i grew up not really knowing what being an inaanak means, where i never had to call anyone ninang, where that didn’t mean any different from a standard aunt.
but the three kids all the way in Holland began calling me such, and i realize it means something, especially when it comes with Lucien instinctively leaping onto the bed to hug me, or Francisco giving me a shy knowing smile like we’re the same age (coz we probably are you know), or when Jacinta began calling me ninang inang. and last year, by all counts, along with the rest of a nuclear family that moved heaven and earth (OA!) to send me to Holland, these three kids saved me.
and Jacinta who kept me company, in bed for afternoons on end, or on the couch on mornings on end (so yes, you guessed what I did there), was supergirl of those three without knowing it. with her it all made sense, the daily ritual of watching the same cartoons, of doing the same puzzles, of still finding these absolutely entertaining. easy laughter is one that’s a gift of good friends, or just of children who love you and want to play.
how telling that on that first time that i could visit these three kids in their Holland home, they probably did more for me than i did for them. which is exactly what they do for me now, still, even if only via pictures, fresh from being forced into bed and hospital by an ailment reminiscent of my own shortlived motherhood.
Jacinta turned 4 recently, and so did another inaanak Mayumi, all the way in America. unlike Jacinta who has slept in my bed in Manila, and who resurrected my old barbie dolls and dollhouses on her last visit, i have yet to meet Mayumi, all four years old of her.
but i remember now what i told Mayumi, what i wished for her, on her christening. where i promised there would always be home in Manila, that there would always be us here who love her and her parents, and that in fact we are always with her, no matter how that seems so ambiguous and abstract. i remember i told her to not forget nation, to not let it go, regardless of America, of wherever it is she goes.
i think of that now and realize things have changed. i would still wish Mayumi, as I do Jacinta, a love for this nation, but now i know enough, now i’ve become a mother enough, to realize that there are things far bigger and brighter than nation. and it’s not because Europe or America is richer than the Philippines, it’s not because it’s cleaner where they are, not because it’s third world where i am.
it’s because where i am, women’s rights have yet to be seen as a valid enough cause period, one that can logically, rationally and single-handedly mean passing laws for our protection. it’s because in this country i call mine, one that belongs still to Jacinta and Mayumi, their rights and futures are always sacrificed for the louder more powerful voices of the men who rule — the congressmen and senators, the priests and conservatives. it’s because right here, where i would wish them both to come home someday, they will become adult women who will be subjected to the Church’s presumptions of their sinfulness, the men’s insistence on their silences.
recently i was made to see that my issue with un-freedom is one that isn’t my fault. it’s the fault of a nation that’s unable to take care of me, and my needs as a woman. i cannot give this possibility of shackles to any daughter, i cannot wish them this fight that’s both frustrating and tiring and ultimately feels like a lost cause.
i especially cannot wish it on Jacinta and Mayumi who are already in places where they are cradled by laws that will protect them, as children, as women, as human beings, period. where they will have freedoms that i can only imagine having, where they will be given choices and will not be scared of it because they will also know to do the right things. where they are, they’ve got their families, but more than that, where they are, they’ve got rights.
and if that’s also the gift of not coming home, if that’s the gift of being far away from the rest of family, from language and culture, from roots, then i say, it’s a gift that’s worth giving. it’s a gift that’s theirs, that comes from my heart. because now i know i’ve been wrong: there might be many wonderful things about this nation, but there is so much more to be said about freedom.
*for Jacinta in Holland, and Mayumi in America. with all love possible from Ninang Ina(ng).