When I was young, I would watch my grandfather play chess with his friend whenever I visited him. I had no idea how any of the pieces actually worked, nor could I ever memorize their names no matter what language the adults used. To me, at the tender age of five, all I could remember thinking was that the carving looked pretty. A few months later, my father bought a chess set, and I started playing with the board and pieces in a way that did not match the actual rules at all. I would place the pieces anywhere I liked, and make up the rules as I went.
Some adults tried to teach me how to play and failed to understand that I would either be unable to keep my attention on them, or immediately forget what they taught me once we began playing. Other adults did not know the rules like me, and could not understand the rules I made up as well. The other kids my age would try to play and we would be making new rules as we played along. Later on, around my last year of elementary and my first year of high school, I finally learned how to play. It took a long time for me to remember the rules and the names of the pieces. I soon figured it out.
Before long, I was playing with my grandfather. I would lose every time, but I didn’t mind. He was patient with me, and he redacted his moves to show me how I could have done better. Then, we would play again. I could never win, but we had fun. It was the process of learning and simultaneously bonding with my grandfather that made me appreciate chess more than I ever had when I was younger.
I am telling this story because this is how I finally understood how I came to truly appreciate identifying as a Bangsamoro.
I grew up to a family actively reminding me that I am a Bangsamoro. They would tell me, as we drove past the city plaza and walk down the streets of Cotabato City, that they had been there, on the sidewalk, rallying for the Bangsamoro liberation. Independence, they would say. It was all they, as a people, kept asking for. I was too young to understand such difficult words. I was too young to understand the true complexity of all of this.
I was conditioned to follow the instructions of the experienced elders, which kept my own ignorance going for so long. It was a mark of youth; it was so easy to use a word without fully understanding the complexity of the meaning behind it, same as how easy it is to keep a chess set to play with, despite having no knowledge of how to play it. It was a blind devotion to the more knowledgeable, by following instruction without question. I learned to love something I did not understand the same way one would love a complicated toy because it was a gift.
Now, I connect to the term Bangsamoro the same way I can proudly declare that I am a Muslim woman. It is an innate identity I have come to understand and come to terms with as I grew older, molded by my parents and respected by my friends.
My grandfather showing me the ropes on how to play chess was similar to how I came to understand what being a Bangsamoro really meant to me. It was multiple steps back and reevaluation, until I found the answer to a question and continued moving forward, until the next question arose. Questions like “What sets the Bangsamoro apart from Filipinos?” or “Why fight for change when the status quo has been reliable so far?” would rise from time to time.
There were times I convinced myself that I was declaring blasphemous thoughts at everything I was ever taught by asking such questions. It was as if I was committing some sort of social sin. However, instead of disregarding the questions, I would take a step back, ask those more knowledgeable than me to share their thoughts on the matter or discuss it with my peers, and then continue moving forward.
By learning more about the situation, like understanding the rules of chess, I began to appreciate my identity more in the deepest parts of my heart, as well as develop a larger respect for those who have been fighting for the cause for so long. The door to Autonomy of the Bangsamoro has now been opened, and it is this passage to a new future of independence that fills me with pride and hope over the fact that change is possible.
I am nineteen years old this year, and sources of the process agree that the transition will be bureaucratic. The image of ten to twenty years from now, where I, as well as any if not all of my peers today, will be the next forerunners of change, fills me with determination to work hard for my future. There’s a possibility that this process will take as long as the generation after me to catch up. It is not impossible to believe that I could one day grow old enough to sit down and teach another young one how to play chess, and still the Bangsamoro are still in transition to full autonomy.
Hopefully, the next generations to come will appreciate the game for the rules it plays by, and develop a deeper respect for those who have been playing the game for so long as well.
For now, I am the youth still learning how to best play the game, but I have the potential to keep playing. I am not playing against anyone in particular. I am playing for the transition of society into something that would better give my identity autonomy. The process will require me to step back and re-evaluate many of my actions, before I make my next move, as a learning process. A learning process up until today.
Nevertheless, the learning youth of today becomes the implementing adults of the future. Currently, my friends and I are the Bangsamoro’s youth, and soon, we will be the Bangsamoro’s future.
(BATANG MINDANAW is the youth section of Mindanews. This piece by Juwairiyah bint Emran Mohamad of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao, won grand prize in the ARMM Essay Writing Competition)