WE NEVER see her. For many students at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, the restaurants at the Ang Bahay ng Alumni are too pricey for gobbled down meals. This hub, though, becomes a favorite when folks are celebrating a reunion, the turning in of the final paper or just one’s grip on day-to-day sanity.
Rushing past her, many of us hardly glance. Distractions are not just of the intimate, academic or ruminative kinds; the Bahay ng Alumni is just one node in the campus network of art and history.
The whole school is a people’s museum, where any citizen can freely enter and gaze at the works of National Artists and creatives sans titles. In this treasury, it is understandable to overlook the “Alma Mater,” the 1996 sculpture of a woman offering a wreath to visitors entering the lobby of The Home of the Alumni.
Created by National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva in homage to UP, the “Alma Mater” is frequently left out in online posts extolling the bounteous legacy in Diliman. It was only during the fifth year of my studies that I spared her a moment of curiosity—who is she?— when my friend M. and I asked a security guard to take our photo at the lobby.
Both of us are inept at taking a selfie but we looked around for a hallmark for our reunion, perennially postponed by the disruptions afflicting working women who are also wives and mothers.
That shot of our beaming beneath the bronze woman was shared by M. on social media, but my scrutiny of the “Alma Mater” only came six months after the taking of the photo I have mentally captioned as “Tulo ka Babaye (three women).”
I was in the cemetery in Cebu, visiting my father, when a family friend stopped to chat. He beamed when he said their youngest child recently graduated.
Son, he told this child in Cebuano, as your mother and I don’t have a daughter and you have no job yet, I will use you as a daughter. Please wash the dishes.
T. and his wife put all their sons through college from what they earned in “maintaining” the graves of several families in the cemetery. T. is no stranger to manual labor nor to the cooperation needed for partners to raise a family. Yet, why would he put a gender to housework with no pay or recompense?
Abueva’s works invite a meditation to break expectations, from the iconic “Risen/Dead Christ” at the Parish of Holy Sacrifice in UPD to the quietly subversive “Alma Mater.” The term in Latin literally means “generous mother” or someone who nourishes.
Those invisibles behind countless hot meals, ironed clothes, and enlightened minds are gendered by social edict. Can we finally see her only when she breaks out of these comfort zones?