Why dreams die
A seven-year-old kid in the early 2000s, engrossed in watching her favorite Filipino heroine, would strike a pose in front of the mirror and yell, “Darna!” And in her head, she would transform into Angel Locsin, clad in tight-fitting red bikini and red boots. Sometimes, she would wear her nanay’s red brassier over her Hello Kitty dress, and a makeshift headpiece that resembled Darna’s red ensemble. Most of the time, she would put in her mouth a little white stone she found at the playground — and insist that her older brother take on the role of Darna’s mortal sidekick, Ding. And then she would run around the house—right fist in the air—pretending she could fly, until she accidentally broke one of her nanay’s most prized china plates. She got a scolding afterwards, but again she would fly around when no one was looking.
This is what we did. The world was so big, it could fit into our tiny hands. Back then, we swore, we could be anything! The possibilities were as infinite as the universe; we could be whoever we wanted to be, claim another galaxy, or bend elements with our willpower.
And then we grew up.
The universe is continuously expanding, but somehow, the world seems so much smaller now. We are confronted by the fact that the answer to the question, “What do you want to be?” is no longer a product of whimsical and childish daydreaming, but has been painstakingly narrowed and limited by the social reality we live in.
They taught us in school that we have to dream realistic dreams—because dreaming of becoming Darna just doesn’t pay monthly bills. So we were given a wide variety of options: nurse, accountant, engineer, lawyer, doctor, teacher… or something that “actually pays” and is “economically practical.”
And if you chose to major in fine arts, history, music, or humanities, in college — the horror of our relatives. This is the point in our lives when we avoid family reunions altogether —to evade unforgiving aunties with scathing remarks, to stay away from being compared to “successful” cousins, and to not see our parents blush in embarrassment and make up excuses for your “naivete.”
The strong feelings parents have about their children’s ambitions are something that have been going on for generations. They probably have been mirroring the parenting styles of their own parents, who got them from their parents and so on. However, don’t get me wrong; this (toxic) family culture isn’t the root cause of why dreams die.
The fact that we can’t dream freely and our dreams depend on our socioeconomic needs rather than our own passions is a manifestation of how socially and economically limited we are. An underprivileged Filipino kid is unlikely to be encouraged to dare dream about becoming an astronaut, because he lives in a poor country with minimum to zero funding for cutting-edge science and technology, much less space exploration. Many brilliant scientists and researchers in the Philippines are underfunded, underequipped, and ignored by politicians. One would have to have rich parents for a child to afford schooling abroad where careers in space exploration are possible.
And this is only on the part of the middle class, which has the privilege and luxury to have choices in their careers.
But a rice farmer living in the countryside can only dream of his family eating at least thrice a day. A mother who works in a food factory mostly dreams of her kids graduating at least from grade school. A fisherman in the West Philippine Sea dreams of fishing safely in the open sea without the intimidation of foreign thieves who claim our territory as theirs. A child in a war-conflicted community dreams of silence from the bombs and helicopters flying overhead, and the safety of their loved ones from bullets.
This is the social reality in which a lot of Filipinos are forced to live in, with the majority only able to dream of the barest minimum: three meals a day, access to quality and affordable education, peace and security. They don’t have the kind of freedom others have — the freedom to dream freely. This means the problem lies not in one’s ability as an individual to become successful in life, but in the social and economic inequities that constrain a person’s capacity to better himself or herself.
That is what we should fight against — a system that puts demarcation lines on the aspirations and hopes of people. And this is what we should fight for — a system that allows us a limitless capacity to dream, and to achieve such dreams.
* * *
Odeza Gayl Urmatam, 22, is from Camalaniugan, Cagayan. She is a graduate student taking up her master’s in public administration at the University of St. Louis-Tuguegarao.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.