Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Fiction of Angel Magahum
by Rosario Cruz-Lucero
Angel Magahum is best known among literary scholars as a major sarsuwela writer from 1907 to 1931 and the author of the first Hiligaynon novel, Benjamin, 1907. However, he also represents the generation of writers during the American colonial period who were trying their hand at the classical realist story, for the first time. Magahum establishes verisimilitude by using historical and societal details derived from his local community that was Iloilo, while grappling with the concept of nationhood at the same time. An intertextual reading of three of his short stories, published in 1935, reveals that nationhood was inscribed in his portrayal of major characters who represented various ethnic groups. Yet, the most significant contribution that Magahum makes to Philippine literary history is “Si Montor,” a story that clearly illustrates the transition from the folk narrative form to the classical realist story. Hence, one might say that it represents the “missing link” between the native, the Spanish colonial, and the American colonial traditions.
Literary theorist Bienvenido Lumbera asserts that reading a literary work is no longer a simplistic “search for ‘message’ or ‘moral lesson,’ nor a process of identifying figures of speech, theme, technique, and so on.” (… hindi na dapat magwakas sa paghango ng “aral” o “mensahe,” o sa pagtukoy sa mga sangkap ng anyo, gaya ng “tayutay,” “tema,” “teknik,” atbp.”). To read a literary work, he adds, one must engage with its language as the social practice of individuals, groups, and institutions (2000: xi). Various literary theorists confirm Lumbera’s assertion in noting that the short story is “realistic” not simply because it reflects the real world or represents life, but because it conforms to a system of historical, social, and cultural codes. What we see as “realistic” in literature is simply what is “discursively familiar,” or what confirms what we think we know of the world (Belsey 1980: 46; Mitchell 1990: 13). Hence, the reader unfamiliar with such codes embedded in a story will only skim the surface meaning of its words, unable to grasp the plurality of their meaning. But mimesis being the very essence of the realistic short story, how will a reader who is ignorant of the Ilonggo’s “real world” inscribed in Magahum’s Hiligaynon stories, comprehend, much less, appreciate them?
The cultural and historical texts weaving in and out of Angel Magahum’s stories are what I will call their intertexts. This paper offers an intertextual reading of three short stories published in 1935, by Angel Magahum, a major sarsuwela writer from 1907 to 1931, and author of the first Hiligaynon novel, Benjamin, published in 1907. Having born in 1867 and died in 1935, Magahum lived through the period in which the Filipino people were beginning to define themselves as one nation. He worked for the Iloilo revolutionary army but saw American colonialism entrenching itself in Philippine life. He taught Spanish at the seminary but wrote all his fiction and plays in Hiligaynon; he was also a journalist in both languages (Fernandez 1978: 62-64).
Magahum’s 1935 collection of short stories, Hinugpong ng mga Sugilanon, includes “Sa Isa ka Sakayan,” (On a Boat) (3-16), which consists of three episodes, each involving a character who is executed by hanging. Two of these three episodes, subtitled “Si Montor” and “Si Gallasan,” are the subject matter of this study, along with a third story in the same collection, entitled “Bugay sang Kapalaran,” (Gift of Fate) (Magahum 1935: 17-27). In “Sa Isa Ka Sakayan,” three friends traveling on a boat from Negros to Iloilo, take turns telling each other stories to keep awake. Hence, although the frame narrative, in which each friend recounts a personal experience, occurs on a boat, the tales they tell occur in Iloilo and Manila.
Interestingly, the three stories illustrate the three different types of first-person narrator: the participant observer, the detached observer, and the central character. The realistic short story genre being new to Magahum’s generation, he seems to have been trying out the various permutations of the conventions of the genre. But the most significant contribution that the story “Si Montor” makes to Hiligaynon, probably even to Philippine literary history, is the transition that this story illustrates from the folk narrative form to the classical realist story. One might say that it represents the “missing link” between the native, the Spanish colonial, and the American colonial traditions.
The eponymous Montor is a Moro who joins the revolution against Spain and ends up reverting to his Moro nature by sacking convents and generally resorting to brigandage. He is caught and executed. The last paragraph describes how Montor dies a coward’s death as he faints just as the noose is slipped around his neck (Magahum 1935: 3-5). Thus, the story’s plotline explicitly takes a jaundiced view of the Moro, even if he takes the Filipino side against the colonialist power.
There are two narrative forms in the Hiligaynon literary tradition in which the tale of Montor the Moro is told: the composo (a type of Ilonggo ballad whose form probably derives from the Mexican corrido) and a short, short story that may have derived from the exemplum (or in Hiligaynon, pananglet), the ‘exemplary tale.’ According to Eugenio’s footnote in the book in which this composo is printed, the original source of this ballad, Luis Sison y Valencia, actually witnessed Montor’s execution. Furthermore, Eugenio describes this ballad as being similar to the “American broadside ballad called the ‘goodnight,’ in which the speaker, a criminal about to be hanged, expresses repentance, warns his audience against imitating his action, and makes mention of a girl he is leaving behind” (1982: 404-405). The Mexican corrido is also a broadside ballad, “broadside” meaning “a cheaply printed copy” of a traveling minstrel’s lyrics, which the minstrel offers for sale (Simmons 1969: 3). Classified according to topic, the Mexican corrido includes a type that is about “bandits and caudillos” who are “remembered primarily because of their dramatic deaths, whether by execution, siege, or treachery” (Simmons 1969: 43-44). “Montor” comes closest to this type of Mexican corrido, except that the Mexican corrido glorifies the principal character as a hero or a bandit with a noble cause, whereas Montor is a Moro with no saving grace.
The Ilonggo composo is “a narrative verse form sung to a pre-set melody. It is the counterpart of the English and Scottish ballad” (Gonzales 1986: 24). It reached the peak of its popularity in the 19th century when it became the medium for the announcement of news. All over the archipelago, towncriers announced the news at the poblacion plaza, but on the islands of Panay and Negros it was the composo singer who took on this function. He functioned exactly like the Mexican minstrel, singing the news at the town plaza in exchange for a fre (Gonzales 1986: 25), but he also wandered beyond the confines of the poblacion, singing wherever there was a gathering of people, such as the tabuan or tiyangge, which were makeshift markets held in the outskirts of village settlements. All three ballad types―the American broadside ballad, the Mexican corrido, and the Ilonggo composo―probably sprang from the same European/Spanish source and are therefore related.
On the other hand, Mojares (1983: 86) defines the exemplum as “an abbreviated moralized anecdote whether historically true or fictitious, used as a device of illustration…” Like some exempla, Magahum’s story of Montor takes on the structure of a frame story, or a story-within-a-story. This structure functions as a device of verisimilitude, a way of convincing the reader that the story actually happened, because the storyteller, using the first-person pronoun, is a participant-observer in his tale.
Magahum’s version contains a back story that the simpler composo version does not include. Magahum introduces Montor as a member of the revolutionary troop headed by General Leandro Fullon, who in turn was under the command of General Angel Corteza. History recounts that General Fullon had been a young student in Manila when the revolution broke out. He then returned to his hometown on Panay Island to organize the revolution there (Regalado and Franco: 178). In August 1898 the Visayan leaders of the revolution converged at Santa Barbara, Iloilo, to establish an interim revolutionary government. The military department included Angel Corteza as the commander of the southern zone of Panay island (Regalado and Franco: 181). Thus, with the mention of Fullon and Corteza in the story, Montor becomes firmly anchored on a definite historical time and place.
The composo version, on the other hand, lacks such narrative details, focusing instead on the melodrama of Montor and his wife’s reunion before the hanging. The most dramatic incident that is recounted in this composo is the stanza in which Montor requests his wife Asuncion (presumably a Catholic because of the name and perhaps an Ilongga) to pray for him. The theme of poetic justice is brought home by the use of the point-of-view of a repentant Montor:
Asuncion, if my life should and,
For what I have done I’ll be hanged
See that all the bells are pealing, ay ahay!
And the rosary keep repeating.
Asuncion, kon ako mapatay,
Asunto sini nabitay
Ripikihin mong lingganay, ay ay!
Rosaryo walay pahuway.
(Anon. 1982: 405)
In the Magahum version, vividly realistic touches contribute to characterization. For example, the first-person narrator and Montor sit beside each other at the dining table. As they are eating, their elbows collide against one another. The narrator asks (1935: 4); “Do all Moros eat left-handed?” (Anu ang mga moros kon magkaon pulus mga walis?) And Montor replied: “This left-hander is the sharpshooter that killed Rios and efficiently beheaded Brandais.” (Ang walis matanda nga magluthang sa pagpatay kay Rios kag maayo ng maglabu sa pagutud sang ulo ni Brandais.)
In Ilonggo history, General Brandies was commander of the Spanish army in Iloilo and was a force that the Filipino revolutionaries had to reckon with. In one encounter, on the 18th of September 1898, a battle between his Spanish troops and the revolutionaries resulted in 150 revolutionaries killed, compared to 100 from the Spanish ranks. This difference was decisive enough to force Fullon and his Ilonggo army to retreat, albeit temporarily (Regalado and Franco: 179 & 385). Significantly, General Diego de los Rios was in Mindanao to quell the Muslims when he was called to Iloilo in May 1898. The victory of the Philippine revolution by this time being quite certain, he attempted to appease the revolutionaries with offers of liberal reforms such as “the expulsion of the friars, dispersion of the guardias civil, and the granting of independence” (Regalado and Franco: 180).
Such references in Magahum’s story to these historical personages, Generals de los Rios and Brandies, in addition to Fullon and Corteza, strengthen verisimilitude further, despite the slight difference in the spelling of Brandies’ name. This is probably not a deliberate attempt to fictionalize Brandies, because the names of the other two historical personages are not altered. It may simply be Magahum’s inadvertent variation on the spelling of a foreign name.
But Magahum’s fictive imagination does operate in a more significant sense. Nowhere in the history books does Montor appear; neither is there a record of the manner in which Generals de los Rios and Brandies died. The scene in which Montor boasts of having killed these two Spanish generals is a fictive device to establish Montor’s valuable role in the revolution. And a reader aware of de los Rios’ stint in Mindanao might feel more deeply for Montor and his motivation for going into battle against the Spaniards. Indeed, Montor is a good Moro to have on the Filipino side, because he might have his own personal convictions that make him such an efficient soldier. Such a motivation, however, does have its dubious aspect, because patriotic and ideological reasons for joining the revolution are preferred over personal ones.
The narrator’s comments on Montor consistently take on a double-edged tone of admiration and disparagement. Montor’s left-handedness is not only an inconvenience but an abnormality that the narrator assumes is applicable to all Moros. Hence, left-handedness is transformed from a normal physiological condition to a strange, cultural practice related to race.
One day, a shot is heard from the direction of Montor’s room and immediately the narrator surmises that the shot came from Montor’s gun. Montor, however, turns out to have been standing guard on the beach, watching out for enemy troops. In a grudgingly admiring tone, the narrator describes Montor’s fighting prowess to spring from “the hot-bloodedness of any member of the Moro race, brave and cruel like any wild beast” (kasubong sang kasingkal sang dugu sang iya kaliwatan sa pagkamoros, maisug kag mabangis subong sang sapat nga talunanon). Nevertheless, this fierceness, the narrator admits, is brought on by Montor’s love for his native land: “Montor, like all Filipinos who loved their native land, fought in defense of his brothers and sisters…” (Si Montor kasubong sang iban nga tanan nga mga pilipinhon nga nahagugma sang kaluasan sang patubuan, nakigaway sa pagapin sa iya kauturan…) (Magahun 1935: 5).
In the end, Montor turns into a bandit and pillages the liberated villages. He is caught and sentenced to death by hanging. The narrator then concludes with relish that just as Montor is about to be executed, he faints in terror.
One of the ways by which a nation is conceived is to reaffirm the differences between the warring tribes/regions/races in order to emphasize the commonality of these two races in their love for country. In the story of Montor, the Moro’s left-handedness and bestial temper establish his difference from the rest of the Ilonggo revolutionary army, which the narrator represents. But even as the narrator carefully distances himself from Montor, he also inscribes this difference within the spirit of comradeship brought on by their participation in the revolution. After all, Montor’s left-handedness literally causes them to rub elbows. And it is Montor’s Moro cruelty that advances the revolution. However, in the literary imagination, the Moro’s unity with his countrymen in forging a historical destiny can only be a temporary aberration, because the Moro’s essential villainy will always and inevitably rear its ugly head. It is as if Montor, in spite of his patriotic intentions, cannot help his Moro nature and must turn pirate in the end.
As the concept of the nation began to take shape in the literary imagination, regionalism, which had developed as the product of tribal wars back in the precolonial times, found a political rationale for transforming itself into a form of internal racism. This is manifest in the evolution of the deep-rooted Ilonggo loathing of the Moros. Long before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, the tribes of Mindanao were feared by the Visayans. The epics of both regions―the Panayanon Hinilawod and the Manobo Ulahingan, among others―tell of the mutual plunder of coastal villages and the enslavement of captives.
When the Visayans became Christianized and the Muslim tribes remained Muslim and hence “Moros,” descriptions of Moro invasions of Ilonggo villages took on the vocabulary of religious wars. Hence, the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus) image, garbed in the bright red uniform of a Spanish captain-general, became the favorite patron saint of the Visayan villages. Stories of his miraculous rescue of Visayan captives from Moro pirates became widespread. Fiestas in honor of the Sto. Niño as their Savior from Moro adversity became more and more elaborate through the years. At present, although the original anti-Moro spirit of such fiestas may have been tempered or forgotten by the participants―especially since these have become tourist attractions variously known as the ati-atihan, sinulog, or dinagyang―vestiges of it may still appear in the occasional staging of the moro-moro (the dramatized battle between the Christians and the Moros).
The transition from the story of Montor to that of Gallasan is the comparison made by the second storyteller between Montor’s cowardice and Gallasan’s bravery in the face of death (Magahum 1935: 6-10). Gallasan is described in the opening line as having bravely faced his execution: “In that case, Jacinto Gallasan, who was hanged in the town of Parian was braver than him [Montor]…” (Kon amu, maisug pa sa iya si Jacinto Gallasan nga ginbitay sa patag sang Parian…)
The narrator, who swears to the truth of his story as a firsthand witness to Gallasan’s execution, proceeds to describe the crime. Gallasan, Tiban, and an unidentified third person knock on an Insik’s door in the Parian at midnight asking to buy cigarettes. Because the Insik recognizes Gallasan and Tiban, he lets the three in. The three then gag the Insik, hold a knife to him, demand the key to his vault, and take all the money that they can find. They drag him into a field, stab him in the throat, and leave him for dead. The Insik, however, manages to stagger back to his house and writes in Ininsik (Chinese characters) on a piece of paper the identities of his murderers, except for the third, whom he does not recognize. He then dies. The next morning, the authorities are unable to find clues to the Insik’s murder until the Insik’s relatives arrive, who then rummage through the Insik’s books until they find the Insik’s note.
In the five-page story, where the insik’s murder is recounted in the first one-a-half pages, the word Insik occurs fifteen times. No other ethnic identity, such as Ilonggo or Tagalog, is specified.
Two years later, Gallasan is caught by the constabulary in Manila, because he is recognized by another Parianon (resident of Parian), who hopes to get the thousand-peso reward. On the day of his execution by hanging, a scaffold is erected in front of the Parian market and thousands of people from all over the province arrive to witness the spectacle. Gallasan arrives from jail and stops by the Tribunal’s house where he makes his last confession to the priest. Gallasan’s brave and noble bearing is then described in great detail by the narrator. The spectators marvel at his calmness as he ascends the steps to the scaffold without hesitation or fear. He does not flinch when he reaches the top and turns round to face the crowd. In a strong voice full of conviction, he then gives a speech lasting almost thirty minutes.
He rues a life lived with bad company, which has led him down the wrong path, ignoring others’ sound advice and good teachings. He reminds everyone to look upon him as an example so they will always remember what awaits them in the end. Finally, he denies that he participated in the murder and states that he was only made to confess to the crime in the absence of his two companions. As the executioner begins to place the hood on his head, everyone sees Gallasan look up to the sky, his lips silently moving in prayer.
The simplest reading that can be made of this tory is that this is a story of poetic justice, and the protagonist is held up as an example to everyone of the kind of human being one must avoid becoming. But Gallasan wins our sympathy because his speech, which belongs to the “last-words-of-the-condemned-man” genre, adheres to the traditional morality in the religious literature of the Spanish colonial tradition, such as the pasyon, the complimentary verses in prayer books, exempla, vidas, etc.
The central meaning of Gallasan’s speech is that criminality is not in the nature of humans; it is produced by a combination of external factors, foremost of which is bad company. In fact, it we were to believe Gallasan’s denial of his responsibility for the Insik’s murder, then he is being executed merely for having kept bad company, who, in their absence, are represented by Gallasan’s body on the scaffold. Hence, the two protagonists of this story are Gallasan, who ambiguously represents the murderers, and the Insik, who is without doubt the murder victim. The story establishes, by means of Gallasan’s speech, that crime and the criminal are not so easily condemnable. This ambiguity gives Gallasan his heroic dimension. However, the murder victim, especially because he is Insik, is naturalized as the Other. Every Insik, by his very Chinese-ness, is a potential murder victim.
The Insik’s role as the necessary Other dates back to the Spanish colonial regime’s own colonizing project in the Philippines. The Spanish regime imposed on the natives a political and economic organization which was based on their ethnic and linguistic differences. Thus was a centralized state power in the Philippines established, which used these differences as a weapon to subjugate the people. The Insik, with their own specific economic and political circumstances as migrants to these islands, were singled out for a different, if not more complex, colonizing project.
An account, titled Conquest of the Island of Luzon, describes the relations between the Chinese and the natives in 1572 as being cordial. The Chinese are praised as “unassuming, modest, very ingenious and clean people.” However, one of Spain’s main reasons for colonizing the Philippines was to use it as a stepping stone to China, which was the object of its proselytizing mission. The Chinese merchants who came to the Philippines to trade and sometimes stayed on for months at a time, but who refused to be Christianized, were denounced as heathens (Blair and Robertson 1903-1909, 3:141).
Then Spanish Sinophobia found an excuse to become legal discourse after two episodes occurred involving what the Spanish government described as Chinese treachery and cunning. The first was Lim Ah Hong’s invasion of Luzon in 1574, and the second was a diplomatic mission led by a military officer Wang Wang-kao, who engaged in a series of lies and thievery while ostensibly fulfilling his mission. In 1586, twelve years after the Lim Ah Hong attack, a resolution consisting of ten chapters was adopted by the first general junta of Filipino citizens. Chapter 7, Item 3 described the Chinese, of whom about 5,000 resided here, as one of the five dangers to be feared from revolts or invasions; hence, a fort in Ilocos or Cagayan was proposed as necessary for defense against Chinese and Japanese pirates (Blair and Robertson 1903-1909, 4:24-44).
By 1609, Spanish ambivalence toward the Chinese population in the Philippines as both viciously untrustworthy but necessary for the Philippine economy, had become part of the discourse of “firsthand accounts” of Spanish colonialism in Asia. Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Pilipinas expresses this ambivalence, typical of other accounts of Spanish officials (1609:314):
The ships that come yearly from Great China bring these Sangleyes, in large numbers, particularly to the city of Manila….
Very great harm comes from all this for there can be little security in the land with so large a number of heathen present, and, moreover, they are wicked and vicious people, so that those natives who have any contact and dealings with them make little progress in their Christianity and good habits…
Of course it is true that without these Sangleyes the city could not continue nor be maintained, for they are skilled in every trade, are very hard workers and satisfied with moderate wages. But… [there should] not be so many Sangleyes wandering about the Islands under cover of being traders among the natives, but in fact committing innumerable crimes and villainies. For, at the very least, these people are spying out the land, reconnoitering the river creeks and ports….
The parian, established in 1582, was where the Chinese population was confined, and written licenses were required of those allowed in its perimeters. “Nor are natives allowed to settle among them, or even near to them” (Morga 1609:317). Thus were the Chinese and the natives strictly segregated. Sanleyes were not allowed to travel to the other islands, nor even two leagues from the city, and were not allowed to stay within the walls of the city at nighttime either, under pain of death (Morga 1609: 317). Even homosexuality, that “unmentionable sin against nature,” is occasion for complaint against the Sangley agricultural workers, for “farms are full of this sodomy” (Morga 1609:277).
The parian was virtually a Chinese ghetto,” which evolved into the present concept of Chinatown. In Iloilo, a pariancillo, or parian in a Spanish settlement outside Manila, was first established in Arevalo. By the 1850s the biggest Chinese-mestizo communities in the Visayas were the pariancillos of Moro and Jaro in Iloilo, and Cebu, these three areas being also the oldest Spanish settlements in the Philippines. From these pariancillos, the Chinese mestizos dominated the retail trade and “manipulated” intra-Bisayan trade. Thus, the parian and its satellites, the pariancillos, became for both the natives and Spaniards the locus of Chinese undesirability and economic necessity (Wickberg 1965: 11-29). This discourse of ambivalence, concentrated on the parian, became the Spanish administration’s instrument of Surveillance, a discursive system that ensured the imposition of control on the Chinese, both by self-regulation and the combined native and Spanish hostility of the non-Chinese.
By the beginning of the American colonial period, which was the period in which Magahum wrote this story, the Chinese sari-sari store had become a ubiquitous structure in the country. Then, with American liberalization of Chinese economic activity, the Chinese came to dominate the rice trade, became major agents for importers and exporters, and led in the retail trade of lumber products. “Thus, by the close of the America period the Chinese had extended themselves into every possible avenue of business in the Philippines” (Jensen 1975: 30)
But even the American military government was inclined to anti-Chinese sentiment. In various correspondences, General Arthur MacArthur accused the Chinese of evading payment of tax, deceiving customs officials as they sneaked into the country, and siphoning off large sums of money that they had earned in the country but would take back to China with them. But, as with the Spanish administrators, the American officials also admitted to a grudging admiration for the Chinese while urging wariness of them (Jensen 1975: 31).
This long history of ambivalence toward the Chinese in the Philippines is inscribed in the ambiguities of Magahum’s story. What Magahum’s story glorifies unambiguously is the state’s criminal justice system, which is shown to be devoid of ethnic bias. Notwithstanding the fact that the murder victim is a racial Other, Gallasan the murderer is justly punished, demonstrating the birth of a nation that is seamless web of ethnic differences. But in the memory of the people, it is the criminal Gallasan who is honored, because he admits to the crime, repents for his moral transgressions and then denies having committed the crime. The Insik is a convenient social and literary device to attest to the unity of a civilized and moral nation, where even the criminal is a citizen, and, as long as he is not an ethnic Other, can be held up for admiration.
“Bugay sang Kapalaran”
In the third story the main character is a 15-year-old boy who goes to America to study medicine. He marries an American colleague and returns in triumph to his hometown for good. This story is set in the early American colonial period, hence framed within a definite historical and politically turbulent period, i.e., the establishment of American hegemony throughout the archipelago (Magahum 1935: 17):
Finally two major revolts occurred all over the island of Panay, in the year 1898 against the Spaniards and in 1899 against the Americans, and the United States of America ruled all over the Philippine archipelago, and the Americans spread throughout the towns of the province of Iloilo…
Sang ubus lumigad ang duha ka mabaskog nga ribok sa bug-os nga kabanwahanan sa pulu nga Panay sang tuig 1898 batok sa mga katsila kag sang 1899 batok sa mga amerikanhon, kag ang kagamhanan sang Estados Unidos sa Amerika lumapnag na sa kapupud-an sang Pilipinas, kag ang mga amerikanhon naglinaptalapta na sa mga banwa sang probinsiang Ilong-ilong….
Narrative details show the people’s transition from the Hispanic to the Americanized culture. The lives of the main character’s family revolve around the Catholic Church, but the only son, Miguel is studying English with an American teacher. When Miguel promises to work hard to be successful if given the chance to go to America, the American takes him home to California. Ten years later in America, he earns a medical degree and sets up a clinic, which attracts patients from various nations, in spite of his brown complexion and other such non-Caucasian features (Magahum 1935: 22):
A dark-skinned Filipino, pug-nosed and short, but skilled at doctoring. And so, many patients, even from other countries, come to him. He can be the pride of America and even of the world.
Isa ka pilipinhon nga maitum sing panit, kurapa kag lipornianon, apang maayo nga magpamulung kag ginapabulngan sang kadamuan nga nanuhay nga mga nasyon, sarang na makapabugal sa Amerika kag sa bug-os nga kalibutan.
He marries an American doctor, who is the daughter of his foster father. A year after their marriage, they return home to Miguel’s hometown in Capiz, where the first thing they do is to go to Sunday mass. After several months’ vacation, Miguel and his wife prepare to go back to America, only to settle their affairs there, so that they can return to the Philippines and stay here for good.
Certainly this story is the Utopian dream of the Filipino under the American Commonwealth. If the Philippines was part of America and the Filipino was politically an American citizen, then it did not violate logic if his American wife transferred residence to Capiz, because she was not emigrating, with all the social, political, and economic upheaval that this word would have implied.
The unambiguously discriminatory treatment of Filipinos by American is silenced in this story. In fact, during this historical period, Filipinos in America were even more oppressed than other Asian Americans, because they were precisely colonials and had no national government to protect their rights. At this time, Filipino migrants consisted chiefly of agricultural workers, except for a very small group of pensionados, who were sent to America to earn graduate degrees so that they could come back and work in the Philippine bureaucracy. Historical facts such as the anti-miscegenation law and the Watsonville riots of California, which occurred at the time that Miguel was supposed to have been studying in the same state, are not a subject of engagement in this story.
Historical verisimilitude is not the point of this story. Hence, the story of Miguel’s enormous good fortune at not only having a benevolent sponsor but also attracting white patients as well is stretched beyond realistic limits. The description of Miguel’s and his wife’s humility, good breeding, and other such qualities that will always make humans universally endearing is brought up again and again. After all, moral uprightness and consistently good conduct are the subject matter of the pasyon, conduct books, and all other works of our Philippine literary tradition. Whatever political upheavals the Filipino must experience, he is in this story proven to carry his national identity with him in these essentialized notions of the civilized Filipino.
Magahum’s Nation: Unity in Diversity
As the concept of the nation began to develop during the American Commonwealth period, the writers had to widen their literary imagination beyond the boundaries of their immediate community. However, it would seem that, as community grew into nation, regional or racial prejudice became inscribed in the very notion of nationalism. Hence, we have a rather ambivalent attempt at defining the concept of “nationalist unity in diversity” in the characterization of a Moro revolutionary, a Chinese robbery-and-homicide victim, and the American as Filipino.
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