Illac Diaz learned to appreciate different cultures and backgrounds from his mom Silvana.
Culture Spotlight

The woman who raised me: Illac Diaz on his mother Silvana

The social entrepreneur remembers the lessons he learned from being brought up by a “global citizen.” His mother, the founder of one of the oldest galleries in the country, believes education and travel can give someone a wider and more caring perspective.  
Illac Diaz | May 11 2019

For Mother’s Day this year, we’ve asked several men to pen a piece about the person who helped shape who they are today. While the truth that these exceptional individuals owe a lot from the woman who raised them might not be entirely earth-shattering, it definitely always bears repeating.

My goals in life are threefold: first, to visit as many countries as possible in my lifetime; second, to receive the best education in the world; and third, to give back to the country in the best way that I could. These weren’t borne out of thin air. I have my phenomenal mother, Silvana Diaz, to thank. Not only did she help shape these dreams for me; she helped me achieve them in the best way possible.

 

More exceptional women:

 

My mother has always been a hardworking dreamer and an intellectual. Growing up in Italy, she learned various European languages including French. On her side of the family, everyone was well-educated, and she held on steadfastly to the tradition of finishing one’s studies. She studied at the University of Nottingham. My grandfather struggled to get her into university, and she faced difficulties as a new student in a foreign land. But, my mom wasn’t one to give up on her dreams—she became fluent in English, and through her linguistic skills, she was able to land a job as a flight attendant for Alitalia.

The opportunity proved serendipitous for her. Even with her Western education, my mother had always had a yearning for Asia and its diverse, exotic cultures. As she circled the globe, not only was she able to tour the Asian countries she longed to visit, but she also met the love of her life, Ramon Diaz. That’s how her story began here in the Philippines.

Illac Diaz at 7 months old.

Because of her travels, I had the opportunity to see much of the world at a young age. My mother would often bring the fruits of her labor to my room. I still remember the metal Voltes V robot, complete with detachable parts. I would play with the exotic masks and drums that she gathered from all over Africa. What further spurred my desire to travel were the National Geographic magazines that she gave me. I’d read them from cover to cover, memorize countries and places, and talk about the articles with my mom.

She encouraged my dream to travel. After all, she is a global citizen, a well-travelled woman who always wanted to see the infinite beauty and kindness of the world. It is only fitting that she would allow me to do the same. But that didn’t mean that I could travel whenever and wherever I want; it’s not like we had unlimited funds. Besides, there were many things that I had to learn first before I was able to venture out in the open.

 

All the world’s a classroom

When I was younger, travelling with my mother wasn’t always all fun and games. This is where her emphasis on education came out. Whenever she could, she would teach me everything about the sites we visited in Tuscany, Rome, and Venice, among other cities. In our trips around the country, she would give me guide questions on Italian culture and history, and I would have to submit extensive reports to her afterward.

When he was in college, he had to go the Italian embassy after his classes to learn about his mother’s country and native tongue.

Things weren’t easier back in the Philippines. After my classes in Ateneo, I would have to go to the Italian Embassy to study Italian history and grammar. So, on top of school, I had an hour’s worth of lectures and around three to four hours of book time. You could imagine the pent-up hate a gradeschooler would have for this kind of setup. But there wasn’t any chance of crossing my mother. She was a stickler for homework.

However, in the succeeding trips we had back in her homeland, I realized I was getting better at communicating and navigating around places. We were still doing the same things—touring galleries, visiting historical sites—but I had a renewed sense of confidence. I had this feeling that, if my mom left me anywhere in the world, I would feel safe. Only then did I develop an appreciation for the additional lessons that she provided me.

Alongside my desire for travel, my mother formed my social conscience at a young age. Every December, I remember her listing down the families around our neighborhood in Pasay, and accompanying her to buy food, rice, and gifts for them. She even allowed me to play with the neighborhood kids and accompany them to their fathers’ workshops. We were living in a mixed community back then, and most of the children I mingled with helped out at their dads’ shops, tinkering with machines and tools. Through these experiences, not only did I learn more about social realities outside our gates, but I also gained the confidence to work with my hands as well—something that proves useful up until now.   

 

Man for others

You could say that she opened doors for me to become a decent human being, someone who is responsible for his own country, the people he interacts and works with, and the world. She would always remind me this: “Illac, You’re Filipino, you have an obligation to give something back to the Philippines. What we give you access to is to success, travels, to good schools, good education, but the true measure of success is how many people you bring along with you as much as possible.”

"Illac Diaz says that though his mom is a lot more careful and mellow now, she is still strong and a fighter."

Silvana set me off on a journey to acquire a wealth of skills and experience, in order for me to give back something of equal or greater measure to the world. This has always been my guiding principle as I proceed with my humanitarian work.

Currently, my mom has a clean bill of health after fighting cancer for quite some time. She is a bit more careful and mellow now, but she remains strong. Early last year when she got sick, a couple of friends held a beneficiary show for her. I remember the place was packed with artists, family, and supporters. The place didn’t have enough space for all the donated artwork! Everything got sold out, and that’s what made paying for her treatment easier. It was an eye-opening experience. I already knew how great my mom is, but seeing the support that poured during that show reminded me of how beloved and special she is.

You know, there are great people in life that you meet, or you wish you had crossed paths with. I’m fortunate enough that an excellent person gave birth to me, nurtured me, and supported me. That’s who Silvana Diaz is.