Kumu Founder Pays Tribute to Activist Susan Quimpo for Changing His Life
Susan Quimpo, a freedom fighter, a writer, and a courageous activist, passed away last week, on July 14, 2020. She was 59.
As a student, Quimpo was politicized at the University of the Philippines at the height of Martial Law.
She was the youngest of ten Quimpo siblings, with seven involved with the student underground movement. One of the Quimpos lost his life, another is still missing and presumed dead. Five of the siblings were jailed during the Marcos regime.
After Martial Law, many have known Susan as co-editor/co-author of the book Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos years, a powerful finalist for the National Book Award.
Remembering Ate Susan
While many have known her in this light, I also want to recognize her advocacy for mentoring young Filipino-American students through an NGO she founded known as Tagalog On Site. This NGO created life-changing summer experiences for Fil-Ams craving a connection with their ethnic homeland.
I was a student in that program, and Ate Susan changed my life.
As a young, idealistic U.S. college student with a broken heart. Ate Susan took me in and showed me a world of wonder. Through professors from UP, Ateneo, and La Salle, I learned about the cultural history and scandals that scarred Filipino psychology. We interacted with the children of Overseas Filipino Workers; we played with the forgotten children of the U.S. military who had exploited the local women. We learned compassion for sex workers in Olongapo and Angeles City trying to take care of their families. We ate with the indigenous Aeta in Pampanga. We were heartbroken with the mothers and disease-stricken children exposed to toxic waste contamination coming from the remnants of Clark Air Force Base. This experience forced me to confront the hyphen that defined what it meant to be both Filipino and American.
I’m closing my eyes, in the stillness of a quiet corner office with the lights turned off. I’m meditating and transporting my mind to a far different place. It’s summer time, and I’m remembering that gush of cool water from a waterfall splashing against my sun-drenched body. I’m in the middle of a hidden watering hole, next to a gorgeous three-story high waterfall. I’m surrounded by towering rock formations, and I don’t know how to properly describe this, but all I can say is GREEN. Yes, that’s all I remember: green trees, green bushes, green moss, green vines, and green leaves, everywhere. I’m in a lush tropical jungle next to an active volcano called Mt. Banahaw, revered by locals as a Holy Mountain.
I discovered this oasis after I had been hiking for hours with Ate Susan, the UP Mountaineers, and my batchmates in the sweltering humidity. We rested in the caves that were used by Katipunan rebels. My T-shirt was stuck to my sweaty body. At that moment, when the cool water of that waterfall was making its way down from the top of my head, across my shoulders, and down my back, I knew I was being cleansed. I was being purified of my past. The years of caring only of what other people thought were wiped away. Years of heartbreak and misunderstanding…gone. It was a spiritual experience, a direct encounter with mother God. This experience under the waterfall, this “baptism,” wiped away my insecurities and my indecisive blindness. This lost 21-year-old college student found a purpose that would define my identity for the rest of my life. The Philippines.
Finding my Purpose
Seventeen years later, I find myself risking everything for Kumu, one of the fastest growing apps in the Philippines, with over 5 million GenZ and millennial users. Everything about this app points to the influence of Ate Susan. The way we connect overseas Filipinos all over the world. The way we created a safe, positive, and accepting space for LGBTQ+, mental health, and creative communities. Thousands of content creators are earning an income by expressing their passion within the global Filipino diaspora.
Thank you Ate Susan for being that critical life changing angel in my life. You always sensed a deep feeling inside of me. This yearning. This search for truth. This aching sense of belonging. And you were there every single step of the way, as I struggled and wrestled with myself at such a coming of age moment for me. You are the spiritual mother of Kumu, this crazy business that you helped inspire with your love.
I will always remember you, and keep you close to my heart as we continue to build our community in honor of your legacy.
Rest in Power, Ate Susan.