University of the Philippines

[Free to Disagree] Pretty, witty and Quezon City

Sylvia Estrada Claudio

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[Free to Disagree] Pretty, witty and Quezon City
Kyusi natives keep coming up with crazy concepts and services that widen our horizons as human beings without relying on large amounts of cash and western conformity

During the 2022 presidential campaign, I was so irritated by our current First Lady’s “I am so New York” description of herself. I just thought it was a grab at cosmopolitanism that was pretentious, elitist and colonial.

And so, I declared myself, “pretty, witty and Quezon City.” 

I wanted to add “just like Cory,” seeing that the Marcoses have managed to make the 1986 People Power Revolution about two warring elite families. It really was not about that. For all its imperfections, it was about getting rid of a dictatorship in a peaceful revolution that inspired other “color” revolutions around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. 

If we are to go down to the level of the petty, Cory Cojuangco comes from old rich stock. So do the Aquinos. Older rich than the Marcoses. But the Aquino residence in Quezon City marks them as less elitist. The rich are supposed to live in Makati. At least the rich of Cory’s generation. Before then, the upper class lived in Manila.

But I digress from my main point. 

As bad roads and traffic have actually made it difficult to move from one city in Metro Manila to another, I believe that the constituent cities of the megapolis are beginning to form different subcultures and identities. It is no longer easy to move from one city to another. And it is this separation that makes for cultural distinctions.

I, a denizen of Quezon City, will prove this by comparing and contrasting us Kyusi folk to other cities. Kyusi. We even have a pet name for our “hood.”

If those in other cities are offended by my characterizations then they can very well write about themselves. A little friendly rivalry never hurt any city. Just think of Pisa and Livorno, Dusseldorf and Cologne, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Newer and lower class

Quezon City was founded in 1939. It was frontier land that makes it the largest of the Metro Manila cities.

I grew up on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, which  was like growing up in a rural setting. When we jumped over the UP fence to the Tandang Sora area, we could ride carabaos in the rice fields.

This was a big contrast to Manila, that ancient city that was once called the “Pearl of the Orient” because of its centrality to the galleon trade. Manila was where my upper class father met my mother who was from Tondo fisherfolk,  and where  they walked along the streets still named today like they were in Rizal’s iconic novels.

Quezon City was to become the new center of government because Manila had become overcrowded, traffic had become congested, and sanitation was poor. It was beginning to suffer from urban blight. And this is still the Manila we see today. A repository of our historical sites (at least those the Japanese failed to bomb into smithereens in World War II) and urban blight. Many of us in other cities of Metro Manila still remember ancestral homes in Manila. We cannot but hope that its leaders can lift it up to become a grand old dame. Because when it was grand it was the grandest.

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We in Kyusi have no historical sites. We also don’t have historical squalor. As you move from ancient España in Manila (the name so indicative of our colonial past) to Quezon Boulevard (brash, upstart mestizo!), our patches of squalor To me these areas do not signal long-standing defeat. Even in our problems we have the hopefulness of the young.

But it was the government and some universities that moved to Quezon City. The rich fleeing from Manila’s post war blight moved to Makati. Quezon City, on the other hand, is marked by Projects (1, 2, 3, 4), homesites meant to take in Manila’s poor and displaced. So, while there were a few rich Manila families who moved to Quezon City, it was mostly the lower classes who began to populate its environs. Project 1 was also Barrio Obrero, a place for workers who commuted to the factories of Manila. Pres. Quezon had ordered the Luzon Bus Lines to provide service from Kamuning Road to Tutuban station for this purpose.

University town

I am biased towards the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman. I grew up on its campus as the daughter of two UP professors. When UP moved its main programs from Manila after the second world war, Quezon City had just been established.

It was a strange environment, UP Campus. It was like we were a barrio. I have already mentioned the nearby carabaos and rice fields. But it was “barriotic” in that everybody knew everybody and their aunts and uncles. We knew everyone that came to visit, including their cars if they owned cars. We walked to school, walked home for lunch, walked back to school. The first time I rode a bus alone to Manila was when I started medical school.

But apart from the lack of what the Spanish speaking upper class called, “urbanidad” in our UP cookie cutter homes amid the cogon fields, we had the thriving intellectual life of being in the country’s premier institution of higher learning. So while Manila and Makati had its theaters and concert halls. I watched the first-ever Philippine re-staging of the musical “Hair” where some of the actors, for the first time in Philippine theater, went naked.

The contrariness of my father is illustrative of that Kyusi spirit of disdain for the elitism of the upper class. It is a snobbery that comes from being part of a different elite, the cultural, artistic and intellectual elite. The universities of Kyusi have supported and produced a disproportionate share of artists and intellectuals.

My father’s story is illustrative of this clash of elites. I remember my Dad’s  upper class sister coming from her home in Makati to convince him to return to the  habits of old money and raise us in the family traditions of the elite. For example, she would encourage my Dad to join some of those exclusive clubs for rich men. My father would answer, “I would rather join the Philippine Medical Association.”

It is also why UP in Kyusi produced that eponymous exemplar of contrariness, the Eraserheads. Their anti-elitist, every-other-person, day-today, witty rebelliousness is the Kyusi spirit. The fact that the Eraserheads have crossed over generations and locations, shows us how Kyusi culture captures and also redefines our Filipino identity.

Biased as I am for UP, this is not what makes it the city of intellectuals. After all, there is  Katipunan Avenue (España in Manila, Katipunan in QC–see what I mean), where Ateneo and Maryknoll can be found. Once institutions meant to be schools for the rich, they are also institutions of social criticism. These days, they put UP to shame when their faculty seem to question the powerful more than UP.

Avant garde

Whether it is the food strip of Maginhawa; the Cubao Expo where one goes for great food while buying local shoes, old records and antiques; the bar Tago for the best jazz anywhere (really rival cities, I dare you to prove me wrong); or the tailors and couturiers of Kamuning, us Kyusi natives keep coming up with crazy concepts and services that widen our horizons as human beings without relying on large amounts of cash and western conformity.

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UP has given rise to food establishments that became mainstream because they fulfilled the basic needs of student food: cheap but delicious, hopefully nutritious. LIttle Quiapo started in UP in 1949. Rodics in the 1970s. And I am happy to push the urban legend that the fish balls sold in UP parking lots are the absolute best. Indeed the “colegialas” come over to “make tusok tusok” those fish balls all the time.

Kyusi residents also have the best bicycle lanes anywhere. Because we are cool like that. We bike.

If you have a large inheritance and want the next best thing to gentrify, come to Quezon City to steal concepts. Don’t worry, plenty more will come from our creative powerhouses.

NGO capital

Likhaan Center for Women’s Health which has been repeatedly awarded as one of the best non-government organizations that delivers sexual and reproductive health services to poor communities is based in Quezon City. Likhaan used to have an office on Times Street where President Cory lived before and after her stint as President. That woman was quiet and unassuming as a neighbor.

Akbayan, the political party of Senator Risa Hontiveros, the political party that serves as co-convenor of the Atin Ito movement to protect the West Philippine Sea, has its headquarters in Quezon City.

So many other NGOs  are  mostly Quezon City based. It is probably the NGO capital of the Philippines. A home for progressive thinkers and ideas. Sometimes I think QC should host a World Social Forum, those meetings that oppose Davos. We have the vibe.

Finally, caveats. It is obvious that because Quezon City is large and because I have lived and worked on its northern side, I am not as versed in the southern side of Quezon City. Residents of that area must come and give me an earful. After all, it isn’t as if we Kyusi folk have a sense of snooty inclusivity. We can have really good discussions, fights, “murahan.” We are, after all, original “baroks.”

Also, I am quite aware of my city’s seamy side, its problems and its venalities. Every city has those.

But that is for another time. This is an article about pride of place.

It is about being pretty and witty because we live in Quezon City. –

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also has a PhD in psychology. She is Professor Emerita of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She has lived in Quezon City for most of her life

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