GELEEN ABENOJA

I feel powerful knowing that I fought to become the person I am, against a society that does not want me to learn and grow.

For Whom

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight?” I’ll say:

“For the people, who will spend day after day, breaking their backs doing sweat-, tear-inducing labor for a paycheck that will not ensure their survival.”

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight?” I’ll say:

“For the youth of my generation who strive for a better tomorrow, but are continuously knocked down by greed, misconception, miseducation, misinterpretation, crippling debt, and hatred until apathy completely consumes them.”

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight?” I’ll say:

“For my mother and my father, who left everything behind, and came to the U.S., naïve and wide-eyed, ready to work, to meet each other, to fall in love, to have a beautiful family with a successful future free of need or want. But before even stepping foot on this divided, blood-tainted land, they had already sold their souls for an ‘American Dream’ that was never created, nor intended for them to achieve.”

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight?” I’ll say:

“For my little brother who has been asked one too many times to pull down his hood, take his hands out of his pockets, to ‘stop looking suspicious’. Whose safety and well-being is always my number one priority.”

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight,” I’ll say:

“For that little girl, on her first day of school, rejected, disrespected, feeling oh so dejected for being the smallest, the strangest, the most different in her kindergarten class, who will spend the next two decades of her life, hating her skin, her hair, her eyes, her nose, the way she speaks, the food she eats, all the bright, brilliant, beautiful, resilient particles that make her who and what she is.

HER NAME.

That’s right, her name. Because on this first day and all following first days, the teacher will stand at the front of the room to take roll, look down at the roster, and make a scrunched-up face and a comment, a ‘Hmm, eeewgugh, huh?’ as if they’d seen or smelled something disgusting, before delivering the most awful, horrible, cringe-worthy pronunciation of her name.

‘Geh-leen A-ben-oh-ja?’

The girl will raise her hand, but keep her head down, and in the quietest voice, she’ll say, ‘Sorry, I’m here.’ She’ll hear the laughter, feel the judgmental stares, and in an even quieter voice, she’ll say, ‘It’s Geleen Abenoja.’

But those quiet, under the breath corrections will lessen as the years go by. Her name is ‘Sorry.’ Her name is ‘Let me spell it out for you.’ Her name is ‘Hooked on Phonics didn’t prepare me for this.’ Her name is ‘Why couldn’t it have been spelled with a J?’ Her name is ‘Um, what?’ Her name is ‘Sorry, can I just call you a nickname?’ Her name is ‘It’s okay, just call me whatever.’ Her name is an uncomfortable chuckle and an embarrassed smile. Her name is ‘Huh? Julie?’ Her name is heritage, culture, heartbreak. Her name is self-hate, self-loathing. Her name is ‘I wish I could just disappear.’ Her name is an inconvenient label for an identity, a person. Her name is an enormous, hulking burden for a shy, quiet, little girl who bites her lip and shrinks inside every time she has to repeat it.

But she still does. Oh yeah, she still does.

Because there is a fire that burns within her. One of passion, defiance, resistance. And with every breath she takes, her inner fire blazes brighter and hotter than that of a thousand suns. With compassion and love for people, even those who to this day, feed off her fear and insecurity.

So watch out, because she-, I, am grown now. And I don’t want or need your approval, your validation, your lame excuses, your half-assed apologies, your empty promises, or whatever hollow words you string into meaningless sentences that help you sleep at night. So don’t. Don’t even.

I stand with my fist and head held high because my past, my pain, my struggles, my burdens, my baggage do not stand alone to define me.  Because I refuse to let anyone break or tear me down. Because I am so, so ready to be fully, honestly, and unapologetically my own being.”

If you ask me, “For whom do you fight?” I’ll say:

“For all the Pinays, because we should never have to grow up feeling sorry for who we are.”

This, this is for whom.

--Geleen Abenoja