By Marivir R. Montebon
My wish for Filipino communities here is to continue holding consciousness programs that bring Filipinos in diaspora to our true selves. I want to dig deep beneath the colonial tiers that have buried our genuine ethnic culture of kindness, bayanihan, and reverence to the Earth. I want to go back to that.
Award winning novelist Gina Apostol, says writers, after Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), will never be as good. “He pictured society and people comprehensively in our minds. For me, contemporary writers would likely pail out. He wrote in a manner that he was part of his society, in fact predicting his death,” said Apostol at the closing of the Reading Rizal Marathon at the Bowery Poetry Club on October 18, 2015. The reading marathon was sponsored by the Filipino American Museum and ran for three straight days, from Oct. 17 to 19, that is.
Indeed, Apostol, author of The Gun Dealer’s Daughter, is not alone in this thought. The mark of a great writer is when he is able to effect change, and no other book has changed the world (of colonial Philippines) but the Noli. It mirrored back to Filipinos their own misery, affirmed their long-held angst against the injustices imposed on them, and without effort, pointed out that the Spanish rule must end.
Rizal’s eloquence reflects how he writes so deeply and with kind understanding of the ills of our society. His words perfectly define and describe the indios as oppressed individuals who had to bravely find their self-worth and free themselves from the bind of their colonial master.
The sorrow of Sisa and Maria Clara is most gripping to me. I got disgusted by the monster in Padre Damaso, and helpless by the lame Kapitan Tiago. I was humored by Dona Victorina all throughout the book.
It was in high school that I thoroughly learned about the Noli, in my Filipino literature class, which was in Tagalog. Being Cebuano, my classmates and I were struggling to endure the whole year of studying the Noli. But I had an English version of the book, a very old and tattered one, because it was from my uncles and aunts who studied in College long before I did.
That old English version helped me understand faster and better the Noli. Apologies, but the mindset of a Cebuano is facilitated more by the Visayan and English languages. Tagalog was a different ethnic language and is by practice, less used than English.
So anyway, that one whole year of reading Noli in my class changed me. It opened my eyes to reality that the past which Rizal had written about was still alive in my world. I would silently reflect why there were a lot of Dona Victorinas in our midst, those who try hard to be high and smart and those who pretend to be. There are a lot of pilosopo Tasyos as well, but whose wisdom and values remain unheeded.
Fast forward, the truths cited by Noli became sharper when in the diaspora that found me in America, I can see from afar how Philippine society is lost in its colonial culture, the mindset of corruption and cooptation.
How very sad.
My wish for Filipino communities here is to hold consciousness programs that would bring Filipinos in diaspora to our true selves. I want to dig deep beneath the colonial tiers that have buried our genuine ethnic culture of kindness, bayanihan, and reverence to the Earth. I want to go back to that. The Noli I believe will make us realize the lost values squandered by colonialism.
I am inspired by the words of artist and cultural producer Jaret Vadera, one of the readers of the marathon:
“Rizal’s legacy, through his work, is that he gives us a means to remember. Remembering is an active process. Over the last three days, Rizal’s words, about our history, traveled on our breaths, were spoken through our lips, with our voices. Re-embodied and reconjured through our retellings with our individual inflections and accents.
For me, the act of reading “the Noli” took me back to the small town of Palauig in Zambales where my Lola lived before she died, and where I spent some of my summers growing up. I mapped stories and memories about my family and friends onto Rizal’s characters and I ended up reconnecting with old smells, colors, sounds, and feelings that I don’t often remember when I am here. My memories are often out of context, and are not always forthcoming, like trying to remember the tune of a song while another one is playing.
Reading and remembering are also a means of reconnecting – reconnecting to our collective history, to our family histories.
The act of remembering can also be an act of opening up to pain, to frustration, to anger, and to ambivalence. But, this is our story to remember. And through our conscious act of remembering, we are listening to Elias’ final whisper to not “forget those who fell during the night.”
Kudos to the team of the Filipino American Museum for this event! Let a thousand and one readings happen.