BRING UP WHEREVER YOU GO: The UP Universe and What It Taught Me

by xiaochua

In commemoration of the 105th founding anniversary of the University of the Philippines, I would like to pay tribute to my alma mater by putting to light unedited this hitherto unpublished essay of mine about what I learned in UP.  Reading it now, I realized my thoughts have not changed except for a few things:  UP is not my universe anymore, UP is not the world.  The world outside is wider and UP people are needed there too, and I am not as bitter about my non-renewal as instructor. I still believe it was unjust, but I know I have a share in the blame.  Bottom line, I still have not left UP, and UP has not left me.  I am taking my Ph.D. in UP, I still live in UP, and I still love UP (18 June 2013):

Michael Charleston "Xiao" B. Chua, M.A. (History, 2010-2011)

Michael Charleston “Xiao” B. Chua, M.A. (History, 2010-2011)

Malayong lupain, di kailangang marating, dito maglilingkod sa bayan natin.

-UP Naming Mahal, from Lean, The Musical (Gary Granada)

I can remember clearly the very first time I was told about UP and its students.  I was a young schoolboy in Tarlac City when a school guard, Manong Alan, told me that UP students usually read their lessons while riding jeepneys, and that they tell priests if they gave wrong points during homilies.  And I thought that’s the school where I want to be.

During third year high school, in 1999, I listened to the musical about the late great student-leader from UP, Lean Alejandro.  I thought that its version of UP Naming Mahal was the actual alma mater song.  I loved it, especially the line, “Malayong lupain, di kailangang marating, dito maglilingkod sa bayan natin.”  I loved history and our heroes but I don’t have any idea how to love my country without getting killed.  UP will surely teach me how and I thought that’s the school where I want to be.

Lean Alejandro, UP student leader and martyr.  Photo by Kim Komenich.

Lean Alejandro, UP student leader and martyr. Photo by Kim Komenich.

And in that January day of 2001, when I learned that I passed the UPCAT, Popoy Lagman was killed at the UP Bahay ng Alumni.  Mom was reluctant to send me to Manila to study.  I might get into trouble.  But as always, she respected my decision to go ahead.

I was so amazed when I first entered the University Avenue riding the Philcoa jeepney, welcomed by the majestically simple inscription, “UNIBERSIDAD NG PILIPINAS 1908,” then entering the arched acacia trees ushering me to a beautiful universe of knowledge and freedom of thought.  It was a dream come true.  I still feel that first time thrill every time I looked up to the trees.

Trees in UP planted by the pioneer students of Diliman.  From gogirlcafe.jennyo.net.

Trees in UP planted by the pioneer students of Diliman. From gogirlcafe.jennyo.net.

Since then, UP has become the center of my universe.  For four years as a student, and for three years as member of the faculty and MA student.  Through the years, these are only some of the things that it taught me:

It taught me that UP is not just a university, it’s a lifestyle.

It taught me to be humble.  Seeing how my dorm mates in Kalayaan write creatively taught me that probably I’m not the brightest.  But it also taught me to aspire to be the best that I can be so I can be worthy of UP.

Xiao Chua defies urban legend and had his photo taken with the Oblation in 2001.  He graduated B.A. History on time, his M.A. took some time though.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Xiao Chua defies urban legend and had his photo taken with the Oblation in 2001. He graduated B.A. History on time, his M.A. took some time though. From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

It taught me that education does not stop in the four walls of the classroom.  At dorm, before I sleep, the simple friendly chats turn to meaningful discussions on academic and, more importantly, life lessons.  Many of the things we learn come from listening to the different experiences of even the most humble workers of the university.  For in the UP universe, we have people from different backgrounds and social status.

Last general assembly of the second floor residents of Kalayaan Residence Hall, 2001-2002.  Xiao Chua was corridor representative.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Last general assembly of the second floor residents of Kalayaan Residence Hall, 2001-2002. Xiao Chua was corridor representative. From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

It taught me that UP students can learn despite [some of] their professors, despite the pila, and despite the lack of university equipment.  The UP universe cannot provide everything conveniently to their students and faculty mainly because of the insufficient state subsidy.  But because of this, we had learned to be flexible and resilient, even when we go out of UP.

Xiao Chua at Kalayaan Residence Hall Room B-203, 2001-2001.

Xiao Chua at Kalayaan Residence Hall Room B-203, 2001-2001.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

It taught me to be true and be answerable to the beliefs and principles I hold dear.  The UP universe offers lots of -isms and some parents fear that sending their children to UP is as good as turning them into agnostics.  It is also home for many strong egos that may distract and discourage our growth.  UP is not for the faint-hearted.  I’ve seen people lose their focus and not finish their studies, for it offers so much freedom and so much variety of beliefs.  But it is also a venue where we can be respected if we can stand up for what we believe and focus on why we are here:  to get a degree and be a productive citizen of our society.

Xiao Chua, head of Freshman Block N-13, wearing one of his favorite UP shirts, the Philippine Collegian dictum:  Kung Hindi Ngayon Kailan Pa?

Xiao Chua, head of Freshman Block N-13, wearing one of his favorite UP shirts, the Philippine Collegian dictum: Kung Hindi Ngayon Kailan Pa?

It taught me to be true to myself, and express it.  That in the UP universe, I can be as weird as I can be as long as I don’t harm others.  People laughed at me but I also met true friends who accepted me for who I am and let me feel that it’s cool to be me.  Because of this, I got to know myself better, enhanced my true capabilities, and learned that as a UP student, there is power in my hands to change things.

Xiao Chua being himself.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Xiao Chua being himself. From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

It taught me that my being a iskolar ng bayan, I am not only answerable to my parents.  For however expensive my parents paid for my tuition fee, the bulk of the cost for the quality of education that I get in this universe is shouldered by the workers, the bayan.  Therefore, if we don’t give our best effort in a subject, we are wasting about a month’s wage of a poor worker.

Xiao Chua and just three of his best friends in Kalayaan:  Jeremy Ryan Yap, Jeremiah Dalas, and Rey PJ Celiz.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Xiao Chua and just three of his best friends in Kalayaan: Jeremy Ryan Yap, Jeremiah Dalas, and Rey PJ Celiz. From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Finally, it taught me to ask, in everything that I do, for whom am I doing this?  I must be iskolar para sa bayan!  I owe so much to this university.  But I can pay it forward to the ones who sent me to school—the Filipino people.  In history, I learned that Andres Bonifacio didn’t only preach that one must die for one’s bayan, he also said that one must live for it, “Diligence in the work that gives sustenance to thee is the true basis of love—love for thine own self, for thine wife and children, for thine brothers and countrymen.”  Pag-ibig sa bayan is not only manifested in the battlefield or the parliament of the streets, but also by being the best that I can be.  By striving to make a difference, inspire, spark change.  As a history professional, I must write and speak to our people, in their language and perspective, their story.

Xiao Chua writing his Kalayaan journal, photo by Neil Axalan.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

Xiao Chua writing his Kalayaan journal, photo by Neil Axalan. From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

I tried to live the UP dream and give back what I owe the university by teaching in the hollowed walls of Palma Hall were Agoncillo, Constantino, Salazar and Guerrero once taught the bright future leaders of this country.  My non-renewal as a faculty taught me that it is not a perfect institution however idealistic it is, like all human institutions are.  But my students, who moved to let their disagreement be heard, made me to continue to believe in the UP dream, despite this little nightmare.  I did not teach in vain.

Xiao Chua teaching his memorable summer class of 2006, where he assembled the "Lunch Club."

Xiao Chua teaching his memorable summer class of 2006, where he assembled the “Lunch Club,” Palma Hall.  From the Xiao Chua Library and Archives.

After that, a former student told me “Bring UP wherever you go.”

Well, I have news for her:  I will.

12 July 2008, 5:45 PM

Pook Amorsolo, UP Campus, Quezon City