What does it mean to be strong?
What does it mean to be a modern woman?
It took me many years to comprehend the answer to these questions. While I’d like to believe that I respected women well and celebrated their roles in society, I never thought of these questions before. I am also aware that I can’t speak for women, but I am trying my best to act responsibly, especially when it comes to these issues.
Then, it dawned upon me that the answers to these questions have been living with me for such a long time.
It was 2004.
I was young. I could remember watching different anime shows on GMA 7. I watched Doraemon on weekdays; I was sure that Zoids played around that time too.
I remember the days when we lived in a squatters’ area in Zamboanga City back in the early 2000s. Our house was made of a mix of rusty corrugated iron, sub standard concrete, and chipped sawali (woven bamboo strips). We had a small garden for growing vegetables and spices.
My papang was working as a senior postman for the Philippine Post Office, and my mamang was a housewife who augmented the family’s earnings by doing manicure and pedicure home service nearly every single day.
One day, my father didn’t come home. He would normally come home at 3 p.m. or so, bringing caramelized banana sticks with him.
Saging rebusao. A very delectable merienda indeed.
All I could remember is that my mother was angry at us for not changing the channel to the local news.
As soon as she came in, she yelled at us, “Porque kamo nuay ya cambia el channel del TV?”
We replied, “Ta mira kame anime, mang.”
My mother’s cheeks turned red in anger at this statement. She lashed out, “No sabe kamo kay yan preso ya el di inyo tata?”
We were all shocked at the last sentence that my Mamang uttered: Our Papang was in prison.
Mamang told us later on that he was accused of stealing money from the post office’s vault by his supervisor, and that there was doctored footage of him doing so.
As a result, he languished in the city jail for six months.
Throughout this time, Mamang became our father, mother, guardian, and friend, all at once.
During this period, Mamang made sure that we had everything we needed for school. We had a small garden for growing vegetables and spices.
We were never hungry or thirsty, even though we lived in a poor area. We never had a day without electricity or water.
Most importantly, she kept our hopes up and taught us well.
At a young age, I learned that it was improper to catcall women on the street. She mentioned that everyone should have equal access to education.
My mother was always in high spirits. She always said that my father was innocent and that he would come out of prison soon.
Finally, six months later, my Papang came back. It was one of the happiest moments of our lives. Throughout this period, I saw the tenacity and resilience of my mother.
Being my mother, she gave me some guidance when it came to finding the love of my life.
“Find a girl who has a strong character and knows how to deal with today’s challenges. Keep her and do not lose her.”
I never forgot these words even as I grew up to be a young man.
Flash forward to 2018.
There’s a girl named S. We met each other back in my university days in Turkey, and the two of us talked for a while before losing contact with each other.
Somewhat, our paths once more came together, and we decided to meet up for real at the end of December 2018.
During our first date at a renowned restaurant in the Turkish capital of Ankara, she told me about her dreams.
However, what struck me the most was the fact that she was a dreamer.
Among her many aspirations, I recall her saying, “I want to become a sociologist. I want to make a difference in this world.”
She wasn’t finished.
“I will do my best. I will write papers and do lots of research!”
I came to love her tenacity and determination to achieve her goals in life. She never knew the word ‘surrender.’
Suffice to say, she finished her Master’s Degree in Asian Studies at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. When I learned that she was planning to undertake further studies, I was ecstatic to hear that idea.
We are married now, and I am looking forward to sharing life’s adventures with someone like her.
When juxtaposed with the fact that many women still face different challenges in the 21st century, it wasn’t hard to understand why we still needed to empower women with the skills needed to uplift themselves and impact the world around them.
Yes, domestic violence, sexual objectification, and lack of access to equal opportunity are among the major problems that women face today.
Yet, I learned that women could be strong and progressive at the same time. If I looked back and determined why I had respect for ladies in general, I would always look back at these two women who left indelible marks in my life.
Upon looking back at these memories, I realized that I was surrounded by the answers to my questions.
And just as my mother said, I will always cherish and value them.