For most of my early childhood, I grew up with my grandparents. My grandfather was an intellectual introvert with an accounting degree, and spent most of his career working with the military in some capacity. I remember him as the strong, silent type, but he was also witty and fun. He enjoyed card games, motorcycles, muscle cars and music. He frequently listened to AC/DC, The Beatles, Queen, Guns & Roses, Simon & Garfunkel and other great bands that I love and listen to today. I also remember him watching Looney Tunes with me, and enjoying them as much as I did.
My grandmother is from the Philippines. They met when my grandfather was in the Air Force and was stationed there. She is resilient, caring, nurturing, fun loving, and flexible–she’ll always go with the flow. I suspect this is where my mother, brother and myself inherited some of our fluidity when it comes to going through changes in life, for better or worse. She’s lived in the United States for 40+ years and hasn’t gotten a chance to visit the Philippines since she left many years ago, but she still stays in touch with family there.
I, unfortunately, haven’t learned Tagalog–only bits and pieces. My grandmother is still fluent and will mix terms together from her native tongue sometimes when she speaks English. I recall times when I’m with her, she’ll lean over, giggle and tell me, “Erika, should I get a tattoo like that person? Maybe on my peklat, to cover it up?”
Peklat means “scar” in Tagalog. The scar she’s referring to is on her leg. If I remember correctly, it’s from her climbing trees! (I originally thought this was from a smallpox vaccination she received, but I was corrected. Thanks Mom and Lola!)
Other times, when she’s frustrated or scared suddenly, she’ll shout, “Eh kabayo!” My mom does this too. This is the shortened version of the phrase, “mabaliw puting kabayo,” which means “crazy white horse.” …Which can be the equivalent of “oh shit,” from what I’ve been told!
I don’t get to see my grandmother very often since she lives all the way across the country, but I think of her often. When I see things or meet people that remind me of her, my heart aches a little bit because I miss her. When I see things describing Filipino history and culture, I feel like I’m getting to know a little more about my lineage. That’s why when I stumbled upon the remarkable book Bygone Badass Broads and saw a Filipina mentioned amongst the list of amazing broads throughout history, I was beaming. I had to have this book!
This unheard of Filipina I encountered in this terrific work was born Remedios Gomez (later Gomez-Paraiso, when she married) in 1919. She’s a beauty queen turned military commander, who went by the moniker, Kumander Liwayway. In English: Commander Dawn.
Here’s the skinny on Kumander Liwayway: she was an average student in school, made dresses, went out dancing, and just loved exuding femininity. Her hair was always done, she always had red lipstick on and went about her business. One day, the Japanese invaded the province and her father, the mayor, attempted to assemble a resistance–unfortunately, he was unsuccessful and was captured, tortured and executed, with his body publicly displayed for all to see in the town square as an example of their power and brutality.
It was then that beauty queen Remedios decided to avenge her father and free her people from the shackles of the invaders.
She enrolled in a school for communist guerrilla fighters and started off her efforts working as a nurse. Very quickly though, she climbed through the ranks–her hard work, persistence, strength and spirit were recognized by the big wigs and she was provided a squadron of her own.
Someone might think that having your hair and makeup done before going out to battle might not best, but Kumander Liwayway did this every time–so as she engaged in many a battle formidably, she looking fucking fantastic in each one! She was simultaneously demonstrating to her squad that she was calm, fearless and had her wits about her, and she maintained her femininity. Her authentic self. In fact, she’s even quoted to have said, “Why shouldn’t I? One of the things I am fighting for is the right to be myself.”
This lady is my hero.
She also challenged a male comrade who showed her disrespect with misogynistic commentary to a duel–and won. In another incident, she publicly corrected the then-president Manuel Roxas when he accused the resistance of being terrorists. In truth, they were really fighting for their freedom, their lives, and for championing the rights of peasants, who made up 95% of the population!
Get ’em, tiger!
Kumander Liwayway carried her passion and spirit with her well into the rest of her life as she aided war veterans and worked as an advocate for soldiers. She lived up to the ripe age of 95, passing away in 2014 in Quezon City.
This amazing warrior lady is a real feminist icon and inspiration, who pushed the status quo, overcame a plethora of obstacles, didn’t put up with bullshit, and was able to achieve just as much as any man could, if not with more grace and tact.
I’m really surprised I haven’t heard of her, but I am now very happy that I can share this knowledge with you.
(Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Because let’s face it: the patriarchy has done a good job of keeping many women’s achievements in history hush-hush.)
Who are some of your feminist icons and why? I would like to start having more posts about inspirational badass women in history who aren’t so commonly known, so stay tuned for future posts like this one!
Hanggang sa muli! ❤