RIZAL IN THE USA:
ESCAPING THE ANGLO QUARANTINE, RE-INVENTING “LOS INDIOS BRAVOS”
by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Rizal is both Ibarra and Elias…. Rizal himself is the spirit of contradiction, a soul that dreads the revolution, although deep within himself he consummately desires it…. Rizal is a man who constantly pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair. All these contradictions are merged together in that love, his dreamlike and poetic love for his adored country, the beloved region of the sun, pearl of the Orient, his lost Eden.
–MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO, “Rizal: The Tagalog Hamlet”*
The only justification for national self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people. And this dignity will continue to elude us as long as abject poverty, rampant corruption, oligarchs, and landlords remain stark realities of our society. These evils will not be defeated until we liberate ourselves from the chains of mental incarceration. Only upon such release can we recover our own virtues and be, in the words of Rizal, “once more free, like the bird that leaves the cage, like the flower that opens to the air.”
–ANWAR IBRAHIM, former deputy prime minister of Malaysia**
ON July 26, 2005, concurrent resolution No. 218 was filed at the 109th session of the U.S. House of Representatives and passed on December 13. It mandated the government to celebrate the centennial of Filipino “sustained immigration” to the U.S. since 1906. About sixty-thousand Filipinos arrive here every year, adding to about three million Filipino residents who have now supposedly crossed all barriers to earn their “well-deserved place” in the Homeland Security State. The inaugural event was the 1906 arrival of 15 contracted laborers for the Hawaii sugar plantations, together with 200 pensionados sent to earn assimilationist credentials in order to serve the colonial bureaucracy.
Actually, after the subjugation of the revolutionary forces of Aguinaldo’s Republic in the war of 1899-1902; after the slaughter of 1.4 million Filipinos and the hanging of Sakay and other “bandits” who resisted U.S. aggression; after the genocidal massacre of thousands of Moros in the first two decades of U.S. rule, Filipinos were colonized subjects, or “nationals,” not immigrants of a sovereign nation. Filipinos were not immigrants, strictly speaking, until 1934 when, after the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, entry of Filipinos to the U.S. was restricted to a quota of fifty a year—until 1946.
We need to correct the stereotyped impression of would-be “model minority” Pinays/Pinoys. Despite the survival in Louisiana of a few descendants of “Indio” fugitives from the Spanish galleons that visited Mexico, Filipinos had no real, effective presence in the consciousness of U.S. citizens until 1899, the outbreak of the Filipino-American War. The name “Filipino” refered to Spaniards born in the Philippines, superior to the brown-skinned “indios.” It was not until the U.S., having “bought” the Philippines after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, had to send at least seventy thousand troops to “pacify” the islands, suffered over 8,000 dead and killed over a million natives, that Filipinos will appear in the public mind in various guises. Taft’s patronized “brown brothers” soon became the new contingent of recruited cheap labor for the Hawaiian plantations, the Alasakan canneries, and West Coast agribusiness. They replaced the excluded Chinese and other “barred” “Orientals.” The orientalized “immigrant story” of which Filipinos would be one of the characters will not begin until the sixties, with the change in the immigration laws and the demise of the “Manongs,” among them Philip Vera Cruz, one of the leaders in the resurgent labor movement that led to the founding of the United Farm Workers of America.
After 9/11, despite the Congress Resolution, protesting OFW domestics and suspected “terrorists” from Abu-Sayyaf land would soon preoccupy Anglo fear and exacerbate white supremacy.
Ten years before the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana, Cuba, Rizal left Manila for Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S. He had no inkling of the Lousiana “Manilla men” (surfacing in Melville’s Moby Dick as devious pirates) nor the likes of Pablo Manlapit and militant comrades who would disturb the Hawaii plantation scenario. This episode of the “Pacific crossing” would merit only two pages in Austin Coates’ 1968 biography of Rizal, five pages in Gregorio F. Zaide’s Rizal (1984), and only a paragraph or two in Rafael Palma’s The Pride of the Malay Race (1949). But it is instructive to reflect on this episode as a point of departure for re-assessing our fraught relation with this hegemonic power behind the unrelenting corporate globalization of the planet. Despite nationalist gains in expelling the U.S. occupation of Clark Field and Subic Naval Base in the nineties, the Philippines remains a U.S. neocolony subservient to the Washington consensus and its militarist blueprint for a “New American Century.”
Let us not forget the specific milieu we are inhabiting today: a barbaric war waged by the U.S. ruling elite against any people or nation-state opposing its imperial will—the exploited and oppressed majority of the world. For over a century now, the Filipino people, particularly peasants, Moros, women, and the indigenous communities, have paid an exorbitant price to support the affluence, freedom, and liberalism of this racial polity. Given the total subservience of the current regime to the dictates of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization (all servicing global capital and primarily U.S. corporate business), as well as the puppetry of previous regimes, any change toward “electoral democracy” has proven to be empty ritual. This seems a banal truism.
This is no longer news today. We remain a neocolonial dependency of the United States, with the comprador bureaucracy and military beholden to the Washington Consensus and its current authoritarian program enabled by the now fiercely disputed USA Patriot Act.
We need not recount the hundreds of Filipinos summarily deported, without fair hearing or civil treatment, after 9/11. Nor the continuing intervention in Philippine sovereignty through the presence of thousands of U.S. troops in “Balikatan” exercises, and in reported complicity with the Philippine military in fighting against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and others designated as “Abu Sayyaf” terrorists. Racialized “white supremacy” prevails with the Rescission Act of 1945 which deprived Filipino veterans of World War II from enjoying the rights and benefits of those who served under the command of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East. It prevails with the barbaric treatment of Filipina domestics and caregivers in the U.S., Europe, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, while the minority elite, rallying around the corrupt Arroyo regime and the brutal military, perpetrates an unprecedented murder campaign against dissenting citizens amid the widespread poverty suffered by millions forced to send fathers, mothers, sisters or brothers, to work abroad as domestics or recruited contract workers, hailed as “bagong bayani” or ignored as unheroic corpses that arrive three-to-five a day at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The record OFW remittance of over $8 billion this year has apparently given the Arroyo regime breathing space to regroup. But how long will millions of Filipinos sacrifice themselves to a corrupt and decadent elite?
It is not certain whether Rizal knew or met Aguinaldo—we have no desire to implicate Rizal (as has been done by those sectarians who blindly follow Renato Constantino—see my Rizal For Our Time, 1997) with those who betrayed Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, and others. After the polyphonic novels toying with plural alternatives, Rizal decided on one path: the Liga Filipina and its eventual surrogates.
Rizal of course met or was acquainted with Bonifacio and others in the Katipunan who were involved earlier in the Liga. Despite his exile to Dapitan, he was still playing with utopian projects in British Borneo. Historians from Austin Craig to Rafael Palma, Gregorio Zaide, Carlos Quirino, and Austin Coates have already demonstrated that despite Rizal’s reservations about the Katipunan uprising, his ideas and example (all susceptible to a radical rearticulation) had already won him moral legitimacy and intellectual ascendancy–what Gramsci would call “hegemony”– whatever differences in political tactics might exist among partisans in the anti-colonial united front.
Pace Constantino, we need understanding before we can have genuine if fallible appreciation. The mythification of Rizal in the popular imagination, as discussed by Reynaldo Ileto in his “Rizal and the Underside of Philippine History,” need not contradict or lessen the secular, libertarian impact of Rizal’s writing and deeds on several generations of organic intellectuals such as Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Apolinario Mabini, Isabelo de los Reyes, up to the seditious playwrights in the vernaculars, the writer/activists such as Lope K. Santos, Amado V. Hernandez, Salvador P. Lopez, and nationalist intellectuals such as Ricardo Pascual, Claro Recto, Angel Baking, Renato Constantino, and others. What is needed, above all, is a dialectical grasp of the complex relations between the heterogeneous social classes and their varying political consciousness—peasantry, workers, petty-bourgeois ilustrado, artisans, etc.—and the struggle for an intelligent, popular leadership of a truly anti-colonial, democratic, mass revolution. A one-sided focus on Rizal as a sublimation of Christ or Bernardo Carpio, or Rizal as “the First Filipino” (Leon Ma. Guerrero, Nick Joaquin), fails to grasp the “unity of opposites” that conceptually subtends the dynamic process of decolonization and class emancipation traversing different modes of production in a sequence of diverse social formations.
We need a historical materialist method to grasp the concrete totality in which the individual finds her/his effective place. After all, it is not individuals or great heroes that shape history, but masses, social classes and groups in conflict that would release, in the process of unpredictable transformations, the potential of humanity’s species-being from myths, reified notions, and self-serving fantasies partly ascribable to natural necessity and partly to the burdensome nightmare of historical legacies.
Can this materialist approach explain the limitations of Rizal’s thinking at various conjunctures of his life? Numerous biographies of Rizal and countless scholarly treatises on his thought have been written to clarify or explain away the inconsistences and contradictions of his ideas, attitudes, and choices. The Yugoslavian Ante Radaic is famous for a simplistic Adlerian diagnosis of Rizal based on his physical attributes. This at least is a new angle, a relief from the exhibitionist posturing of Guerrero and the retrograde obsessions of Nick Joaquin. Radaic, however, failed to honor somehow Rizal’s own psychoanalytic foray into the phenomena of the manggagaway, aswang, and kulam, and other subterranean forms of resistance. How can a person be afflicted with an inferiority complex when he can write (to Blumentritt) a few hours before his death: “When you have received this letter, I am already dead”?
The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno and the American realist William Dean Howells have recognized Rizal’s subtle analysis of human character and totalizing social critique. For his part, Jose Baron Fernandez’s Jose Rizal: Filipino Doctor and Patriot provides us an updated scenario of late nineteenth-century Spain for understanding the predicament of the Propagandistas in building solidarity, cognizant of Retana’s disingenuous apologia. With tactful lucidity, Palma’s classic biography, The Pride of the Malay Race, has demonstrated the fundamental secular humanism of Rizal, the inheritor of Spinoza’s Ethics and the Enlightenment’s legacy (Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant). Rizal shared this secular humanism with other propagandistas, a humanism whose utopian thrust was tempered by scientific rigor, self-critical distance, and fin-de-siecle disenchantment.
In effect, Rizal personified Filipino modernity in the making, an alternative oppositional modernity, to be sure. For how else could one interpret the exchange between Rizal and Fr. Pastells, Fr. Florentino’s reflections in El Filibusterismo, and the rationalist critique of self-deception and mass hysteria in most of his writings? Ambeth Ocampo has forcefully contributed to the demythologization of Rizal (see his Rizal Without the Overcoat) as well as to the discovery of Rizal’s third novel (on this, more below). Each author responds to the pressure of the historical moment and the inertia of the past. However, it seems unquestionable that the conventional appreciation of Rizal tends toward an indiscriminate glorification of his mind, his ideas, his “Renaissance” versatility, and so on. Scholastic pedagogy and the opiate of the masses have both contributed to this idealizing, nominalist tendentiousness.
Rizal was a product of his place and time, as everyone will concur. But due to desperate conditions, others credit Rizal with superfluous charismatic powers that he himself will be the first to disavow. We do not need the pasyon or folk religion to illuminate this mixed feudal-bourgeois habitus (to borrow Bourdieu’s term). We are predisposed by our inescapable bourgeois socialization to focus on the role of the individual and individual psychology (indexed by symptoms of nostalgia and mourning) so as to assign moral blame or praise. This is the self-privileging ideology of entrepreneurial neoliberalism. But there is an alternative position that only a few have entertained so far.
As I have tried to argue in previous essays, Rizal displayed an astute dialectical materialist sensibility. One revealing example of concrete geopolitical analysis is the short piece on Madrid and its milieu excerpted in Palma’s The Pride of the Malay Race (pp. 60-62). Rizal was neither an environmental determinist nor social Darwinist. While gauging the force of social circumstances, he did not succumb to mechanical determinism —although the weight of his familial and religious upbringing may be said to condition the limits of possible variations in his thinking and actions. This materialist intuition is leavened with praxis-oriented realism, as glimpsed from this passage in a letter to Fr. Pastells:
“It is very possible that that there are causes better than those I have embraced, but my cause is good and that is enough for me. Other causes will undoubtedly bring more profit, more renown, more honors, more glories, but the bamboo, in growing on this soil, comes to sustain nipa huts and not the heavy weights of European edifices….
As to honor, fame, or profit that I might have reaped, I agree that all of this is tempting, especially to a young man of flesh and bone like myself, with so many weaknesses like anybody else. But, as nobody chooses the nationality nor the race to which he is born, and as at birth the privileges or the disadvantages inherent in both are found already created, I accept the cause of my country in the confidence that He who has made me a Filipino will forgive the mistakes I may commit in view of our difficult situation and the defective education that we receive from the time we are born. Besides, I do not aspire to eternal fame or renown; I do not aspire to equal others whose conditions, faculties, and circumstances may be and are in reality different from mine; my only desire is to do what is possible, what is within my power, what is most necessary. I have glimpsed a little light, and I believe I ought to show it to my countrymen.
…. Without liberty, an idea that is somewhat independent might be provocative and another that is affectionate might be considered as baseness or flattery, and I can neither be provocative, nor base, nor a flatterer. In order to speak luminously of politics and produce results, it is necessary in my opinion to have ample liberty.”
A dialectical process underlies the link between subjective desire and objective necessity/possibility traced in this revealing passage. Its working can be discerned in most of Rizal’s historical and political discourses. They are all discourses on the permanent crisis in the condition of the colonial subject, a crisis articulating flashes of danger with glimpses of possibility. The virtue of Rizal’s consciousness of his own limitations inheres in its efficacy of opening up the horizon of opportunities—what he calls “liberty”– contingent on the grasp and exploitation of those same limits of his class/national position in society and history. In short, the value and function of human agency can only be calculated within the concrete limits of a determinate, specific social location in history, within the totality of social relations in history.
Granted Rizal’s strategic wisdom, how can we explain his failure to predict the role of the United States in intervening and colonizing the Philippines? In his otherwise perspicacious analysis of the past, present, and hypothetical future in “Filipinas dentro de cien anos” (“The Philippines within a century,” published in La Solidaridad, 1889-1890), Rizal reflects on the United States as a possible player in international geopolitics:
“If the Philippines secure their independence after heroic and stubborn conflicts, they can rest assured that neither England, nor Germany, nor France and still less Holland, will dare to take up what Spain has been unable to hold… Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific…may some day dream of foreign possession. This is not impossible, for the example is contagious, covetuousness and ambition are among the strongest vices… the European powers would not allow her to proceed… North America would be quite a troublesome rival, if she should once get into the business. Furthermore, this is contrary to her traditions.”
There is a curious breakdown of dialectics, if not knowledge of history, in this hypothetical musing. How can Rizal be so blind? Maybe blindness is a function of insight, as academic deconstructionists conjecture. It may be that Rizal had been reading too many eulogistic accounts of the United States circulated in Britain, France, Germany—too much de Tocqueville, perhaps?
In the quoted passage, Rizal’s prophetic stance allows him to moralize on the “strongest vices” of “covetousness and ambition,” but somehow his vision will not permit the “traditions” of the “Great American Republic” from being contaminated by the imperialist virus. He mentions Samoa and the Panama Canal, but seems oblivious of the Monroe doctrine and the nightmarish fear of the Haitian revolution, the first successful revolution of slaves in history. He settles on the fact that U.S. territory was not yet congested; and besides, the European powers will check any imperial ambition the U.S. might show.
In his recent treatise A Nation Aborted, Filipino scholar Floro Quibuyen re-emphasizes Rizal’s ultimate objective of national liberation, even though Rizal’s prediction about the U.S. failed to revise Feodor Jagor’s speculation (Rizal as a student read Jagor’s 1873 Travels in the Philippines) about the positive effect of U.S. imperialism. Although impressed by New York’s “concepciones grandes” and conceding with grace that the U.S. “offers a home to the poor who wish to work,” Rizal did not meet anyone resembling O-Sei-San, the Japanese woman who seduced his soul for a month prior to his landing in San Francisco—there was no time nor occasion for libidinal adventure. Nor was he attracted by the immense panorama of mountains, waterfalls, and the urban landscape, so annoyed was he by the Yankee “craziness” about quarantine and “severe customs inspections.” Shades of current Homeland Security surveillance? In fact Rizal was more impressed by the largest liner in the world, the City of Rome, which he boarded for Liverpool after three weeks in the U.S.
What happened to this universalist historian and globalizing polymath? Was Rizal a victim of temporary amnesia in discounting his non-memorable passage through the United States, still haunted by nostalgic images of Pagsanjan Falls while visiting Niagara, in his second trip to Europe?
It is indeed difficult to understand how Rizal failed to draw the necessary lessons from his brief passage through the United States. Perhaps he was too engrossed as a tourist in novelties, enthralled by the Golden Gate Bridge, the Indian statues everywhere “attired in semi-European suit and semi-Indian suit,” Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, and New York City where (to quote his words) “everything is new!”. Unlike his adventures in Europe, he did not find any inamorata—didn’t have time for dalliance. His travel diary was, in Ocampo’s judgment, sparse and hasty; but his letter to Mariano Ponce (dated 27 July 1888 two months after his passage) reveal a somewhat traumatic experience:
“I visited the largest cities of America with their big buildings, electric lights, and magnificent conceptions. Undoubtedly America is a great country, but it still has many defects. There is no real civil liberty. In some states, the Negro cannot marry a white woman, nor a Negress a white man. Because of their hatred for the Chinese, other Asiatics, like the Japanese, being confused with them, are likewise disliked by the ignorant Americans. The Customs are excessively strict. However, as they say rightly, American offers a home too for the poor who like to work. There was, moreover, much arbitrariness. For example, when we were in quarantine.
They placed us under quarantine, in spite of the clearance given by the American Consul, of not having had a single case of illness aboard, and of the telegram of the governor of Hong Kong declaring that port free from epidemic.
We were quarantined because there were on board 800 Chinese and, as elections were being held in San Francisco, the government wanted to boast that it was taking strict measures against the Chinese to win votes and the people’s sympathy. We were informed of the quarantine verbally, without specific duration. However, on the same day of our arrival, they unloaded 700 bales of silk without fumigating them; the ship’s doctor went ashore; many customs employees and an American doctor from the hospital for cholera victims came on board.
Thus we were quarantined for about thirteen days. Afterwards, passengers of the first class were allowed to land; the Japanese and Chinese in the 2nd and 3rd classes remained in quarantine for an indefinite period. It is thus in that way, they got rid of about 200 [actually 643 coolies, according to Zaide] Chinese, letting them gradually off board.”
Evidenced by this and other works, Rizal definitely understood racism in theory and practice. But it is not clear to what extent he recognized how the absence of “real civil liberty” extends beyond the everyday life of African Americans, beyond the Asians—it is not even clear whether Rizal then considered himself Asian, though in his reflections on how Europeans treated him, he referred to himself as “dark skinned,” a person of color, especially in relation to European women. Rizal never forgot that in spite of being a relatively privileged Chinese mestizo, the Spaniards uniformly considered him an “Indio.”
The term “Indio” casts a subliminal shadow approximating that of the witch, or manggagaway, which Rizal diagnosed thus: the witch is the “she-ass of ignorance and popular malevolence, the scapegoat of divine chastisements, the salvation of the perplexed quacks.” Rizal considers this persona “the diagnosis of inexplicable sufferings,” an idea that would illuminate the logic of “los indios bravos” as a therapeutic ruse, a guerilla maneuver of rectifying names and (like the Noli and Fili) unveiling the cancerous anatomy to the communal gaze.
Was Rizal so magnanimous or charitable that he expunged the ordeal of being quarantined soon after? Not at all. In his travel diary concerning a train ride from Paris to Dieppe in 1889, Rizal encountered an arrogant American taunting his other companions (an Englishman and two Frenchmen). His comments indicate that he never forgot the quarantine, surveillance, and exclusionist procedures he went through in his swift passage through the U.S.:
“I was beginning to be annoyed by the fury of the traveler and I was going to join the conversation to tell him what I have seen and endured in America, in New York itself [Rizal doesn’t disclose what he “endured” in New York], how many troubles and what torture the customs [and immigration] in the United States made us suffer, the demands of drivers, barbers, etc., people who, as in many other places, lived on travelers….
I was tempted to believe that my man’s verbosity, being a good Yankee, came from the steam of a boiler inside his body, and I even imagined seeing in him a robot created and hurled to the world by the Americans, a robot with a perfect engine inside to discredit Europe…. (quoted in Ambeth Ocampo, Rizal Without the Overcoat, 1990; see also Gregorio Zaide and Sonia Zaide, Jose Rizal, 1984).
What can we infer from this hiatus between Rizal’s anger in being quarantined and his belief that the “great American Republic” dare not engage in the brutal adventure of subjugating the natives of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines? Two years after his visit, in Brussels, Rizal replied to Jose Alejandrino’s question what impression did he have of America: “America is the land par excellence of freedom but only for the whites.” This insight is quite remarkable for a Filipino traveler then and today. It exceeds the intelligence of Filipino American pundits who boast of 200% “Americanism,” of Filipinos as hybrid transnationals or transmigrants capable of besting white supremacy. But Rizal, as far as the record shows, did not pursue any consequential inference from his insight.
In his diary, Rizal noted the exhibitionist ubiquity of Indians—once in Reno, Nevada, where he saw “an Indian attired in semi-European suit, and semi-Indian suit, leaning against a wall.” In Chicago, he observed that “every cigar store has an Indian figure, and always different.” That sums up his awareness of American Indians—until the Paris Exposition of 1889 (more on this later). While recognizing the denial of civil liberties to “Negroes” and the degrading treatment of Chinese and Japanese in San Francisco, Rizal was unable to connect these snapshots and observations to the history of the United States as one of expansion, genocidal extermination of Native Americans, slavery of Africans, violent conquest and subjugation of indigenous Mexicans in Texas, California and the territory seized after the Mexican-American War of 1845-48.
What is the historic context surrounding Rizal’s tour of the U.S. in 1886? A historic violent railroad strike had already occurred in 1877; in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively barred the Chinese from entry, a move which did not prevent twenty-eight Chinese from being massacred in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in the summer of 1885.
Meanwhile, in the post-bellum South, the basis for segregation was being laid by Ku Klux Klan raids throughout the 1860s and 1870s following the Compromise of 1877 and severe economic depression. In 1886, two years before Rizal’s travels, the Haymarket riot in Chicago led to the prosecution of eight anarchists and the execution of four of them innocent of the crimes they were charged with. It was the era of robber barons, workers’ strikes, immigrant rebellions, and ferocious class wars (as detailed by Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States). In 1890, the massacre of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee marked the culmination of the genocidal campaign against the original inhabitants and the closing of the internal or Western frontier.
Rizal seemed not to have followed U.S. history along these tracks, isolating only the puritan revolt against religious persecution and the colonial, quasi-feudal imposition by the British monarchy. So this tradition of struggling for liberty, for separation from European feudalism and the authoritarian English monarchy, was what Rizal associated with the U.S. as an emerging nation-state when he was preoccupied with demanding Filipino representation in the Cortes in 1889-90. The United States stood for Rizal as an example of a country or people that demanded representation—“no taxation without representation” was a slogan that must have appealed to the ilustrado assimilationists, not an Anglo state whose “Manifest Destiny” was already nascent from the time of the massacre of the Pequot Indians in 1636, through the institutionalized slavery of Africans, to the savage subjugation of Mexican territory in 1848. White supremacy acquired its slogan of “Manifest Destiny” in the U.S. victory over Mexico and its annexation of substantial territory once owned by Spain.
To recapitulate the logic of our rehearsing this narrative: Rizal traveled through the United States from April 28 to May 16, 1888, a quite hectic flight through the continent of the “New World.” Although he experienced briefly if intensely the violence of white supremacy in transit, he clearly manifested no understanding of the plight of the American Indians then. Rizal was sensitive to the discrimination shown to African Americans, but not to the indigenous folk that he would soon notice a year after, this time as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in the Paris Universal Exposition of May1889. When he and other propagandistas watched some Indians riding their agile horses, elegantly sporting war feathers and other colorful regalia, they were—judging from the tone of their praise–enchanted at the proud and dignified bearing of these performers.
The modernity of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show registered its aura in the sensibility of these Malayan ilustrados. Thereafter Rizal confided to his friends: “Why should we resent being called Indios by the Spaniards? Look at those Indios from North America—they are not ashamed of their name. Let us be like them. Let us be proud of the name Indio and make our Spanish enemies revise their conception of the term. We shall be Indios Bravos!” (Zaide, Rizal, p. 156). Analogous to the revisionist “black is beautiful” symbolism of the sixties, Rizal’s re-signifying of “los indios bravos” signifies a bold paradigm-shift, a transvaluation of meanings and values, linked to a wider political-cultural movement of change among subject-peoples.
By no stretch of the imagination can this be interpreted as nostalgia for the ghostly ancestors haunting the transcribed pages of Morga’s Sucesos. Nor can it be plausibly construed as redolent of the “rhetoric of mourning,” loss, and melancholia that, for neoFreudian analysts, animate texts such as “El Amor Patrio” or Rizal’s letters to his mother. It displays what Christine Buci-Glucksmann (in La raison baroque, 1984) calls the operations of a modernist aesthetics of novelty, fragmentation, unexpectedness, play of artifice, theatricality, etc., that one can also discern in the transgressive allegories of El Filibusterismo and Makamisa, Rizal’s unpublished, incomplete third novel.
And so, when Rizal and his compatriots (Del Pilar, the Luna brothers, Mariano Ponce, and others) witnessed a rousing performance of the “U.S. Wild West” managed by Buffalo Bill Cody, according to biographer Leon Maria Guerrero, they were all inspired by the “plumed warriors of the prairies” to the point of organizing “Los Indios Bravos,” a mutual aid association devoted to promoting intellectual and physical prowess (manly sports using sword, pistol, judo and other arts of self-defense). This anticipated the Liga Filipina that he would set up in January 1892 on his return to the Philippines—the catalyzing agent for the formation of the clandestine, Jacobinic Katipunan led by Andres Bonifacio.
The famous 1890 photograph of Rizal, Luna and Ventura posing with their fencing swords has been read as an “image of masculine solidarity” presumably because Luna’s wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, was cut out from the photo and marginalized. On the other hand, it can be read as a parable, an instance of rest in motion, bodies pausing during a sequence of action. It thus evokes the contrived theatrical pose of the American Indians in the Wild West Show, precisely the bearer of a futurist, not backward-looking, trajectory the significance of which is intimated by Buci-Glucksmann: “The theatricality of desire or history therefore accomplishes the project of modernity as representation, while destabilizing it towards the vanishing-point of the non-representable Other.” This Other is none other than Rizal (borne from our own re-inscribing ordeal of representation) traversing perilous U.S.A. territory.
Historians inform us that “Los Indios Bravos” replaced the ephemeral “Kidlat” Club which Rizal organized when he arrived in Paris from London on March 19, 1889. It seems that within “Los Indios Bravos,” a dissident underground cell of cadres existed with the coded designation “Redencion de los Malayos” (Redemption of the Malays), a society inspired, among others, by Rizal’s acquaintance with the Dutch author Multatuli (E. D. Dekker) who wrote Max Havelaar (1860), a famous exposure of the miserable conditions of the Malay inhabitants oppressed by Dutch colonizers in the Netherlands East Indies. “Los Indios Bravos” would then extend to primarily dark-skinned peoples in the continents dominated by European/Western powers.
The Eleventh U.S. Census in 1890 declared the Western frontier closed. Three years earlier, in 1887, the Dawes Act provided for the settlement of pacified Indians on homesteads. A year after the Paris Exposition, on December 29, 1890, 146 Indians (including 44 women and 18 children) were massacred at Wounded Knee. This was one of the many ways in which the religious Indian revival pivoting around the Ghost Dance and its vision of the Promised Land for dispossessed aborigines in militarized reservations, a progenitor of twentieth-century national liberation struggles of third world peoples, was suppressed by an industrializing U.S. empire.
We do not know yet whether any of the Filipino propagandistas acquired any knowledge of this part of U.S. history, a suppression that would be replicated at home in the bloody onslaught on the Colorums, assorted Rizal cults, revitalization movements like the Lapiang Malaya, and others with their improvised, provocative local “ghost dances.”
Some American scholars claim that this appreciation of the spectacularized Indians by Rizal and his comrade-partisans functions as the positive “American factor” in which the U.S. was not just a negative but a usable instrument for the reformists. The performance of the commodified Indians was supposed to have stimulated the “masculine solidarity” of the Filipinos in exile, reinforcing their rebellion against the androgynous friars who ruled their homeland. (This argument should not be confused with Howard Dewitt’s view that the Rizal cult helped Filipinos assimilate into mainstream California.) Which “America” is being invoked here? The problem may be located in the confusion of the plight of the subjugated indigenous communities with the Anglo-Saxon Republic and its racializing mission of “Manifest Destiny” that led to the genocidal brutality against the natives themselves as well as against the internally colonized Mexicans, Filipinos, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians, and numerous communities in the peripheral dependencies once called the “third world.”
First of all, those Indians participating in the commerical exhibitions were victims of the 1889 military campaign against ghost dancers who were sentenced to a choice between prison or joining the Wild West Show (Ian Frazier, On the Rez, 2000). They were not exactly untamed bodies with free spirits. Moreover, these naive Americanists have also ignored the long Eurocentric tradition (from Montaigne to Rousseau, Chateaubriand, and the romantic writers of Germany and England) of exalting the “noble savage,” a compensatory binary to the demonizing opposite, to which Rizal and his comrades responded sympathetically.
Thus Rizal’s (and other propagandista’s) temporary identification with the “plumed warriors” cannot be understood without this deeply implanted romanticizing framework of mind or sensibility which can mobilize energies for self-emancipation or self-denegation, depending on the political program which it advances. In this case, however, the image of the American Indian was quickly sublimated or absorbed into the larger, more potent Malay subject which became paramount to Rizal during his exile in Dapitan in 1892 when his Borneo project of a “new Calamba” (Rizal’s extrapolation of the “promised land”) was prohibited by the Spanish Governor Despujol.
Ignoring the mechanistic “novelty” of the American experiment, Rizal was truly a man of his time. He preferred Europe and its familiar protocols and decorum —even if he tried to re-live and eulogize the past of his ancestors through his annotations of Judge Morga’s history of pre-Spanish Philippines. It was proof that he had decided on a protracted guerilla strategy: to burrow underground like the “old mole” in enemy territory. We surely cannot fault Rizal for not being able to foresee the slaughter of 1.4 million Filipinos in the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, nor the massacre of 600 Muslim men, women and children at Mt. Dajo, Jolo, in 1906, and 3,000 Muslim women, men and children at Mt. Bagsak in 1913.
Today the Bangsamoro Nation remembers all these in their struggle for secession, for the right of self-determination, which Rizal himself would support, even though while in Dapitan, Mindanao, he (given his Catholic indoctrination and later his Masonic freethinking) rarely paid attention to his Moro brothers and sisters nearby. Surveilled constantly by spies during his scientific and displinary labors, Rizal was unable to render homage to the Moros’ “free spirit” an instance of which he glimpsed in the packaged spectacle of Buffalo Bill’s American Indians, already a symptom of self-aggrandizing Eurocentrism, self-deceptive decay, and death.
We can understand this omission of the U.S. from the ilustrado consciousness then—unless selected aspects of its “progress” is transported to Europe and other parts of the world as commodified spectacles (via Hollywood movies, Internet ads, etc.). So concentrated were the energies and time of Rizal and his compatriots Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Mariano Ponce, and others on stirring up the conscience of the Spanish public in Madrid and Barcelona that they neglected studying closely the political and economic history of the United States. In their heroic perseverance, they missed the uncanny “signs of the times.” It could not be helped.
And so little did Rizal suspect that the “great American Republic” would be the next executioner of Filipino nationalists and radical democrats, the global gendarme terrorizing subversives such as the New People’s Army combatants, the Moro separatists, Fidel Castro, Zapatistas in Chiapas, the Maoists in Nepal, Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, and so on.
For Rizal and his compatriots, Europe was the fated arena of battle, more specifically Spain. During Rizal’s first sojourn in Europe (1882-1887), social ferment was quietly taking place between the dissolution of the First International Working Men’s Association in 1881 and the founding of the Second International in1889 with Marxism as its dominant philosophy. Marx died in 1883. Meanwhile two volumes of Capital have been published and were being discussed in Europe during Rizal’s first visit to Paris. The second volume of Capital was published in 1885 when Rizal moved to Paris after finishing his studies at the Central University of Madrid.
Engels was still alive and active, residing in London when Rizal was annotating Morga’s Sucesos at the British Museum in 1888-1889. During his second sojourn (1888-1891), Rizal completed El Filibusterismo published in Ghent, Belgium, in 1891. Meanwhile Engels’ writings, in particular Anti-Duhring (1877-1878), have been widely disseminated in German periodicals and argued over.
The Second International Workers’ Congress organized by Marxists was held in Paris in July 1889. May Day demonstrations for an eight-hour work day started in Europe in 1890. German Social Democracy was thriving. Given his numerous visits to Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, England, and Spain, and his contacts with intellectuals (Blumentritt, Rost, Jagor, Virchow, Ratzel, Meyer, aside from the Spaniards Morayta, Pi y Margall, Becerra, Zorilla, and others), it was impossible for Rizal to escape the influence of the socialist movement and its Spanish anarchist counterpoint. Indeed, a letter (dated 13 May 1891) by his close friend, the painter Juan Luna, conveyed Luna’s enthusiasm over Le socialisme contemporaine by E. de Laveleye, “which is a conflation of the theories of Karl Marx, La Salle, etc; Catholic socialism, the conservative, evangelical,…which stresses the miseries of contemporary society.”
Based on an inspection of Rizal’s library in Calamba and citations in the Epistolario, Benedict Anderson concludes that Rizal had no interest, or awareness, of socialist currents except those filtered through Joris Karl Huysmans. Rizal’s singular modernity, in my view, cannot be so easily Orientalized by U.S. experts like Anderson, Karnow, Glenn May, and their ilk. On the other hand, Anderson’s uncouth reference to the “narrow nativism” and “narrow obsession with America” of Filipino intellectuals will surely delight the Westernized Makati enclave and his acolytes in Diliman and Loyola Heights. Or even those speculating on Rizal’s homosexual tendencies despite his insouciant flirtations with las palomas de baja vuela (as attested to by close companions Valentin Ventura and Maximo Viola). Do we still need such patrons of Rizaliana/Filipiniana at this late date of cynical, coercive globalization?
In his Solidaridad period, Rizal was just beginning to learn the fundamentals of geopolitics. The United States was out of the picture. It is foolish to expect Rizal and his compatriots to know more than what their circumstances and class orientation allowed. Scarcely would Rizal have a clue then that the U.S. control of Filipino sovereignty would continue through the IMF/WB stranglehold of the Philippine economy for over 40 years after nominal independence in 1946, an unprecedented case—the only country so administered for the longest period in history! This can throw some light on the country’s chronic poverty, technological backwardness, clientelist slavishness to Washington, witnessed of late by the export of over 9 million contract workers as “servants of globalization” and the country’s dependence on the 8.5 billion dollars worth of overseas annual remittances to service the humongous foreign debt and the extravagant “indolence” of the few rich families and their politician flunkeys.
One may speculate that Rizal’s memory of his ordeal in San Francisco and New York, had he lived longer, might have resonated beyond his detention in the prison-fortress of Montjuich in Barcelona (where Isabelo de los Reyes was also confined) and influenced the ilustrado circle of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and other supporters of “Benevolent Assimilation” in the early decades of the last century. Its resonance needs a counter-intuitive inventory. In Culture and Imperialism, the Palestinian scholar Edward Said, founder of postcolonial studies, extolled the Malayan author Syed Hussein Alatas for his exemplary anti-imperialist book, The Myth of the Lazy Native (1977).
But Said failed to mention Rizal in his chronicle of decolonizing movements even though Alatas himself acknowledged his great indebtedness to Rizal whose 1890 article, “On the Indolence of Filipinos” published in La Solidaridad, may be considered the pathbreaking discourse of refusal and revolt. Rizal is still the marked absence, lacuna, or silence in the texts of canonical postcolonial and subaltern studies dominating North American/European academies, with the Philippines not even noticed in such scriptural anthologies as The Post-Colonial Studies Reader edited by Bill Ashcroft et al or the recent Postcolonial Studies and Beyond edited by Ania Loomba et al.
Finally, we return to confront once again Rizal’s “Manifesto” of 1896 written in his prison cell in Fort Santiago. Against the gradualist thrust of this “Manifesto” (surely a ruse to gain time) can be counterposed the overwhelming evidence of Rizal’s conviction that where the other party cannot listen to reason, force must be used (while civic education proceeds), with separatist liberation the only ultimate alternative. Padre Florentino’s invocation (“God will provide a weapon…”) was fulfilled in Rizal’s banishment and the replacement of the Liga by the Katipunan. It is enough to cite again Rizal’s resolute determination to give his life for the liberation of his people (in the two letters to his brother and to his family) as well as many confessions to Blumentritt, Ponce, Del Pilar, Fr. Pastells, and others, of his readiness to sacrifice his life for the redemption of the masses. The itinerary of his activities in Europe, Hong Kong, and Dapitan suffice to quell any doubt about his commitment.
Let us recall Rizal’s statement to General Alejandrino: “I will never head a revolution that is preposterous and has no probability of success because I do not like to saddle my conscience with reckless and fruitless bloodshed; but whoever may head a revolution in the Philippines will have me at his side.”
In the long run, the criterion of solidarity with the insurgent masses imposes its critical verdict without reprieve. Rizal struggled all his life against the tendency toward individualism. He confided to Del Pilar: “What I desire is that others appear…” To Padre Vicente Garcia: “A man in the Philippines is only an individual, he is not a member of a nation.”
But Rizal also will not submit to tradition for its own sake, to supercilious authority, to unreasonable conformism: “I wish to return to the Philippines [he wrote to Ponce], and though it may be a temerity and an imprudence, what does it matter? Filipinos are all so prudent. That is why our country is as it is…. And since it seems to me that we are not doing well on the road of prudence, I will seek another road.” Several paths were tested in the Noli and Fili, including Simoun’s “anarchical nationalism,” Cabesang Tales’ guerilla foco, urban insurrection, etc. In the opinion of Eugenio Matibag,*** both novels were multivoiced, intricately dialogic in nature, and so open to the “play of an emancipatory desire that continues to move the Philippines today.”
Of course, we don’t need to read Rizal to seek to overthrow the current intolerable system. Limited by his ilustrado class conditioning, but open to the influence of collective projects and spontaneous popular initiatives, Rizal was a nationalist democrat “of the old type,” as the idiom goes. But proof of a more genuinely populist and radical conception of change may be found in the third novel, recently recovered for us by Ambeth Ocampo in Makamisa (Anvil 1992).
Would Rizal’s stature be altered if he had completed this novel? Since this is not the occasion to elaborate on the insurrectionary imagination of Rizal, I can only highlight two aspects in Makamisa. First, the boisterous entrance of the subaltern masses into historical time and space. In the two novels, Elias, Sisa, Cabesang Tales, and others interrupted the plot of individual disillusionment, but never substantially moved to the foreground of the stage. This new mise en scene is rendered here by the demystification of religious ritual via the physical/sensory motion of crowds, rumor, money talk, animal behavior, Anday’s seduction, and so on. This staging maneuver of the narrative escapes from the symbolic Order (sacred space) represented by the Church, as dramatized in the multiaccentual speculations on why Padre Agaton disrupted his public performance.
In this context, the play of heteroglossia, the intertextuality of idioms (indices of social class and collective ethos), and the stress on the heterogeneous texture of events, all point to the mocking subversive tradition of the carnivalesque culture and Menippean satire that Mikhail Bakhtin describes in his works on Rabelais, Menippean satire, and Dostoevsky (see The Dialogic Imagination). Makamisa easily falls into this generic category. This is the root of the polyphonic modernist novel constituted by distances, relationships, analogies, non-exclusive oppositions, fantasies that challenge the status quo. Rizal could have inaugurated the tradition of an antiheroic postmodernist vernacular centered on the antagonism of ideological worlds if he completed Makamisa in this unprecedented direction.
Second, the tuktukan game accompanying the Palm Sunday procession is Rizal’s proof that folk/indigenous culture, a spectacle staged at the site of the monological discourse of the Church, transgresses prohibitions and allows the body of the earth, its sensory process and affective becoming, to manifest itself. We confront the unconscious of the colonial structure in the essential motifs of carnivalesque ribaldry and topsy-turvy outlawry: “the high and low, birth and agony, food and excrement, praise and curses, laugher and tears “(in Julia Kristeva’s gloss).
Paradoxes, ambivalences, Dionysian fantasies, odd mixtures of styles that violate orthodox decorums, and diverse expressions of ideological themes and chronotopes—all these characterize the Menippean satirical discourse exemplified in Rizal’s third novel as well as in Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, De Sade, Lautreamont, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Joyce. (One wonders if Rizal read Dostoevsky or Gogol’s Dead Souls with its grotesque phantoms of the rural underworld.) According to Bakhtin, we find in Rabelais’ work the dramatic conflict between the popular/plebeian culture of the masses and the official medieval theology of hegemonic Christianity. Variants may be found in postmodernist works of magical realism (Garcia Marquez, Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie).
In brief, Makamisa—the title, “just after the mass,” speaks volumes– is the moment of Rabelaisian satire and carnival feast in Rizal’s archive. It may be read as Rizal’s attempt to go beyond the polyphonic relativizing of colonial authority and Christian logic in the Noli and Fili toward a return to the body of the people, not just folkways and the over-privileged tropology of the pasyon, but to the praxis of physical labor, the material/social processes of eating and excretion, sexual production and reproduction, collective dreams and the political unconscious. Unconscionable petty-bourgeois melancholy and the dandiacal pathos of mourning are definitely over. It is the moment of unfinalizable becoming, the moment of the Katipunan revolution, the hour of the cry of Balintawak.
Once more, at the ultimate reckoning, we encounter the spectre of Rizal at the barricades, arming the emergent collective spirit for storming the decaying fortifications of Makati and Malacanang Palace, envisioning a land where “there are no slaves, no hangmen, no oppressors,/where faith does not slay,” reincarnated Indios Bravos in the long march across the frontiers of Europe and the USA toward the “Pearl of the Orient Seas, our Eden lost….”
*Miguel de Unamuno,”The Tagalog Hamlet,” in Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by Petronilo B. Daroy and Dolores S. Fferia (Quezon City: Guro Books, 1968): 3-16.
**Anwar Ibrahim, “The Birth of the Asian Renaissance,” in The Philippine Revolution and Beyond, Vol. 1 (Manila, Philippines: Philippine Centennial Commission, 1998): xxiii-xxvi.
***Eugenio Matibag, “El Verbo del Filibusterismo: Narrative Ruses in the Novels of Jose Rizal,” Revista Hispanica Moderna (New York: Hispanic Institute, 1995): 250-264.
[This is a revised and longer version of an earlier essay entitled “Understanding Rizal Without Veneration.”]
E. SAN JUAN is co-director of the Board of Philippine Forum, New York City, and heads the Philippine Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut, USA He was visiting professor of literature at the National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan; professor of American Studies at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center Bellagio, Italy. Among his recent books are BEYOND POSTCOLONIAL THEORY (Palgrave), RACISM AND CULTURAL STUDIES (Duke University Press), and WORKING THROUGH THE CONTRADICTIONS (Bucknell University Press); IN THE WAKE OF TERROR (Lexington); US IMPERIALISM AND REVOLUTION IN THE PHILIPPINES (Palgrave); BALIKBAYANG SINTA: E SAN JUAN READER (Ateneo University Press; and FROM GLOBALIZATION TO NATIONAL LIBERATION (University of the Philippines Press). He will be a fellow of the WEB Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, in Spring 2009.