“If this is a symptom, then what is a country? A tumor of ideology?!”

September 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

From The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata

“[1]  Enough, Estrella, enough. All readers of history are prey to this revolutionary postscript—dueling memoirs that rose from the ashes of war. Magdiwang writers jumped the Magdalo to the gun: Artemio Ricarte and Santiago Alvarez, both Magdiwang, penned the first memoirs. Then that elegant stylist, Apolinario Mabini, damned Aguinaldo in sublime dudgeon. “Miong” Aguinaldo never recovered from Mabini’s prose style. It took him six decades before he published the Magdalo version of events (though before that the historian Agoncillo did function as ventriloquist). He was too late: by that time he was a villain, a schemer, and a murderer in the eyes of many. The point is: he became so not necessarily because of established fact but because he did not frame the narrative. The question of why Aguinaldo took so long to publish—the Mystery of The Tardy Memoir—is thought-provoking. On one hand, his image as villain was convenient to Americans, the actual combat enemy. The Magdiwang case, the vilifying of Aguinaldo, suited the eventual occupiers (which does not mean that Magdiwang statements were untrue). Aguinaldo’s memoirs show he was perhaps an insecure egoist who lent his instability to others’ schemes. At worst, he killed not only Bonifacio but also Luna. So the Interesting Case of the Dueling Revolutionary Memoirs may be no postmodern mystery; the first president is, as we suspect, less than a hero, and his tardy recollections may be tacit acknowledgment of his sins. This does not lessen the following fact: Estrella’s agony is symptomatic, a fantasist’s angst. The Supremo’s death inscribed trauma—it is the emblematic wound of all Filipinos betrayed by fellow Filipinos. (One notes that Aguinaldo, in turn, was betrayed, though unfortunately  for him not killed, by a Filipino turncoat in America’s pay.) This duplicitous sense of self, the Judas wound, marks the country’s notion of its humanity, so potent in its history. Only in the story of Rizal is there no Judas kiss, which may explain why, given the country’s complex aversion to the past, it clings to the hero with implacable ardor. Rizal’s death is simple: Spain killed him. Filipinos are not complicit in his blood. Emilio Aguinaldo, on the other hand, is troubling—he is the man in us whom we prefer not to see: the sinner in our midst who is ourselves. Just as we will never see Rizal as a man because we idolize him, we cannot see Aguinaldo as a man because we vilify him. (Dr. Diwata Drake, New York, New York, U.S.A.)

” [2]  Whoa, Aramis de Michigan. Calm down. (Trans. Note)

” [3]  Dr. Diwata, let me explain the physical nature of my ‘implacable ardor,’ as you call it—though you do not deserve my patience! I recall distinctly when my illness began. It was late in June in the year martial law was lifted by the tyrant, and yet the country was no more changed than I was by the proclamation. I was a freshman in college taking Philippine History and Institutions 101. I’d always been a bookworm, an idealist—yes, as you say, a fantasist. As a kid, I used to collect the posters of the heroes and labeled them with their corresponding epithets, because I was a nerd with weird compulsions. When I learned about the political assassination of the Plebeian Martyr by the men of the First President of the Republic, I was not only surprised that I had never heard about it before in my high school textbooks: I went into septic shock. My breathing froze in that room at Palma Hall Annex, and my asphyxiated shriek before I slumped sideways from the graffitied desk onto the lap of my blockmate, a pale, kind of palsied kid from Panay, made the entire classroom go still (or so I was told, as I had gone into abasic atrophy, a kind of failure of the nerves). I remember (or fancy I do) the ambulance, the brief blur of flame trees in my rolling vision, the concerned face of my professor (the bifocaled, unwitting perpetrator of my nervous wreckage), as I was strapped onto a trundle, given emergency respiratory help, a blood pump, and whatnot. My classmates waved at me as if calculating already whether or not they could take time off to go to my funeral. It was a minor seizure whose source the doctors could not fathom—whether I was epileptic, schistempsychotic, or just plain pathetic, it was a mystery to them. I returned home for the rest of the term, and in those months all history books, even komiks versions, were banned; but surreptitiously I read. By the end of the year I was back at college, but this time armed with the weight of history—not to mention all the kilos I had gained from provincial puto. In this way I became a vessel of the country’s pain, a small price to pay for truth. If this is a symptom, then what is a country? A tumor of ideology?! (Estrella Espejo, ditto)”

Some books to read after watching Heneral Luna

September 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

I see that there is a petition going around to get CHED to show Heneral Luna in schools. I’d say that should go with a list of books and texts to read on the revolution and especially the war against the Americans. Here would be my choices, apart from the usual suspects (Agoncillo textbooks, Rizal’s novels [must read], and so on). I read these doing research for The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata and for my new novel, William McKinley’s World, and I annotate a few of the books here. In my view, all of these books should be reprinted, if they are not online. CHED should reprint the out of print books.

Affairs in the Philippine Islands: U.S. Senate Hearings on the Philippines, 1902. This is available online: https://archive.org/texts/flipbook/flippy.php?id=affairsinphilip00philgoog

These hearings begin with the testimony of William Howard Taft, the governor-general. This etext has a search function, so just search Aguinaldo or Paterno or Buencamino or Luna and see what Taft or Macarthur or Otis says about them. (Buencamino and Paterno were the leaders of the Federalistas—early collaborators with the Americans.) Taft’s patronizing comments on Aguinaldo, in particular, make us understand how much our own revulsion toward Aguinaldo may also be constructed, partly, by American prejudice: very interesting. (Which is not to say that Aguinaldo does not deserve his sad place in history.) The senators ask Taft about the assassination of Luna: they believe that Aguinaldo has confessed to killing him; Taft disagrees. Etc. Interesting to hear abut these events from the enemy’s side. Arthur MacArthur also testifies (he has an interesting pompous, bombastic academic voice, like a teacher giving a lesson). It will be useful for students to see how modern-day Philippines was constructed by imperialists quite ignorant of the Philippines (and by a few nice racist anti-imperialists as well, equally ignorant). In this way, we might see how present-day self-loathing is also mirrored in the imperialists’ loathing of the Filipinos. Also, if we hear ourselves described in the words of racists, we might be able to understand the power of the colonial voice in us. Or, how much that racism shapes us. NOTE: Ironically, these hearings were convened after the scandal of the American atrocities in Samar. The aftermath of Jacob Howling Wilderness Smith’s “kill and burn” response to the Balangiga uprising resulted in the faux-‘investigations’ of the Lodge Commission and this set of hearings in 1902. Taft, A. MacArthur, Elwell Otis, etc testify, and so do many American soldiers who survived Balangiga, and so on. But no Filipino testifies: there is no Filipino voice in Affairs in the Philippine Islands.

Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (The Philippine Revolution), available online: http://www.univie.ac.at/voelkerkunde/apsis/aufi/history/mabini2.htm

Mabini is an extremely elegant writer (I moved from the Spanish to the English to read his memoir/histoire of the revolution), and I think he’s the best stylist on the revolution. My joke in Raymundo Mata is that Aguinaldo never recovered from Mabini’s prose style. Mabini absolutely cuts Aguinaldo in the memoir—his great pen is worse than a bolo knife. Apparently Mabini did not include his own doubts about Luna in his memoir (his doubts hinge though on Luna as a politician, not as a general): but he absolutely blames Aguinaldo for Luna’s death. What we must admire about Mabini is that he refused to pledge allegiance to the Americans; he got shipped to Guam instead. He and Ricarte are similar in that way—they chose exile over allegiance to the enemy.

Vivencio Jose, The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna, a juicy book that I have not reread. I read it long ago. This, I believe, is the definitive biography of Antonio Luna. (NOTE: I was the editor of a biography of Jose Cojuangco that mentions his aunt Ysidra Cojuangco’s rumored love affair with Luna; of course, the book debunks it, but also without evidence, just as the rumors of their affair have no evidence. I see the story of Ysidra as Ysabel in the movie to be seductive but not convincing; great for a movie though.)

Jose Alejandrino, The Price of Freedom. Alejandrino was an officer in the Luna Division, but he was also the brother of a great general under Aguinaldo, Joaquin. Alejandrino says he wasn’t salvaged along with the others in Luna’s circle because he believes Aguinaldo was afraid of making his brother Joaquin angry.

Santiago Alvarez, The Katipunan and the Revolution. This is the most comic among the revolutionary memoirs; its great details are amazingly pungent (therefore, some say, likely lies). But all the war memoirs must be taken with a grain of salt (or maybe bagoong). They were written years after the events, with, in my view, many traumatized memories, as the writers are men who lost their war, and their competing, dueling versions of who was the hero and who was not are part of the cost of our occupation, a symptom also, who knows, of our trauma. Alvarez was the son of the leader of the Magdiwang, Mariano Alvarez, related by marriage to Bonifacio. The Alvarez family took Bonifacio in when he escaped into Cavite. His memoir is in Tagalog, since he is Caviteño; it is translated by Paula Carolina Malay (wife of Armando Malay, I think). Santiago Alvarez has a great memory for stupid yet excellent details, such as a scene of diarrhea during a battle because they were so hungry they ate rotting watermelons.

Artemio Ricarte, Memoirs. Anything about or by Ricarte is worth reading. I do love how he ended up owning a turo-turo diner in japan. Or something like that.

Reynaldo Ileto, The Filipinos and Their Revolution, and Pasyon and Revolution. Indispensable for thinking about what the historian Ileto calls the ‘third realm,’ the peasant world of Christ-tropes and anting-anting faith that is one of the very few books that analyzes the revolution from below. It is important to recognize that the history of the revolution we are normally taught is an ilustrado history: it is history from above. And to teach the revolution, we need to be aware of our own class consciousness, and the class ideologies inherent in the way history has been written. The Manila-consciousness, of course, is a given: that Manila-fantasy aspect of our history should also be part of our awareness in teaching the revolution. Ileto does many things that deconstruct such fantasies; in the process, of course, like anyone else, he creates his own. But that, too, is a given: it is a part of the neurotic, ordinary braid of writing about history, a hazard of the revolution.

Resil Mojares, The Brains of the Revolution. Among others, Mojares casts a sympathetic gaze on Pedro Paterno (even as he recognizes, of course, this buffoon’s huge faults), and while I disagree that we need to waste any time on sympathizing in any way with Paterno, who had an amazing propensity for betraying the revolution while ostensibly allying himself with it [a truly weird guy whom Rizal mocks in code in one of his journals, and the one moment in Helen Taft’s racist memoir of her years in the Philippines that I kind of nodded at was her laughing over Paterno’s obsequiousness], Mojares’s judicious common sense is necessary in any list of books on any topic on the Philippines.

Simeon Villa, Aguinaldo’s Odyssey. Simeon Villa was a doctor in Aguinaldo’s army as it fled north after the defeat at Malolos; Villa was captured with Aguinaldo in Palanan. His diary was thus captured by the Americans as well, and it is one of the documents in the Philippine Revolutionary Records. It also exists in J.R.M. Taylor’s extremely annoying translated volume The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States. I read through that volume in the New York Public Library, and Taylor’s ignorant annotations on the Philippines are nauseating, more so because he was the translator of our story. In any case Villa is not a very good writer, or at least he is not an emotional one—an odd thing, as General Villa is the father of the poet Jose Garcia Villa (Villa the poet hated his dad, however—which is a different story). But Dr. Villa’s narrative is important because it documents the barefoot, scarring travails of the last dregs of the desperate troops of Aguinaldo, hunted relentlessly by the men of Arthur MacArthur, in particular the implacable Javert-like fiend, Fred Funston (I imagine Funston like a pirate, with a patch in his eye). In Villa’s rather autistic voice, the ilustrado nature of the Filipino officers remains problematic, but even so, his diary is terribly sad—it ends right on the date of their capture: with an eerie lack of foreknowledge. As far as I know, Villa’s book is the only extant memoir written during the war.

Orlino Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade: Anti-American Resistance in the Ilocos Provinces. This is a good companion volume with William Henry Scott’s on the Ilocanos. Someone should make a movie of Manuel Tinio. He is one of the revolutions most successful generals. He was on the boat with Aguinaldo back from Hong Kong, but he was actually only eighteen when he joined the war against Spain. But he was such an able general he soon took charge of the northern army against the Americans. He surrendered to the Americans after Aguinaldo was captured. Note how no one knows much about Tinio—the heroes of the American war are not enshrined the way the Spanish war heroes were. I imagine one reason might be the fact that they became politicians after the war. Tinio did not write a memoir.

William Henry Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression. Scott is very meticulous and gives a good survey of the peasants, the towns, the provinces, and the heroes and the enemy occupiers in the Filipino-American war. It is a good book for recognizing the daily life but also the high stakes in the war—that we began as an anti-imperialist nation—and our loss in that war brands us, sears us, so much so that we have forgotten that war. At the end of his book, Scott muses on that fascinating gap—the lack of memoirs detailing our war against the Americans. Filipinos do not write the story. None of the heroic northerners in Scott’s book wrote their memoirs—most wrenching would have been Manuel Tinio’s memoir: perhaps the most honorable and successful among the Filipino generals in Scott’s book. The paragraph on his surrender to the Americans is heartbreaking. But Tinio never wrote his own story down. Scott notes that one great revolutionary against the Americans, Juan Villamor, wrote an unpublished chronicle, Inedita Cronica de la Guerra Americana-Filipina en el Norte de Luzon, 1899-1901, but even that unfinished chronicle, projected to be three parts, has part 1 and part 3 but not part 2: the section on battles against the Americans. The only Filipino-American war memoir that exists intact is Simeon Villa’s. Even the very talkative memoirist Santiago Alvarez, for instance, does not talk much about the battles against the Americans—he focuses on his time with Bonifacio, and he ends with some funny addenda on the colorum; Ricarte focuses on the Bonifacio period as well, with some huge swaths of (I imagine justified) vitriol against Aguinaldo. The lack of emphasis on the Americans in the movie Heneral Luna is just one more war story that for some reason cannot address adequately that imperial war, as if the American war is an undigested, indigestible bitter pill that we have yet to swallow in the story of the making of our nation. The tendency in history is to move on quickly into the Quezon era, and then World War 2, when America is our unedited hero. It’s a weird gap in the Philippine story, the American war.

Albert Sonnichsen, Ten Months a Captive in the Philippines. Very interesting book on being a prisoner in Aguinaldo’s army. His book would also make a good movie. Some excellent details on daily life in the revolutionary provinces. It is available online: https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=XzFDAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA8

Sonnichsen was a fairly liberal-leaning man (still has racist traces, though) who was captured in Malolos. He was a kid from Oakland, CA, part Danish. The book’s trope is that of a white man taken by the natives (like those American tales of being kidnapped by Native Americans). In captivity, he meets some key figures like Juan Villamor, teaches English to a mayor, learns Spanish from his fellow prisoners (some Spanish POWs), watches a revolutionary fiesta, eats a lot of bibingka, and so on. Some very moving scenes in the book, such as when a Filipino mother feeds him and asks him about how Americans treat their prisoners—turns out her son was captured by the Americans. Sonnichsen’s papers are in the New York Public Library, and he ended up joining the independence rebels in Macedonia after his capture in the Philippines. Wondered if his time captured by revolutionaries made him join a different war.

Alfred McCoy, Policing America’s Empire. This gives devastating light on why the revolution so spectacularly failed—trust me, it is not our fault. It is also not Aguinaldo’s fault. Our self-loathing is misplaced. The brutal counterinsurgency and policing methods of the Americans were abominable, relentless, rapacious, outrageous. Scandal-making and spying and ferreting out blackmail-worthy secrets on postwar katipuneros are only a few of the sidelights that explain why the stories of the American war do not exist. People were hounded into silence, collaboration, allegiance, and so on. Of course, many were likely going to be venal anyway, like Quezon (he seems to have been a spy, more or less, or at least a well-groomed informant, for the infamous U.S. constabulary chief of Manila, Bandholtz). Quezon especially does not go down well in this book; but nobody does. But the fact is, the venality of any Filipino intriguero in the American years must be balanced with the implacable policing system that both anticipates the Marcos era but also creates it. The spy, policing, and military system of the Americans is inextricable from its effects: even though one may also see that that past system may not be the direct cause of our current state and atrocities, the thread is indelible. If one split our history in half, with the American era (up to 1946) on one side and folded the other half (1946 and beyond) over it, we’d simply be creating a mirror montage: the American era facing the post-American era, and the spy and military structures of each would mirror the other: the corrupt and relentlessly self-serving age of the American occupation is embalmed in the failed forms of governance we know now.

The Unintended is in an Irish anthology, reviewed in The Independent, an Irish newspaper.

September 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

“These two diverse and compelling collections represent the finest talent in contemporary writing and editorial guidance in a world where homeland is mutable, distance is relative, identity is fluid and exile is never far away.”

Read the full article here.

Finished a draft, but the wrong one. The Unintended

August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

is done. At least its first full draft. (I ended up finishing the wrong novel, not William McKinley’s World. Oh well. Still working on that.) A place holder website on some matters that come up in the novel right here. Yep, it includes Elvis. And Muhammad Ali. And Gus, the polar bear of Central Park zoo. And the stories of six women moved by loss. And, of course, Balangiga, which I know too much about. Finishing a novel is like shedding research notes, fact after fact, coming off like scabs.



I talk a lot about language in this interview about Gun Dealers’ Daughter

July 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

because, in my view, a writer’s job is to recognize reflexivity constantly: to wonder why it is we use the words we do. And for a Filipino, that angst is vital: because with our multiple tongues, the fact that a human is a translated being, a split self divided by words, is always in our face.

Thanks to Rowan Hisayo of Asian American Writers Workshop. Listen to the interview here. Best perhaps to use the subtitles tool. It is on the roof deck of my apartment building, and we did not realize how noisy the airplanes would be. Also, I hate my hair! It’s ugly. I should have had my haircut before, not after, the interview!

Batchmates: Thirty Filipino Words are now entries in the Oxford English Dictionary

July 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

This June 2015, the OED released its new words, and along with crowdfund, hard-ass, and FLOTUS are now thirty new words from “Philippine English” sitting pretty in the OED (sitting pretty should be one of them?). So among the word-batchmates is the Filipino term batchmate; but the batchmates also include kryptonite and kuya, sexting and suki, twerk, retweet, and salvage, not to mention sinigang and sari-sari store, mabuhay and bahala na. I was going to have screen grabs of the thirty pinoy words (but Pinoy is still not one of them) in the OED, but it is too much trouble. Go check out the words yourself, right here. Also, below.

From OED:

Here you can find a list of the new Filipino words and senses added to the OED in the June 2015 update.

A Lecture on the Filipino-American War. At Cornell University in Fall 2015

May 29, 2015 § 1 Comment

Thanks to Arnika Fuhrmann, the Southeast Asia Studies Department, and the University Lecture Committee at Cornell University for nominating me to do a University Lecture this fall. I’ll be talking about my novel in progress, William McKinley’s World, and my research on the Filipino-American War.

cornell university gina apostol


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