INANG BAYAN OUR MUSE
Early Filipino Poets In English, 1905 to 1924
by Gémino H. Abad
Our literary history in English begins with patriotic verse because, as with Rizal and Balagtas, Inang Bayan or Motherland was our first Muse. Quite apart from individual talent, an already rich literary tradition in Spanish and various indigenous languages, and the natural human impulse to song and poetry, the reality of a new Power at the turn of the last century was, for Filipino writers, chiefly that which tested his mettle and proved his nativity.
On April Fools’ Day by the American calendar, 1901, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, captive President of the First Philippine Republic, took his oath of allegiance to the United States, and two months later, on July 4 ironically, William Howard Taft became the first Civil Governor during more than three decades of American rule and government tutelage. The first decade, which set the stage for “special relations” even to the present time, was characterized by (1) “pacification” or, as Gen. Arthur MacArthur, the Philippines’ last Military Governor, recommended, “bayonet treatment for at least a decade”2 ; (2) the suppression of Filipino nationalism or, more precisely, the ilustrados’ non-violent campaign for immediate political independence (from Spanish times through the short- lived Malolos Republic, 1899-1901, they were the ruling socio-economic and political elite3); and (3) the subtle de-Filipinization or, if you will, Americanization of the native-Hispanic culture, chiefly through the American public school system and “free trade.”4
Fernando Ma. Guerrero, regarded during his time as the Poet of the Revolution against Spain, is better known in Spanish for his Crisálidas (1914) but might exemplify for us the transition poet. Like any stranger to a language, he may only have translated his English verses from his mind’s Spanish idiom: they were perhaps good wine but had evaporated in the English flask. Yet his attempt at English verses was a symbolically rich gesture: for literature, it marked the ascendancy of English as a national language; in politics, it suggested that the ilustrado class – the leaders of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 – had capitulated under duress to the American colonial regime. Clearly, when Guerrero looks for his lost May-time in “Where Is My May?” (1914), or implores his “beloved Mother” in “Come to Me!” (1924)5, he mourns Hispanic Philippines, lost to “that mighty Eagle,”6 America. In part, “Come to Me!” says: “Life to me has lost its glamour, / Dead the things I deem the best.”
This loss was fecund subject for poetry and oratory because the Philippine Revolution had aroused the Indio’s conscience7 and sharpened their realization that they were one people; besides, our writers were aware that the Americans themselves cherish in their own history their Declaration of Independence – a history that Filipino writers absorbed in the American public school system. In “Sursum Corda!” (1907) the poet Julianus (Justo Juliano) reviews through 115 verses of perfervid rhetoric our struggle with Spain and America: how, in the first war of liberation in Asia, we had proudly carried our flag to battle, only to have it lowered so soon by the superior force of another conqueror’s arms:
But scarce her wounds could heal, gores yet fresh,
The wailing cries still linger in the breeze,
That mighty Eagle from across the sea
Came, shedding patriots’ blood, forced Liberty
To give her key, and banished from this Isle
Who will not yield, who will not reconcile.
What could a handful do against a host? –
Leonidas e’en perished, tho not lost!
Julianus’ poetic diatribe succumbs to what S. P. Lopez calls the “two temptations” of most political or “activist” compositions: “sentimentality which, in the Filipino poet, is a congenital weakness; and declamation which becomes more blatantly histrionic still with every accession of the patriotic fire.”8 Yet Julianus is notable as our first Filipino poet in English who was hanged, figuratively, not for his verses but for his politics. Refusing to retract his slingshot against the American avis de rapiña,9 he was “forced to resign as a government teacher”; afterwards, he “attended university at Chicago” where he taught Spanish to support himself.10 A double irony! – that he should have sailed away to the Eagle’s roost and earned his keep from the language of Mother Spain.
In 1911, twelve years after Gen. Francis V. Greene had deceived Aguinaldo and seized Manila – Santiago Sevilla sings of “My Dream”:11
Brave were the hearts that have gone before,
True to their country’s call;
Brave are the hearts that beat to-day
In scorn of a captive’s thrall.
Ours not to rest till our banner wave,
Lifting its folds on high;
Greeting the flag of the stars and bars,
The emblem of Liberty.
If “stars and bars” were merely unconscious irony, all the more poignant does the poet’s sentiment become.12 Used as we are now to a measure of political independence, it is difficult to imagine – precisely the challenge for poets – the anguish of living under a mockery of two flags.13 The Flag Law of 1907, repealed only in 1919, threatened with imprisonment anyone displaying the Filipino flag and other emblems of resistance against American suzerainty; yet “our banner” waves again and again in many poems in the “free press” then14 – free to some extent and flourishing in English and Spanish because the Islands had been “pacified” and in 1907, Macario Sakay had been hanged and an ilustrado Philippine Assembly elected.15
But there really could be no great patriotic poem in English then for a very simple reason: it was a new idiom. Only a very few may claim some poetic merit (of course from the standpoint of their English models): Sevilla’s “My Dream,” for instance, or the third stanza, say, of Vicente Callao’s “Bella Esperanza” (1912)16:
Oft have I heard the deep with fury roar,
As if its viewless fetters it would break;
By rage convulsed, most fiercely on the shore
Its towering waves would hurl the shattered wreck;
And then from o’er the omnipotent, regal sea
I heard the breeze lament in doleful moan,
Like some lost spirit wandering o’er the lea,
Telling of glories lost and freedom gone.
Written conformably to English Romantic and Victorian poetry, which was chiefly the tradition then that American writers and Filipino poets in English drew upon, this stanza is yet remarkable – in 1912 – for its command of imagery and the new language (not to speak of poetic idiom). Unlike “Sursum Corda!” its emotional power is not diffused by oratory; its rhetoric is held in rein such that the depredation by “That mighty Eagle from across the sea” is yet struck and more tellingly. Thus too the poet is safe from political harassment behind his verses. But Callao’s poem also strikes a pathetic chord once we recognize behind it a generation of elders forced by circumstances to look to the younger generation as their country’s only hope – through education in English under American tutelage – to regain freedom.
Thus, our early verses in English manifest a kind of ideological rift where “our banner” only dimly waves, so overwhelming, it would seem, was the American influence on our consciousness – one that perhaps centuries of Spanish abuses of power have made all the more susceptible to American blandishments. For it looks as though the patriots and poets among them had abandoned or forgotten the ideal of Kalayaan in the Revolution of 1896, and been lulled by the material prosperity of their class and the benevolent promise of final political independence.17 It is significant that our first published poem in English, Ponciano Reyes’ “The Flood,” should have appeared in the first issue (April 1905) of The Filipino Students’ Magazine (pp. 14-15), the “official organ of the Filipino Students in America,” as its masthead declares. It was a quarterly published in Berkeley, California, by Filipino pensionados (scholars of the American colonial government), with Reyes as editor of its English, and Jaime Araneta its Spanish, section. It sought, as its editorial says, “to encourage in our fellow countrymen the study of literature and knowledge in the different branches … [but] since we do not believe ourselves competent … we will leave politics aside.” Yet its first issue was dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, “President of our United States,” it says (underscoring mine), with his full-page photo.
Yet, too, it is truly remarkable that in our first poem in English, in a foreign language whose idiom and syntax were still unfamiliar, the poet’s quest, as it were, for the Filipino began with those among us who, without the writer, have no voice else. A narrative poem running forty verses, “The Flood” celebrates our working people – fishers, farmers, traders – as they toil on the Pasig River under threat of a coming storm.
The day was just coming to close
In gloomy mist of darkening clouds,
The bankas pass swiftly along,
Returning from their daily toil,
Conveying the fruits of fertile soil,
Across the narrow Pasig long.
Then slowly come with proud bearing
The big kaskos with slender mast,
With curious structure of the past;
Steady and silently gliding.
Without any propellers or sail
Advancing like some mighty kings,
By faithful sons with long tikins
Moved on with great labor and pain.18
The boats so described are our first image of the common tao in our English verses – their “great labor and pain” which sustains the city (Manila) but is hardly noticed except in time of disaster and social relief. The comparison with “mighty kings” may well be a Romantic idealization, but yet not purely fanciful, for how would the city survive without their labor? From the quiet dignity that the procession of toilers on the Pasig evokes, we would not think either – unless we press with our economic indicators today – that they are poor or miserable; they live simply by their honest toil, taking from nature what they need. But soon the storm breaks, and the poem ends on death and desolation:
The fragile nipa huts are thrown
Down carried by maddening currents,
Leaving aghast the poor parents
With their young ones to mounds be flown.
* * *
Before the light of day had shone,
The village was to desert turned.
No mark of life or places known
But corpses washed ashore alone.
Is the storm perhaps symbolic? – if the ingenuous narrative itself precludes certainty, the poem nevertheless leaves one with a tormenting picture: who are responsible to those who have less in life? We should recall that the young writers in The Filipino Students’ Magazine were children of prominent families in the Philippines who had made their peace with “that mighty Eagle.”19
In Fernando M. Maramág’s sonnet, “Moonlight on Manila Bay” (1912)20, for all that the poem’s language is strictly imitation of English Romantic diction, the poet’s “scene so fair” – like Sevilla’s “stars and bars” and Callao’s “lost spirit” – still waves his own soul’s flag in the ideological rift. Both poem and Filipino poet succeed in a way that Callao’s “Bella Esperanza,” with less rhetoric, might have. It is perhaps, for readers today, Maramág’s best. The poem’s ostensible subject is exactly what its title says, only moonbeams on the waters of Manila Bay: “All cast a spell that heeds not time’s behests.” As description, the sonnet’s first eight verses fall short of Callao’s remarkable third stanza because of its overwrought diction: “light serene … lambent light,” “cresting wave … wavy crests,” etc. But unlike the whole of “Bella Esperanza,” the sonnet resists diffusion by riptide rhetoric. The poet overcomes the spell of both his Romantic subject and idiom: “Not always such the scene,” he says. A historic consciousness presides over it: “Here East and West have oft displayed their might.”
If Sevilla’s “dream” in 1911 has, less than a year afterwards, become Callao’s “lost spirit,” Maramág, a month before Callao’s poem is published, is already celebrating Dewey’s flagship Olympia in the mock battle on Manila Bay on 1 May 1898:
Here bold Olympia, one historic night,
Presaging freedom, claimed a people’s care.
This couplet completely reverses Julianus’ theme only five years back: “What could a handful do,” he laments, “against a host? - / Leonidas e’en perished, tho not lost!” But yet, Maramág longs for that “scene so fair,” that clearing which is, as it were, our lost country that rises within.
The first part of Maramág’s sonnet celebrates our native scene as like Eden whose “light serene, ethereal glory,” suggests not only a spiritual realm – Filipinas as spirit-country – but also a state of nature outside history, for it “heeds not time’s behests.” This leap to a mythical time prepares for the historical consciousness which informs the sonnet’s concluding verses: East and West, Islam and Christianity, Spain, Chinese pirates, the Dutch and the English, and finally America have all waged battles “here” to claim our soul. Thus, while the sonnet finally celebrates America’s triumph on Manila Bay, that exultation is yet subverted by the first eight verses that insist upon our “scene so fair” which our troubled history has only “dimmed.” Maramág was only 19 years old when he wrote “Moonlight on Manila Bay”: it should perhaps have been sunset over Manila Bay because foreigners often rave over its splendor, but the poet chose moonlight, not because it is more romantic but because, as the poem suggests, it is under cover of darkness – more precisely, by duplicity – that foreigners wrest our country from us. Perhaps, too, the sonnet’s line – “The deep’s bare bosom that the breeze molests” – hints at sexual violation as a metaphor for colonization.21
As with Sevilla’s “stars and bars,” the subversion in Maramág’s poem may well have been unintended. But today we know better about that turkey shoot on Manila Bay, how America made stillborn the first Republic in Asia. So, in our reading now, “a people’s care” turns ambiguous with ironic edge, hanging upon a grievous doubt America’s duplicitous claim to “Benevolent Assimilation.” In any case, Maramág’s insistence on our own “scene so fair” in fact becomes, for the last century of writing in English (1905 to 2005), a chief motive and inspiration for the Filipino poet. For his own scene is nothing less than his lost country whose physical and spiritual geography it is his task to imagine and so rediscover. 22
Here now, of course, I take “poet” as a figure of our writers and scholars, because our sense of country is how we imagine her, for which each time, always, a new language has to be found. The poet creates those images of his land and people, and those metaphors of the Filipino’s sense of his world, by which he finds again not only himself but his own people. In that light, the poet is the creator of the conscience of his race. There is no country unless the poet has first created those images by which people recognize their nativity. 23
1 An expanded, largely revised version of a very small portion of an earlier essay, also called “Inang Bayan Our Muse,” in Dayaw Philippine Journal of Culture, I (1987), 1: 32-47, and reprinted in Diliman Review, 35 (1987), 2: 37-49.
2 See Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Milagros C. Guerrero, History of the Filipino People, 7th edn. (Q.C.: R. P. Garcia, 1986), 247 ff. This military governor is the father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
3 I think we might distinguish between independence which to the ilustrados was chiefly political, and freedom or kalayaan which to the Filipino masses was not merely political nor socio-economic but, above all, a spiritual rebirth of the Filipino – as it were, Amador T. Daguio’s “Man of Earth” (1932): “the Filipino,” not a pure “essence,” beyond history and harm, nor a banausic recuperation of “the native” in a pre-colonial Eden, but each one’s imaginative construct, an empowering fiction or myth, an article of faith, if you will, which, because it is yet based upon a sober and honest understanding of our history and culture, might conduce to personal and social transformation.
4 See Agoncillo and Guerrero, op. cit., 342 ff. Needless to say, that culture, as with any other culture in the world today, is a special and dynamic mix or hybrid (as even before Spanish times).
5 “Where Is My May?” in Rodolfo Dato, ed. Filipino Poetry (Manila: J. S. Agustin and Sons, 1924), henceforth R. Dato, 34-35, from Builders of a Nation, Feb 1914; also in Gémino H. Abad and Edna Z. Manlapaz, eds., Man of Earth An Anthology of Filipino Poetry and Verse from English 1905 to the Mid-‘50s, henceforth Abad and Manlapaz (Q.C.: Ateneo de Manila University, 1989), 27. The “you” in this poem (“Cheer me, my star, … Show me your eyes”) may well be, other than the beloved, the poet’s lost country:
With thoughts of care I bend my head,
Where is my May?
I am alone, I eat my bread
Away from you, so far away.
“Come to Me!” in R. Dato, 79, from The Philippines Herald, 2 Dec 1924; also in Pablo Laslo, ed. and trans., English-German Anthology of Filipino Poets (Manila: Libreria Manila Filatelica, 1934), 38; Alberto S. Florentino, ed., Makata 6 Early Poets (1909-1942) (Manila: National Book Store, 1973), 57; Abad and Manlapaz, 27-28. The poem’s fourth stanza says: “Come, [beloved Mother] and tell me … Why my stars of yore a-gleaming / Are extinguished all to-day.”
6 Quoted from Justo Juliano’s “Sursum Corda!” (1907), first published in The Philippines Free Press (henceforth, FP); our own text is from Jesus C. Olega, ed., Filipino Masterpieces: Collection of Prize Orations and Poems, Speeches, Lectures, Articles, etc. (Sta. Cruz [Manila]: Juan Fajardo, [no date given]): 96-99.
7 That conscience, fundamentally religious because rooted in the Spanish Catholic theology and morality of the time, is profoundly reread in Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 (Q.C.: Ateneo de Manila, 1979). Ileto’s account may be limited to, say, Macario Sakay’s “Tagalog Archipelago,” but in our time, that conscience may have evolved into what came to be called “People Power” which toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 at EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or, poetically read, the Epiphany of the Saints). I take that word “conscience” in its widest etymological sense from Latin conscire, “to be conscious.”
8 “Introduction” to Rafael Zulueta y da Costa’s Like the Molave and Other Poems (Manila: McCullough Printing Co., 1940), reprinted as Like the Molave & Collected Poems (Manila: Carmelo and Bauermann, 1952), 9, and as Makata 7 Like the Molave and Collected Poems (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1973), 9.
9 “Sursum Corda!” was dedicated “To the Renacimiento Filipino, the brightest torch of Philippine Progress, Culture and Civilization.” A year later, on 30 October 1908, the daily El Renacimiento (founded in 1901) came out with the city editor, Angel V. Flores’ scathing editorial, “Aves de Rapiña,” denouncing the abuses of American government officials and businessmen. The publisher, Martin Ocampo, and the editor, Teodoro M. Kalaw, were sentenced to jail for libel, and the daily had to be sold to pay for damages. See Agoncillo and Guerrero, 255-256.
10 Editor’s biographical “Note” in Olega, Filipino Masterpieces, 99.
11 R. Dato, 18, from FP, 20 May 1911; also in Florentino, Makata 6: 7.
12 One might still grant that the irony is deliberate because “Stars and Stripes” is the accepted usage. The poet’s verses, however, being too plain, cannot excavate those lashes and welts which are, as it were, too deeply buried in “stripes” (prison bars of course imply those stripes – not only those of the prisoner’s garb in America); besides, the “scorn” is soon dissolved in the “Greeting” and acknowledgment of “The emblem of Liberty.”
13 Hardly is there such anguish by 1938 in Teofilo del Castillo’s Under Two Flags – as the author’s Preface tells us, “a collection of poetry written largely in Chicago, Illinois, during the writer’s extended stay in the United States as a student.” Except for “Rizal on the Luneta” (written 1937; p. 47) and “A Hero’s Rite (on Gen. Gregorio del Pilar; written 1930; p. 48), the poet’s dominant anguish is romantic – many love verses seem addressed to American lasses.
14 Callao addresses in “Gloria!” (1911) the first “twenty” (says the poem) graduates of the University of the Philippines (founded in 1908):
Rejoice, our fatherland, the day is near
When, firm, thy sacred freedom thou shalt have,
Thy noble sons with pauseless toil shall make
Our flag from shore to shore in glory wave.
And later, Pedro de la Llana’s “To the 1922 U.P. Graduates” (1922):
Whose creeds of social service shall outlast
The pow’r of tyrants and the Thrones of Might,
March on beneath the banner of the free,
As soldiers of your country’s liberty,
Whose hearts that throb with patriotism grand
Subdue the very forces of despair.
(“Gloria!” in R. Dato, 17, from FP, 13 May 1911; “To the 1922 U.P. Graduates” in R. Dato, 63-64, from Varsity News, 4 Apr 1922.)
15 See Ileto’s account, “The Path to Kalayaan, 1901-1910,” in Pasyon and Revolution, op. cit., esp. pp. 239-244. But see also O.D. Corpuz’s stirring account of American imperialism and the Filipino-American War in The Roots of the Filipino Nation, II (Q.C.: Aklahi Foundation, 1989), 342-567.
16 FP, 2 March 1912; in R. Dato, op. cit., 23-24. Only the third stanza, for the entire poem (four stanzas) is vitiated by too much rhetoric. In that third stanza,for instance, the image of the sea that “would break … its viewless fetters” is a potent image of the lost Revolution; but the “impulse” that moves “Th’ industrious bee” in the first stanza is not congruent with “that divine impulsing” (in the second stanza) which stirs “The studious Youth …Of morrow’s patriots to be the van and guide.” And when the last stanza exults: “Behold the Youth triumphant wings unfold! / Rise, rise, O Youth, … / And blaze, thy country’s freedom’s meteor!” the poem is lost to oratory.
17 Of 89 poems in R. Dato’s Filipino Poetry (1924), there are strictly only 8 patriotic poems: Santiago Sevilla, “My Dream” (1911), Vicente Callao, “Gloria!” (1911) and “Bella Esperanza” (1912), Fernando Ma. Guerrero, “Where Is My May?” (1914) and “Come to Me!” (1924), Nicasio Espinosa, “Philippines My Motherland” (1919), Pedro de la Llana, “To the 1922 U.P. Graduates” (1922), and Juan Pastrana, “America, Hear!” (1922). But we might include Fernando M. Maramág, “Moonlight on Manila Bay” (1912), Gabriel Q. Arellano, “Hawaiian Sunrise” and “Hawaiian Sunset” (1923), and two very early verses of social comment, as it were: Maximo M. Kalaw’s “Faded Rice-fields” (1910) and “The Storm” (1911). This list is significant because Dato’s aim, in our first anthology of “Filipino-English” verses, was to “offer the substance of FILIPINO POETRY … those [poems] most representative” of our body poetic during the “formative period of Filipino-English literature.” (R. Dato, “Introduction,” Filipino Poetry, 5.)
Arellano’s poems make interesting reading by indirection: “Sunrise” celebrates love of country (“Our bliss upon this Island Paradise”) in nature imagery and erotic guise, while as its sequel, “Sunrise” may read too as patriotic verse and so yield a symbolic content – the sun as symbol of our native freedom, now westering (with our land as its bride), and “the moon’s pale lamp,” a symbol of American rule.
18 Gloss: banka, a canoe with outrigger; kaskos, a large boat used to convey merchandise; tikin, a long bamboo pole used to steer a boat.
19 Two other poems appeared in the short-lived Filipino Students’ Magazine (June, 1905): a love poem, “Forget Me Not” by Rafael Dimayuga (p. 35), whose last stanza (mark its religious note in “shrine”) goes:
Don’t forget me; make a shrine to hold me,
Its one treasure, from all else apart;
Weave a web of happy thoughts to fold me
Safe, in life or death, within your heart.
And a patriotic, Maria G. Romero’s “Our Reasons in Study,” which reads in part (first and last stanza of four):
On this beautiful western shore
Is a spot which we all adore,
Far from the buzzing noise and hum
Of the city from whence we come.
And when these happy days are past,
Through toil conquered many a task,
To the beloved country returned,
We will give what the years have earned.
Romero celebrates in all innocence, without irony, that “spot which we all adore” – an ocean away from Maramág’s “scene so fair.” A small detail this, but indicative of “a captive’s thrall” (Sevilla’s words) “On this beautiful western shore.” In any case, it may not be purely coincidental that our first verses in English have already marked out dominant themes in our body poetic over the last hundred years (1905 to 2005): “the beloved country,” love, and social commitment (Ponciano Reyes’ “The Flood”).
20 R. Dato, 22-23, from The College Folio (U.P.), Feb 1912, 127; also in Abad and Manlapaz, 32.
21 We might well note that the first three stanzas of Sevilla’s “dream” also celebrates Maramág’s “scene so fair” for which “brave hearts … scorn a captive’s thrall”:
Oh glorious isles of my birth,
Bright gems of the Eastern sea,
List to the song of a younger son
Who greets thee on bended knee.
Land of the pine and the fronded palm,
Where the spicy breezes blow;
Where a thousand tree-clad hills look down
On a thousand vales below.
Fair is the sampaguita’s bloom;
But fairer thy daughter’s breast,
Wooed by the zephyr’s song,
By the ardent sun caressed.
The celebration of course underscores the beauty and desirability of one’s own country of origin (“Oh glorious isles of my birth”) whence the patriots’ fidelity “to their country’s call.” It is interesting that where Maramág has “The deep’s bare bosom that the breeze molests”, Sevilla evokes in “a younger son” a native lover’s desire (“thy daughter’s breast … Wooed … caressed”) as an image of the patriot’s aspiration: “Ours not to rest till our banner wave.”
22 Less than a year after Fernando Ma. Guerrero despairs of Liberty for his country in “Come to Me!” (1924), the poet still extols our “Freedom’s Sword” – “Peace [with America]”, he says, “ends not its story.” That poem, consisting of 16 cinquains, is “Dedicated to the Veterans of the Philippine Revolution” (in The Sunday Tribune Magazine, 1 Nov 1925: 8; reprinted in The Philippines Herald Mid-Week Magazine, 29 Nov 1933: 24). See Abad and Manlapaz, 28-29.
But earlier, when Juan Pastrana raises “The cry of the ten million men of color brown” in “America, Hear!” in 1922, it is “plaintive,” a loyal son’s entreaty, as it were, with his parent; if freedom is a people’s inherent right (Pastrana’s “all-important principle”), the poet’s plea makes its object appear as a delayed gift from a superior if fair-minded master:
America, land of mine sweet and rosy dreams,
Home of the free, where freedom in full splendor gleams;
Hear, hear, oh, hear the sharp and plaintive cry
The cry of the ten million men of color brown
For freedom limitless, but never for a crown.
They claim the very thing for which with England once
Did fight with might and main your brave and loyal sons;
Appeal they do right now to your fair-mindedness
To give them what they want, that means, their happiness.
Such is the all-important principle involved
In this hard problem that now must and should be solved.
America! Her freedom lost, her liberty,
Her own statehood and individuality
Most earnestly the Philippines pleads for again!
Shall you now hear the plea, or be like Mother Spain?
It is significant that Pastrana’s prose yet sounds the anguish of lost “individuality.” But the colonization had converted our population of “ten million” to the New Gospel: America as the “Home of the free” has become the model for Filipinos yearning for freedom, and as the “land of mine sweet and rosy dreams,” the inspiration and pattern for a people’s well-being. Pastrana’s brief, such as it is, was our first Independence Mission to Washington in verse. (“America, Hear!” is in R. Dato, 66, dated 19 October 1922; Dato does not indicate where it may have originally appeared. It is also in Makata 6: 29-30.)
23 The matter of “new language” and “sense of country” is my subject in another essay, “A Sense of Country: Our Body Poetic” in Bulawan 18 (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2005), 70-85. See also my “Introduction” to A Native Clearing: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English Since the ‘50s to the Present (Q.C.: University of the Philippines, 1993), esp. pp. 9-18.
We might speculate further, by way of illustrating what we have earlier called an “imaginative construct” (yet real for all that it is only imagined). Perhaps, that “conscience” I speak of is, at the present time, the dominant bourgeois, materialist, largely Americanized, culture of Christianized lowlanders who, centuries before, had been gathered bajo las campanas (under the church bells); perhaps, at a deeper level of the mind (psyche or consciousness) – more evident, it may be, among those who were not brought to the Christian fold – patriotism is a meaningless word, and nationalism a European import. Macli-ing Dulag, when an arrogant military engineer, a lowlander, demanded the Kalingas’ titles to their ancestral lands, retorted: “How can you speak of owning the land when the land shall own you? The land belongs to the race because only the race lives forever.” Such a perspective may well be indigenous, even mystical too. [Mariflor Parpan, an adopted daughter of a Kalinga community, told me that story, and assured me that it is documented.] The poet Alfrredo Navarro Salanga also speaks of the “folk gothic sense – the dark, primeval, sensual precolonial beings that lurk behind our westernized colonial facades … what we are deep down inside, the core that we suppress in the name of borrowed good and borrowed honor.” [So far, unfortunately, I have not been able to trace my source. But see also Nick Joaquin’s stories, “The Summer Solstice” (1947) and “Doña Jerónima” (1965), and his novel, Cave and Shadows (1983).] My point is: “the Filipino” is different imaginative constructs, all labile and dynamic, yet over all is an aspiration to live in harmony as one people; that aspiration is a power of imagination that moves each one toward the realization of a community where differences become, as it were, the warp and woof of the same tapestry.