Voting for Nanay
Have you noticed that our elections are scheduled on the second Monday of May, right after Mother’s Day, which, following the American tradition, is pegged on the second Sunday of May?
This proximity of Election Day to Mother’s Day made me think of a different take for our elections.
Often enough, we talk about making the right choices for our children and future generations. But let’s think of an alternative perspective, which is to vote in a way that honors our Nanays, used generically in the Philippines to refer not just to our mothers but also to other older women we love: the aunt who never married but who raised nephews and nieces as her own children, the doting but firm grandmother, the self-sacrificing yaya who left her own children in the countryside and spent more of her life caring for the children of an amo or employer.
Why not our fathers, or grandfathers?
Because we have reached a time when we need to rethink the models for politics created by men, which emphasizes the building of alliances, many all too temporary, involving an exchange of favors and, ultimately, power.
(Note I said “generally,” well cognizant of the fact that women have become political in the mold of men. In the Asian context, as I described in a column some weeks back, many of them became political following the footsteps of a father or husband.)
The problem with our elections is that they are seen mainly as transactional exercises. The already powerful trade power like playing cards, while the disempowered are given a sense, for a few weeks during a campaign that is mostly theater and spectacle, that citizens have power, and will soon see change.
The promises are empty, because we vote in leaders who rule, rather than govern, and who fail to see that true power is exerted out of wisdom—power that is wielded to serve fairness, justice and the common good.
Doesn’t that governance describe many of the good Nanays in our lives?
Cory Aquino’s funeral was the largest, and longest, we ever had for a president. We called her Tita, but we mourned for a lost Nanay. We voted her in as the antithesis of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Nanay versus the “Ama.” We paid homage to her even if, during her term, we complained all the time, rightly so about the need for her to be more firm, and to transcend her class origins.
We forget that the Nanay, the Filipino mother, is in fact strong, tenaciously so, which is why she is often the one who finds ways to survive, even thrive, in times of grave crisis in the family: financial, social, emotional.
The Nanay is there with her “Tahan na,” to comfort and to console. But don’t get her wrong, she’ll wait for the right time to tell you what needs to be said: How foolish and how stupid you were to have done what you did, or, simply, that you were just being impatient about getting what you thought you needed.
The Nanay is strategic, a quality we so badly need for those who govern. She does not speak out of impulse, instead keeping her silence, sometimes for extended periods in a display of the most effective war tactic: tampo. When speak she finally does, she would have negotiated amends and change.
The Nanay is tempered, or at least displays the temperance using kimkim—a suppression of her sadness, frustration, anger. Even at great cost to her own emotional health, she does this so as not to fan other people’s already dangerous emotions.
The Nanay is a master politician because she is a master of time, knowing the power of the past, and the future, to serve the present.
Vote for Nanay by voting for people, male or female, who respect our Nanays as strong women. But vote, too, for those who do not just demand Nanays to be strong and self-sacrificing and resilient, but who also want to do something so Nanays are spared the countless indescribable sorrows they have, amid helplessness, seeing their children hungry, sick, unable to attend school.
Vote for Nanay by choosing candidates who empathize with the heartbreak of mothers who have to leave home to work in faraway places, often to raise other families’ children or care for their elderly. Vote for Nanay by choosing candidates who are resolved about banishing the wailing, often in the darkness of the night, of Nanays losing loved ones in wars against enemies real or imagined.
Vote for Nanay by choosing candidates who respect all Nanays, who respect all women, in words (especially in words) and in deeds.
This Mother’s Day, think of voting for Nanay.
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