Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Journey of 100 Years: Reflections on the Centennial of Philippine Independence, Eds Brainard & Littom

Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard & Edmundo F. Litton
PAWWA (1999), 260 pages
by Roger J. Jiang Bresnahan
As in most colonies in the nineteenth century, the grievances of Filipinos were many and resistance became more frequent, resulting in 1896 in the first phase of the Philippine Revolution. After its suppression, its leaders were paroled to Hong Kong. Two years later, the United States declared war on Spain, ostensibly on behalf of Cuba. With American help, Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the exiles in Hong Kong, was returned to the Philippines with a mandate to complete the revolution. In 1898, he inaugurated the Republic of the Philippines but eventually ran afoul of the Americans who opted for imperialism. Thus, the fledgling republic was short-circuited and the Philippines subjected to a harsher colonial rule than after Spain, involving a level of cultural and linguistic co-optation and economic domination that prevails even today.

The present volume has resulted from a conference held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1998. Like the conference, the book is a collaborative effort of many participants brought together by Edmundo F. Litton, a faculty member of Loyola Marymount University, and Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, a respected author, writing teacher, and proponent of Filipino American literary activities. What comes through all seventeen of the "reflections" in this volume is their intensely personal character. In the first essay, for example, Brainard offers a sustained meditation on Enrique, Magellan's Sumatran slave, who became the first person to circumnaviate the globe. Enrique comes alive for Brainard because "he spoke the same language as the people of Cebu," where Brainard herself was born, thus becoming her "kababayan," [countryman], she comments exultingly (5). Drawing from extant written sources, Brainard re-reads the history of the voyage from the contrary perspectives of the natives.

The first section focuses on Philippine history over the past hundred years. Damon Woods introduces us to Los Agraviados [the oppressed], a peasant-based, sometimes millenialist force operating in northern Luzon, antithetical to both the Spanish and the mainline revolutionaries. Elizabeth A. Pastores-Palffy recapitulates a large number of sources to show that a consequence of American rule was the cleavage between the political cultures of the elits and the masses that doggedly persists even today. Santiago Sia optimistically hopes that the legacy of Spanish Christianity can restore human dignity in the face of "poverty, oppression, and exploitation" (64). In the final essay in this historical section, John L. Silva compares present realities to photographs of the Philippines a century ago, finding economic and ecological degradation unimaginable at the time of the Revolution.

The second section, on education, begins with Litton's essay, "The Marriage of Maria Clara and Uncle Sam: Colonialism and the Education of Filipinos." The title alludes to a young woman in Jose Rizal's anti-colonialist novel, Noli Me Tangere, who is both the embodiment of the Spanish colonial ideal of Philippine womanhood and a victim of the Spanish friars. Its power as a symbol of miseducation under Spain is self-evident, but Litton shows that Uncle Sam's educational system equally served colonial objectives, with the result that Filipinos came "to see their culture as second rate" (91). Rosita C. Galang enumerates the languages policies, successively, of Spanish, American, Japanese, and Filipino rule, as well the continuing debate over the usefulness of English Felice Prudente Sta. Maria describes historical sites as "culture-scapes" to reveal "a history of national character" (124). Her assertion that "whatever in a space might break its believability - the integrity of its values-laden story - is played down or removed" (125) smacks of paternalism.

The third section, on the Filipino experience in America, opens with an essay by the literary and cultural critic, Epifanio San Juan, Jr., who provides a contrarian perspective, faulting Filipinos in the U.S. for an insufficiently critical attitude toward American racial politics. Rejecting the premise of pan-Asian ethnicity, he points out the "the chief distinction of Filipinos from other Asians residing in the United States was that their country of origin was the object of violent colonization and unmitigated subjugation of monopoly capital" (152). San Juan is followed by Susan Evangelista's guide to recent literature about early Filipino laborers in the U.S. A similar nostalgia is presented by Valorie Slaughter Bejarano's recollection of Filipino immigrant life in Los Angeles in the 1950s. The section closes with Susan N. Montepio's description of how elderly Filipino immigrants, typically living with their upwardly mobile children, have used folklore, foodways, ritual, and symbolic behavior to validate themselves.

The final section, on literature, opens with a provocative essay by Herminia Meñez, that elucidates a ballad of the Tausug, an Islamic people of the Southern Philippines, wherein a mother and daughter muong a jihad against a Spanish garrison to avenge the daughter's defilement by a Spanish soldier. Meñez demonstrates how this ballad "encapsulates crucial themes in Philippine history" (190), including race, gender, and colonialism. Ruel S. De Vera untangles the complexities of newspaper publishing, with particular emphasis on the period of martial law. Paulino Lim, Jr., one of the most distinguished Filipino writers today, reflects on finding one's voice as a bilingual writer, grappling with the legacy of colonialism that has privileged English. Nadine Sarreal extends Lim's reflections, writing of herself as one who "straddles two cultures" and thus "will always write from a place of discomfort and unease" (232). The closing essay by Luisa A Igloria focuses on images of women in Philippine literature. Finding the image of the suffering woman ubiquitous, even in the alternate national anthem Bayan Ko, she concludes that "Pieta-like figures ... run the risk of collaborating with the very forces that have worked to simplify the position of women ..." (247).

As with any anthology, the contributions to this volume are calculated to appeal to a broad spectrum of interests. It is to the credit of Litton and Brainard that, as editors, they did not flinch from controversial perspectives, including that of San Juan. His trenchant observations are bolstered by the contributions of Litton himself, who catalogues the (mostly) deleterious effects of colonialism that persist today, particularly among those living in the U.S. The essays of Igloria and Meñez highlight unexamined biases against women in Philippine history. Pastores-Palffy delineates the diametrically opposed political cultures of the elites and the masses and shows the effects of that dichotomy that persist today. Damon Woods begins to do the same for the radical movement that he studies, but stops short of explaining whether it has relevance for the present.

Evangelista does well to highlight recent work of Al Robles, Prisco Tabios, and Oscar Peñaranda about those first known as the Pinoys, then the Manongs, and finally the Old Timers. Ultimately, though, she disappoints. As a lifetime student of the writings of Carlos Bulosan, Evangelista knows we cannot merely congratulate those whome Ben Santos called "the hurt men." San Juan provides the proper corrective to this nostalgia by explicating the widespread embarrassment of Filipinos in response to the Cunanan affair: "the life of Andrew Cunanan and the situation of thousands of Filipinos who lived and grew up in the shadow of the U.S. Navy presents a challenge that can unravel the most crucial questions of racism, class divisions, homophobia, deception, chicanery in high society, and so on" (144). In its combative style, this essay is vintage San Juan, as he challenges readers to engage in "critical self-examination" in order "to reveal why our subltern plight has worsened under the guise of self-help amerlioration ..." (143)

The introduction of the volume speaks of two audacious events of recent Philippine history - the martyrdom of Benigno Aquino, Jr. at the Manila airport in 1983 and the destruction of the American naval and air bases by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. In the first instance, "the Filipino people declared 'Tama na! - Enough!'" In the other, nature intervened " - ending years of America's presence in the Philippines" (vii-viii). This audacious book, a centennial stock-taking on an independence that never was, constructed as a journey to a goal yet to be realized, is in all of its parts, an interrogation of the colonial condition. In spite of profoundly divergent viewpoints, it strikes a resounding echo: Tama na!

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