His mum was an important person, praised by many. Yet, her son felt abandoned and he wanted to confront his mother.
What did she do wrong?
Seated awkwardly on a couch, Jethro Patalinghug avoided eye contact with the woman at the other end. She’s his mother, but also just another stranger in his life. It’s a tense moment. He has every opportunity to switch off his camera and end his discomfort, but he persists.
Slowly and deliberately, he brings up difficult questions of the past. Why had Virginia been absent for the bulk of his childhood in The Philippines? Why did she emigrate to the United States without him and his three siblings? Why did she abandon him?
Of course, Jethro realises that his mother was no ordinary woman. Virginia Patalinghug was a revolutionary, an ardent feminist ahead of her time. In the People’s Power Revolution of the 80s, she rallied other Filipino women against the dictatorship’s ban on demonstrations. At the tender age of 16, Virginia endured multiple rounds of imprisonment.
Distraught by his mother’s constant absence, Jethro could not reconcile his personal need for maternal affection with the country’s need for activists like her. Loneliness and abandonment became the narrative of his life when Virginia eventually found herself on the hit list and fled the country, like most radical activists.
A tinge of indignance in his voice, Jethro questions, “Who could she be fighting for that could be more important than taking care of her family?”
Jethro begins his longest ever conversation with his mother twenty years after their separation.
Virginia recounts her activist days in a tone more formal than we’d expect. Her cause, her departure, was a matter of fact. Their exchange is intercut with black-and-white family photographs, newspaper clippings and footage of her demonstrations.
It is only when the duo embark on a journey back to The Philippines that they loosen up. Jethro is less confrontational, Virginia shares more personal insights.
Virginia digs deeper into her own emotional struggle with fresh revelations about the strained relationship with her own mother. Through conversations with other villagers, Jethro realises that she was a maternal figure to many — just what he was deprived of personally.
With newfound knowledge, Jethro now listens closely to his mother’s side of the story.
Yet watching him, one can’t help but wonder: How different would this conversation be had the absent parent been his father?
In its effort to be a touching story of reconciliation between mother and son, ‘My Revolutionary Mother’, intentionally or otherwise, makes for an interesting study of how we define a mother and the implicit standards we set for her.
For Jethro’s sister, Virginia was a great person, but not one she would describe as a mother. “She is a strong woman,” Mary Grace tells him. “Mother-like, not so much. The one who cooks, who cleans, who sends off the kids to school; I never saw that in her.”
Had Virginia truly abandoned her duty as a mother? Should she have acted differently?
‘My Revolutionary Mother’ won the Audience Award at the Boston Asian American Film Festival, Best Documentary at Singkwento International Film Festival in the Philippines, Best Documentary at the Unofficial Google Film Festival, Honorable Mention Best Documentary at Asians On Film Festival in LA. It was in the official selection at the Center For Asian American Media Fest and the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival.