By Amber Josfin Pineda

Dear Philippines,

I’ve decided it’s finally time that I start thinking about the future I want to build for you. Granted, I should’ve considered doing this long ago, but I wrongfully assumed that others would’ve taken initiative to do so before me. I suppose deflecting the blame, however, was a karmic deed. Understand that this is an incredibly important topic for me to discuss; after all, I’ve noticed a few…oddities in your behavior as of late. You aren’t as lively and excitable as you were when I was younger, your once verdant landscape has become insipidly barren, and your eyes no longer bear a youthful glory. You’ve become senile, but trust me when I say that your children will always be here to take care of you. Don’t be afraid to smile like you always do.

But, I need to be honest with you, Ina (Mother). I’ve started to think that calling myself your daughter is a misnomer. I only visit you once every three years, and I’ve started becoming what you fear most: dissident.

Sometimes, I get irritated when you say “Bahala na” (“Let it be”) as though you couldn’t care less about the fleeting present. You say that every little thing, good and bad, happens for a divine reason and that I should embrace my circumstances as they are. But, what if I’m not content with how we are? What if I want to pursue something that goes beyond your borders and expectations? Ina, I can no longer sit here and watch you deteriorate, knowing that I can help you if you’ll let me act on my discontent for our depravity. 

Sometimes, your interpretation of togetherness—your values of kapwa—irks me. I love all my ates (sisters) and kuyas (brothers), so why must our definition of community be so selective? If being a community means social activity, then how about the meek? How about the shy children who hide behind your legs and cower at the passersby? How about the reticent who wander in the comfort of their bedroom walls—the walls you built and maintained? How about the withdrawn who indulge in the solace of silence? Ina, there is no need for our communities to highlight the social disparities in our already fragmented societies. How much more could we have done if community truly meant unity instead of sociability? 

What frustrates me most though is when you speak of hiya (shame or embarrassment) as if it is the only thing that will ever matter. You say that I should have more guilt in my speech, more dignity in my throat. But, you and I know that I can be so much more than I am right now if I’ll stop being expected to do and say so much less. Tell me, how can I fully voice myself if I am burdened with this heavy shame? I’d be a mere whimper. Ina, I know you’re afraid of who I’ll become once I swallow the pride you’ve provided, but this cumbersome ego has hindered me from becoming what you want most: brave.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed my own set of personal values—ones defined by ambitious pursuits, a need for inclusivity, and a call to courage. Though I can’t say they perfectly align with the values ate and kuya live by, these are the values I want to live by in creating a world where your resignation, kapwa, and hiya are acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted in their own right. Please see this not as a proposal for a world that lacks your traditions and customs but as a proposal for a world that can accommodate these traditions and customs even in the face of modernity. But, to create such a zealous, open, and fearless society, I need you to hear what I have to say and offer. I need you to understand me in the context of the now. I need you to consider the consequences of our past, the circumstances of our present, and the visions of our future—a future in which culture and individuals could unapologetically coexist.

With utmost love and gratitude,

Your culturally conflicted, overseas daughter

2 thoughts on “A Letter to My Mother

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