Courage Runs in the Family

Tina Taruc (left) raised daughter Tia Taruc Canlas to be free from fear. (Photo courtesy of Tia Taruc Canlas)

Psychologists say children who witness domestic violence are twice likely to become either perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse in adulthood, because they would emulate what they think is normal behavior. In that case, Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas bucked the odds.

When she was a few months old in the womb of her mother, Tina Taruc, Tia bore the brunt of her father’s rage. In a violent outburst, he punched his pregnant wife in the stomach.

Tia proved as tough as her bearer.

She knew nothing of her father’s behavior, having been raised by a strong, independent mother who showered her with affection and affirmation.

Tia, now a lawyer, learned about her parents’ troubles by accident while interviewing her mother for a video for the cooperative she founded.

Alipato Project, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, helps provide legal representation for domestic violence survivors and obtain financial restitution from their abusers. Taruc Canlas established the program with other social justice advocates, little realizing how close to home it connected.

'‘I know how rare it is for survivors to have such a robust support network,'' she explained. '‘Without the help of family and friends, people turn to government and charity help. But such resources are dwindling in California. Domestic violence organizations are reporting decreased state and private funding.''

Her own intimate partnership enables her to give back.

In her boyfriend Christopher '‘Crow’' Myers, Tia has found a mate who shares her passion to combat injustice, and more.

Alipato Project, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, helps provide legal representation for domestic violence survivors and obtain financial restitution from their abusers.

'‘Crow and I have been pretty busy over the past few years, building our dreams and future together,'' she said.

They met at work counseling homeless youth in San Francisco. While she studied for the California bar exam, he '‘did my laundry, did the groceries, cleaned the house and made me food for three months.”

Other women can only dream about a symbiotic union, prompting the 28-year-old to '‘help build a future where economic empowerment and women’s liberation are achieved.''

“Tia is very dedicated, a committed and hard worker,'' said lawyer and pastor Rhina Ramos, a former co-worker at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. '‘She would research immense amounts of information to try to influence legislation to create access for poor communities to the green economy. I think she is very capable of making Alipato succeed.''

Her mother’s disclosure of abuse by Tia’s father and then by her stepfather opened Tia’s eyes to the many realities – and misconceptions – about the issue.

'‘I know that some people reading this might think, ‘if she was abused by more than one person, then it must be her fault,''' Tia said, turning to a root cause of intimate partner abuse. '‘Domestic violence is not provoked. It’s a symptom of our patriarchal society and never the fault of the victims.''

Survivors typically hide their suffering from their children and other loved ones to protect them from vicarious trauma.

Taruc Canlas herself had a contented childhood. Born in New York to parents who had immigrated from the Philippines, she was two years old when they relocated to Northern California then settled later in Southern California. She was nine when the family returned to Angeles City in Pampanga. They flew back to Southern California when she was 13 and then further up to Berkeley before sinking roots in nearby Oakland.

Despite the moves, she never felt displaced.

'‘My mom took the time to read to me every night and paint with me as we imagined a perfect and more colorful world together,” she recalled. “The words, ‘I love you’ were shared more than once a day and we sang songs together when we were scared or sad. She brought me to church where she sang in a choir and we often went rock-picking in the river behind one of the churches we attended.''

Her mother made her feel safe, in fact '‘privileged,'' she admitted.

'‘Before marrying my stepdad, my mom had to work two jobs to pay the bills, but I never really knew it. She made sure that I was always with a family member or friend … so her leaving me at night to work at a restaurant only felt like a sleepover at a friend’s house.''

Tina Taruc came home with treats from work, like '‘fancy markers the architects would simply throw away,'' to delight her daughter.

'‘The only times I ever felt ‘poor’ was when our landlord would come banging on our door for rent money, or when the water and electricity were disconnected. Again, my mom handled this so gracefully. She wouldn’t tell me why these things were happening. Instead, we would go to a friend’s house to ride out the economic hardship.''

Tina Taruc chased her Filipino American Dream while raising a child who would inherit her fortitude. Courage is a family trait.

Tia’s great grandfather, Luis Taruc, was a leader of the Hukbalahap, a movement that evolved from repelling Japanese imperialist forces to challenging feudalism. His nom de guerre was Tagalog for '‘small glowing ember that escapes a dying fire’' or Alipato, which Tia claimed for her initiative.

Tia and Crow share more than a passion to serve. (Photo courtesy of Tia Taruc Canlas)

The four years she and her mother lived in Central Philippines to '‘escape yet another abusive relationship’' gave Tia opportunity to observe her elder organizing farm workers and notice the respect he commanded, which sparked her mission.

'‘Lolo Pop taught me to have passion in struggles for liberation and with that passion, I have dedicated my life to fighting all forms of oppression, specifically advocating for women’s liberation, workers’ liberation, economic, environmental, and racial justice and prison abolition,'' she told Positively Filipino.

Championing the downtrodden did not happen overnight. And even if her great grandfather’s heroics impressed Tia, these eventually clashed with her American sensibilities.

She blossomed in academics surrounded by gifted and motivated friends and classmates whose aspirations she shared, even if her hope to attend a private university did not match her mother’s finances.

Tina’s assurance that '‘every time a door closes, another one opens,'' kept Tia optimistic despite losing a semester for missing a deadline for course requirements. True enough, that break led to an administrative job at a car dealership, which allowed her downtime to watch the television drama '‘The Practice,'' which would lead her to her profession.

Her savings paid for classes as prerequisites for UC Berkeley’s Philosophy program at Santa Monica College, where her politics were shaped.

“I joined a student organization called Anti-War on the World Collective and learned about libertarian communist economics,'' she recalled. '‘Growing up in the United States, I was indoctrinated with believing in capitalism and prioritizing personal liberties. Even though I loved Lolo Pop, I was educated to believe that his socialism was an affront to freedom and progress. However, at Santa Monica College, I learned and adopted the view that communities could work together freely and cooperatively without the coercion of poverty and authority.''

Her newfound knowledge of theories of justice sealed her future.

'‘My great grandpa’s warrior spirit taught me never to let someone oppress me,'' she said.

'‘Back when I was in law school, I was dating a guy and within a few days of our relationship, he said that he loved me. I said that that was silly. That we hadn’t known each other long enough. I laughed—which wasn’t nice—but what came next was totally unacceptable. He slapped me in the face,'' she said. She wasted no time kicking him out and telling her roommate-best friend, who stood up for her at the appropriate time, assuring her of support. '‘This is how guys should treat their female friends who are scared of other guy friends.''

Tia Taruc Canlas has learned from her mother’s experience, her great grandfather’s cause and her circle of allies that freedom—the absence of fear—is the celebration of hope.

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County on Aging, executive director of ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares and executive editor of Philippine News.