my kids, I shopped a thrift stores and swap meets to save money on clothes and things. At times it was tough, but we were happy. I had great friends that lived near me, I was close to Victor’s sister Sophie, and I had my children. One of my proudest moments at that time, I was part of the first Filipina’s to help Hawaii celebrate their very first Sampaguita Festival. On June 12, 1971, we celebrated the Philippines Independence by preparing our traditional foods and wearing our barongs, the local newspaper put my picture in the newspaper. I, also, volunteered at my children’s school and for our local Visayan Hinabanai a place where many Filipino’s would gather and have parties with live musicians. Often times the Mayor of Hawaii would visit the Hinabanai and also famous Filipino actors and singers. President Marcos visited Hawaii and I was the person to represent Mindanao in our celebrations. His mother visited the Hinabanai and wanted someone to sing in Visayan because the President’s wife Imelda was from Leyte. I sang “Matudnila” for her. That was another proud moment for me at that time.

Victor returns from Kwajalein

When Victor moved back from Kwajalein we bought a house in Waipahu. Many of our friends could not believe that we could afford to buy it. My mother-in-law Leona moved in with us and would often watch the kids. She would send Ricardo, my oldest son, to the river behind our house to fish to Tilapia that she loved to eat. We also bought a pool hall in Honolulu that I managed while Victor worked for William and Sons as their heavy equipment mechanic. I made traditional Filipino desserts to sell in the pool hall. My little girls, Annabelle and Rackel, played there while I worked.

Learned to drive a car

Victor taught me how to drive our station wagon near the pineapple fields. He was very impatient and would often yell at me until I got made at him for yelling at me, so I drove our station wagon into the pineapple field. Back then, we didn’t use our seat belt so Rosemary, Rackel, and Annebelle would bounce up and down in the back of the station wagon while I was driving through the pineapples.

Months later, the same 3 girls were fighting in the back seat of my son Ricardo’s car (which I borrowed from him to take the girls to the dentist). I tried to stop them from fighting, so I tried to pop them on the head when I crashed the car into another car that was going through a funeral procession. He was a son of a friend of mine who I found out when I went to visit her house. I never drove again. Victor drove me everywhere I needed to go.


Victor loved to pack some food and all of the kids in the station wagon and go to the beach. We spent a lot of time with the family. We also would have parties at our house where I would sing and cook a lot of traditional Filipino food. At one time, we had a trailer at the cock fights (sabongs) that I sold Filipino plate lunches and Hawaiian shaved ice (sweet favored shaved ice drink). Our house was always busy and full of people. My children’s friends would come over a lot and some of them would call me Mama. They loved to eat my cooking.

Victor’s accident We sold the pool hall when Victor had an accident at work. He nearly died when an engine blew up in his face. It would take the rest of his life to heal from his injuries. He was disabled unable to work, but he was able to live a normal life. After a long battle in the court, Victor received a settlement from William and Sons the company he worked for where the accident happened.


We were able to travel to Europe, to New York City, and to the Philippines to pray for a miracle for Victor. Victor and I traveled to the Vatican and Lourdes, Italy, where we prayed for Victor to heal from his injuries. We also visited Rome, Switzerland, Austria, Morocco, Germany to attend the passion play and England. We had so much fun and made friends with the people who were on our tour.

Another tragedy

Soon after our trip we returned home to Waipahu, Hawaii another tragedy struck. In 1979, our house of many years burned down. We were remodeling the kitchen when an exposed wire caught on fire. It took less than 10 minutes for the whole house to burn up in flames. We were home at the time and were able to run out of our house except for Rackel. She was asleep in her room with the door closed and no one noticed that she was still in the house. We thought that she was out riding her bike with her friends. Then my son, Gilfred noticed Rackel was still in the house she was banging on the window trying to get out. He started to run toward her when the fireman stopped him and he yelled at them that his sister was still in the house. They were able to save Rackel and we were thankful to god that she was okay. The house was gone, but everyone was okay.

My niece Amaro took us in until the insurance company made arrangements for us to stay in a condominium in Makakilo until our house was rebuilt. We had generous support from our family, friends, neighbors, and our community. Gilfred graduated high school that year so were had a big party to celebrate his graduation and to give thanks to God that Rackel was okay and to thank everyone who helped us. I am very religious I pray nearly everyday. I am always thankful for my many blessings.

Later that year, after our house was rebuilt we took a trip to California. Victor and I took Rosemary, Rackel, and Annabelle to visit our friends Lity and Macaro Parayo in San Mateo. We took the kids to Disneyland and the Wax museum in Los Angeles. On the way back from L.A., we stopped in Guadalupe to visit Victor’s cousin Marcela and Marcos Ando. Victor fell in love with Central Coast so he soon bought a house in Guadalupe. His nephew rented the house whiled we lived in Hawaii.

While back in Hawaii Victor kept thinking about California. He decided to move there and had a family meeting to let the children know that we were moving to California. In 1980, we sold our house in Waipahu, Hawaii and bought a new house in Santa Maria, California. We lived in that house for a short time because there was a cattle farm next to us and we couldn’t stand the smell so we sold that house and moved to Orcutt. We took the 4 youngest children Frederick, Rosemary, Rackel, and Annabelle, by then Carmen, Ricardo, Salome, and Gilfred were already married and had children of their own. Years later, Ricardo would move his family to Santa Maria and Gilfred moved there also when he got out of the Army. Salome moved to Maui, Hawaii where she raised her three children. Carmen moved to Kwajalein to work as a nurse and met her husband Jeff. She was able to meet some of Victor’s old friends from when he was there many years before.

In California

In California I worked as a nurse’s aid to care for an elderly woman in her house. Then, I worked at a rest home and cared for many people there. Later, I worked for Robinson Electronics. I worked there for many years until I was in injured in 1987 in the parking lot getting out of my car pool friend’s car. While I worked, Victor stayed home with the kids. He loved to collect guns and work on his many cars. I loved to play Bingo after work, volunteer at the Filipino community, and help people who needed my help. We have many friends in Santa Maria and victor had his cousins and their children so we have family here. We helped friends from our old town in the Philippines they were moving to California and so we opened our house for them to stay until they were able to find a place to stay. We opened our house to many of our friends and family. Families that we help would stay with us for months until they were able to move out on their own. My house is always open to people, friends, and family who needed help. We have been blessed and so we try to help anyone who is in need.

We bought another house in Santa Maria that we rented for a few years until Victor decided that he wanted to retire in that house because it was easier to take care of. The house in Orcutt had a pool and Victor was tired of maintaining it. We lived there for a few years when Victor died of pneumonia on March 5, 1999 only one hour before his 71st birthday on March 6th. We would have been married for 45 years that year.

Today I still help in my community and my house is still open to people even if they just want to come over to visit and eat. I love to cook traditional Filipino food. My children visit often and call me everyday. I travel to Hawaii often to visit with my sister Segundina and her family and to visit with my daughter Salome and my many grandchildren. I still play Bingo and I love to play at the casino with my children and friends. I pray faithfully every week and sometimes I pray with my friends praying and singing in Filipino. Today, I feel very rich. I know that my children love me very much. I have 22 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren who call me Grandma. I know that I am blessed in my life... In good times and bad, like my father once told me I would be rich one day.

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