Friday, January 29, 2021

Review: "At the School Gate" by Sandra Nicole Roldan

I bought At the School Gate by Sandra Nicole Roldan a couple of months ago. I met Sandra at the 1999 U.P. National Writers Workshop in Baguio, the same workshop where I met my husband, Vince. Sandra also met her husband, Paul de Guzman, there. We were all fellows in possibly the most romantic writers workshop ever. So join workshops if you're looking for your soul mate! Joking aside, Vince and I like supporting local literature, especially the work created by our fellows. At the School Gate is Sandra's first book.

Since my readers are mostly mommies, I figured I'd do a book review because At the School Gate is a children's book. At just 40 pages, all fully illustrated by Nina Martinez, it appears to be a simple little story about a teenaged girl's adventures outside her school. And it is, except that the story is dark and scary because the girl's father is hunted down by real monsters.

This is the story of Ella Cortez, a child of an activist against Martial Law. In the 1970s, activists who criticized Marcos were arrested and jailed without evidence. Many were tortured, many were killed. My parents were Marcos Loyalists and they told me this was a lie. And I was a Marcos fan, too, until I met the survivors - my professor Marra Lanot, my mentor Jo-Ann Maglipon, and my colleague Pete Lacaba. I was so embarrassed to declare one time that Marcos was an amazing President in front of Sir Pete. He looked at me and smiled sadly. That was when another colleague told me about his activism. Then I had to confront the fact that my parents were the ones who lied.   

The book follows Ella's story as she is fetched from school by her auntie at the school gate. Ella is not living in Martial Law times anymore. She is 15 years old so this is 1991. The country is under the Aquino administration, supposedly the golden era of democracy, a safe time. Her father is now an NGO worker, making documentaries. But Ella finds out from her aunt that the government captured and tortured her father again. The whole family must now stay together to keep her safe. It didn't feel safe. There is malevolence and fear haunting every page. Ella realizes quickly that even though it's her father the government is after, the threatening presence of a henchman shadows her every move. Will she be afraid or will she be brave just like her father?

At the School Gate is an important book, especially and frighteningly relevant in these dark times. Many would argue that recent events of red-tagging schools is a good thing. The government is just trying to protect students from communists sweeping through the halls and recruiting gullible young girls and boys to go against the government. But my argument to that is this: What's the overwhelming proof that state universities are churning out communists? You'd think there are thousands upon thousands of students joining the New People's Army every year. But there hardly are any. Not one person can come up with a verified list of even just a hundred students who joined the NPA in the last year. 

I don't even understand why the government is threatening the universities when there are no physical classes. The campuses are ghost towns in the nearly year-long quarantine. There's no one there to recruit, and therefore this issue is illogical. Yet we are haunted and threatened by it. 

Student activism shouldn't be a priority, especially while there is a global pandemic. Yet it seems to be an issue that won't go away. What's the oft-used phrase of this administration and its defenders? Kung walang masamang ginagawa, walang dapat katakutan. Something like that. Why are all our administrations so afraid of students and activists then? 

At the School Gate shows us that activists just want a better life for their children, except that in their fight for a better world, their families suffer. Is it worth it to sacrifice your family, your life, on the altar of democracy and freedom? It's a question I'd have said yes to when I didn't have children. But I'm ashamed to say motherhood has made me a coward. That's what this book made me realize.  

And that's why this book must be included in every Filipino home. It opens our eyes to the truth that democracy is a tenuous thing. We must not take it for granted. Some people risk their safety, happiness, and their lives fighting for it. Will At the School Gate ever be required reading? Sad to say, as long as we have leaders who are corrupt and hungry for power, this book will be dangerous material. 

To be honest, I haven't read this book to my kids yet because it's too raw and scary. It shouldn't be. Martial Law was three decades ago. But it's all still happening, especially today. I thought I'd be able to tell the boys, "And that was a dark time but these brave men and women saved us from a dictator and now we're free! There's nothing to worry about anymore. We are all safe." But I can't say that. Not yet. I hope, in 2022, I will.

At the School Gate by Sandra Nicole Roldan is available on Shopee for just P195.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Women in tuxedos. An ode to Ashley Biden's so-cool-so-hot OOTD

I know everyone's talking about how the fashion choices of Kamala Harris, Jill Biden, Michelle Obama, and poet Amanda Gorman symbolized many important things in the inauguration this week. Yes, it's wonderful fashion is back in a good way. But it's the uber-chic Ralph Lauren tuxedo that First Daughter Ashley Biden wore that has me going, "Oooooh I likey!"

Check out the First Family - stylish like the previous two families before them:


But while the Obamas were high-low American chic and the Trumps were high-end-only fashion design style, the Bidens seem to be "We're cool just as we are." It's relaxed. The two First Families before them didn't have this chill vibe. The Obamas aimed to please. The Trumps wore their fashion like armor. The Bidens wear their clothes like they have nothing to prove. They're cool, naturally. It's almost not American, their je ne sais quoi attitude.


A gold gown with messy hair. A vintage-style dress with on-trend ugly sneakers. Sparkly orange gown grounded by black details. A severe purple pussy-bow, grandma dress with matching killer D'Orsay pumps. And Ashley's undone tie is just the symbol of it all. She's dressed in nice threads with those sleek cigarette pants and black-and-gold stilettos but her undone tie relaxes her look. I am so in love with this look!

Tuxes and suits aren't that odd on a woman. From the 1930s, actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn, have donned the menswear staple to challenge how women are supposed to dress. In the 60s, cool girls Bianca Jagger and Catherine Denevue wore it to show that women can be sexy and powerful in a man's world. It's supposed to be an androgynous look but by wearing something so male, the femininity is emphasized. 

Here are my favorite recent incarnations of the look:

Evan Rachel Wood

Dakota Johnson

Emma Watson

Victoria Beckham

Zendaya

Angelina Jolie

Wearing a tux is on my bucket list actually. I just need an occasion! Universe, let's make that happen! 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Stop this unrequited love nonsense

My husband and I were watching "Bridgerton" on Netflix and one of the Lady Featheringtons is hopelessly and secretly in love with one of the Lord Bridgertons. And I turn to my husband and announce, "I have no idea what unrequited love feels like."

My husband gives me his I-won't-roll-my-eyes-because-I-love-this-arrogant-woman look.

"It's true," I huff then I turn back to the TV and give my advice. "Just tell him you love him and be done with this agony. Easy!"


Now I know it isn't easy for many women. It wasn't easy during the 19th century and it's still not easy 200 years later. Goodness, despite all the progress feminism has brought us, when it comes to love, we still pine away and hopelessly wait for the men to notice us.

I've never been this way. If I like a guy, I tell him. If he doesn't like me back, then his loss! As Taylor Swift sang, "Who could ever leave me, darling? Who could stay? You could stay." And if he chooses not to, then it's just not meant to be. And it's okay, I can let it go because I tried and failed and I can't argue with facts. 

But if you never tell him how you feel, then how would you know it's not meant to be? And you're trapped in this purgatory of never knowing when this hell of uncertainty will end. Just like quarantine! I mean, you can enjoy quarantine but you don't want to be stuck in the same place forever. 

I've been told many times by friends and older people that if the girl shows interest first, men will lose respect for her. But they underestimate my intelligence. I can see when a man is taking advantage of my interest and then I lose interest because I see what he's really like after all. And isn't it great I saw the real him before I ever fell deeply in love? 

So maybe we should teach our girls to be smart so that they can see a jerk a mile away. Maybe we should teach our boys that a girl who says what she means and means what she says is admirable and be taken seriously instead of mocked. Maybe we should be teaching our children that honesty and truth are good things and that both men and women can be honest and no one should disrespect an honest person, especially when they're sharing something so delicate. And then maybe this world wouldn't be full of heartbroken people who shouldn't even be heartbroken in the first place because love is a relationship. It's not a one-sided affair, folks. When only one person is in love, that person never sees what the object of his/her affection is really like. You're not there when he's happy or sad or sick or mean. You're not in a relationship so all you ever see is the good side. You only love an image. That's not true love.

I hope my sons never know what unrequited love feels like. Yes, it's romantic. Think Severus Snape and how he loved Lily Potter so. Or Cyrano de Bergerac and how he wooed Roxane with his exquisite love letters but signed them as Christian so she ended up falling for the dumb guy. Or Julianne who was determined to steal her best friend Michael from Kimmy. Or the Little Mermaid (not the Disney one) giving up her life literally to be with a Prince who never cared for her at all. Eponine and Marcus. Gatsby and Daisy. Romantic but tragic and infinitely a waste of time. 

I tell my sons all the time, "The worst thing in the world is waste." Waste of resources, waste of talent, waste of opportunity, waste of life, waste of time. Don't waste time pining away for someone. Tell him you like him. And if he doesn't like you back, don't waste your affections on him. He doesn't deserve you. Move along. Life is short. Your heart, mind, body, and time are precious. Don't waste yourself on someone who won't love you back.

Love,

Auntie F.