When I was a child, I had trouble imagining myself as anything other than a teenager. It wasn’t a particularly morbid thought; I simply saw teenhood as supremely magical. My imagination, then vast and unbounded, found no worthy daydream beyond being 19.
And it’s not like I dreamed of becoming a teen pop star. I wanted, as I wrote in a faded diary entry, “to wear maxi skirts and go to art fairs and concerts and stay out late and study in coffee shops.” It was the liberty that drew me in—the kind that allowed me to come home to my mother and have her take care of me at the end of the day. The kind that, when I did do something dumb or hurtful or bad (as I often did), I was not seen as a “bad person” but as a teenager. I was forgiven because “Ugh, teenagers,” and “Ganyan din ako nung kabataan ko.”
I was 19 and in college when I first attended UP Fair, an annual weeklong series of benefit concerts organized by the student organizations of the University of the Philippines Diliman. It was the quintessential coming-of-age experience—a label I threw around because it delighted me that I could apply it to my own life. It was one of many, to be fair. At that point in my college life, a few months before I even knew what a coronavirus was, I felt increasingly self-assured, like the person I wanted to be didn’t feel so far away anymore. I was a teenager wearing maxi skirts, staying out late at coffee shops. I was in the crowd of UP Fair, eating my dinner in the grass miles away from home.
I was also 19 when I returned to UP Fair three years later—by which I mean lockdown has passed and I am now 22, but feel the same, maybe even younger. Graduation came and went and I no longer know how to ride the train, as I don’t need it to go to the office. My teenage clothes no longer fit except my shoes, which always feel too big.
Organized by the UP Junior Marketing Association, this year’s UP Fair: Cosmos showcased a solid slew of Filipino artists, from folk-pop band Ben&Ben to drag artist Lady Gagita. The fair lasted almost 12 hours; the energy was high from sunset to (almost) sunup. The last time I saw the UP Sunken Garden so brimming with life and music and lights was, well, the last UP Fair before community quarantine. I am an alumnus of UP Diliman’s more subdued sibling in Manila, meaning I rarely visit the grounds of the former—being at Cosmos this year was like defrosting a memory I suspended in time, consequently excavating the younger self I froze within it.
This underscores why it’s all the more important that gatherings like UP Fair remain a safe space untouched by historically violent institutions.
I thought a lot about 19-year-old me and the child who dreamed her up. The “who” of the lineup didn’t matter as much as the fact that they were there, and so were the people, the Ferris wheel, the game booths, and the food stalls, just as I remembered them. Of course this isn’t a dig at the artists’ merit—it was a concert after all, and it was a blast—but an acknowledgment of the fact that UP Fair is much bigger than the names it brings onstage.
I realize now that what first attracted me to the fair, and what I found so magical about teenhood, was and is the community. The reason why I sought liberty in the first place was so I could be with people. I miss my friends dearly, and I miss being surrounded by warm bodies and voices that aren’t mine. Being an adult, even when I feel like I’m playing pretend, is hard. UP Fair offered a reprieve: I am wearing a maxi skirt and eating dinner in the grass miles away from home, surrounded by friends and a sea of strangers. I go back to work on Monday, but right now I am un-lonely and invincible and 22 and 19 and 12.
This underscores why it’s all the more important that gatherings like UP Fair remain a safe space untouched by historically violent institutions. Filipino youth already have very little avenues for community—let us spare them yet another act of deprivation.
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UP Fair: Cosmos is a benefit concert for sexual and reproductive health rights. Follow on Facebook and Twitter to know more about their call for #TransRightsAreHumanRights and #ReproductiveHealthForAll.