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Roots and Wings

Armie Jarin Bennett and Susan F. Quimpo: Mothers as storytellers

/ 05:15 AM May 13, 2012

Over the last couple of months I met two mothers who are amazing storytellers. One of them chronicles world events from the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta; the other over the last decade, in collaboration with her nine siblings, has woven the powerful and heartbreaking story of her family’s struggles during the Marcos years.

Armie Jarin Bennett is one of two executive producers of CNN International. Mallory, one of her associate producers, toured me around the CNN studios and editing rooms.

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In Armie’s office, a poster read, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Watching Armie whizz through the office like a little tsunami, and multitask effortlessly, she certainly lived the mantra on the wall.

Armie’s CNN journey began in 1997, soon after she left Citilite 88.3 (the first radio affiliate of CNN) where she was a producer under Francis Lumen, her “mentor.”

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“He was very innovative and really trained me very well in all aspects of the business,” she said.

At CNN, she worked her way up, starting as an intern at CNN radio, and after two months, was hired for CNN television where she began work as a VJ (video journalist). “I took a few steps (career-wise) back from where I was in Manila, but I knew it was an investment.”

Through hard work, and with boundless energy, she was promoted. From CNN Headline News, she moved to CNN International in 2000.

“This is really my passion because I want to cover the Philippines, and the rest of the world,” she said. “Basically we oversee newsroom operations on a 24/7 basis. We manage the crew here in Atlanta, we help shape our editorial directions, and we work with our news gathering counterparts to see which reporters will go overseas. We work hand in hand so that we can build content for our shows.”

On the afternoon I was there, Armie was preparing for the missile North Korea was set to launch the following week. Simultaneously, she met with people in the newsroom, while thinking of what to prepare for dinner at home. She said it was a good thing she had already made pansit and lumpia the day before. “It can get really busy here. Like a hospital emergency room.”

Armie talked about the evening Osama Bin Laden was killed. “It was 10 p.m. when I got the call that the President (Obama) was about to make an announcement at the White House, and so we were thinking it was going to be something big. So while I was still on the phone, I was already putting my pants on and requesting my husband (who also works for CNN) to hold the fort at home… same thing when Steve Jobs died, or during the earthquake in Japan. Whatever it is that requires additional support, and someone is needed to make decisions on the coverage, that’s part of my job. It’s stressful sometimes, but what job isn’t and I love it, it’s so fulfilling. This is something I really, really enjoy.”

Armie said that CNN is working on a documentary about modern-day slavery in the Philippines. It is a project that is close to her heart, as a woman, a mother and a Filipino.

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She said it can be hard because she has two children who are only 7 and 9 years old. “It’s become harder to leave them because sometimes they say,   ‘Mommy, don’t go to work…’ so I just have to explain it to them.” Breaking news notwithstanding, Armie said she’s always present for the family milestones and moments that matter. She said her husband and children are important to her. “Their news is what I look forward to at the end of each day.”

‘Subversive Lives’

On the other side of the city lived 10-year-old Susan F. Quimpo, youngest among 10 siblings. Susan lost her mother that same year in a tragic accident which she describes poignantly in the book, “Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years.”  In the chapter, “Mother Inviolate,” Susan narrates her memories, quite vividly, of the day she was crossing the street and how her mother shielded her from a jeepney.

The book is powerful and moving; it is the tale of the sacrifices made by one family during the Marcos years. The stories weave a tapestry of how lives were lost, changed, shattered and redeemed during the darkest period of our history.

For those like me, whose upbringing was more Right than Left, the book is an eye-opener about the Marcos regime.

Beautifully written by the Quimpo siblings, the stories transport us to the ’70s and the early ’80s, and make us better understand the politics and atrocities of the time, reminding us why Martial Law must never happen again.

Today, Susan leads a quiet life with her husband and two daughters and I can only begin to imagine what a long healing journey she must have gone through. The courage it must have taken to write the family memoir is truly admirable, not just for Susan but for each of the siblings. It is a book that is certainly a must-read for every Filipino as we come closer to the 40th anniversary of Martial Law.

I end this column by wishing the master storyteller in my life a happy mother’s day. Though it was my dad who taught me how to read, it is the wisdom culled from my mother’s stories, in her animated (and sometimes dramatic) delivery that has given me most of the inspiration and courage I have needed in my own mothering. Thank you for giving me life. I love you. Happy Mother’s day, mom!

E-mail cathybabao@ gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cathybabao.

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