As a child back in the mid-80s, when there were only five channels to choose from, there were only few personages, including mascots to remember. One of these colorful characters was a showbiz talk show host who was cajoled every now and then for wearing tsinelas or slippers everywhere, even when she was summoned by the court. I was one of those who found such behaviour odd. Not until years later, when I learned to understand the profound value of even the most nondescript and battered pair of tsinelas.
However long or short my journeys are, I always come home slipping my feet into a comfortable pair of tsinelas. Homey is indeed a pun for tsinelas – it may be the most ordinary of footwear in a tropical country like the Philippines but it is the footwear that gives us the most freedom to be our own selves.
The latter has made me take extra miles with my pairs of slippers, literally. I wore them in college and later, in my work.
My stint as a student at the premiere state university was a privilege but it was also a breeze especially for people who enjoy learning without the weight of protocols and procedures such as uniforms. And so tsinelas, jeans and shorts were part of the students' everyday get-up, enhancing the flow of thoughts and ideas from our brain cells through the classrooms and hallways. For us, this was an exercise of the “academic freedom” the university stands for.
Such freedom inevitably made it difficult for me to leave the campus for I knew that this would not be as available in the professional world, where people are pressured to perform and most of the time, under pretense. I think the love for such freedom has led me to work in non-government organisations (NGOs).
Generally, there is more leniency among NGOs when it comes to clothing and rightly so. Feminism and other social movements are supposedly spaces for self-expression, where people develop their advocacies based on realities and their own capacities and resources, including their own biases due to their class, gender, ethnicity, geographical origin and so on. The opportunity to choose the clothing that suits one's chosen identity is an obligation of these spaces, where ideas and commitment are of paramount importance, more than a fashionable lifestyle or even an amusing performance. And great ideas and sincere dialogues often comes when people are on their own selves, even if this means being on slippers.
In the two organisations I had been, I worked with grassroots leaders, along with members of their communities. For most them, tsinelas is the only footwear available to them. It would have been odd had I been on heels while the rest of them wore slippers in a meeting. Of course slippers can indicate and even assert class, with brands such as Havaianas and Dupe or even style, with the sequins on the thongs or the added height through a wedge. Nonetheless, they can communicate camaraderie and solidarity.
In December 2007, I joined the Manila leg of the march of the Sumilao farmers from Bukidnon in Southern Philippines to the presidential palace in the capital Manila. Dispossessed of their ancestral land by the Philippine's old rich and later the largest food conglomerate, San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the farmers decided to talk to the president herself.
I initially thought of using running shoes. Little did I know that walking through the first two cities in Metro Manila can outrun the efficiency of my running shoes, leaving my feet red and swollen. Learning from the farmers and their support groups, I walked on my slippers through the next six cities. However dirty our feet were, we reached Malacanang Palace.
Slippers have been so much a part of me that most of the time, I forget to change from the slippers I use outside to the pair inside the house. Maybe this signals the difficulty of distinguishing rest from work, the personal from the political, the private from the public. But then again, can we ever separate them when they all make up our lives?