I haven't said anything publicly about the elections in the Philippines. Though I feel deeply tied to the country and my family and friends there — especially in the Ilokos region — I'm a US-born citizen. I have to say, however, I've been quietly filling up with incredible sorrow and dread. I'm anti-Marcos. I've said this in my mom's city, just 20 minutes from Marcos' hometown of Batac. I was laughed at for saying such. And posting this might even alienate me from people I love and who mean the world to me. But I have to say this.
You cannot wish for a better life or a better nation by simply replacing one tyranny with another. Death squads? Torture? Extrajudicial violence? Disappearances? These acts are nothing but the failure of our resourcefulness as Filipinos. They are the murder of our very capacity for invention and imagination and gathering. For hundreds of years this is how we've made a community — despite the invasions by the Spanish, the Americans, the Japanese — by honoring our humanity, our mutual genius.
The history of the Philippines (and of the US for that matter) wasn't given to me by an institution. It wasn't taught to me through some formula or by some power structure. I had to seek it out on my own -- I continue to do so. I study it. I don't get paid to teach it or write about it. The Tagalog and Iokano that I speak (however broken) I learned not in classrooms, but from people and from songs. The history that I study (and its millions of stories that align and contradict) serves no allegiance or flag.
All of our colonizers portrayed us as savages. If we enter this new era of state-condoned violence, we make a case on behalf of the colonizers who set out to annihilate us in the first place. Even more tragically, we abdicate our greatest, most humane gifts as a people. When I think of the vision that my ancestors as recent as my own mother had for a family and our place in the world, it wasn’t murder and torture — even though she survived a war herself. She held on to love. When my mother gained some access, she made space for other people. Those of you who knew her, think of the bus loads that came to her funeral — so many colors and walks of life. She was an incredible leader, an Ilokana from Balacad, Laoag City.
A dictator like Duterte does not make it more possible for more Filipinos to lead like that, with independence and strength and graciousness — especially women like my mother. A dictator like Duterte and a sidekick like Marcos impress upon a culture a bullshit version of brutish and deadly selfishness. To me, that is not Filipino at all. It is not what I inherited.
My plan was to go back to the Philippines this summer for a short stretch to see friends and family, but if Duterte and/or Bong Bong are elected I won't go. I still believe in a democratic process. But I think these two characters will quickly destroy the very process that will have given them their titles.
I say this to my family and friends in the Philippines, especially those in Ilokos. I say it with great affection and gratitude and humility. Don't surrender our history. There is a more tender, more vibrant wish inside of you. I've seen it. I’ve been its beneficiary time and time again. I hope you find the strength to invoke that tenderness and grace right now.