On Remembering the People Power Revolution

This piece was intended for a local radio station’s listener perspective, but it was rejected on accounts of it being too international, in spite of the fact that the Bay Area is home to the most diverse cities in the country. San Francisco alone is home to tens of thousands of Filipinos. What happens internationally is felt, heard, understood locally as we live in increasingly globalized societies. So I’m posting this piece on my blog instead — would love your thoughts!

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The EDSA revolution or the People Power Revolution in the Philippines happened 29 years ago on February 25th, a year before I was born. Then dictator Ferdinand Marcos was being ousted by the people, after 20 years of military dictatorship. I remember my mom telling me that she wanted to join the protests but the military blocked roads and highways to the capital as the number of protesters and activists swelled to thousands.

The assassination of Marcos’s most popular political opponent at that time, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, was one of the defining moments of that revolution. He was an outspoken critic of Marcos’s presidency and as he was stepping out of a plane from an exile in the United States, he was gunned down.

Twenty nine years later, Aquino’s son, Noynoy Aquino is the current president of the country. Almost five years into his presidency, his administration has been rife with scandals, impeachment cases and most recently, an extremely violent encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, the southern part of the Philippines which killed 44 special action forces policemen and members of rebel groups as well as civilians.

As a Filipino immigrant living in the Bay Area, I don’t know which fact of this story to be most confounded with. Whether it’s the fact that it was a covert operation to capture a “terrorist” wanted by the FBI. Or the fact that that the head of the National Police knew nothing about the operation, nor the country’s interior and local government secretary although it was authorized by the President. Or the fact that a suspended police chief was put in charge. Or maybe the fact that it was on the territory of the rebel groups that the government currently has peace talks with. Or perhaps most of all, the fact that no one is taking accountability for what happened. Not Noynoy’s administration. Not the U.S. Not the FBI. No one.

In spite of the questions, the mission was hailed as a success. How, one might ask, considering the number of lives lost in the encounter between forces of the government and those who seek autonomy from it? The finger of the terrorist, who was also killed in the operation was sent to the FBI for DNA testing. Mission accomplished indeed.

I’ve been living in the U.S. for over ten years, and just like every immigrant forced out of their homeland due to economic hardships, it breaks my heart to hear about these things. When I was younger, I remember reading one of the Ninoy’s letters dated August 25th, 1973 to Noynoy.

In the letter, Ninoy wrote that the only advice he could give his son at that time was to live with honor, and to follow his conscience. As Filipinos around the world commemorate the People Power Revolution, to celebrate the Filipinos’ resistance and resilience against tyranny and dictatorship while mourning the loss of the fallen 44 and others, I urge Pres. Noynoy Aquino to heed his father’s advice — to follow his conscience and face the people, because we deserve the truth.

Love, in Tagalog

Part of it is denial, part of it is too-soon nostalgia. Maybe it’s the beautiful wedding of two queer Pinays two weeks ago. Or the nearly three-week cold that I’m finally healing from, but I wake up each morning with a deep, deep longing to be home.

Whatever it is, there will be posts upon posts of my three-week trip (expo for two weeks, family & friends for the last one) to the Philippines, no details spared. Before I boarded the plane back to SFO, I’ve made the decision to move back home within the next few years and if not permanently, maybe for an extended period of time.

The expo trip with GABRIELA Philippines was nothing short of amazing. The families, the communities, their struggles, their resilience and unending hope for a better society has strengthened my commitment to the movement. I am in the process of writing and collating notes from the trip, of which I will be sharing in this blog and in a community report back in November. Seeing my high school friends after ten years was also heartwarming, and while we’ve all paved our own paths, I am in awe of our friendship and genuine sisterhood.

Reflecting on my experiences with people and my reintroduction to what was once familiar is a lot of emotional work. I smoke twice as much as I used to, hoping for release every time. Old wounds open up. This level of vulnerability scares me, but I push through. I smoke more, I write more. And on days when everything feels too much, I lay in bed and find solace with the last thing I thought I would comfort me: Filipino films. Not documentaries, not indie films, but the good ‘ol rom-coms Star Cinema comes out with. The films that my mom and my titas would watch at the theaters at Stonestown Mall in San Francisco. Those films. 

I’ve been obsessed with One More Chance since 2007 and depending on my mood, I could be team Popoy or team Basha. When I was in Subic in the Philippines, my best friend got some DVDs for my mom as pasalubong. One of the titles I remember her getting was She’s Dating the Gangster which made me raise my brows. Really? A week after being back in Oakland, I sat in bed and quickly Googled the movie, found a link and the rest is history. I’m on team Kathniel already after one movie.

A still from “She’s Dating the Gangster.”

Three rom-coms and bowls of arrozcaldo later, my eyes were puffy from crying. I finally got up from bed, but only to smoke. It was still bright outside, but the sun was already slowly setting. I miss the ease of not having to explain myself. I miss not having to think about what I have to say, or whether I’m saying it correctly. I miss the comfort of knowing that you’re both looking for the same thing and shouldn’t it be that easy?

Not really.

While I was smitten with the “love teams” and the lines and the screenplays knowing that they would only make sense to Filipinos (not even Fil-Ams, unfortunately), I was also discovering the dissonance between cultures, societal norms and intimacy. Let’s explore love teams for example. I grew up knowing the love teams of Juday and Rico Yan, Jolina and Marvin, Stefano and Camille, Carlo and Angelica. I can’t think of an actor or actress that has risen to stardom on their own because they’re always paired up. These love teams would be each other’s love interest in every single movie that they make. Sure enough, they were adored by the masses. Worshipped by their fans. Love sells. Specifically, love teams sell.

I didn’t realize how this affected the way I perceived intimate relationships, specially after moving here. I remember my therapist telling me once that just because I dated a queer Pinay doesn’t mean that they would automatically share the same vision as I did because where they grew up also matters. And that’s really true, because although I had an almost 4-year monogamous relationship with a queer Fil-Am, we had to learn each other’s ways over and over again until we realized we weren’t compatible. Even though our shared love for gulay and bangus sisig was strong it could overpower any damn diner in the country. The kinds of relationships one sees growing up are essential, and slowly I’m uncovering a very important facet of my childhood. Love teams were a norm, as much as Disney fairytales were.

Ginny and all her feelings in “Starting Over Again.”

The other morning I was late to work, my eyes puffy again. I watched Starting All Over Again and while it’s not your usual love story with a happy ending, I appreciate the lessons. It’s slowly teaching me things that I started to learn in earlier Filipino films like persistence and the reality of one’s mortality. As in, I will tell you how I feel because I might die tomorrow type of shit. But that night’s movie had so many gems — like loving you is letting go. I needed to hear that. I need to move on. I’m here, and maybe I was a different person ten years ago when I loved you. Maybe I was a different person last year too. Maybe it’s a lot of regret, a lot of wanting to reclaim what you think you can regain, but tonight, I’m right here, in the present, with a better version of myself learning and loving the best ways I know how. And I’ll be ok knowing that perhaps I can still love those people, but just in different ways.

Warsan & For Difficult Women & Love

I almost met Warsan Shire back in 2013 at the Bay Area Arab Women’s Conference, where she did a poetry reading from her book Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark). After the reading, a friend wanted to introduce me to her but I freaked out for some reason. I told them I had to be at a meeting right after, but I really just ran up to the third floor of the library where the Filipino American Center was. I sat there for a couple of hours, surrounded by books on everything Filipino & Filipino-American – cookbooks, literature, history, fiction to name a few.

That day came back to me last night as I lay in bed restless, desperately wanting sleep. When I first learned of her poem For Women Who Are Difficult to LoveI remember reading it and committing it to memory, to heart (pronouns modified):

you are a horse running alone
and she tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding her
that she could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy her, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill her mouth
her teeth ache with memory of taste
her body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want her
unashamed and sacrificial
she tells you that no woman can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
her traveling away from you in her dreams
so what did you want to do, love
split her head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if she wants to leave
then let her leave
you are terrifying 
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love. 

I let the last three lines linger on my lips. Read more

July 15: 5 Things

1Standing in solidarity with all Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation, struggling for their rightful land and lives.  

lainerz
Photo Credit: Lainerz (via Instagram)

From the International League of People’s Struggle’s statement:

The present Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip since five days ago has already resulted in nearly 200 civilian deaths, hundreds of civilians wounded, houses, mosques, hospitals, schools, the fuel and water systems and other civilian structures destroyed by bombs. A high proportion of those being killed by Israeli bombing and strafing are children. Hundreds of Palestinian are being illegally arrested, detained and tortured.

2Stories of Queer Diaspora

On its third (sold out!) run this year, I was finally able to catch Stories of Queer Diaspora curated by Erika Vivianna Céspedes at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. It was an honor to listen to the stories of 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, mirroring my own experience(s) as a queer Pinay in the diaspora. Hella love to Candy, Mitali, Kat and Rani! Also, check out a portion of Yosi‘s piece I recorded here.

3Berkeley Flea Market

berkeley_fleamarket

Thank you to those who donated, helped and womanned stall 566 in the scorching Berkeley heat with our #expo2014 group. It’s amazing to see flea market economics in action, which as my kasama/sister/ultimate pare Aileen Santos compared with the palengke(s) back home.

– Aileen Santos

Speaking of my pare and fellow writer Ai, I finally got the chance to interview her for this blog and I will be posting it here soon. In the meantime, you can read my interview with Mel here.

5 Lisa by Theophilus London

This, on repeat since Monday. This, the story of my life these days.

You’re not your fault.

grass

During Pride weekend about two weeks ago, I was finally able to visit Spirit Rock Meditation Center for a daylong that was way overdue. I try to go on a personal retreat every three months, which sounds a little too much but I find it extremely helpful to take a step back from the routines and the schedules and the emails and the tweets, and just stop for a moment.

To be silent, to breathe in the present, to reexamine what the mind and heart holds dearly, as you strive to become the best version of yourself.

I woke up early that Saturday morning still thinking about what I wrote the day before, and felt that thing you feel when you’re about to do something you’ve never done before. Specially if you’re doing it by yourself. I stood in the shower and calmed myself, letting precious, precious water fall on my face down the length of my being as I listened to my thoughts.

I went through a list of things that I could be doing instead: packing more things (I was moving that same weekend) and the endless boxing, labeling, marveling, purging, cleaning OR poring over Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State because holy shit, Mireille! OR writing OR revising and editing OR writing some more OR meeting up with a GABRIELA sister for tea and talk about the fucked up-ness of Pres. Noynoy Aquino and oh-how-he-makes-our-blood-boil because of his policies and his family’s legacy and gotdamn give the land back to the people OR maybe I could also just drive down to Stinson Beach and live vicariously through lean-bodied surfers, a plus if they’re of color to try to distract myself for a bit OR this other thing and really, the list was endless. Read more

Melissa Reyes: On Longing & the Tragedy of Diaspora

mel_sol

You… see us… and think you know us, but our outward guise is more deceptive than our history.

I think about these words from Carlos Bulosan, Filipino novelist and poet, as I recall my conversation with my #expo2014 co-team lead and GABRIELA SF co-chair Melissa Reyes last week. There is a question of identity, almost an existential question that leads those of us who are part of the diaspora into a disquieting rendering of the self. This is how Mel describes wrestling with her identity as a Filipino growing up in San Diego, along with a longing for the people and the country, that has led to her work and commitment to the global Filipino women’s movement.

It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and I picked Mel up at the Filipino Community Center in the Excelsior district in San Francisco. We were on our way to an #expo2014 meeting with GABRIELA SF members in Oakland, and while I was wrestling with the rush hour traffic on the Bay Bridge, I spoke with Mel about our upcoming trip. Read more

Creating Our Own Maps

Yesterday, I came across a tweet that prompted me to respond right away:

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now, not just in terms of what we are all capable of as individuals, but more so as creators of our own maps, as artists. All of us. A huge shout out to Seth Godin who has just transformed the way I see art, artists, people, the kinds of work that we do, and life in general.

So what is art anyways?

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator

…a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

…a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.

Seth and his ideas on art have been ruminating in my head for the past few weeks, and I think about these more as I proceed with my economic job, my writing, my organizing and other things within my social and creative spheres.

San Francisco Pride is coming up. There are a plethora of parties in the City, and it feels weird that a) I’m not excited and b) I’m actually wanting to get away from the celebration as far as I can. Gone are the days of day-drinking at Civic Center. Well shit, gone are the days of total inebriation for me, period. Which probably explains the loss of the thrill of Pride, when it used to be the most awaited time of the year. Believe me, it was bigger than my birthday and Christmas combined.

As I get older, I’m beginning to find other ways of celebrating my queerness and the communities I am a part of. I’ve been able to do this by reaching out to my immediate communities first, and creating spaces with my organization that nurture our multiple identities as queer diasporic Filipinos/Filipino-Americans and as queer and trans people of color.

I’m really fortunate though to be living in the Bay Area, where I have access to events that the QTPOC crew of artists-activists-healers Peacock Rebellion has lovingly curated here such as:

A huge shout-out too to queer Pin@y organizers and artists in NYC who are doing amazing work in their communities this Pride season.

You may have also read my love for the Nigerian fictional couple Ifemelu and Obinze from the book Americanah in a previous post here, but wait until I tell you that my friend-poet-Drake-lover-writer-extraordinaire Yvonne Fly has actually written a book about queer Nigerian love. For Sizakele “addresses transcontinental identity, queer gender and how we love as illuminators of who we are” and I cannot wait to read it.

These people inspire me, and continue to move me as a I write and create my own ways of living, loving and map-making. The Pride season I want to celebrate is one that honors all our struggles, our aches, our victories.

From my heart to yours — happy Pride, and I can’t wait to see your map.

Second Attempt: Deconstructing Expo Anxieties

This is a follow-up post to First Attempt: Deconstructing Expo Anxieties, written two years ago.

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Back in 2012 when I was just thinking about thinking of going on expo, I identified my high school alma mater as the place I had to come back to, the place that made me feel safest.

Everyone’s high school experience is always rife with unspeakable but also unforgettable things and people, but I never explored that topic again, as I continued working and organizing with the Filipino women’s movement in the Bay. Many more comrades went on expo trips to the Philippines and for a brief time in 2013, I also considered going.

But I was still scared, and found it easier to give in to the internal resistance dominated by fear, anxiety and inability to face my trauma. It took some harder lessons (and some therapy sessions) to overcome that fear, and with the help of my family, friends and kasamas, I finally made the shift.

Read more

nigeria, philippines, americanah: longings & musings

for three nights in a row after finishing chimamanda ngozi adichie’s “americanah” (public library) i found myself missing ifemelu and obinze.

americanah

it was about 11 at night, and i was sitting in bed with the vastness of the oakland sky outside my window. i reached to my side table and held adichie’s book, still in awe of how one book could contain multiple worlds. how one book could illustrate timelines and lifetimes.

i saw myself in the pages, along with ifemelu and obinze, the two main characters of “americanah.” ifemelu, with her “prickliness.” obinze, with his tenderness.

reading about their lives unraveled a reality that was a little bit familiar, albeit entirely different. as i turned each page, i knew that i resonated with the book so much because of two things: immigration and the (im)possibilities of long-distance love. Read more

’bout that collective life

my weekend was filled with the hustle and bustle of mission st., as a group of women, children and i gathered in a house atop a corner store in san francisco. our group comprised of queer pinays and mothers who have gone to/are going to the philippines this summer, and while we shared stories and experiences with each other, we also had kasamas (comrades) from the youth and student organizations who volunteered to babysit the cutest brown toddlers.

this retreat is a huge part of our preparation process, and it wasn’t an easy feat getting through the entire weekend without shedding a single tear. from sharing our life maps to conducting constructive criticism as a group, we grappled with the contradictions of living in an individualist society and trying to establish a collective life:

Read more