So it’s been a while since my last post and as today is the last time I’ll have internet access before the end of the year, I feel compelled to write something to closeout the year in some way.
So since my last, only semi-political post, a million and one things have happened in the political situation as well as my life (as related to politics anyway). From Manila Pen to the Spain Junket to Bukidnon, tuloy tuloy pa rin the headlines. Is it lazy for me to say I’m burned out and don’t want to write about those things and just want to enjoy holiday mode?
2 large reasons why I’m burned out are probably the overflow of year-end events and Christmas parties (that actually started at the beginning of December, hence the lag since my last post), as well as Simbang Gabi. Office during the day, Christmas party at which you continue to work because these parties inevitably become networking events at night, then church at 4 AM, then start all over.
Something interesting however, has happened in this past month, and that is my unexpected forray into the inner circles of the Liberal Party. Now, don’t get me wrong, despite whatever Mon Casiple may say about me, I am far from a card-carrying Liberal :). Do I think that the LP is the most progressive (or at least has hte potential to be) of the traditional political parties? Well, yes. But in the end, do I still believe it’s a traditional political party? Of course. And that is the exact reason why I still am not open to committing myself. That and I must say I’m still romanticized by the outsider-activist within me.
I suppose I had my first taste of elite class…stuff while working at the Brennan Center. That was the first time I was around people whose family names I actually recognized (um, FAO Schwartz for example). That was the first time I met people whose bathroom soap cost more than my most expensive pair of shoes (NOT exaggerating). People who could eat at Nobu just because they felt like it and call up Bill and Hillary just to chat.
But of course, elitism has a completely different level of ridiculousness here in the Philippines. (the Gini Coefficient comes to mind). I’ve gotten used to a simple life here. I buy fish and vegetables at the local urban poor wet market. I jump on and off moving busses commuting around the city. I had milk and cereal at a hotel this month and realized it was the first time I’ve had fresh milk and cereal since I’ve been here in the Philippines and it was unbelieveable how good it tasted.
And then this month, welcome to the uppity of uppity events, which of course, despite how exhaused I am I always make sure to attend because if going to college at NYU taught me 1 thing, it was never to turn down food and drink at someone else’s expense. So here I am, taking my lunch at Club Filipino, having hors d’oeuvres and free flowing shiraz at Discovery Suites, and dining and dancing at Mandarin Oriental (Malacanang’s caterer by the way) with people whose last names include Roxas, Aquino, Araneta, Drilon, Daza and Salonga.
Who am I and whose life is this? When I came here I was (and still am) overwhelmingly excited at the idea of hanging out with urban poor and peasant organizers, people who lived and fought in the underground, hunted and tortured by the police and military, only to change their ways to fight the elite with nonviolent means. And now here I am, people with widely recognized names actually recognize mine. And the kicker: I don’t really know why they recognize mine.
I don’t know why I’m invited to these events. If it’s a function of having some weighty friends, of having the guts to make some memorable comment at a forum with big hitters, of being pretty much the only young woman in a room of old politicos (at least the only one who talks). I don’t know how I got into this mess. And in fact, even when I took on a staff position at IPD, I thought to myself, “Who am I that they’re actually making this offer?” And now I’m revisiting that state of incredulousness as I think “Who am I that Governor A is complimenting me, Real Estate Magnate B is giving me beso beso, and Senator C is giving me a ride home?” What’s really funny about this situation is that when my aunt from the states was here visiting, she was worried about me because she said no matter how smart I think I am, people in the Philippines will just look at me like I’m nothing by an (with disdain) aktibista. (enter the shallow understanding of what it is to be left/a reformer).
When I went to the Liberal Party Christmas party with two friends (whose names are much more well known than mine in the political sphere), Mar Roxas indicated to us to sit at a table in front of the room. My two kasama were inching towards the back but I insisted that we sit where Mar signaled. They indicated some hesitation, some hiya, “Mga VIP ba tayo?” they asked. At the time I was amused at the idea. Now, however, when I think about it, why not?
I guess these feelings show once again the remnants of the class divide in the Philippines. One of my partners felt especially out of place. As I reflect, why should we, those of us from humble beginnings, feel out of place in such situations? Why should we feel inferior to the “elite” who are elite by accidents of birth and not necessarily accomplishments or character. Perhaps this boldness was developed as I was growing up – a working class kid in an affluent school. And yet I hung with the best of them, and if I can be a little gassed (and I don’t feel bad about it in this case because, well, they were bitches), I surpassed most of them. My mom always sat in the back of the crowd during school events which hurt me more than I can say. She was embarrassed at her humble clothing and origins. Yet, I was damn proud, we came from nothing and made something of ourselves. They all came from a lot and just maintained.
And I see this mentality continuing, especially with my older relatives. They warn me that when I go out I should always dress nice, I should always act with class and they almost seem embarrassed to talk about our origins, highlighting factors that would make us sound like we come from the sosyal class and hiding other details. I, however, say it with pride. I am the daughter of a jeepney driver. I used to work in a warehouse. I hang in La Loma. And if you want to compete in terms of class, intelligence, and strength, I may not win but I’ll put up a hell of a fight.
Totoo naman, wala akong hiya.