Women in Politics
With the release of “The Lady”, her excellency Aung San Suu Kyi, all of Burma has been in a commotion of excitement and hope, yet there remains that underlying suspicion that this tactic is only a ploy by the junta to ease international pressure for the meantime. Definitely a political chess game of sorts—we have yet to see what and from which party the next move shall be, and if it will be executed with prowess. The Burmese generals may have toppled several pawns, but the Queen remains heavily protected and steadfast in her fight for freedom. The strong willed Aung San Suu Kyi is furthermore deemed a pragmatic and smart politician, and whether jailed or released, the junta has met their greatest foe.
Seeing her smile and wave at her multitudes of supporters—and later hearing her speak, she displayed her well-educated and refined background, truly a testament to a well-informed, strategic and resilient kind of rebellion. Even the most misogynist of men must have felt some deep admiration for this physically frail yet tremendously strong woman. She had a radiance about her that one would not think she has been on house arrest for more than two decades and has not seen any family since.
Other Remarkable Women in Politics who have gone on..
BENAZIR BHUTTO (1953 - 2007)
CORY AQUINO (1933-2009)
Empowered Women of Everyday
This got me thinking about other empowered women of our time; the simple women of everyday who have devoted their lives to a cause, and fortunately have lived to see their selfless acts and great sacrifices be redeemed. I was particularly reminded of stories of some close college friends.
When me and my friend first met, we instantly clicked despite our backgrounds. While I was the more reserved international kid from the Philippines, she was the spunky, street-wise Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. As we grew closer, I learned more of her family and life, and as I compared it to my own, I all the more realized how much I have been blessed. She was not wealthy and received one of the best financial aid packages in school, yet she never acted like she had less in life. On the contrary, she was always proud of her origins and always spoke highly of her mother. I never fully realized how far she has indeed come along, until I one day visited her place in Chinatown, New York after we had already graduated.
It was around 9pm that night, and she had to stop by her place to get some things. The bitter winter cold was gnawing at our faces as we briskly walked to her building, which I could now visibly make out, was an old, worn-down tenement. We walked up the rusty metal stairs, our winter boots clanking heavily with each step, and when we finally entered her unit, I made a mental gasp in my head. Although I have been to squatters areas and inside makeshift houses in the Philippines before, they were homes of strangers that I’ve met merely through school exposure trips. This time, for the first time, I would be entering a home of a very close friend. You feel a deeper wave of emotion come over you, a deeper sense of guilt and responsibility, and a more personal feeling that tugs at your heartstrings.
It was like entering a black hole that sucked the happiness out of you. The unit was depressing—tiny, dark, filthy, cluttered, and I continued to shudder in the cold. From the mess I could make out a stove in the corner, a wooden table with a stack of papers on it, and a single moldy white sink separated from everything else. There were several big pieces of dry fish hung on a clothes line near the ceiling. That might have partly explained the disturbing stench. The TV was on, and I could hear the sounds of cheesy Chinese commercials blaring from somewhere in the unit, accompanied by an occasional hoarsely cough that seemed to come from another person present in the unit. My friend sighed and muttered under her breath, “oh my dad’s home.” We made a few small steps until we reached her tiny room where there was a bunk bed. She explained that she slept on the top bunk, and her grown brother slept below. The room which didn’t have a door, was so tiny that while she sat down on a stool, I had to be standing up or else we would not fit. Right across was the even tinier room of her parents. It also didn’t have a door, but had a piece of cloth hung across as its divider. Seriously, how could they be asked to pay $1000 a month for place like this? We talked for a while about random things until she stood up saying she had to use the restroom. Oh ya, where was the restroom? I wondered. I couldn’t recall seeing one. That was when she told me to follow her outside. She had some keys in her hands as we left her unit, walking down the hall to a padlocked door. “I just have to go in here real quick” she said cheerfully. I assumed it was the restroom. When she came out, I asked as casually why the restroom was padlocked. And as equally casual, she explained that there were a lot of strangers and homeless people from the streets who try to use the restroom, especially during the winter. Building management decided to bolt the restroom so that only residents with a key can use it. I suddenly treasured the warm toilet seat and hot shower back home that I could access anytime and did not have to share with the rest of the building tenants, much more to random strangers who break into the building. We went back to her unit where she collected her things, and we left for the subway without saying goodbye to her father.
I have known that her parents came to America as poor, illegal Chinese immigrants, and like many immigrants, had hopes of bettering their future in the land many call the land of dreams. But it was only her mother that truly sought that dream, and her father has been freeloading on her relentless perseverance ever since. My friend’s mother has lived in the United States for more than 20 years and still does not speak English. She tirelessly works two full-time jobs, while my friend’s father stays home and watches Chinese talk shows all day or is out and about indulging in vices. My friend and her brother have long lost respect for him, but out of love for their mother, they tolerate him. Still, I knew there was yet more to their story.
Finally, on the subway, I could no longer tiptoe around the things I truly wanted to ask her and decided to delve in. And so my friend began telling me of her mother’s woes and her much obvious resentment towards her father who apparently has not worked a day in his life for 20 years. It has only been in the recent months that he finally got a job after her mother threatened to finally kick him out. Her father had a mistress in China whom he has tried petitioning to become a resident in the US. The two had plans of getting married, and even when her mother had known for quite some time, being the kind-hearted woman that she is, could not bring herself to leave him on the streets. She was not vengeful, but unfortunately, nor was she smart. Her father had pleaded with her, and she let him stay. It baffles me how this man—who has not shown any ounce of goodness in his heart, is able to rip off his own family, dupe his wife, have a mistress in China, and perhaps more women in the vicinity, can continue to live this shameful life without any remorse. To my horror, my friend tells me more. Sometimes, she even hears her parents engaging in sexual activity, but sadly there are no doors in either of their rooms to shut out the painful noise.
If it had not been for their mother, clearly, my friend and her brother would not be where they are today. What if she had given up and left them with the father? It is a horrid thought. They both were able to go to good universities on scholarships, and most importantly, they grew up to be very bright, hard-working, exuberant and wonderful people, a far cry from their father. Their mother gave them a fighting chance in life so that they wouldn’t end up like her. The madness stopped here.
In all the years I’ve known my friend, she has never moped about her plight or made anything a hindrance to achieving her goals. She is ambitious but has never stepped on anyone, and will be the first to lend a helping hand. Today, my friend works with a good company, and has been saving up to buy her mother a new home. What saddens me however, is that her mother continues to be a martyr. It is not for me to judge, but I do wish she could stand up to my friend’s father. Luckily, my friend and her brother did not inherit that particular weakness. They are kind, but not push-overs, and are both in healthy relationships. As for her father, it is sad to say that he may never see the error in his ways, but hopefully, there is justice in this world.
The Khmer Rouge and China’s Takeover of Tibet
There were several other girls I met in my college years abroad who also had these strong mothers who rose above trying situations. I had a Cambodian friend whose mother had to support and raise 4 girls after the Cambodian civil war. Her mother had already lost 2 children in the brutality of the holocaust, and her husband left them to fend for themselves. After being placed in several refugee camps, through the help of relatives, they were able to flee to America, and start anew from there. My friend who came from war-torn beginnings, emerged as 1 out of the 3 summa cum laude graduates in my class, as well as the valedictorian and President of the most prestigious engineering organization in school. I also had a Tibetan friend whose family had to flee through the Himalayas when Mao Tse Tung took over Tibet. They had already been a prominent, well-established family but lost everything, and had to start over in India. Again, because of her iron-heart mother, they managed to come through, and my friend has become known throughout school for her brains and personality. Today, she works in finance in New York City.
The trials in life can churn out the best people, molded from hardship into a golden sight to behold. The roles these mothers played in the lives of my friends were utterly crucial. Overcoming overwhelming adversity, they were able to raise great children with promising futures and instill in them the values that we wish everyone could possess. They are the modern day heroines.
It goes to show that we fight the good fight when we persevere for things we believe in - whether on a global scale or simply in our everyday lives.