10 September 2009
on owning spaces
I have mixed feelings about today. This morning was totally unproductive while I straddled here and there about how to begin this paper that I'm supposed to read as a junior speaker in a conference next week. The pressure is just too strong - especially because the audience is made up of people who are either waiting for you to confirm their prejudice against "scholars" from the third world (whether that prejudice is good or bad), or who are waiting for you to astonish them so that they would change their minds about "people" like me. This is something one like me cannot but avoid. I belong to a colored race. And I come from a developing country.
After lunch, I headed out to attend a meeting with the people in my center. The chair announced that there are a number of new people in our center. This meant that they will be using up the office spaces for our center. For me, this meant the possibility of losing the space that they so kindly shared to me. ( I am saying this not out of sarcasm. It was indeed very kind of them to create a space for me. )
Before I say more, let me tell the story of this office space. While I was convalescing after my hospitalization (will say more about this later, I promise), a colleague of mine visited me in my apartment. She immediately noticed that the apartment was too small for a family ( much more for a family where parents have to have a space where they can study and work). I said that this was all that the university can offer. I have the option to move to a private apartment but it would slice out a heavy portion of my scholarship allowance. My very good and kind friend brought this matter up to the chair and asserted that I should be given an office space in our center since I am one who needs it the most. Technically, I am not entitled to one, because my scholarship is different from the others who work in offices. It doesn't include payment of the use of office space. (This is the scholarship they offer to developing countries). But the good thing about working with a center that theorizes on social and global justice, my chair and my colleagues found this set-up to be utterly unfair. And so they found a way to make a space for me.
The thing is, what they are up against is a system that turns a cold eye to concrete lives and situations. I'm still not included in the system. I was just accommodated by the benevolence of those who criticized it from within. And because there are a number of new people who are officially entitled to an office space, there are chances that I might be displaced. The chair promised that he will do everything he can to give me space. I believed him. I still do. And again I felt glad that there are people willing to fight the system with me.
On my way home, I felt sad and helpless. Looking out of the bus, I silently told my fellow foreigners (especially the third-world foreigners), kawawa naman tayo. I feel sorry for us, who find it hard to take a step forward in our ongoing struggle for justice, simply because the competition, to begin with, was never on equal grounds. We have only to rely on the goodness of "enlightened people".
In this regard, I have repeatedly found myself to be among the "lucky ones" surrounded by messengers of goodness.
But how about those who have none? With this, a rush of questions followed--when the privileged ones go to our third-world homes, we lovingly give them space - much much more than what they really need. Yet, why can't they do the same for us? Of course, they would say, "You would have to afford it." Then again, the whole question of starting on equal grounds turns up.
When I got home, I was greeted by a 3-year old who couldn't wait to go back to the computer after his welcome-home kiss. I looked at him for a while and relished at the sight of his brilliance. Barely four years old, he can already read books on his own, write me a note, find his nick jr. games online, and shutdown the computer. With him, I found hope. Through him, I am reminded of the brilliance of so many Filipinos. With this, I am comforted. Because no matter how unequal the grounds may be, our brilliance is, sometimes, not always, a strong enough force to give us a place in this whole game.
Which brings me back to my paper. Now I have a good reason to make it really good.