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My Family Thinks I'm an Activist Because I'm from UP

"Rallying must be normal to you? Or maybe you have been joining rallies already?"
IMAGE John Renier Asok

During family gatherings, the elders' favorite appetizer has always been a bowl of questions to the young ones mostly about school strewed with a few questions about who's having romantic affairs already. Their question regarding school always starts with "Where are you studying again?" when it's my turn, I vigorously say "UP, University of the Philippines." I have always been proud of answering this question as I often get compliments like "Oh, UPCAT is very hard to pass. You must be really smart."

However, in our very own family dining table, I get reactions like "So you're an activist now?" and my other aunt says "Rallying must be normal to you? Or maybe you have been joining rallies already?" One of them even added, "Maybe you haven't been attending classes; instead you're in the streets shouting nonsense."

Their appetizer made me lose my appetite. All I wanted to do then was introduce a new appetizer recipe made with systematic, constructive enviable points that will not cater to personal interests but have a general perspective about issues.

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Instead, I just respectfully said, "You actually have the freedom to join or not, it's not like a class requirement, which means not everyone in UP are into protesting."

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When in my mind, I wanted to say how much I have grown tired of all the stereotyping not only coming from my own family but from everyone else who thinks that to be in UP is to be an activist.

It is not like being branded as one is negative but I do not deserve to be called one.

To be an activist is to have a brave soul that is selfless enough to shout in the streets to become the voice of the minority, to understand the real situation of our nation beyond the surface level, to resolutely fight against these problems despite being called names and to be bombarded with ad hominem attacks and threats to their security when after all, they're not doing it for themselves but for everybody, even for the ones calling them "stupid."

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My aunt finally came to the table serving the family's inherited specialty, I expected for the interrogation to come to an end as we were eating dinner all together now but my aunt didn't seem to let go of bombarding me with the things all UP students are tired of hearing, which was "Sus mang-eskwela pa lang mo ug tarung, dili kay magsayang sa tax sa tao (It's better for you to study well than waste the people's taxes)."

This is only one of the most annoying accusations battered to us by many. Contrary to popular belief, we are called "iskolars" not literally because we aren't paying school fees. Sure, a portion of the taxes are allocated in state universities which is not just in UP, but we are not wasting people's taxes.

We are actually aware of social issues and we choose to fight for it, while we are also in the battle of accomplishing requirements which includes papers, exams and a lot more. We consider more than 5 hours of sleep as a waste of time, so you can't call us a waste of tax.

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I still tried to eat dinner, though. There was only a last piece of chicken leg left in the platter and as I reached for it my uncle came with the last piece of insult also, saying "Mga bright man gud kaayo, mao na mga dako ug ulo (They're too smart that's why they have huge heads)."

This used to be a compliment, but now this is something that they feel like using against me. All I wanted to say was, first of all thank you. It's a privilege to be called a genius just because I am in UP, however I am not.

If there's one thing I am sure about, it's that UP has taught me a lot of things beyond the units of my subjects. UP doesn't limit its students to academic values but also to social issues which are equally important.

This has helped shape my opinion from my then childish and skewed perspective into a more logical and open-minded point of view that consists respecting and listening to other people's opinions, even those opposing mine.

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And as much as I want to defend myself and all other UP students from my family's statements, I calmly answer, "I know where all these activists are coming from, and we all need to see and understand that. Anyway, all of these are just stereotyping and generalizing." I said this in hopes of creating an intellectual discourse that won't end up in the pinpointing of who's right and wrong, but instead end up with a balanced perspective.

So I kept quiet, despite all the stereotyping and generalizing. Yes, we strongly fight for our stance, but we are not the violent and aggressive people everybody brands us to be when it comes to pushing our opinions and proving ourselves right. What we value most is to rise to an understanding that both parties are worth listening to, despite their differing views. This was the chance they failed to give me—to talk and to help them understand why we think the way we think, why we do what we do.

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My thoughts are finally interrupted as one of my cousins suddenly started teasing our niece for having a crush in school which immediately grabbed everyone's attention. This revelation led to teasing, laughter, and sharing of everyone's crush stories from back then which eventually became the family's dessert.

Are you from UP, too? What stereotypes do people assume about you because you're a UP student? Let's talk.

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About the author
Melissa Francine Quinal
Candymag.com Correspondent
Your socially relevant girl next door.
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