Mylene Richardson knew her mother, Tessie Agana, had been a child actor in her home country of the Philippines.
In the 1950s, Agana starred in several Filipino films, sometimes alongside her mother, Consuelo Agana, who performed under the stage name Linda Estrella.
But this glamorous slice of family history was a world away from Richardson’s childhood, growing up as one of nine kids in the midwest. To her, Agana was just … her mom. With that many kids, it seemed she had little time to be anyone or anything else.
That changed in 1980 on a family trip to the Philippines.
Close to 30 years had passed since the peak of the mother-daughter acting duo’s fame. They were interviewed on national Filipino talk shows. And fans lined up before and after filming, begging the entire family for autographs.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is big,'” Richardson said.
Her mom was famous.
It changed how Richardson saw her mother. She began to ask questions, curious about what Agana’s unique childhood had been like. Often, she was met with resistance.
“She didn’t like talking about it,” Richardson said. “She was so in the spotlight, she just did what she had to do as a child… she almost wanted to just keep it in the past.”
But it was the start of a dialogue between mother and daughter that would continue for decades, and eventually turn into a book.
Writing the family history
Richardson started recording conversations with her mother and grandmother in 2009.
At first, it was to preserve the family history for Richardson’s own son, who was born the year before. He would run around playing with his great grandmother’s rosary beads, as Richardson caught their stories on a digital recorder.
She only ever intended the audio to be heard by family. But as people found out what she was doing, they made the same suggestion: Maybe you should write a book.
At the same time, Richardson’s own perspective began to change. She had anticipated the fascinating tidbits about life as a child star. But she hadn’t expected to learn so much about her mother, nor to gain so much insight into herself.
Her book, titled “The Legend of Tessie Agana: Beloved Child Star of the Philippines: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother,” was released in September. In it, Richardson documents her mother’s journey from childhood fame in the Philippines, to life as a midwest mother, to the Arizona town of Cave Creek. (Read more on AZ Central)
By Lane Sainty, Arizona Republic
October 29, 2023