“Sino nang bibili ng gatas ko?”
Out of all the things a six-year-old could think about after learning about his father’s passing, it was milk. Not how he was one death away from being orphaned, or other emotionally-driven thoughts a normal child would foster in this situation. In a single pull motion, my mother turned into my sole provider and our small but content family into a broken one. Even almost after a decade, I am sure that the two of us have not fully recovered yet from the trauma. She once confessed about turning the water faucet to its capacity every time she cried in the shower; I once confessed about my addiction to Angkas because it reminded me of our hatid-sundo rides around Manila.
However, to grieve is a commodity in this profit-driven world. In the name of sending me to school and putting food on the table and a roof over our heads, my mother had to face her students without any trace of loss. Meanwhile, I had to study for my missed fourth-quarter tests besides a coffin. “No more crying, it is gay to cry; no more toys and Jollibee, unless you do good in school.” This was our mantra since then, and it worked for some time until I was the only one left smiling after watching a sad film. Until I treated every academic award, every published article, and every leadership post as deep-seated outlets to compensate for my queerness. Until all the tears and said queerness, held back for years by the same mantra, dared to come out at once amid the worst possible time ever — the pandemic.
On top of the emotional repression and identity crisis, I only have a few weeks left to decide between a private senior high school or a state university. Adamantly, my mother urged me to follow the pricier path — a gamble we could not bet in a time of health and economic unpredictability. Statistically speaking, we are one COVID-19 positive away from being bankrupt. However, she reminded me of my aunt who had to work as a 7–11 cashier despite having an economics degree from a state university — an experience so alienating that she was willing to take out loans and allot all her Christmas bonus and thirteenth-month pay for my tuition. Fast forward to today, I am now in the Top 5% of my batch in UST and an outspoken writer and student-leader — excellences that I could easily romanticize à la KMJS success stories, but no. This time, I am going against the current. This time, I am focusing on the negatives.
In a world so modern and moral as it claims to be, it is an injustice for anyone to take the measures we were left with just to survive. Does the notion that education exists to expose the youth to the “real world” still apply to those who faced its wrath too early? Or is this notion wrong to begin with? To speak of critical thinking inside the four walls of the classroom is a thing, but to direct this skill towards the status quo that preaches that the world is innately unfair — when it should not be — is another. This very act of redirection rooted in faith and service for the marginalized is a goal that I hope ADMU would guide me in achieving, through its education that equips students to change unjust realities and not remain compliant with them.
The inequality that inspires me to be committed to excellence is the same inequality that drives me, as a person-for-others, to struggle for a future where material suffering is not a glorified rite of passage — a future that is not reliant on a gamble, loans, and statistics. No longer are studying, writing, and leading my avenues to compensate for my identity, but to liberate it and others. Now, I study for a home where little boys and adults could cry without shame, write for a society where all basic human rights — from quality education to grief — are equitably accessible, and lead for a world where no fatherless child would worry about milk. “Sino nang bibili ng gatas ko?” is a template question asked by millions of people every day.
Give me a chance to answer it with you.