Friday, January 06, 2006

First posted 05:46am (Mla time)
Dec 24, 2005 By Bambi Harper, Inquirer

WHAT WE FILIPINOS SHOULD KNOW: Many baby boomers like me have earned several college units/hours of the Spanish language. However, due to our learned or conditioned bias against Spain and the Spaniards, we have not built on this language; which in retrospect surely carries so much history about us Filipinos, as a people and a nascent nation.

Personally, I began to appreciate the importance of learning the Spanish language only after I decided, given my years of conscious prejudice against anything Spaniard/Spanish, to visit Mexico City in 2001. It was a pleasant surprise, encouraging me to learn more about Spain, the former colonial master of Mexico, most of Latin America and our homeland. Thus during the winter of 2003, I did a 2-week backpacking trip to Spain concentrating on its southern/Andalusian region, which for almost eight centuries was ruled by the Muslims. It was a real eye opener about the Spanish people and their history, their relevance to our Filipino world. And recently last September, I again went backpacking for more of Iberia, and this time traveled to Portugal and northern Spain. Accidentally, unbelievably and happily, I even stumbled into the hotel Dr. Jose Rizal stayed in Barcelona! I see myself returning for more of the Spaniards and Spain.

Pardon me for indulging. My point is that we so-called educated Filipinos, past, present and future ones, have and are continually kept ignorant of so much of our national history by not knowing the language of Spain, which discovered and ruled our homeland for almost 400 years. I think and believe that we gravely deprieve ourselves of relevant historical and cultural knowledge; that not knowing much of our Spanish past --especially before our American colonization-- contribute greatly to our not knowing ourselves.

A friend forwarded to me the below article, a very interesting and an instance of very rarely discussed topics. I agree with columnist Bambi Harper when she alluded that our former American master, through the imposed Americanized educational system --then and continued even now-- which along with the good the Americanized system gave us, also has created or developed in our Filipino minds an automatic distaste and bias against Spain, its language and our Spanish heritage.

In restrospect, of course, that our former American colonial master contributed to this biased conditioning is understandable; as all victors highlight their greatness or goodness that only give birth to their self-righteousness, while they simultaneously highlight only the evils of their defeated enemies.

It behooves every thinking Filipino, especially if given the opportunity, to learn the language, thus facilitate relearning our Spanish history, which by itself is personally, intellectually enriching; but most importantly to discover "hidden gems" in our Spanish heritage -- the good stuff from the Spaniards and Spain -- and to attain a better understanding of ourselves as a people in our struggle for true nationhood.

“The HISTORY of an oppressed people is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors.” - Meridel Le Sueur, American writer, 1900-1996

“Colonies do not cease to be colonies because they are independent” – Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister (1804-1881)

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary." - George Orwell

'La Leyenda Negra' revisited
First posted 05:46am (Mla time) Dec 24, 2005
By Bambi Harper, Inquirer

TEN years ago, Dr. William Summers made his first trip to Manila to conduct research on Filipino music prior to the American era. Since little scholarly research had been published in any language on this topic, he was naturally intrigued. Visiting the different archives, he concluded that "very little music survived and that no individual or team of individuals in Manila had any interest in this 333-year period."

Dr. Fernando Zialcita of the Ateneo de Manila University, in an e-mail on Dr. Summer's lecture on the subject at the university, said Dr. Summers had noted that the many achievements of Filipinos during the Spanish period were overlooked or denigrated and that there was "a nearly complete cultural erasure of music from this time."

Those of us who advocate preservation of architecture, like Zialcita, have a similar problem. Zialcita claims that churches are routinely depicted as "the product of slavery and forced labor" and ancestral homes of the 19th century are described as "Spanish" and not really Filipino, being "Spanish in style" and the home of the "oppressive elite."

Going back to Dr. Summers, during the next eight years that he was doing research in Manila and Bohol province (where he discovered the great 18th-century "Misa Baklayonan"), he had the distinct impression of a condemnation of the Spanish period. "The obvious and powerful elements of Hispanic culture that remain highly visible were never acknowledged," he noted.
Had he observed the older parts of our cities and towns, he would have seen that not only were they not acknowledged but the colonial layout and the ancestral homes were being destroyed.
"How could it be possible that no one voiced the fact that the Philippines is a Hispanic country?" he asked.

Music not being my field, I can only accept his conclusions that there is a definite view that holds that "Filipino music culture is indigenous, solely in the oral tradition, rural and perhaps tribal." If there is Western influence, it isn't Filipino.

Believing there's a deliberate attempt to erase Spanish culture from our lives, Dr. Summers decided to analyze the historical sources of this prejudice, which is known as "La Leyenda Negra" ["Black Legend"]: "the depiction of Spain and the Spaniards as bloodthirsty and cruel, greedy and fanatical, in excess of reality." ( Encyclopaedia) Of course, there is the opposite "Leyenda Rosa" that views Spain through rose-colored glasses. Both expressions are the results of thinking in terms of things being purely black or white, "and not propitious for a neutral historical analysis except of folkloric perceptions."

Whatever the reasons for rejecting this part of our culture, we've come out the poorer for it. In effect, we've thrown the baby out with the bath water.

In December last year, Summers presented a synopsis of his findings in a talk he gave at the Ateneo, which I unfortunately couldn't attend. He traces the prejudice back to the Propaganda Movement's "vicious, anti-friar propaganda, ca. 1880, and the second, the northern, Teutonic version imposed by the US invasion forces and occupation government after 1898."

(If we compare it to recent events, we would be able to see how the Ferdinand Marcos regime has been depicted as the most horrible in all our history while the succeeding one, led by a saint, was the coming of the kingdom. Using that kind of simplistic propaganda makes one administration look much better than it actually is and its failings are overlooked.)

The Americans systematically encoded the black legend in governmental and educational agencies. In this manner, people in general were brainwashed into rejecting the idea that both were basically exploitative colonizers. Many feel that the US perpetrated the legend to justify their actions against Spain. Even up to the present, they say, evidence of the Black Legend exists in movies like Steven Spielberg's "Amistad." Even pirates of the Caribbean are presented as romantic figures (in the movie of the same title), when in reality they were incredibly cruel and no more than criminals. To this day, the legend lives on, "seriously distorting both the teaching of and research on the history of the Filipino people."

Summers believes that if this prejudice is unmasked "it will be possible to forge in the future a significantly revised historiographical model for use in teaching and research on the history of the Philippines and most especially the history of the Filipino people." (I can almost tell you now: Don't bet on it. Patterns of thinking have been so deeply inculcated that I cannot see how they can be altered in the near future.)

The Spaniards, by the way, were their own worst enemies. The Black Legend started in 1552, when Bartolome de las Casas, formerly bishop of Chiapas, published "Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Yndias," which has been described as "a powerful and lasting indictment of Spanish behavior toward Indian populations in the New World." (How the good friar could have described it as brief is weird; the work is 4,000 pages long.) Naturally, the Protestants picked up Las Casas' condemnation with alacrity and used it to argue for a greater non-Spanish European presence in the New World and, of course, for their own imperialistic designs.

A word of advice to the reader then for the new year: Never accept anybody's word at face value. Always look further into their motivations, especially if they happen to be politicians!
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1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Bert -

I actually had a good grounding in Spanish, having gone to seminary and trained by Spanish priests. However, I tried forgetting the language, staying away from it, during the years when I toyed with misguided nationalism and "radicalism". But because of my exposure to the language at home (my father and grandfather both spoke Spanish), I think it was something that was hard for me to get rid of. But just to prove myself "nationalistic", I shied away from the language for almost 10 years, and didn't give it another look until I landed in Chicago in 1977, where I happened to live in a neighborhood with many Spanish speakers. Strange as it may seem, my "reawakening" took place in the "belly of the beast". And so it was that the language came back to me naturally, a little at a time.

Then in 1979, after I had completed my training community development at the Ecumenical Institute of Chicago, a good friend of mine (a Maryknoll priest from Venezuela) asked me if I would be willing to do a "practicum" in Per* for a year, by initiating a development project in a hill community south of Lima, the capital. I jumped on the opportunity! My wife and I and our first-born worked in that village for almost a year, and from that time on - my images of the Spanish and the Spanish-speaking world got turned upside down. True, there were abuses during the Spanish regime in the Philippines as well as in the Americas, but at closer look - I really had no sensible reason for trying to hate the language or culture.

Now, 26 years after my first sortie into Latin America, I have travelled far and wide in the Spanish-speaking world (but not in Spain!). In addition to Per*, I've travelled to Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and...Cuba (a country I've visited twice and have since learned to love). The Filipino's hatred for Spanish can only be attributed to mis-education by a U.S.-designed, US-influenced educational system. To put it simply, we've really been blinded by "American junk", not just linguistically, but politically, economically, and culturally.

From where I sit, I've come to know and understand that, while Spanish may have been the language of Fray Damaso and Fray Salvi (fictional characters, anyway), and was the preferred language of the ilustrados - the language of Cervantes also happens to be the language of La Pasionaria, Camilo Torres, Ch* Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Gens. Juan Velasco of Per* and Liber Seregni of Urugu*y (military men with a social conscience). Spanish also happens to be the language of Liberation Theology, which many progressives in the Philippines espouse.

The Black Legend has kept us in the dark for almost a century now, and it's time to undo it. There are many things to learn from Latin America. That continent, which shares many similarities with the Philippines - is on the cutting edge of political and social movements. Rather than reject that part of the world, we should make every effort to reach out. To be honest with you, there were many facts that were hidden from Filipinos by the Black Legend. While we love to point to Spain as the "oppressor", few Filipinos are even aware that, although we were a colony of Spain - Filipinos (kastila, creole, indio) were Spanish citizens under the Cadiz Constitution of 1812.

If we insist on denigrating and demonizing Spain and Spanish, then we might as well reject the men of Solidaridad, who articulated their positions in Spanish. By looking at Spanish as something foreign - we turn Rizal into a foreigner. Perhaps the only way to understand him is to understand him in Spanish. As things are right now, we simply venerate Rizal, without really understanding him. We idolize the more proletarian Bonifacio, because he led our war of independence, without taking into account that he was heavily influenced by his reading of "Noli" and "Fili", and even translated "Mi Ultimo Adi*s" into beautiful tagalog. There was no way Bonifacio could have grasped Rizal without knowing Spanish. So, even "The Great Plebeian" was well-versed in the language of Cervantes.

And lest we forget, the greatest anti-imperialist in contemporary Philippine history, Claro M. Recto - was himself a hispanista who authored the Spanish law making the teaching of the language mandatory in high school and college. Our generation considered that law elitist, tyrannical, and irrelevant, without even understanding why its prime mover sponsored it in the first place. And so, without trying to be overly sarcastic, I still have to ask the question, "Sino ngayon ang gago?"

Just my thoughts.

Adelbert Batica