I come from a people who hold the fourth commandment in the highest regard.
For Filipinos, to honor your parents is the only duty of a child. And to honor means to obey—to unquestionably follow those who know best, those to whom you are indebted for your small life. To talk back—to have your own voice—is the greatest sign of disrespect. It is the greatest disavowal, the most shameful show of ingratitude. But you can only suppress your purpose for so long before it begins to ooze out of every bright hole in your body. After that, you have little choice than to hold it in your two soft hands and run.
Even as a child, I knew the parameters of dreams. I’ve always wanted to be a writer—to crack open worlds with my words the way you would fruit, fragrant and life giving. And yet, every time someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, instead of telling the truth, I’d lie about wanting to become a doctor like my mother, or anything else that would warrant more approval than the unstable life of an artist. The eventual confession of my true aspirations would drive a wedge the size of an ocean between my mother and I, two islands floating in a sea of resentment.
I know I am not who my parents thought I would be. Globally, Filipinos are most known for their diligence and expertise in serving and caring for others. Whether as cruise ship workers, nurses, or domestic workers, the Filipino’s role has been to put others first in the name of duty and labor. I reach for the pen to push against this legacy, which, while noble, reduces my people to servitude. I write to reclaim the silence that has defined us to prove that we are more than just our labor. As a poet, feminist cultural critic, and journalist, I seek to answer questions about representation, belonging, love, and survival. I dream of new worlds in which my people and all those who are marginalized are cared for and seen as whole persons, with hopes and dreams of their own.
There is a reason why a society’s writers are the first to go in the face of government crackdown. There is a reason why ours are the voices they try—but fail—to silence, those of us who see the faults in our systems and chip away at their sturdiness with our words. They call us deviant when we list our demands. They call us ungrateful when we do not bow our heads in supplication. As a first-generation Filipina-American writer, I am keenly aware of the privilege I hold. I’ve been given the freedom to choose what I want to do, to stake a claim in self actualization. But to me, rebellion is taking this privilege and using it as a tool of resistance—to breathe life into brave visions of what this world can be.
Rodlyn-mae Banting is a Filipina-American writer and educator currently pursuing a master’s degree in Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work is featured and forthcoming in Bitch Media, Electric Literature, AAWW’s The Margins, and more. When she is not staring dramatically into Madison’s lakes, she is writing poetry, spending time with friends, and scrolling through local cat adoption sites.
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