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(Editor’s note: Filomeno Sta. Ana III wrote this piece on Maita sometime in March 2011, but it went unpublished. Sta. Ana shares it now with InterAksyon.com readers so they can, he says, get to know more about Maita Gomez, "always described as the beauty queen turned revolutionary." He adds: "She was more than that, and there was no contradiction in her being a fashion model/beauty queen and being an activist.")
Friends or acquaintances, those born in the 1950s and 1960s, remember Maita as the fashion model and beauty queen turned revolutionary. And Maita has been described and stereotyped in that manner through the years, elevating her to the status of a living legend or heroine. Maita feels uncomfortable being described as such. It is not that she is embarrassed about her colorful past. Neither does she want friends to forget her transition from high society to living a dangerous life. It is just that the stereotype is restrictive and can even be a liability.
I recall for example that I recommended Maita to be a resource person on the economics of mining for a public affairs broadcast. Maita knows this field well; she’s the current coordinator of Bantay Kita, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to have transparency of contracts and revenues in the extractive industries. The show’s producer thought I wasn’t serious about my recommendation. She said: “But she’s a beauty queen,” suggesting that Maita’s image as a beauty queen is what the audience will pick up, not why mining is harming development.
The stereotyping is likewise unfair to Maita, for it conceals her other qualities. Singling out her past—her being a beauty queen and an amazon sidetracks us from appreciating that she’s a hardworking professional; that she’s good at performing simultaneous tasks; that she has the uncanny ability to produce the resources to make both ends meet; that she is generous to a fault even to strangers (she’d buy all the remaining sampaguita garlands peddled by syndicated street children so they could retire early from the night’s work); that she has a pusong mamon; and above all, that she’s a protective daughter, mother and lola.
Maita has received awards for her beauty and for her activism, yet she’s nonchalant about this. But one honor that Maita will greatly value is being recognized as a good and outstanding mom. She’s a caring, loving mom. She encourages her children to be independent and treats them as her barkada. When her children are in trouble, she prays for them and even asks friends like my wife Mae to offer novenas for them.
But when any of her children are wronged or mistreated, the motherly Maita is transformed into a fighter. Her being a fighter is thus essentially about fighting injustice and subjugation. She has fought for her daughter and her sons in the same manner that she has fought for the Filipino masses.
Maita’s life as a celebrated fashion model and her life as an armed underground activist were not contradictory at all. Her experience as a fashion model prepared her for the sacrifices and rigor of revolutionary life. After all, being a fashion model entailed long hours of work, perseverance, and tenacity. For Maita, it was not at all glamorous.
Some of Maita’s old friends observe that the pre-activist Maita they knew was no different from the radicalized Maita. Yael, whom Maita fondly treats as her niece, thinks that Maita is at heart an Assumptionista. That is, a convent-bred woman disposed to virtue, innocence, compassion, and charity. It just happens that these traits can make dedicated revolutionaries.
And so, we can see a continuum in Maita’s life as a colegiala and a society-page celebrity on the one hand and her life as a rebel and now as a civil society advocate.
In our recent trip to Paris (this piece was written in March last year), that continuum played out. Maita was serious about our participation in a conference on the extractive industries. She woke up early to register and to attend pre-conference briefings. She reprimanded me for not joining her in the meetings as I opted to visit Auvers-Sur-Oise. She phoned me, and asked me to immediately return to Paris.
But on another occasion, she got bored with a plenary session and proposed to me that we go to Montmarte. And at Montmarte, she bought an attractive painting, though I discouraged her because of the cost, which she intended to give to her son. Not armed with enough cash, she had to withdraw money from the ATM, making her poorer by several hundred euros.
Maita is galante, even when she doesn’t have money. In Paris, she did not hesitate to spend. On my birthday, she and another friend, Rina, treated me to a splendid dinner at a high-end Parisian bistro.
But the best moment of the trip was about her encounter with a young and hip African musician donning loose, multi-colored trousers. They met while smoking outside the hotel premises. The man initiated the conversation, obviously interested in Maita. He even managed to get Maita’s room number, leading to his next question: “Would you like to have sex with me?”
Maita’s quick retort: “Hey, I could be your grandma.” Not disheartened, the musician said, “I like older women, and I honestly thought you are in your 30s.” That of course flattered the senior citizen Maita. Pressing on, the musician said, “you’ll like me because a young man doesn’t get tired having sex.”
To end the conversation, Maita curtly told the dude to back off because at her age, she no longer enjoys sex.
Be that as it may, the story only shows that in the eyes of the young generation, and even among strangers, Maita remains a beauty queen.