My Favourite Stories: The Hunger Games

My Favourite Stories - The Hunger Games

This month will see the final movie of The Hunger Games series. It’s another end of an era, and I’m becoming used to the press and emotions surrounding such a thing. I’ve done the usual: re-read the books and re-watched the movies, and somewhat prepared myself for the new installment. I’ve also thought about how the story has impacted me and society.

The Hunger Games is pretty much the primary series that has shaped how I view economic inequality and all of the human rights issues entangled in it. I saw economic inequality as a web, since all of the issues related to it are interconnected, and it’s up to us to de-tangle the web.

These different strands – transportation, income and wages, food security, education, environment, gender, race, and more – are all part of inequality and oppression. And they all play a part in this awful game that we play in order to “win,” whatever that means.

The Hunger Games is probably the only dystopian fiction that I will read or watch for a long time. The stories themselves, while revealing and empowering, are also quite bleak. A lot of people die. If they don’t die, they become broken. And while that is a huge part of reality, especially for those going to war, I don’t like to consume those kinds of stories on an on-going basis.

This might be why I had struggled to complete this blog post. After comparing the themes and plots of The Hunger Games to everything, from Arab Spring to Occupy to Black Lives Matter to the most recent string of ISIS attacks and backlash fueled by Islamophobia… From comparing the tributes to child soldiers who either die or survive and have PTSD… From seeing how this piece of fiction reflects our reality a lot and could potentially become our reality 100%… I had become exhausted.

I work in a non-profit organization in a role that allows me to be an activist and to support people facing marginalization and oppression. I volunteer for a non-profit that allows me to be an activist who uses pop culture to support other fans with their actions. I absorb the news everyday, because I can’t help it, and witness beautiful and terrible things happening around the world. So, naturally I would feel exhausted.

So why is The Hunger Games one of my favourite stories?

Because it made me love first-person novels again (Twilight kind of ruined that for me before). Because it made me feel more hopeful for the future young adult literature. Because I love the characters and how I learned what true strength meant from them.

Katniss taught me how to use the fire within to fight for what I believe in, but to soften and empathize when needed. She taught me the importance of fending for yourself and finding your true self in nature. She taught me that protecting what you find most precious is worth it.

Peeta taught me that humans are innately good. That we all have the freedom and autonomy to be ourselves, our true selves, even in the face of evil. He taught me that love and kindness are far more important than showing off or appearing to be strong.

So, as a farewell to this series, I offer a three-hand salute to The Hunger Games, and to the people all around the world, from the refugees fleeing Syria to the folks being arrested for doing this same salute in Thailand. May we work together towards peace and collaboration in order for everyone to live their lives to the fullest.

Until the odds are in everyone’s favour.


It took me a while to figure out what I could possibly write about that would fit into The Harry Potter Alliance’s current campaign. When have I ever faced economic hardship of any kind? I’ve been able to graduate debt-free from university, travel the world, work for good wages without any abuse, not have to worry about where my next meal was coming from, etc. etc. etc.

It wasn’t until I had thought of the people around me, until I had expanded my personal bubble to include other members of society, that I realized that I did have a Hunger Games Story to tell. It just wasn’t mine.

I used to work for a legal aid company. I would be the one answering the phone and determining if callers qualified or not. A lot of the time, I’d be the one saying, “no.” And a lot of these people would be working, living pay cheque to pay cheque, often with other mouths to feed. But at legal aid, paying for groceries and electricity doesn’t factor in whether you qualify or not. These people would be struggling to survive, and once you throw legal fees on top of that mountain of stress, once you have to decide the future of your children once a relationship breaks down, or start to think about what will happen if you end up in jail, or get deported, well… it just fucking sucks.

Mind you, I wasn’t as empathetic at the time. I was “simply doing my job,” as one would say. I was too focused on my own ordeal of sitting on my butt down all day, chained to my phone and desk, and commuting for around 3 hours. I don’t think I realized at the time just how much insight I was getting into other people’s lives, and how broken the system is (or how top notch it is if you’re looking at maintaining inequality).

I remember single dads breaking down crying because they’re still recovering from a divorce and have to figure out how to makes ends meet for their children while trying to get a lawyer. I remember having to tell victims of domestic violence that they make “too much money” to qualify for legal aid. I remember talking to an inmate and asking if I could do anything else to help, and him replying, “Can you be my pen pal?” I remember refugees explaining that their lives are threatened if they were to return to their home country.

There have been good moments, though. Happy tears when somebody finds out that they qualify and won’t have to pay for a lawyer. Cracking jokes about the weather. Getting a sincere thank you and actually hearing the person’s smile. It’s an experience that I shouldn’t forget, and I’ll try my best to remember as much as I can. Because it’s not about me. It’s about getting other people’s Hunger Games stories out – because you may just be the one to help put the odds back in their favour.

When Love Catches Fire

A spark came to life when I became a part of the Toronto ALPHA (Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) team; when I learned about the atrocities that occurred during the Second World War across the Pacific. I learned how the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted so much pain and suffering on its neighbours, and how the survivors are dealing with that pain more than 50 years later.

(International relations are so complex. I don’t want to make the Japanese Imperial Army sound like heartless antagonists. They weren’t. They were treated like filth by their superiors, bullied into submission, and took out their frustrations on civilians in China and elsewhere. That’s one explanation. It’s also important to remember that these soldiers were socialized into believing certain things about themselves compared to their neighbours in Asia. I remember learning just how fragile us humans are, how capable we are of either good or evil. Iris Chang called this the “thin veneer of humanity.”

For me, it’s frightening how this veneer is so delicate, how the balance between good and evil is so precarious. How people like us make choices everyday that determine on which side we stand. Like the Joker said, “All they need is a little push.”)

That spark ignited into a flame when I began to feel an inseparable connection with the survivors. These people had been brutally beaten, raped, and witnessed the deaths of their families while they were young children. I clearly remember seeing the face of a survivor of military sexual slavery, a so-called “comfort woman,” and noticing how much she looked like my late grandmother.

After working with ALPHA and realizing how these stories and forgotten histories need to be told, my passion for this cause truly caught fire. It wasn’t until I met the very woman who had reminded me of my own grandmother that I realized just how big this flame would be.

It was a cold Sunday night a few weeks ago. Volunteers were invited to dinner with ALPHA staff and directors, with special guests Lola (“grandmother” in Tagalog) Fidencia David, Dr. Christina Rosello, and representatives from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Lola Fidencia and Christina visited from the Philippines to speak in public events hosted by ALPHA and the CMHR in Winnipeg and Toronto. Lola was to give her survivor testimonial, and Christina was there as Lola’s therapist and an expert on psychological healing. I didn’t know what to expect from this encounter, but from the moment I had met with everyone, I realized just how special this connection would be.

Within 1 minute of meeting Lola Fidencia, she felt like a grandmother to me. When I told her my hands were still cold from being outside, she immediately offered me Katinko, her all-purpose ointment. (It’s really supposed to treat dry, itchy skin, but who was I to refuse?) And it worked – the ointment and her charm. This woman was so incredibly strong and loving and grateful that I was instantly drawn to her warmth, and wanted to take care of her like I would my own family. I knew that it would be extremely difficult to listen to her story later on.

Lola Fidencia, at the age of 14, was taken along with her grandmother by Japanese soldiers to cook, clean, and “comfort.” Held captive, she did housework during the day, and was raped multiple times at night. While trying to escape, Lola saw her grandmother shot dead. She managed to reunite with her family, but to this day has had to suffer from that trauma. I remember holding her after she gave her testimony, sitting together while she calmed herself down by rubbing Katinko onto her trembling hands.

How could anybody not be affected by a story like hers? How could the Japanese government still not give a formal apology for the mass murder and slavery? What is incredibly unjust is that these survivors will not stay with us for much longer, and may never be able to hear that apology. From the Halmoni in South Korea who protest every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy, to the lolas who work with Christina, these people still suffer. After over 60 years of dealing with the so-called “side effect” of war, military sexual slavery survivors are still waiting for justice.

Violence against women during war should not be the norm. It should not even be expected. I admit that I may not know much about this issue, that I am naïve and simple-minded in this matter, but I care a LOT about my lolas. It is with love, our greatest weapon, that we can feed the flame that will guide us towards peace, reconciliation, and justice. It is with love that we will ensure that the odds will be ALL in our favour.

This journey to justice and equality is long and slow and emotionally exhausting and more than physically painful… but I promise you, it will be worth it.

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
– A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens