At the public forum on Domestic Violence on October 28, 2014, OSM! digital editor Leani Auxilio braved facing an audience for the first time to tell her own experience on this pervasive but silent reality. It was a pleasant surprise that she volunteered to give her testimonial, knowing the shy and laid back person that she is. The bravery was of course most welcome and admired, as her mother.
We print her speech as well as the viewpoint of the of the transnational feminist organization of AF3IRM where Leani is an active member and where she has found a loving and critical space for her personal growth.
Breaking Free of Domestic Violence was created by the Filipino-American community in New York and fully supported by the Philippine Consulate General in New York. With Ms. Auxilio in the panel was Mr. Kilusan Bautista who shared another moving story of bravery and triumph against his own painful experience.
As Consul General Mario Lopez de Leon Jr. puts it, “We hope to transition from obscurity and stop treating domestic violence as a family affair. We will identify the resources made available in the community, through this forum, to those who want to reach out and break free.”
Women’s organizations view domestic violence not just a personal and family affair, but a public issue as well. As such more and more victims are courageously dealing with their abusers, and are transforming their pain into lessons in bravery and victory.
Through the relentless initiatives of women’s groups, support resources have been pouring from community organizations and government agencies. At the forum, the Immigrant Protection Unit of the New York Legal Assistance Group, the NYPD Domestic Violence and Abuse Desk, the office of the NYC Mayor on Family Justice Center in Manhattan, Sanctuary for Families, and the Women’s Mosaic offered the support programs at their disposal.
The forum ended with the encouraging note to tell your story over and over again, to encourage others to speak up.
For photos, we thank Annie Copo, a victor of domestic violence, and youth leader Stephanie Rodriguez Chrispin.
My Testimonial Speech
Hi. My name’s Leani Auxilio, and I came to the US in 2009.
First things first. I’m not here to talk against my father. I’ve forgiven him long ago, but the things that he’s done–both the good and the bad–are things that shouldn’t be forgotten, or worse, swept under the rug because he died a hero, serving the people.
The first time my mom told me she wanted to leave my dad, I cried and begged her not to do it. The second and third time, I cried and begged her not to, as well. When she asked me again, years later when I was twelve, I finally agreed. She wouldn’t tell me until I was a little bit older, the story of how my dad kicked her in the chest when I was a little over a year old, and they had a fight over who was going to give me medicine for my asthma. That was the only story my mom told me about his… bad side. I think partly because she probably didn’t want go through those hurtful memories all over again, and partly because at twelve years old I’d already gathered too many memories of my own.
Don’t get me wrong, my dad, Mario Auxilio, was a good cook (he was better than my mother), a funny man, and was great with children; my little cousins used to call him Tatay Mayong. I have very fond memories of him, too; my favorite was this silly dance we invented and danced every morning to greet ‘Mister Sun.’ He was cool. The only problem was, he was drunk more often than not. And when he was drunk, he was mean. I wish it was only as simple as blaming everything on the alcohol, but, really, it’s much more.
There was that one especially brutal time he flung me against the wall, pinched my nose and rammed my head against said wall three times, hit my legs with a wooden broomstick handle, then flung me to the foot of the bed, where he proceeded to kick me and call me palpak–for the non-Filipinos in the room, palpak is Tagalog and Bisaya for ‘Failure.’
Then there was that incident when he came home at dawn, drunk and nasty after about a six-week absence. I pretended to sleep, because I really didn’t want to deal with him then. My mom asked him where he’d been, and for an answer he threw her away, and announced he was leaving again. She’d pleaded with him to stay put, to not do this to her because she was sick and had a fever. His response to that? He padlocked us inside our own house. Mom had to “wake me up,” and then I had to take a loose glass pane out of the window, wiggle myself out, then unlock the door to let my mother out–luckily dad had been too drunk to take the keys with him.
I remember when my mom and I finally drove away from the house that we shared with my father when he was away, and she rented what was to be an apartment/office space for us. My dad found out where we were though, so he came to alternately beg and coerce my mom to return to him. She never did, and when he finally threatened to kill her, she decided that it was time to return to my grandparents’ home, where we were safe and totally accepted. As a precaution, she also told the security guards to never let anyone in without our permission. When my mom freed herself from her abusive marriage, I was also freed, as her child. They were estranged, but continued to talk and fight. Still. We finally had our own safe space.
There are more, from the standard belt to the butt to the rather extreme instance when he held a lit cigarette to my arm when I was a toddler. I’d rather not go into them right now, because we’re a bit pressed for time. But you know, my experiences with my father’s abusive behavior, and the way our peers, our close family friends treated him despite their knowledge of his being an abuser has made me aware that domestic violence is normalized in Filipino society. That made me want to counter that sort of thinking, because my father would have been a better man if he didn’t think wife-beating or verbally abusing his family was a normal, acceptable thing. Oh, and of course these things wouldn’t have happened to me if we knew any better.
AF3IRM Reexamines Domestic Violence
On issues such as domestic violence and trafficking, AF3IRM strongly believes that domestic violence and misogyny cannot be treated as separate from the general state of women’s oppression. As an all-women-identified, activist organization, we work to ensure there is a space for women’s voices to assert women’s identity as a distinct sector of society.
I understand my own experience with domestic violence through the framework set by AF3IRM. Domestic violence cannot be separated from the general misogyny endemic in our community. For all of us in AF3IRM, many of who are survivors of domestic violence themselves, domestic violence is not just personal, it is a social and political issue. For us, the personal is political.
First, domestic violence must be viewed and treated as crime against humanity. Domestic violence cannot be separated from social and political violence against women. Political activists and those in the movement are not immune from misogyny.
Domestic Violence is a pervasive reality, both in the US and in the Philippines. Victims and survivors must therefore have access to resources of information, counsel, and help. Most of the time, this isn’t the case.
In my testimonial earlier, the case in point in was my dad, who was not only a political activist, but an abuser as well. One would be shocked to discover that someone who was known to have championed human rights would abuse his wife and child in the home. Mom had been seeking help from her friends each time violence erupted, but even though those friends within the movement openly criticized my dad, nothing changed. If anything, it got worse through the years.
My mother’s own parents silently disapproved of her marriage with my dad, but they didn’t view what was happening to us as a crime. To them, it was only bad luck that she got married to a man who regularly hurt her, both physically and emotionally. Ironically enough, it was a priest who recognized what was wrong here, and advised my mother to divorce my dad. Still, the priest didn’t think it was a crime either, only that the situation was unfortunate.
Second, physical violence and abuse are deeply entrenched with the normalization of economic violence against women and children. Such economic, psychological, emotional, and physical violence reflect the deeply rooted, historical context and current reality, that women are second-class citizens who may be sold in the marketplace for profit.
In the Philippines, it is women who are the number one export through sex and labor trafficking. Demand generates supply. Think of how, for example, tourism in the close-knit town of Ibabao in Mactan–this little island near Cebu, famed for its white sand beaches–generated a market for child pornography worldwide. Having their children exposed to predators was more profitable than their own livelihood–fishing only earned the residents $7 a day, compared to $100 a day for having their child perform sex acts in front of webcams. The mothers and women of the village generally found the whole operation disgusting and amoral, but… what is $7 to a hundred bucks?
Finally, feudal thinking makes men expect women to be subservient, good only for the “meat” market.
Think of religion and how our religious beliefs make us expect women to be dainty, lady-like, prim and proper. Weak, in other words, and having to rely on men to be able to survive and thrive in the world. Think of beauty pageants, how men are conditioned to expect a certain kind of beauty. In the Filipino community, I saw that if you aren’t beautiful by those standards (for example if you’re dark-skinned) then it didn’t matter if you were beaten almost to death, if you’re ugly you don’t deserve help.
Going back to my father now. He thought of my mother as property, and therefore as secondary to him. He comes from a feudal background, a rich farmer by birth (doing personalized farming with less than 10 tenants hired), and therefore generally thinks like a landlord. Oftentimes, his feudal character would clash with my mother’s independent personality and critical-mindedness as a media-person, and these would in turn lead, more often than not, into fights.
There are conditions created by society that encourages the tolerance of violence. These conditions are maintained by our community— even in the seemingly “perfect” activist, political and/or religious communities.
Domestic violence cannot be separated from the general misogyny endemic in our community. We must not forget: violence is not inevitable.