“She instilled in me the value of education and what it means to be a hard worker. Most importantly, she taught me how to love others. I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for my mom, and that’s why she’s my personal Michigan hero.”
When I was in the eighth grade, I was required to write an essay on the subject “my personal Michigan hero” for an “America & Me” essay contest. I had mulled over the essay for so long that the words above became immortalized in my memory. I was determined to win, believing my mom’s story was a winner.
In the essay, I droned on about her accomplishments and early life. She didn’t have much growing up, but her parents, she told me, had stressed the importance of a good education, and she and her siblings earned merit scholarships that helped pay for tuition at private schools. She carried a thirst for knowledge into her young adulthood, obtaining her bachelor’s degree at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City before beginning her graduate studies at Ateneo de Manila University, a top-rated university in the Philippines. She continued her graduate studies in the U.S., where she met my father and earned her doctorate at Michigan State University.
It wasn’t until I was much older — long after I had written the essay — that I learned about the more complex parts of her life, like her employment as a language instructor for U.S. Peace Corps volunteers assigned to the Philippines, her experience working as an English instructor in refugee camps or her time protesting the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos while working and going to graduate school at the Ateneo de Manila University. She was active in the protest movement known as the People’s Power Movement, a series of events triggered by the assassination of a popular political rival, Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., in 1983 that culminated in the departure of Marcos in 1986. My mother started protesting around the time Aquino was assassinated, one event in Marcos’ repressive, violent and corrupt regime. Part of her involvement with the movement included advocating and conducting workshops on the protection of ballots for the 1986 presidential election between Marcos and Corazon Aquino, the wife of Ninoy Aquino, a risky endeavor given the rampant cheating, militarization and political intimidation occurring at the time.
I didn’t win the essay contest. Looking back, there was no way that I could capture the complexity of my mother’s life within two pages, much of which I still had to learn about. I was, however, grateful to reflect on what little I knew of my mother’s life, and over time I would acquire an appreciation of the decisions she made leading up to having me. Learning about her experiences made me understand what made her who she is and thus, the formation of ideals that impacted who I am. It also made me realize the sacrifices she made for the life I have now, which included leaving her family and everything she knew in the Philippines. When I was in the second grade, she even gave up her visa and Filipino citizenship to become a U.S. citizen. Why? So she could vote, something personal that carried a significance I didn’t understand until I learned about my mother’s past endeavors.
To this day, I continue to learn new things about my mother that generate feelings of admiration and gratitude. I have never known someone who is as compassionate, hard-working and selfless as my mother. She is thoughtful, intelligent and relentless. She brought me into this world and took on many roles as I grew up, from educator to breadwinner to confidant. I would not be who I am today without her limitless patience, guidance and support. She’s raised me to be capable and independent, but at the same time, she is always there when I need her. I feel confident knowing that in an ever-changing world, her love is constant.
This year, for Women’s History Month, may we commemorate the achievements that women have made over the course of American history. But I will also celebrate the women in my own life. My sister, aunts, grandmothers and yes, my mother. After all, I wouldn’t be writing for Michigan in Color if it weren’t for my mom. Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t be here without my mom.
Mahal kita, Mom.
Translation: I love you, Mom.
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