Edsa retold in memory and song
“Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me” is a graphic novel that is at once a memoir, an historical account of the Philippines in the 1980s, a love letter to country and compatriots, and a personal journey through grief, loss, memory, regret and self-discovery.
I love, too, that the writer/illustrator Lorina Mapa and I share a nickname, and that we walked through much of the historical territory covered by the events she recalls. This, even if we are decades apart in age. But it is interesting, to say the least, to see the same life-changing events viewed from a vastly different perspective and to a whole new, strange soundtrack. (Mapa even provides a discography of pop hits from 1981 to 1986, a period musically alien to me because, in the 1980s, I was busy raising two children.)
But “Duran Duran” also holds relevance for millennials, as well as Gen-Xers. Those who complain that they can’t be expected to feel the same surge of protest and patriotism as the “dilawan” crowd who flocked to Edsa or followed those events closely now have a text and a tale to follow. Time and distance may have dimmed the brilliance of those events, but at least they can now know what it meant to come of age in the dying days of the Marcos dictatorship and emerge into the light of democracy years after the death of Ninoy Aquino.
To be sure, it is a view reflected through the memories of a childhood and adolescence spent in privilege.
Mapa’s novel opens with the death of her father, killed in a road accident in Negros where he supervised the family’s sugar plantations. At this time, Mapa is a wife and mother in Canada, unmoored from her family and the land of her birth. The sad homecoming serves to trigger memories of her childhood and adolescence, unraveling the complicated knots of family relationships and her own ties to the country and people.
Central to those memories are the events leading to Edsa: the oppression of the Marcos dictatorship, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the growing disquiet among her extended family and their social circle, and the days spent on the highway. For Mapa, her own “mini-Edsa” takes place in Ayala Alabang, when her siblings and neighbors rush to the Ramos residence to “protect” then Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos’ family, while their patriarch is directing troop movements of rebel soldiers.
Mapa’s graphic testimony is proof, if any were still needed, that indeed those events of 1986 took place. And also, that change had truly taken place in the hearts and minds of the Filipino bourgeoisie, awakened from a seeming stupor, and finding the dormant courage within.
Alongside the “meta” tale, Mapa also tells a deeply personal story, beginning with her father who called her his “Princess” for much of her life, and providing armor against the cruel, casual ways of adults and peers who find her “odd” because of her tomboyish tendencies and obsession with, yes, Duran Duran and other youthful idols.
There are also accounts of doggie treats that were mistakenly ingested by her uncle, a minister in the Marcos Cabinet. An insightful observation of her mother, who had grown up under the shadow of a mother — Lina Flor — who had been a journalist and noted beauty. In an aside, Mapa surmises that the reason her mother gave her the freedom to be “different” was her mother’s own struggle for identity and recognition.
The story Mapa tells is made all the richer by the details she provides about the country and its people: the food, the scenery, the sense of family, the political divides that wrought fissures even among childhood friendships, and even the Filipinos’ brand of Catholicism that is gentle and happy because we are a gentle and happy people.
Young people would do well to get their hands on “Duran Duran” (it still has to make its way here), not just to know more about the events of 1986, but also to come away with a deeper appreciation of what it means to be Filipino, and why we must remain the same people who smile through disaster and who know how to mine the courage within.
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