Posted by: mensab | May 20, 2008

MyOther, My First Other: Retracing her Life History or Herstory with Gender Lens


sunset by the seaA 66-year old woman got off from the bus. A distinct joy overwhelmed me upon seeing her, my first concept of the other. It was my mother. From Bicol, my mother came to Manila with my two nephews. I rushed to hug her. My mother hugged me back. I felt home in her arms around me.



Like many of us, my mother has a great and marked influence on my life. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I had an intimate talk with her. At that moment, I was an awed listener of herstory, a son, and a friend. At the same time, I got to hear herstory in a new light with gender lens. With sharp focus on her being a girl, her relationships with her father and husband, and her being a mother, I was listening to herstory as it unfolded like the first time before my eyes.


Why herstory? I say, why not herstory! One book that inspired me to do this paper is My Mother by Daniel Lord, S.J. When I encountered this book, I thought that writing about my mother would be a tribute to her deeds and services to me and her family. It would be a space where I would get to know more and better the person who has touched me in a special way. The dailiness and ordinariness of the life of my mother would hopefully provide a glimpse of the survival in the World War II, the struggle of growing up and getting education as a girl, the lack of control of women on decision on marriage and other matters, and the desire to be productive economically to support the children.


The Women in an Insecure World released in 2005 by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces presents the facts, figures, analysis, and recommendations on violence against women. It does so in the global perspective. My aim in this paper is to present the status of women through the story of my mother. In other words, I will give flesh to the body of facts and figures. It is my assumption that herstory embodies the stories of her generation in a rural area in Bicol, Philippines. By knowing and understanding the stories of women who, according to former UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan, keep and “maintain the social fabric,” peacebuilding may arise from the rubles of conflict.


Life History as a method


 When I was a graduate student of Anthropology, I did a life history of a child during the World War II as a requirement in the course, People-Centered Development (PCD), under Jeanne Frances Illo. I was interested to investigate the notion of lost childhood during the World War II. I chose my Aunt Clara who was 11 years old during the Japanese occupation. After laboring for two weeks transcribing the story, I found out that it was not a lost childhood. It was a different childhood which typically was associated with hardships, fear, and innocence. She was not deprived of her childhood. She managed to eke out playing games with Japanese soldiers and playmates. She learned things that could be learned in school. Admittedly, it was difficult and tedious to use life history, and I told myself that I would not use life history again as a research method.


However, life history has its merit and value as a method. It is able to dig into the development and self-perception of individuals which brings insights to the life and times of individuals who could provide information within a social group (Thompson, 1978). The social group referred to here can be gang members, workers, national leaders, peasants, rebels, and other social groups. In this paper, the social group is the women.


My presentation of herstory is abbreviated due to the number of words required for this paper. It is also unadulterated as told by my mother, without interpretations of the author. Some parts are highlighted and given emphasis while some parts are omitted. This is primarily because of the nature of our paper and its aim which is to look at herstory with gender lens. Some parts have strong gender implication while some do not. However, the organization of presentation is not compromised. It follows the developmental life cycle of a woman, from prenatal to old age.


Her early and childhood years


Her mother joined her husband in going to the farm even if her mother was carrying her fourth child. She did not help though in farming. She just wanted to be with her husband while out of the house.


When she was born in January 30, 1942, she was named Valeriana. It was at the height of the Japanese occupation. Her father would take the whole family to caves near Mt. Isarog in Pili, Camarines Sur to escape the Japanese. Her mother would wrap Valeriana with clothes and put amulets to dispel evil spirits inside the caves. The continuous onslaught of the Japanese army in Pili and its mountainous areas made her father to decide to move to Milaor, a neighboring small town where the occupation was complete. Valeriana had no vivid memory of Milaor during this time.


When Valeriana was 5 years old, just after the war, her younger sister died while being born. As a result, Valeriana remained the “bunso” (youngest) of the family not until a boy came, the first boy among the 5 siblings. Then, her father took them back to Pili where Valeriana attended Grade 1. Her father supported the family by farming a piece of land awarded through homestead. Life was starting to settle in Pili when his father’s carabao was stolen. Without his carabao, her father could not farm. Thus, her father brought them to Sabang, Del Gallego, about 90 kilometers from Pili, where his relatives offered him a piece of land to till (with carabao of course).


Valeriana attended her Grade 2 in Del Gallego. Her parents moved to Sta. Cruz, Laguna to manage a carenderia. She stayed in Del Gallego to continue her studies under the care of her grandparents. She finished Grade 4 in Del Gallego when her parents took her to Laguna for summer and went back to Bicol in Milaor to continue her primary education.


In Milaor, she was given a responsibility, to look after and take care of her younger brother and sister. She accepted this responsibility seriously while doing some household chores on the side.


Her adolescent and high school years


After graduating elementary, she was stuck to the task of looking after her younger siblings and doing household chores. She was not sent to school even though she ached and asked for it. Her parents were having a hard time financially to be able to send her to high school.


Mawot ko man mag-escuela para mabago an buhay ko” (I would like to go to school to change my life). She started to dream of having a big house with a large garden for her kids to play around.


At 16, she was finally sent to high school. During this time, Valeriana was making a name in the local beauty pageants. In school, she became Miss High School and Miss Valentines. Outside the school, she was Miss An Liwanag. She was also a member of the Filipiniana dance troupe in school.


Valeriana vividly remember her first dance in the plaza. Her mother set her up with an older man. Her mother gave her a fancy soap to wash her face. The older man incidentally became my father.


After 2nd year level, she was made to stop schooling. Her parents had no more finances to support her growing expenses in school. But her brother continued his studies in high school. On her hindsight, “Cun lalaki lang ako, para nakaklase pa ako” (If I were a boy, I could have been still in school).


Valeriana even heard her parents say, “Aagomon man lang yan. Baco man sya an mabuhay. Lalaki man. Makanuog lang magpirma” (Someone will marry her. It will not be her responsibility to earn a living. It will be the man. It’s enough just to learn to sign). While out of school, she did what her mother who had learned how to deliver a baby told her to do like accompanying her mother in different barangays and collect the payment for her mother’s services. Then, she would be allowed by her mother to dance in the plaza.


Early marriage, being a wife and motherhood


Valeriana had no plan to marry yet, but my father had his sight of the future with Valeriana. Valeriana was 18, while my father, Felino Sr., was 23 when they got married. My mother did not want marriage yet because she still wanted to go to school. But her parents persuaded her.


Her desire to go to school lasted until she had her 3rd child. She wanted to be a teacher. Felino Sr. would not let her study or even go out without his permission. Her husband was watchful over her and overprotective.


Sa enot, nagdedesisyon man ako. Kaya lang, habo kong mabasol. Kaya sya na lang pinadedesisyon ko apuera lang pag-abot sa mga aki” (At first, I was making decisions. But I did not want to be blamed, and so I let him decide except for the caring of children).

Felino Sr. earned his income from managing a rice mill owned by his uncle. To augment the family’s income, Valeriana learned dressmaking and bought a 2nd hand sewing machine. Consequently, things changed. “Nakakakua na akong pagbuhay sa mga aki ko” (I could now earn a living for my children).




My mother is not the epitome of women in her generation. Herstory may not attract movie producers or scriptwriters. However, herstory is a glimpse of the survival in the World War II, the struggle of growing up and getting education as a girl, the lack of control of women on decision on marriage and other matters, and the desire to be productive economically to support the children, which reflect the stories of many women in her generation.


The course readings have portrayed women as both actors and victims of violence and its resolutions in war and peace times. Under ordinary times though, there are mothers who strive to keep their families which are the fabrics of society together, girls who lack access to education and yet remain steadfast in the power of education to liberate them from the bondage of ignorance and monotony of life, women who resist the roles given to them, and young girls who dream of a better future where girls and boys or daughters and sons are equally valued and treated.


Amidst the stories of violence against women, there are also stories of joy and triumph. The joys and triumphs of every mother are the joys and triumphs too of her sons and daughters.





Lord, D. (1934). My Mother: The Study of an Uneventful Life. Saint Louis, Missouri: The

Quech’s Work, Inc.


Paul Thompson, P. (1978). The Voice of the Past: Oral History. Oxford: Oxford

University Press.


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2003). Gender Approaches in

Conflict and Post-Conflict Situations.


Vlachova, M. & Biason, L. (Eds.). (2005). Women in an Insecure World: Violence

Against Women Fact, Figures and Analysis. Geneva, Switzerland: Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces.


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