Zachery Asis: On Trinidad Escobar’s “Sleeping Standing Up”
Before reading Trinidad Escobar’s comic titled, “Sleeping Standing Up,” I was mostly unaware of the unseen hardships faced by many teachers, specifically, teachers on work visas. From my perspective of high school, I always noticed a disconnect between teachers and students, as students don’t often connect with educators on a deeply personal level. Due to a lack of insight into the personal hardships of teachers and an immature mindset, students often act irrational and disrespectful, as the appreciation for learning is not yet apparent. From this comic, I became informed of difficulties faced by teachers through both images and text, while I observed the absence of Filipino core values within this specific classroom environment.
After reading through the comic strip, I was able to formulate meaning just from the title itself, “Sleeping Standing Up.” Rather than view the title from a literal perspective, I addressed it on a figurative level and ascertained its meaning was in reference to the teacher of the comic, Ms. Nava. From the title, the narrator highlights Ms. Nava’s prevailing state of mind throughout the work, in addition to other concepts. As a teacher, Ms. Nava goes through the same routine, day after day, of students displaying disrespect, as her educational lessons are overlooked. From one interpretation, “Sleeping Standing Up,” may reference Ms. Nava being ignored by her students as being the equivalent to her sleeping standing up. The title may also reference Ms. Nava’s overall physical and mental state of mind, as she is characterized with a tired and gloomy expression to illustrate her exhaustion in attempting to educate the class. Based on the title alone, I gained insight into the character of Ms. Nava, specifically her feelings, attitude, and struggles, within the classroom environment.
The first panel of the comic is relatively simple with only a single text of dialogue, but for me, it displayed a variety of underlying meaning through Escobar’s illustrations. Through the images, I was able to see the unnecessary difficulties placed on educators, especially in a high school environment, as the panel depicts the children of this classroom sleeping, talking, standing up, and throwing stuff around the classroom. In addition, trash is displaced throughout the room to further illustrate the unruly school environment. The image also displays one student standing, due to the lack of seats available in the class, which for me indicated that the school may be poorly funded. From this first panel alone, I was able to grasp the challenging environment that many teachers encounter that are caused by the childish mentalities of students and the underfunding of a learning environment.
In the second and third panels of the comic, Escobar offers a more detailed look at the class environment through a zoomed in perspective of the first panel with the second panel focused on Ms. Nava, and the third panel centered on the children. In panel two of the comic, the impact of Ms. Nava’s work environment is made apparent, as this panel offers a detailed image of her, in addition to a few sentences to describe her attitude towards the school. In this panel, the narrator states, “She always came to school with her hair brushed and dress ironed. Most days, she dabbed a little pink lipstick on her lips. She was making an effort. She respected the school” (Escobar). Through these lines of text, I learned that like many teachers, Ms. Nava makes continued attempts to respect her work environment, as illustrated by the way she presents herself to the class. Rather than abandon her attempts to educate her students, Ms. Nava arrives to class in a routine fashion, which highlights her commitment to her work and the children. In addition to the text description, Escobar uses an image to articulate the true state of Ms. Nava. Despite the exterior image she displays as a teacher, the physical toll of trying to teach the disrespectful class and her personal struggles are made apparent by her external physical appearance. In the image of the second panel, Escobar uses artistic details, such as lines near Ms. Nava’s eyes and strands of white hair to show the exhaustion and stress she carries with her as a teacher on a work visa. Although she attempts to hide the impact of her present and past personal hardships, her true state of being is still partially exposed by her physical characteristics. From this second panel, I was able to see the dedication and effort that many teachers make in their work environment, despite difficulties they deal with inside and outside of the classroom.
In both the fourth and fifth panel of the comic, I learned of the narrator’s feelings towards Ms. Nava, while I recognized a connection to the Filipino values of kapwa and pakikisama. At the start of this semester, kapwa was defined as togetherness and shared identity, which I feel relates to the narrator’s attitude towards Ms. Nava. In panel four and five, the narrator states, “In Ms. Nava’s class, I sat up and listened, even though math bored the shit out of me. I think it had something to do with Ms. Nava being Filipino, like me. Elder-Asian respect kicked in each day in 5th period” (Escobar). From these lines, the narrator states her respect for Ms. Nava is primarily due to the fact that they are both Filipino, which illustrates the idea of togetherness and shared identity. Since they are both Filipino, the narrator feels as if Ms. Nava is more relatable, which leads her to show respect and admiration for her in the class. Pakikisama was also defined at the start of the semester, as to literally go along with others. Since the narrator connects with Ms. Nava, the narrator willingly cooperates with her by paying attention in class, unlike the other kids, who lack this connection. Through panels four and five, I saw how kapwa and pakikisama take form in the narrator’s attitude and actions toward Ms. Nava.
Overall, I found this comic to be an analogy for the struggles that Filipinos have been faced with all throughout history, as I noticed the comic highlights many of the topics discussed in class. In the comic, Ms. Nava illustrates the inability to fully articulate herself, as her voice is muddled and ignored by her students, who are rude and inattentive. This relates to the aspect of Filipino history discussed in class, particularly in the article titled, “The Filipina in Filipino Society,” by Hellen Rillera, where Filipinas, who immigrated to United States were unable to successfully voice their opinions and beliefs within their own communities to influence change. Similar to the young Filipina girls brought to America, Ms. Nava lacks a voice and any sort of power in her position as a teacher on a work visa, as the students don’t respect her, and she is unable to prevent her firing by the school administration.
Additionally, powerlessness, similar to the situation of native Filipinos, who were taken from their homes to be exhibits in the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, as shown in Marlon Fuentes’ “Bontoc Eulogy,” is also made present in Escobar’s work through Ms. Nava. In panel ten, Ms. Nava makes one final attempt to express power through a verbalization of her thoughts saying, “You are all spoiled little boys and girls!! You have free education and you just waste it! All these opportunities that you have every day?? Do you know what it’s like to have to quit school and work in a field of landfill all day long??” (Escobar). From these lines, Escobar puts to light the true hardships that Ms. Nava faced as a Filipino immigrant worker, such as the indirect reference to the possibility that she had to quit school to work in landfills. As a Filipino immigrant worker, Ms. Nava lacked all the opportunities the students of her classroom have, but she still persevered through life to become an educator. Even after reaching America to become a teacher, she is still met with a complete powerlessness through struggles and hardships that appear unmovable, as demonstrated by the response she receives from her American students and the actions of the school administration in the panels that follow.
Similar to the native Filipinos of “Bontoc Eulogy,” Ms. Nava from the perspective of her students is like an exhibit, where she is laughed and mocked, as demonstrated in panel eleven. After Ms. Nava’s burst of anger through a final plea to educate her class, the narrator describes the feelings of the students saying, “The class erupted. They exchanged glances and held their bellies. They couldn’t relate. The concepts were so alien to them that it was funny. What was that, Ms. Nava??… She’s nuts dude. Fuckin’ nuts!” (Escobar). Like the Filipinos, who were on display at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, Ms. Nava is seen as something alien, which leads her class to view her as nothing more than spectacle, rather than their instructor, when she attempts to educate the class. Aside from the narrator’s connection with Ms. Nava, the classroom lacks the values of kapwa and pakikisama, as the majority of the class fails to relate and understand the hardships that Ms. Nava faces as a Filipino teacher on a work visa.
Through this work, I was able to establish connections with some of the core values of Filipinos and the common struggles faced by Filipinos throughout history. I also learned about the struggles of a particular individual, Ms. Nava, who struggled through growing up working in a landfill. Even after she migrated to America on a work visa, she is met with disrespect by her students and powerlessness, when she is fired by the school administration and deported back to the Philippines. Before reading this work, I never really thought of the struggles that teachers go through as educators of young students, as I did not connect with teachers in the way the narrator is able to with Ms. Nava. Through a deeper analysis of this work, I saw correlations with many of the past topics discussed throughout the semester, which improved my reading experience. After analyzing this work, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for a comic that appeared simple from first glance, but actually contained a wealth of insight into Filipino culture.