I admired rice paddies long before I met one in person.
Growing up in San Diego, I poured over National Geographic, romanticized lovely curves of lush terraces like only an angsty second-gen can.
It wasn’t til that muggy Philippines evening in Hacienda Luisita—when the sun glowed its golden goodnight—that I stood in a rice paddy…Enamored.
Maybe it was that dreamy light-the kind that makes everyone look hella good. Or maybe it was the charming organizer glowing in that light with me.
A tanned young kasama with a sad story and a wide grin, he rode up on his motorcycle the night before to rock the Bahay Kubo with his band by flashlight.
But what really made me cling to that field, that moment was the resilience.
Of that Kasama who called himself Pow—always on the road
Of the elderly farmer besides us—Back bent over rice, hands moving.
Of the people cultivating palay and gulay —rice and vegetables. Feeding themselves from their own land like it was the most natural thing in the world.o
We live in an unnatural world, where landowning politicians command armed thugs to demand sugar cane. so that while Filipinos kids starve, American kids get diabetes. If money grew on trees, they’d turn our whole damn country into one big plantation.
If soil has memory, then this land at Hacienda Luisita remembers the day 5000 sugar cane workers barricaded factory gates. Remembers neighbors joining the march, the strikers cheering when tear gas and water cannons couldn’t move them November 16, 2004 when the military started shooting. When 12 adults, 2 children rejoined the earth.
One decade later, the Hacienda Luisita farmers remember with their hands deep in the land. No more sugar cane production, no more industrial pesticides poisoning the water, the soil. Instead…
Bungkalan: Collective farms. Peasants scraping money together to grow food. Rice and vegetables for eating, not export.
And here I was in a field, camera in one hand, kawayan stick in the other, while the young kasama spokein a language still foreign to my ears.
"Do you want to try planting palay?" he asked in English.
I smiled and he took my hand and eased me calf deep into the mud.
And one by one, the elderly farmer showed me how to reach into the water, pull stalks of palay out by the roots and replant them nearby.
My hands shook as I pulled the stalks out. They felt so lithe, so frail. I wondered if they quivered at my touch.
I wondered what moved the palay to take root.
Did they dream of feeding a family?
Itch to incite revolution?
Or were they just hustling through another day
I wonder if the palay’s roots could feel the peasants’ blood in the soil, the tension in the air?
I can’t remember the touch of the kasama’s hand as he helped me out of the field.
All I remember is the palay and the wet soil, slipping between my fingers— strong, fertile, alive.
I started reading Grace Lee Boggs because my adviser in college told me to. I must have seemed like a lost little orphan, one of two Asian-American Black Studies majors at a predominantly white college.
I ate up Living for Change, fascinated by Grace’s lifelong commitment to developing, refining and living her radical politics. What Grace taught me six years ago was that a life of service and politics is also a life of study and reflection, radical politics requires racial consciousness but not strict adherence to racial boundaries and that our politics are shaped but not limited to the bodies we are born in.
Listening to Grace Lee Boggs today, always challenges me to go beyond being the college student dabbling in leftist ideas. Seeing Grace speak and watching the film about her showed me that we can grow and change our thought as we age and that we have a duty to speak and write what we think. Only by putting our ideas out there—whether they have a complete form and shape—can we give others the opportunity to challenge and help us develop them.
Since college, I’ve shied from writing and speaking my personal analysis or wrestling with theory. I want to re-invest in conversation and growth.
After the movie, my friends and I talked about the film, film-making and definitions of revolution. Meanwhile, I privately thanked Grace for putting so many of her ideas into the world and giving us a place to start and struggle from.