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Different perspectives bear fruit!

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

“ Courage is the essence of faith. Only the brave can have faith. A wise person is willing to fight his battles within himself. He eventually becomes established in a higher state of mind.“- Swami Ashokananda

NVM Gonzalez is often described as a man who had an affair with letters.

I disagree.

I believe NVM had many love affairs – with his violin, with the love of his life, Narita, and of course, with his friends.

He loved folks quite deeply. He only wanted the best for them.

I remember one time, when NVM visited me, I practically shared all my life’s angst and anxieties for the week.

He heard every word yet, he did not give in to my complaints nor grievances. He did not even address them. Instead, he told me to write.

Ten years ago, I told him that I was not a writer. But, he believed that each person has a story to write -- that there is a genius lurking in all of us.

I told him that I write journals, but not for publication. He smiled and allowed me to have the last say that weekend.

Years later, it turned out to be the opposite. Now, I'm here writing about the process of how he got me to become a published writer.

A month after we last spoke, I shared with him how I felt while reading an American academic’s version of Philippine history.

T.H. Pardo de Tavera's Historical Role

Barbara Gaerlan was an academic who revised the role of T.H. Pardo de Tavera and synthesized his positive role of ushering “progress connected to the pursuit of modernity with the introduction of English language.” Her article exulted T.H.Pardo de Tavera, who was once depicted by Teodoro Agoncillo (a renowned historian) as someone who collaborated with American colonizers.

In fact, T.H. de Tavera was the first to defect to the Americans and even went further, advocating the annexation of the Philippines as a territory of the United States.

Gaerlan’s academic essay gave new interpretation to T.H. Pardo de Tavera’s role -- that he was a visionary who understood the role of English. He put the importance of American occupation in the foreground by using education, English as a medium of instruction and by emphasizing on the crucial role of the 600 Thomasites who were sent by the United States.

The article theorized that English became the instrument for the Philippine’s pursuit of modernity and ushered this country into the era of science and technology. It further implies that his legacy of the pursuit of modernity is itself revolutionary.

Is it possible to have two versions of one truth?

While being mentored by NVM, he asked me to read the history of my ancestors during the pre-colonization period. He handed me the work of Lucilla Hosillos, a book on the culture of our people in the 11th century. He also asked me to look into other sources from the UCLA research library.

He then asked me to write my piece in two months -- 15 pages, double-spaced.

He also asked me if he could provide the title to my piece. He paused, waited and I gladly gave my consent. “ The Man in the Outhouse: How Western Colonization Silenced the Filipino’s Imagination," he said.

His title was so intriguing that I spent six weekends in the library. When I finally finished, he was most encouraging and passed my work to the Amerasia Journal editors.

This is what I learned in my archival research. While Gaerlan’s work was academically well-researched and adequately footnoted, the synthesis of archival accounts superimposed her own interpretation of historical reality, and miseducated everyone about the meaning of Philippine colonial history to native Filipinos.

What Ms. Gaerlan failed to appreciate (which NVM guided me through a pathway to realize), is that Filipinos had a very rich, developed culture and way of life in pre-colonial times. Later interaction with four colonizers – Asian, European, Latin and American, who left their heritage, shaped modernity in this Philippine setting. From the 13th to the 16th century, the Philippines was a civilized society with a code of justice and ethics, a distinct form of language, oral literature and architecture, commerce and engineering, environmental riches and respect for nature, and strong family and community values.

After submitting my essay, I did not hear from the editors. I immediately assumed the worst, that hours of six weekends spent inside the library were wasted. But I did not question nor challenge their silence.

Months passed. I received a galley proof of the essay I wrote. I shared it with my husband, who is also my colleague and editor. This time, he read my account, but gave an opposite view on what Gaerlan offered.

We sat down to discuss the two divergent points of view. Gaerlan argued that Western colonization ushered my ancestors into modernity through a discovery of science and technology, while Teodoro Agoncillo and Milagros Guerrero’s History of the Filipino people described T.H. Pardo de Tavera as a firm believer in the superiority of American culture.

So enamored was de Tavera of the Americans that he advocated for the complete Americanization of the Filipino people and the adoption of the English language. He believed that English should be “ extended and generalized in the Philippines, in order that through its agency, the American spirit may take possession of us and that we may adopt its principles, its political customs, and its peculiar civilizations that our redemption may be complete and radical."

In short, Filipinos became little brown brothers for the United States. Believing that resistance was futile, de Tavera worked for a “ collaboration with America, and for the future admission of the Philippines as a state in the American union."

In fact, de Tavera in “ El Sanscrito en la lengua Tagalog “ catalogued more than 340 Sanskrit words in the Tagalog language, signifying “ intellectual acts, moral precepts, emotions, superstitions, names of deities, of plants, numerals, a higher order, botany, war, titles and dignitaries." These terms are indicative of the complexities of an emerging modern nation, before the 16th century. However, he missed the significance of his archival research and instead disdained Tagalog as “paralyz[ing] rather than promot[ing] progress “

What Gaerlan failed to appreciate is that de Tavera expressed disdain of his own native language. In fact, as cited by Resil Mojares, de Tavera himself chronicled in his 1920 address “The Heritage of Ignorance" his sentiments. So contemptuous was de Tavera of his native language that he criticized the literature of corridos, pasyon and novenas for fostering a belief system that “paralyzes rather than promotes progress."

Little did he know of the literary significance and vibrant Filipino imagination that were reflected in these diverse types of literary expressions.

Hence, rather than being a promoter of progress and modernity, as Gaerlan contends, de Tavera was reactionary and a collaborator of colonialism.

De Tavera failed to appreciate the creativity and sense of higher self of his fellowmen, as depicted in these literary expressions.

From that experience, I realized doing research paid lots of dividends. It allowed me to scrutinize different perspectives and to fully appreciate historical accounts and facts. I discovered our pre-colonial heritage, spanning several centuries, in its full magnificence.

As Janet Abu-Lughod once said, “ Western scholars not only begin the narrative 'too late' but they take only partial testimony, thereby biasing the reconstructed account. At the minimum, 'making up history' requires at least two types of persons working together, the archivists and the synthesizers."

It was through research that I learned that I was only partially right in the historical role of T.H. Pardo de Tavera. True enough, he ushered Filipinos into modernity, as Gaerlan asserts, but it was also true that de Tavera believed in the superiority of the Americans.

If I had not been sufficiently intrigued by what I read from Gaerlan’s essay and NVM Gonzalez' mentoring, I would not have found my muse, nor would have I taken the time to learn more about my history. I would've never discovered the true legacy of our ancestors.

NVM Gonzalez gave me a gift, one that I intend to pass on to the next generations. And likewise Barbara -- for without her essay and her new interpretation, I would not have prodded further and would not have done an intensive archival research. Now, I realize its importance.

I hope to see new fruits in 2010, borne from your writings, my dear readers.


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