Monday, March 31, 2014

Bebang’s World: A Literary Biography of Beverly “Bebang” Wico Siy (Part 2)

by Martina Magpusao Herras
The Philippine High School for the Arts
Creative Nonfiction 3


Half and half (1979-1994)

Beverly “Bebang” Wico Siy was born on December 10, 1979 in Quirino, Manila to Resureccion Wico and Roberto Siy. Her mother is Filipina, and her father is Chinese. She grew up living two traditions, one of the Filipino and the other of the Chinese.

She is the eldest of five daughters—her other sisters being Columbia, Kimberly, Charisse Ann and Erres. Bebang’s parents met when her mother was working as a waitress. Her father was a drinker as well as a smoker—and he managed a rice store and a jueteng racket. Her mother peddled fruits and Christmas decors to get by, as well as delivered lunch to gambling joints.

“We didn’t have a lot of money for the usual luxuries that other children enjoy,” she says in an interview with Ruel De Vera for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, “Our toys were hand-me-downs and we rarely had new clothes.”

Bebang, being half-Chinese, grew up amidst Chinese conventions. In the essay Nakaw na Sandali, she wrote about how her entire family had to move in with her father’s parents---as he had no money to afford a place of their own.

She even had to steal a box of gum from her grandparents’ grocery glass cabinet, so that she could have a taste of what her cousins were usually given when they visited the house.

She would also tell about how her other cousins were favored by her Amah and her Angkong (Grandmother and Grandfather) because her aunties and an uncle married into Chinese families.

But, despite this, Bebang was a child who danced through life, as if the storm never bothered her at all –as reflected in her works.



Entering the battlefield (1994-2002)

Bebang and her sisters were very young when their parents separated. They became the object of a tug-of-war between her parents, with their father constantly taking them away to live with him in Ermita—until finally, she moved in with her mother.

She went to three elementary schools as a child—in Ermita, Paranaque and then finally in Malate—until she entered the Philippine Christian University Integrated Science High School.

She described herself in her younger years as “Awkward and weird”—and resorted to teasing other people about their flaws, so that their attention would be on them instead of her.

When she was younger, Bebang constantly became the cause of her mother’s pain and headaches. In her essay, Ang Lugaw, Bow, she writes about how her mother cried about her and her sisters on a daily basis--as her father constantly “kidnapped” them and brought them to Ermita.

But every bright side has its shadow.

She recalled in her essay, Sa ganitong paraan namatay si Kuya Dims, about how a trip to province turned out to be a bad one—and how a cousin’s death, which was supposed to make her grieve—made her feel relief instead.

At the age of 9, her cousin brought her into a small nipa hut in the dead of the night and molested her. She openly wrote about this incident in Sa ganitong paraan namatay si Kuya Dims—

“Hindi ako sumagot. Ano naman ang isasagot ko? Ano ang isasagot ng isang nine years old na babae sa ganoong sitwasyon? Yo? Yes yes yo? Tangina mo? Gago ka? Hayop ka? Siyempre, hindi. Siyempre, wala. Wala siyang isasagot. Ang mga nine years old na bata, lalo na’t babae, hindi hinahanda sa ganitong sitwasyon. Kaya wala silang alam gawin.”

“…Pero sa tingin ko, kahit kailan, hindi ko ito maikukuwento sa nanay ko at mga kapatid. Baka sisihin nila ang mga sarili nila. Nasaan ba sila noong mangyari ‘to sa akin? Baka hindi na nila maalala… Ako na lang yata.”

With this entry, she did not only address her own experience—but also reached out to millions of other people who have been through the same thing as she did.

She mentioned in Milkshakes and Daddies about how her father brainwashed them into thinking that their mother was a horrible person. She held onto this thought until her father’s death when she was 15 years old.

She frequently went against her mother’s wishes, and she rebelled as much as her mother asked her to stop.

Fast-forward to 1996, Bebang was admitted into the University of the Philippines. The catch was, she had to enter a non-quota course. She listed down Geodetic Engineering as her first choice as she was proficient in Math and English. Malikhaing Pagsusulat was only her third choice, but at the admissions office—she found herself crossing out the two other courses on her list and applying for Malikhaing Pagsusulat.

But due to financial difficulties, she had to drop out of school. Following this, she ran away with her boyfriend at the age of 18 against her mother’s wishes. In Milkshakes and Daddies, she wrote about how her mother cried over this decision of hers---as elopement was the last thing on her mind for her eldest daughter.

In 1999, Bebang gave birth to her son, Sean Elijah—or EJ for short. At that time, Bebang worked odd jobs as a sales clerk at a pawnshop, direct seller for Avon and Sara Lee, and as a sales staff at a clothing store and—“I realized that if I really wanted him to have a future, I should not be in this kind of job”, she said.

She had also promised in front of her father’s grave that she would finish college, so she went back to UP after saving money from working as a waitress. She re-enrolled in Malikhaing Pagsusulat, and realized that she’d loved it there. “Sobrang bagay ako dun” she mused. And, of course, her hard work was paid off in full—as she graduated Cum Laude. She said, then “I realized that finishing (college) with honors isn’t about being smart but because people enjoyed their courses”.

Her son was six months young when she and her boyfriend broke up. “Higit sa lahat, sa tatay ng anak ko para sa hindi pagsusustento at pambabalewala sa mga pangngailangan ni E. Biruin mo, kung di mo ginawa yan, siguro napakarami ko nang na-miss na karanasan bilang nanay. At wala sana akong karapatan na tawagin kang LOSER. Imagine?” —she wrote in the acknowledgment page of It’s a Mens World, referring to the man who had left her to care of their son on her own.

Her son wrote a journal entry in her computer, and Bebang had posted it online;

“Hi ako si ej sept .29 ang aking karawan. Parehong Filipino ang tatay at nanay ko.ang mga magulang ko ay nag-kawatak-watak .ang nanay ko ang nag-palaki sa akin.masaya na ako sa kanya pero minsan nakakainis kasi minsan hindi nya na ako inasikaso kasi maraming work eh pero ok lang kasi mama ko naman siya eh at siya naman ang nag-aaruga sa akin pero nag kabati ulit ang pamilya naming kaya balik na naman ang mundo ko.9yrs. old nako kaya marami na akong alam.isa akong sped student ang hirap nga eh sabi ko nga eh parang gusto ko ng somuko eh pero dati lagi akong ina-away kaya ngayon iba na ang makikita nila isa nang matolino at palaban na sean Elijah w. siy “


Emerging as Victor (2002-onwards)

After her graduation, Bebang started working on several writing projects with different publishers—putting to use the great talent that she has within her. She even wrote an erotic short novel in 2006 entitled Mingaw, and she describes it as being “very bold and very raunchy.”

Afterwards, she worked for an NGO called the Creative Collective Center, Inc., and later on went to teach English to Korean students in Kalayaan Avenue, Quezon City. She also taught Filipino courses at the University of Santo Tomas. She was also the Executive Officer for Membership and Documentation of Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society (FILCOLS), an organization of authors and publishers that helps fight for the economic rights of copyright holders.

It was when she was taking her Masters in Filipino Literature at UP when her teacher, Vim Nadera, told her to find a publisher for the manuscript of It’s a Mens World. One year later, it came out in September of 2011—thus, the birth of Bebang’s second child, her first collection of essays.

The book flew off shelves quickly. Readers, such as I, found her style witty and charming. There is no hint of forced humor or anything to that name in her book, as everything came out naturally.

This kickstarted her career as becoming one of the nation’s youngest to-watch-out-for writers.

She has been christened as the “Bob Ong with Ovaries”, writing in a really funny and informal way—with a deeper meaning behind each text. Her humor comes from personal experience—which gives the readers sense of “learn from other people’s mistakes”.

And of course, by this time she has reconciled and fixed everything with her mother. She thanks
her in her book, “Thank you, ma, sa lahat ng mga sermon…Kahit lagi mo akong inaaway, mahal pa rin kita.”

When I asked for her autograph, she had written clearly on the pages of my sketchpad; “Dear Martina, sana’y na-enjoy mong basahin ito dahil nag-enjoy din ako sa paggawa ko nito”—a physical manifestation of how much Bebang Siy is passionate about her work.



It’s A Mens World

“…Kung meron kang gustong patunayan, ihanda nang bonggang-bongga ang sarili sa mga posibleng mangyari dahil siguradong may kapalit ito. Minsan ang kapalit ay maganda, minsan matamis. Pero minsan din ay mahapdi at minsan naman, maalat.”

The gist of the book is simple. It’s a little, “what you should do and what you shouldn’t do—what you shouldn’t but you should try out anyway” in each essay, garnished with her own reflections and lessons for both the reader and the writer.

She mentioned in an interview for a term paper once;

“Ang orihinal na pamagat ng sanaysay kung saan ko hinango ang pamagat ng aklat
ay Regla Baby. Parang nilaro ko ang term na Regal Baby ni Mother Lily (ang may
ari ng Regal Films na siyang producer ng mga pelikula noon bago pa sumikat ang
ABS-CBN, GMA Films at iba pa). Ang Regal Baby ay iyong mga artista na nilalaunch
ni Mother Lily. Napansin ko noong Regla Baby pa ang title ng essay, hindi
siya ma-publish-publish. Hindi ko alam kung bakit. kung saan-saan ko na sinubmit at
kung tama ang pagkakaalala ko pati sa Palanca. talo! Isang araw, habang nakasakay
ako sa dyip, bigla ko na lang naisip ang phrase na it’s a mens world. At sabi ng loob
ko, puwede. Bagay naman sa essay ko. Kaya iyon. Inuna ko ang essay na ito kasi
palagay ko it sets the tone of the whole book. Na this book is something really
personal, na its about a girl/woman, na its about living in other people’s standards,
parang ganon. Kaya naisip ko, maganda na rin na ito na ang pamagat ng buong
aklat. Kasi parang it will give you a glimpse of what the book is all about.”

It’s a Mens World , both the title and the essay of the same name, makes a reference to when her sister, Colay, had her first onset of menstruation. “Naging sentro ng atensiyon si Colay noong araw na reglahin siya. lahat kami, nasa labas ng kubeta, naghihintay sa paglabas ng “bagong” dalaga Pagbukas ng pinto, itong stepmother ko, biglang pumasok. Hinanap niya ang panty ni Colay sa loob ng kubeta. Gulat na gulat si Colay, siyempre.” she relates.

It was then after she complained about how her sister received much attention regarding her menarche that Bebang says that, “Nakaiinggit naman, insip ko. Kailanganag magkaregla na rin ako.”

The book, in its entirety, was written in Filipino—save for a short story that she wrote in one of her essays: Ang Aking Uncle Boy—which she wrote for all seafarers and their families.

Her essays are more than just essays. They are wires connecting from her life to ours; reaching out like no other essayist has ever done before.

“Maybe it’s because a big part of what makes Bob Ong funny is the language
and the tone. I think that it’s the same thing that charmed my audience, the language,
the tone and my being a woman, my sexuality. Walang babaeng ganito kabalahura
(there’s isn’t another woman so outrageous). Sobrang candid siya at nasa wikang
Filipino.”

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I was never really fond of essays. I’d probably manage to skim through a few pages, and then succumb to sleep afterwards. But reading It’s a Mens World is a different story. The opposite happened and I found myself finishing the book from 7 pm to 10:30 in the evening.


Bloody Panties and Feminism

“Magkilos-dalaga ka na kasi maliligawan ka na.”

“Pumasok ako sa kubeta. Sibibukan kong umihi. Doon ko nalaman na dalaga na
pala talaga ako. Malungkot kong tinitignan ang mantsa sa panty. Ay, ang dami mo
namang hinihinging kapalit. Demanding, parang ganon. Napakademanding naman
pala ng pagdadalaga.”

Her essays may be witty and charming and nonetheless simple, but after reading and re-reading them, it is evident that Bebang writes of feminism.

She has mentioned in an interview with Ruel De Vera that she disliked people who didn’t fight for themselves. “People may expect Bebang to be funny all the time, but she gets pretty serious as well.” He writes. “It bugs her when people don’t fight for their rights. She gets passionate in her avowed mission to protect Filipino writers from being abused. Like other celebrities in the limelight, she finds that being energetic and on all the time can get tiring. After a reading, a talk or a hosting job, she also gets wiped out. ‘I can hardly talk afterwards. I get tired making people laugh, too.’”

Long has been the age of the suffragettes. Long gone has been the time of putting women down to areas such as cooking, cleaning and making children. Women are a race of power and are not to be taken for granted. Bebang Siy is a perfect example of woman empowerment—that she, in her 34 year old-chinky eyed glory, can be both a father and a mother.

She wrote in her essay, Ang Piso, once;

“Hinatak ko si EJ at lumapit na kami sa pinto ng bus. Di ako mahilig
makipaggitgitan sa mga pasaherong paakyat o pababa ng bus pero sa pagkakataong
ito, hinarang ko talaga ang ilang lalaking paakyat para mas mabilis kaming
makababa. Malabong paarangkadahin ni Manong ang bus kahit anung buset niya sa
ginawa kong pagtungayaw sa kanya kasi me mga pasahero siyang hihintayin. Sayang
din ‘yon. Pera din ang mga ‘yon.”

“Ligtas naman kaming nakababa, nakauwi. Walang bali, walang gasgas, walang
nagdurugo kundi ang bulsa.”

“Noong bata ako, masakit ang piso. Ngayon, sumasakit ang puso ko dahil sa
piso.”

Being a mother, she tries her best to raise her son in the best way possible. She was once asked how much of being a mother affected her writing—“Malaki. Maraming times kasi na kaya ako sumusulat kasi gusto ko mabago ang mundo. Alam mo yon? Yung gusto ko, maging better ito. Kaya sulat ako nang sulat. Baka sakaling makatulong akong mabago ito. Kasi iniisip ko ang anak ko. Ilang taon na lang at siya na ang gagalaw nang mag-isa sa lipunan. Mapapabilang na siya rito. Kaya hangga’t kaya ko at ng panulat ko, sulat lang nang sulat para makatulong ako sa pagpapaganda nito. Sa mga sinusulat ko, kahit mabigat at seryoso minsan, I always try to end with hope. Kasi may anak ako. Pag may anak ka, hindi ka puwedeng defeatist. Dapat fighter ka till the end. Hindi ka nawawalan ng pag-asa.Siguro yun din ang trait na gusto kong mamana niya.”


When I asked her what inspires her to write, she said;

“Deadlines! Hahaha. kailangan lumampas muna ako sa deadline bago ako tuluyang makapag submit. Ang weird, ano? Hahaha! Minsan, nai-inspire din ako ng mga literary contest. Susubukan kong sumali, madalas, talo ako. Pero ok lang dahil ang pinaka-goal ko ay makapagsulat ng akda :)

'Yong mga reader din ng akda ko, very inspiring ang mga mensahe nila sa akin (katulad ng email moooooo!). Kaya naiisip ko lagi, I’m on the right track, iyon ang feeling. Kaya naiisip ko, dapat kong tapusin ang mga sulatin at aklat ko dahil may makikinabang dito, marami ang dito ay matututo.”


***



When Bebang writes of the human body, however, it isn’t a far topic from talking about women empowerment. She writes of the troubles every dalaga has to go through upon their first onset of menstruation. Before the red tide flows in, they are allowed to climb trees and play with boys—but after it happens, they are forbidden to even go outside to enjoy some quality time with their friends.

This has been a stereotypical scenario in the Filipino household—especially with Bebang—being the eldest. She relates how much womanhood brings a great chunk of responsibility.

But Bebang is defiant. She doesn’t believe that the fun stops once your mens starts. She continues to be the mischievous girl that she is, without caring about what people say around her. . “We Filipinos cope in a very unique manner,” She says. “That’s what is funny. It’s also what makes us strong.”


Conclusion

A teacher and a fellow writer once told me, “Whenever somebody tries to sound intelligent, they probably aren’t”

Bebang Siy does the opposite. She tries to sound like a normal person who is just struggling with everyday life decisions. And by doing so, she becomes witty and clever without even trying.

She has been dubbed as the Bob Ong with ovaries. She even related once that she was about to make her pen name for It’s a Mens World Beb Ang—except, another writer, with the same name, submitted a manuscript before she did.

“Pero di nagtagal, may ilang glitch na bumulwak during the “menstruation” period. Matagal ang copy editing. Tengga is the right word. Natengga sa copy editing ang koleksiyon. Nakadalawang copy editor ako. Di makatawid sa deadline ang una dahil sa problema sa kalusugan. Nahirapan akong makahanap ng isa pang copy editor. Ang dream copy editor ko ay abalang-abala naman.

Century bago mag-reply sa text at email. Nagkaroon din ng miscommunication tungkol sa cover design. Iginiit ko na nakapili na ang mga manager/big shots mula sa unang set ng studies at hindi na kailangan ng panibago na namang set ng studies. Kakain na naman ng panahon kapag nagpagawa pa ng bagong set of studies, made-delay pang lalo ang paglabas ng mens. At ang pinakamalupit sa lahat, may nag-submit ng book proposal sa Anvil, Beb Ang ang pangalan. At tunay niyang pangalan ang Beb Ang. Inabisuhan agad ako ni Mam Karina, Bebang, hindi mo na puwedeng gamitin ang pen name mo. Malilito ang mga tao kapag naglabas na kami ng aklat niya.”

But I guess, this was a sign. She didn’t need any pen name. When she finally submitted the manuscript to Anvil with the name, her name, Bebang Siy. And with Bebang, she became christened into the writing world as herself—with a collection that reflects who she is.

“Agad akong nagpasya, gagamitin ko na lang ang tunay kong pangalan: Bebang Siy. (Well, almost tunay na pangalan...)At para bagang signos! Pagkat sa maniwala kayo’t sa hindi, nagtuloy-tuloy na sa paglabas ang ano ko. Dumaloy ito, lumigwak, umagos, hala ang ragasa nito sa mga bookstore sa sangkapuluan. Hanggang ngayon. Kaya bumabaha na nga. Ng Mens. At plano ko talagang lunurin sa Mens ang buong Pilipinas.Madugo ito, alam ko, pero okay lang. Hindi yata ito nasisiraan ng loob.” She writes.

“People laugh when you are very straightforward. I don’t know why. I don’t find it really funny but people laugh when I talk about things that are very honest. It’s like Kris Aquino because she says everything that’s on her mind. That’s when what I say becomes funny.”

And indeed, her stories speak not just of wit but of personal experience, or of what we like to call “hugot” in such a manner that she doesn’t only tug her own heartstrings but also the heartstrings of her readers.

I’ve asked her through email, “What is it that you like about writing so much?”
“I get to express my sentiments, my feelings, my thoughts!

Saka kapag nagsusulat ako, para akong naha-high. Nawawala sa isip ko ang problema, saka parang tubig ang mga salita, daloy lang nang daloy.

Isa pa, binuhay ako ng pagsusulat. Pati ang anak ko, nabuhay dahil dito. Kaya mahal ko ang propesyon na iyan dahil kung wala iyan, hindi ko alam kung ano ang trabaho ko ngayon, kung ano ang ginagawa ko ngayon.

I also get to meet a lot of people! Naiimbitahan akong magsalita sa iba't ibang lugar na familiar sa mga akda ko at nakikipagkuwentuhan ako tungkol sa proseso ko ng pagsulat. May mga reader pala ako na katulad ko, victim din ng sexual abuse noong bata, meron akong na-meet na kasalukuyang nagkakaproblema sa pamilya, meron din akong na-meet na gay na teenager, tapos sobra siyang studious, tuwang-tuwa ako sa kanya kasi kitang-kita ang pagkaseryoso niya sa pag-aaral. Sa Mindanao, may na-meet akong mga teacher na M'ranao, may mga estudyante doon na talagang nakatakip ang mukha, parang ninja. Hindi sila masyadong palakibo! Actually, sobra silang shy. As in, minsan, umaalis sila para hindi mo na sila kakausapin. See, dahil sa pagsusulat, andami kong nami-meet!”

She recalls then how writing has brought her to places such as modelling for a catalogue, and even straight into her “husband’s arms”.

“O, di ba, ang saya? Hahaha!” she writes, “ kung hindi ako nagsusulat, hindi mangyayari siguro sa akin ang mga ‘yan”


***

Bebang Siy is a personal hero of mine. She taught me how to let loose sometimes without letting everything go. As of this moment, I am holding her book. And trust me, I am never going to put it down.



Maraming maraming salamat kay Bb. Martina Herras.

Yakaaaaap, 'te!






















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