Family and Personal Life

Random memory:

When I was in college I was an intern at an NGO/think tank/public interest law firm. While I was there we got a new executive director who had previously been high ranking in the Clinton administration, so he was kind of a big deal. He wanted to have a barbecue at his house as a welcome/staff bonding event.

My boss asked if I could help the E.D. set up for the party – shopping, food prep, etc. When she asked me to do this, I got really pissed off. What immediately went through my mind was “I got hired to work in an office! I in’t get hired to cook and clean in no white man’s house!”

After a couple days of stewing about it I decided I was going to tell my boss that I refused doing the assignment on principle. If they would fire me because of my decision, so be it, but as an organization that had fair labor practices as one of its core advocacies, it would be really bad form if they fired me.

Before I could talk to my boss though, the E.D. personally sought me out to thank me. He basically said “I know this is way beyond your job description. But, I really personally appreciate that you’re willing to help out and I’ll try to make it a fun day for you.” That changed my mind and I decided to do it.

It did turn out to be fun day. I ended up bonding with the E.D. over shopping for cannolis and slicing up crudite. I appreciated that we did the work together – he didn’t just sit around while I worked – and he made the effort to actually talk to me about my life, political opinions, professional ambitions, etc. In the following months he ended up becoming one of my early mentors.

Lessons learned: Matagal na pala akong pasaway, angry at the system, and all that, but at the end of the day I’m also kind of a softie. Being a gracious manager will make even your most asshole employee go beyond the call of duty. No matter how supposedly “high up” one is, the willingness and how one performs manual labor is still a telling measure of a man or woman. Besides going through war, cooking and having beers together are probably the best methods of bonding.

The other day, the following conversation randomly ensued between my mother and me. I’m still smarting.

Mom: Did you look for a man while you were in the Philippines?

Me: No.

Mom: Why not?

Me: I’m don’t want to get married.

Mom: You HAVE to get married.

Me: Why?

Mom: You HAVE to.

Me: Ayoko.

Mom: But who will take care of you when you’re old? Lalo na gusto mo mag-istay sa Pilipinas, children take care of their parents there. Here it’s ok because you have pension, but not there.

Me: I want to die young.

So after over a year of feeling like I abandoned this blog, I’ve decided to dedicate more time to it. This is prompted in part, admittedly, by an unexpectedly deep and emotional conversation with an even more unexpected person. It’s prompted by the fact that since inauguration I’ve had a lot more time on my hands (if idle hands are the devil’s workshop what about and idle mind – yikes!). It’s prompted by the realization that soon I’ll be going back to school and after the past 2+ years of CANVAS, NDI, and campaign mode, I’ll have to shift from full-time strategic thinker (or some would say plotter) and good soldier and re-learn how to be conceptual and introspective.

At one point last week I actually read this blog from its inception in 2006 until now. I realized 2 things. First, I actually have always been this way. Magaspang, suplada, galit sa mga elitista (or in hip hop lingo, angry at the man), hungry for justice. Hungry to show all of them, friend and foe alike, that I do not fit into the insultingly narrow limits of what you think I am and what I could be capable of, or as Jay-Z puts it “I can’t base what I’m gonna be off a what everybody isn’t.” Shit, it’s just now that I’m remembering attending a church retreat in high school and when the facilitator asked “what’s your aspiration in life” mine was “to change the world.” At that time I don’t think I had any idea how I would do it – probably through music or something. I definitely never imagined it would be this way.

Second, while I thought I had abandoned this blog while stuck in the corporate NGO machine DC lifestyle, when I went back through the blog I realized that there was still at least one entry each month, and it was almost inevitably about Philippine politics. This ish is in my bone marrow now. I couldn’t quit if I tried.

These past couple months have been a crazy ride. Well, ride is perhaps not the appropriate term – what’s an appropriate metaphor when the means of transpo is 15% you steering and 85% the universe whisking you where it wants? Perhaps the more appropriate metaphor is a choose your own adventure book where you try to be strategic and make informed decisions, but at the end of the day you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and at any moment things can blow up in your face. The only thing that makes Philippine politics different from a choose your own adventure book is that in politics, if you’re good enough, there’s always the chance for a glorious recovery. You can always choose to bust through a wall or sneak through a window or, if we’re sticking with our metaphor, tear out half a page here, pencil in a couple lines there…but I digress.

Philippine politics is still a man’s world. We can have two women presidents, women Secretaries of Justice, Supreme Court Justices, Senators and Congresswomen but the vast majority of power players are still men who stay out with each other at night drinking beer, brandy (or Coke) and making sophomoric jokes. The powerful matriarchs do exist, and I would dare to say that the women kingmakers that do exist are lightyears more sophisticated than their male counterparts, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of women you see in traditional political circles are props – either in the sense that they are seat warmers for their husbands, brothers, fathers, etc or cute executive assistants, paralegals or simply arm candy; or in the sense that they are “propped” up by the men that make their political careers. You rarely see women in the seedy side of below the radar operations.

All humility aside, the two things that have most consistently gained me access to places and people where a neophyte like me should be nowhere near are: 1) The Akbayan network and of course my beloved comrade bossing, and 2) People seem to find me pretty. And me, being my brash-ass, no shame self (with encouragement from bossing and ingkong of course) utilize this to the full. At the risk of giving away trade secrets, this is how I go places and attend where I am not invited and probably “don’t belong.” I just go and people tolerate it cause they think I’m pretty. Props. Then I hit them with the shocker – instead of sitting and smiling demurely I conduct myself with just as much swagger and arrogance, and when I’m lucky, intelligence, as any of the “big boys.” They don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I do, but they know I’m nobody’s muther-effing E.A.

I still get the feeling, however, (and this is where it gets depressing) that no matter how brash or witty or smart I try to be, most of these men still look at me and see little more than, in the words of Jill Scott, “good looks and a wet hole.” Maybe that’s why I made the fatal mistake of letting my guard down with the first bolero who said he thought I was smart. Thus, I still haven’t quite figured out if on the whole this physical appearance is helpful or harmful. It’s definitely been helpful in the opening doors part, but I wonder if I’m walking though them – no, I know I’m stumbling through them making the path as I go and running into rocks and stones and shards of glass. Fumbling backwards and then rising up to peek through the door again. Hm, sounds like life.

But what kills me is how they wanna hide me from their legitimate lives as if something is actually going down. Keeping me for the back room meetings and late night drinking sessions as if acknowledging my existence in public or quoting me or openly considering my ideas will somehow let your wife or partner know what you are thinking. I haven’t even fucked you but apparently I’m your mistress.

Anyway, going back to the bane of being a woman in politics. When I was with the Women’s Political Participation Team at NDI, we often heard that the biggest opposition women faced when trying to enter politics was from other women. So true. Of course, the men egg us on, the men assume we won’t get along when there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. And of course, yet another reason why I love my comrades so much – we love each other and celebrate each other’s beauty proudly as sophisticated feminists do and as all women should. But unfortunately not all women in politics are sophisticated feminists. The high school clique, the sexless harem mentality remains and I see them look me up and down as if to say “What is she doing here and who does she think she is?” When are we going to grow up and out of this?

Speaking about the woes of being a young woman in politics, as I was hanging out at the Deputy Executive Secretary’s office, two young (probably around my age or younger) and I’m assuming bright young paralegals came in to talk to the Deputy ES. Both were considering quitting because they wanted to start looking for husbands and having families. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a stay at home mom either. But, you are in a country where good jobs are hard to come by. You’re on the winning side of a victorious presidential campaign and you’re working in Malacanan at a very powerful office. Ok, fine, all of that is fine. But, the killer is that when would you EVER hear a man quitting such a promising position because he felt it was time to settle down and have a family? Even in the Philippines where you have yayas, a woman finds it necessary to end her career to have a family (because of course the idea of asking the husband to take part in raising the child is utterly ridiculous)? Again hurts my feminist sensibilities…

My Dear Fellow Ilonggos,

Please please DO NOT ELECT RAUL GONZALEZ as mayor.

Do I really need to explain why?

So now that I’m here at my parent’s house enjoying the quiet life…so far from the craziness of international political activism (and missing it like I can’t explain!) In the meantime I’m enjoying taking care of my family. Today I made some really good chicken by combining different recipes and fudging around a bit, so I figured I better write down what I did before I forget in case I wanna make it again! Of course, all measurements are approximate

Basil Lime Honey Lemongrass Chicken

about 1.5 lbs. of chicken breast

which I cut into strips (for faster marinating – don’t forget to cut against the grain) about an inch thick and then marinated in:

3 cloves (2 tbsp?) minced garlic

1 tbsp minced ginger

juice of 1 lime

3 stalks of lemongrass (which I cut in half, tied and muddled)

1/4 honey

1/4 c. minced basil

black pepper

I pounded the chicken a bit when it was in the marinade and marinated for about 2 hours.

then, i toased about

2 tbsp sesame seeds in a wok (had some extra, really old sesame seeds around the house)

I stir-fried the chicken on high and took it out when half cooked. Of course, while frying, I put a little salt to bring out some flavor. Then I took out the chicken and  stir-fried 3 stems of scallions just until soft, re-added the chicken and cooked it till it was just about done. Then I added:

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp vinegar

2tsp brown sugar

the sesame seeds

1 tbsp flour

which i had mixed together beforehand to make a sauce. I also aded the rest of the marinade. When it seemed the four had cooked out and the sauce was kinda thick, I added vegetables (some frozen veggies and a can of bamboo shoots that I had onhand) and some cashew nuts. I cooked it till all the vegetables were soft and everything was coated. I tasted it a couple times while it was cooking and added additional salt, soy sauce (it was quite bland as listed, so I actually added a  lot more salt) and pepper.


I served this 2 ways: over plain rice and also as a filler with bihon and rice paper, to make Vietnamese-style summer-roll inspired idea (thanks to my Brisbane Viet Tan peeps!). Both were really really good! I just used whatever vegetables I had on hand, but next time I’d like to try broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn, snow peas, muchrooms…all the usual in Chinese stir fry. I’d also probably add more ginger (my ginger was still frozen and so I had a hard time peeling it, and we were out of ginger powder) and cashews – i only added a handful of cashews to this batch and i think they didnt really lend anything to the dish in their small quantity. I’d also make more sauce on a second attempt – the sauce was really good! Also, now that I think of it I think you’re supposed to add salt to marinades (helps with osmosis?), so i’ll look it up and try it or not accordingly next time.

best of all, the tanglad, basil, and spring onion came fresh from my mommy’s garden (aka growing in random places in the backyard). yay!

Thought for the day:

I’ve heard so many people say that the Philippines is not advancing because there is something culturally wrong with Filipinos. Perhaps by far the most popular statement is that “Filipinos have no discipline.” I’ve even heard some old timers yearn for the early days of Marcos because people at that time “had so much discipline.”

I would like to vehemently disagree. The problem is not that Filipinos have no discipline. The problem is that Filipinos have too much discipline. The problem is that Filipinos have so much discipline and are so well-taught not to speak up against figures of “authority,” that they just grin and bear it even when they see something wrong happening. Filipinos have so much discipline that they stay fervently loyal to particular people, names, groups and areas, even when these objects of their loyalty have moved far beyond whatever it was they or their predecesors did to earn that loyalty in the first place. Filipinos have so much discipline that they listen to their parents when choosing a course or career; they make life decisions based on their parent’s natural proclivity towards stability rather than their own natural proclivity towards greatness. Filipinos have so much discipline they work and work extra hard in a system that makes the its perpetual victims because “that’s just the way it is.”

The problem is not a lack of discipline. It’s too much discipline.

It’s been a while since I last wrote, and so much has happened. I spent almost the entire month on January in the Visayas with the parents, which was amazing. I was not expecting to miss them as much as I found I did; it was so refreshing to be around people who know me and my history and to not have the burden of the properness of Filipino society. Moreover, being with them allowed me to connect to Antique and Iloilo in a way that was not possible when I traveled there without them. But that’s a story I will reflect on at a later time.

As I write this I am in Belgrade, Serbia, attending a CANVAS training. I am to become a trainer teaching people skills necessary for successful nonviolent struggle. Again, I am facing the same insecurities. The trainers are meant to be veterans of successful nonviolent struggle. There are amazing people here, the Canvas core are basically the people who organized the toppling of Milosevic; there are organizers from the Rose Revolution, the Cedar Revolution, the anti-apartheid movement and the anti-Pinochet movement.

I, on the other hand have not been directly involved in a successful movement. I suppose, though, that I am a member of the post-Marcos struggle. I was not part of EDSA I or even II for that matter, but I am the result of them and I continue the greater struggle that those events failed to achieve. Well, I suppose for now that justifies my participation here.

Thus, as our struggle continues, I find myself taking the mindset of a student, trying to understand how to bring the ideas to our struggle in the Philippines. Who am I to teach others?

As I sit here doubting myself, knowing that certain other people in our part here doubt me as well, I remember that the Canvas organizers themselves know my history, my lack of experience, or perhaps I should put it as they know the experience I do have. Yet, they still insisted I come. Perhaps there is something they see in me.

Today was our first day of sharing and I am incredibly excited to begin the curriculum. Our introduction to Belgrade has been amazing…in the less than 48 hours I’ve been here I can say that I love this country! I have completely been over-consuming milk and cheese and hard homemade bread – those very European things that I loved in New York that are hard to come by in the Philippines that are in abundance here. And I love how I am now the smallest person around! After living in the Philippines where I am bigger than most girls, where for the first time in my life I was called fat, everyone here calls me the tiny Filipino. Oh, and did I mention that they sell beer in plastic litres! Like soda!

Serbs are huge partyers, perhaps even more so that Filipinos. We partied till 3 am last night, then I woke up at 6:30 earlier to work out before breakfast. After not sleeping well Tuesday night or Wednesday night, not sleeping at all on Thursday night to go to the airport at 3AM Friday morning, I have no idea how I’m surviving, but I feel great. Reverse jet lag?

I had a ridiculous amount of really good wine last night, and I find that I really like Serbian music! The Middle Easter/African influence is very much felt in the minor keys and syncopation, every time a song started last night I would say to myself, “hey, that’s a cumbia beat,” or “hey, that’s a salsa beat.” As ethnomusicology, how I miss thee. I think it’s time for me to JSTOR.

So just call me Ceca (pronounced Tzetza) 😀

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