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Sa Loob at Labas ng Bayan Kong Sawi:
Emergency Signals from a Filipino Exile

Editor's Note: This is the Second Part of a three-part essay on the exilic mindset grappling for meaning in the diaspora. The author expounds on Filipinos in dispersion defining their space and reasons for their dislocation. Part 1 appeared in the April 2005 issue. Part 3 will appear in a subsequent issue.

Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan
ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.
[One who does not look back to where he came from
will not reach his destination.]
—Ancient Tagalog proverb

So where are we now in mapping this terra incognita of the nomadic monster, the deviant, the alien, the stranger, the Filipino subaltern?

But the movement involved in exile is not accidental or happenstance; it has
a telosunderlying it. It implicates wills and purposes demarcating the beginning and end
of movement. As Spinoza teaches us, everything can be grasped as modalities
of rest and motion,
of varying speed.

We are unquestionably in the borderline, the hymen, the margin of difference that is constituted by that simultaneous absence and presence which Jacques Derrida was the first to theorize in his strategy of suspicion. It is, one might suggest, an epileptic seizure that is regularized, as the character of Prince Myshkin (in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot, 1868) demonstrates. When asked by that unforgettable mother, Mrs. Yepanchin, what he wrote to her daughter Aglayaa confession of need of the other person, a communication of desire for the other to be happy as the gist of the message, Prince Myshkin replied that when he wrote it, he had "great hopes." He explains: "Hopeswell, in short, hopes of the future and perhaps a feeling of joy that I was not a stranger, not a foreigner, there. I was suddenly very pleased to be back in my own country. One sunny morning I took up a pen and wrote a letter to her. Why to her, I don't know. Sometimes, you know, one feels like having a friend at one's side...."

Dear friend, where are you?

* * * * *

Since we are in the mode of a "rectification of names," a semantic interlude is appropriate here. Just as our current hermeneutic trend seeks etymologies and obsolete usages for traces of the itinerary of meanings, let us look at what Webster offers us for the word "exile": it means banished or expelled from one's native country or place of residence by authority, and forbidden to return, either for a limited time or for life; abandonment of one's country by choice or necessity. "The Exile" originally refers to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the 6th century B.C.

The Latin exilium denotes banishment; the Latin exilis denotes slender, fine, thin; "exilition," now obsolete, "a sudden springing or leaping out." This "sudden springing or leaping out" offers room for all kinds of speculation on wandering strangers inhabiting borderlines, boundaries, frontiers, all manner of refusals and evasions. But the movement involved in exile is not accidental or happenstance; it has a telosunderlying it. It implicates wills and purposes demarcating the beginning and end of movement. As Spinoza teaches us, everything can be grasped as modalities of rest and motion, of varying speed. Even here ambiguity pursues us: rest is relative to motion, motion to rest. If everyone is migrating, then who is the native and who the settler?

Another word should supplement "exile," and that word is "migration." The movement from place to place that this word signifies in one usage is quite circumscribed: it is the movement from one region to another with the change in seasons, as many birds and some fishes follow, e.g., "migratory locust," "migratory" worker: "one who travels from harvest to harvest, working until each crop is gathered or processed," to wit, the Filipino "Manongs" and their Mexican counterparts. The species of homosapiens pursues the line of flight instinctively followed by bird and fish, but this calibration of the instinct itself is drawn by the rhythm of the seasons, by earth's ecological mutation. So exile betrays political will, while migration still obscures or occludes the play of secular forces by the halo of naturalness, the aura of cosmic fate and divine decree. The fate of Bulosan and compatriots of the "warm body export" trade today—all ten million bodies, with at least five of them returning daily at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport as cadavers—offers the kairos of an exemplum. The "disappeared" in the era of martial law has now been replaced by the "returned" in the era of transnational corporate globalization.

* * * * *

The Pinoy diaspora is
a fusion of exile and migration: the scattering of a people, not yet
a fully synthesized nation, to the ends
of the earth, across the planet throughout the '60s and '70s, continuing up to the present.

The life-history of the national hero Jose Rizal offers one viable paradigm for Filipino intellectuals in self-exile.

When this leading anticolonial propagandist-agitator was banished to Dapitan, in the southern island of Mindanao, in 1892, he assured his family that "wherever I might go I should always be in the hands of God who holds in them the destinies of men." Despite this unabashed deistic faith, Rizal immediately applied himself to diverse preoccupations: horticulture, eye surgery, collecting butterflies for study, teaching, civic construction, composing a multilingual dictionary, and trying out a liaison with an “alien” woman, a stranger. He also maintained a voluminous correspondence with scientists and scholars in Europe and Manila. Even though the Spanish authorities were lenient, Rizal had no utopian illusions: "To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle.... It is a struggle with them but also with one's self, with their passions, but also with one's own, with errors and with anxieties."

The anguish of Rizal's exile was assuaged somewhat by his female companion, Josephine Bracken, an Irish Catholic from Hong Kong. But he could not deny that his being transported to Dapitan was demoralizing, unsettling, given "the uncertainty of the future." This is why he seized the opportunity to volunteer his medical skills to the Spanish army engaged in suppressing the revolution in Cuba. Amplifying distance and alienation, he could resign himself to the demands of duty, of the necessity "to make progress through suffering." Fatalism and service to the cause of humanity coalesced to distinguish the ethos of this exile at a time when rumblings of popular discontent had not yet climaxed in irreversible rupture. When Rizal was executed in December 1896, the revolution had already exploded, concentrating scattered energies in the fight against a common enemy, first Spain and then the United States. Homecoming was near.

* * * * *

In the context of globalized capitalism today, the Filipino diaspora acquires a distinctive physiognomy and temper. We can exercise a thought-experiment of syncretism and cross-fertilization. The Pinoy diaspora is a fusion of exile and migration: the scattering of a people, not yet a fully synthesized nation, to the ends of the earth, across the planet throughout the '60s and '70s, continuing up to the present. We are now a quasi-wandering people, pilgrims or prospectors staking our lives and futures all over the world—in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America, in Australia and all of Asia, in every nook and cranny of this seemingly godforsaken earth. Explorers and adventurers all. No one yet has performed a "cognitive mapping" of these movements, their geometry and velocity, across national boundaries, mocking the carnivalesque borderland hallucinations glorified by postmodernist academics of color.

Like birthpangs, the separation of loved ones generates a new experience, a nascent "structure of feeling," for which we have not yet discovered the appropriate plots, rhetorical idioms, discursive registers, and architectonic of representation.

Who cares for the Filipino anyway? Not even the Philippine government and its otiose consulates—unless compelled by massive demonstrations of anger such as the one that followed the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore. What can you expect from parasitic oligarchs and flunkeys of finance-capital? We are a nation in search of a national-democratic sovereign state that will care for the welfare of every citizen, particularly those historically oppressed (Moros, women, indigenous communities). When Benigno Aquino was killed, the slogan "the Filipino is worth dying for" became fashionable for a brief interval between the calamity of the Marcos dictatorship and the mendacity of Corazon Aquino's rule and her even more unconscionable successors. But today Filipinos are dying—for what? For the status quo? For more self-sacrifices for parasites?

In 1983 alone, there were 300,000 Filipinos in the Middle East and close to a hundred thousand in Europe. I met hundreds of Filipinos, men and women, in the city park in Rome, in front of the train station, during their days off as domestics and semi-skilled workers. I met Filipinos hanging around the post office in Tripoli, Libya in 1980. And in trips back and forth I've met them in London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Taipeh, Montreal and of course everywhere in the United States—a dispersed nationality, perhaps a little better than Bulosan and Philip Vera Cruz and his compatriots during the '30s and '40s, field hands and laborers migrating from harvest to harvest from California through Oregon to Washington and Alaska. A whole people dispersed, displaced, dislocated. A woman from Negros watched her husband flying to Saudi Arabia in 1981: "Even the men cry on leaving and cling to their children at the airport. When the airplane lifted off, I felt as though my own body was being dislocated." Like birthpangs, the separation of loved ones generates a new experience, a nascent "structure of feeling," for which we have not yet discovered the appropriate plots, rhetorical idioms, discursive registers, and architectonic of representation. Indeed, this late-capitalist diaspora demands a new language and symbolism for rendition. As picaresque fable? Epic saga? Or as tragic-comic spectacle?

What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. Look into the eyes of such folk in old photographs. Hope blazes undimmed through the fading sepia tints.

The cult hero of postcolonial postmodernity, Salman Rushdie, offers us a harvest of ideas on this global phenomenon in his novel, Shame. The migrant has conquered the force of gravity, Rushdie writes, the force of belonging; like birds, he has flown. Roots that have trammeled and tied us down have been torn. The conservative myth of roots (exile, to my mind, is a problem of mapping routes, not digging for roots) and gravity has been displaced by the reality of flight, for now to fly and to flee are ways of seeking individual freedom—a flight of escape for more profound engagements?

When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same thing (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. Look into the eyes of such folk in old photographs. Hope blazes undimmed through the fading sepia tints. And what's the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one's luggage. I'm speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing a few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history, from memory, from Time.

Rushdie finds himself caught not only in the no-man's-land between warring territories, but also between different periods of time. He considers Pakistan a palimpsest souvenir dreamed up by immigrants in Britain, its history written and rewritten, insufficiently conjured and extrapolated. Translated into a text, what was once a homeland becomes a product of the imagination. Every exile or deracinated subaltern shares Rushdie's position, or at least his invented habits: "I, too, like all migrants, am a fantasist. I build imaginary countries and try to impose them on the ones that exist. I, too, face the problem of history: what to retain, what to dump, how to hold on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with change." We select the construction materials of our salvaging vessel from the driftwords of memory, shipwrecked souvenirs—emergency signals flashing from flotsam and jetsam, the wreckage of dreams, promises, wagers risked.

And so this is the existential dilemma. For all those forced out of one's homeland—by choice of necessity, it doesn't really make a difference—the vocation of freedom becomes the act of inventing the history of one's life, which is equivalent to founding and inhabiting that terra incognita which only becomes known, mapped, named as one creates it partly from memory, partly from dream, partly from hope. Therefore the stranger is the discoverer of that region which becomes home in the process whose termination coincides with the life of the planet Earth, the stranger dissolving the estranging homelessness of our galaxy.

* * * * *

At this crossroad, let us seek pedagogical counsel from the mentor of the Palestinian diaspora, Edward Said, who has poignantly described the agon of exile. Said cited the Philippines’ colonial dependency in his magisterial study, Culture and Imperialism (1993). Caught in medias res and deprived of geographical stability or continuity of events, Said elaborates, the Palestinian narrator of the diaspora has to negotiate between the twin perils of fetishism and nostalgia:

Intimate mementoes of a past irrevocably lost circulate among us, like the genealogies and fables severed from their original locale, the rituals of speech and custom. Much reproduced, enlarged, thematized, embroidered and passed around, they are strands in the web of affiliations we Palestinians use to tie ourselves to our identity and to each other... We endure the difficulties of dispersion without being forced (or able) to struggle to change our circumstances.... Whatever the claim may be that we make on the world—and certainly on ourselves as people who have become restless in the fixed place to which we have been assigned—in fact our truest reality is expressed in the way we cross over from one place to another. We are migrants and perhaps hybrids in, but not of, any situation in which we find ourselves. This is the deepest continuity of our lives as a nation in exile and constantly on the move....

Despite its cogency and the eloquence of its truth-bearing signs, Said's discourse can only articulate the pathos of a select few, the elite intelligentsia.

Said's hermeneutic strives to decipher the condition of exile as the struggle to recover integrity and reestablish community not in any viable physical location but in the space of cultural production and exchange. Despite its cogency and the eloquence of its truth-bearing signs, Said's discourse can only articulate the pathos of a select few, the elite intelligentsia. Meanwhile, the intifada partisan has indeed gone beyond the irony of Said's humanism and the hubris of Derrida's difference to challenge U.S.-supported Zionist occupation.

We Filipinos need a cartography and a geopolitical project for the masses in diaspora, not for the elite in exile. Many of our fellow expatriates, however, are obsessed with beginnings.

Speaking of who arrived here first on this continent, our "born-again" compatriots are celebrating the first men from the archipelago who landed one foggy morning of October 21, 1587 at Morro Bay, California. These sailors from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Buena Esperanzawere of course colonial subjects, not "Filipinos," a term that in those days only referred to Spaniards born in the Philippines (in contrast to the Peninsulares, those born in the European metropolis). But no matter, they have become symbolic of the renewed search for identity. Any relic seems useful.

Such "roots" seem to assimilated Fil-Americans a prerequisite for claiming an original and authentic identity as a singular people. After all, how can the organic community grow and multiply without such attachments? Margie Talaugon of the Filipino American Historical National Society points to Morro Bay as the spot "where Filipino American history started" (Sacramento Bee, 19 May 1996). If so, then it started with the Spaniards expropriating the land of the Indians for the Cross and the Spanish crown. Do we want to be part of the gang of bloody conquistadors (whether Spanish, French, or Anglo-Saxon Puritans) guilty of the genocide of Native Americans?

Under the command of Pedro de Unamuno, "a few Luzon Indians" acting as scouts (because of their color) accompanied the exploring party into the California interior. Lo and behold, they were ambushed by the natives who failed to correctly interpret their offerings. In the skirmish born of misrecognition, one Filipino lost his life and Unamuno withdrew. Other expeditions followed—all for the purpose of finding out possible ports along the California coast where galleons sailing from Manila to Acapulco could seek refuge in case of attack from pirates. When the Franciscan missionaries joined the troops from Mexico, mandated to establish missions from San Diego to Monterey that would serve as way stations for the Manila galleons, Filipinos accompanied them as menials in colonizing Indian territory in what is now California. Do we need to cherish this memorial of complicity with blood-thirsty conquest?

* * * * *

The rubric designates the Malay subjects of the archipelago who allegedly jumped ship off Spanish galleons and found their way into the bayous of Louisiana as early as 1765. In contrast to the early Luzon "Indians," these were rebels protesting brutal conditions of indenture...

Anxiety underlying the claim to be first in setting foot on the North American continent also accounts for the revival of interest in the fabled "Manillamen." The rubric designates the Malay subjects of the archipelago who allegedly jumped ship off Spanish galleons and found their way into the bayous of Louisiana as early as 1765. In contrast to the early Luzon "Indians," these were rebels protesting brutal conditions of indenture; they were not knowing accomplices or accessories to colonial rampage. There is even a rumor that they signed up with the French buccaneer Jean Baptiste Lafitte ; if true, they then took part in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. These fugitives settled in several villages outside New Orleans, in Manila Village on Barataria Bay. They engaged chiefly in shrimp-fishing and hunting.

The most well-known settlement (circa 1825) was St. Malo which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1915. The Filipino swamp settlers of St. Malo were memorialized by one of the first "Orientalists," Lafcadio Hearn, whose life-configuration appears as amphibious and rhizomatic as the transplanted Malays he sought to romanticize. Hearn loved all things Japanese, and all things that can be exoticized. Here is an excerpt from his article, "Saint Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana" (Harper's Weekly, 31 March 1883):

For nearly fifty years, there has existed in the southern swamp lands of Louisiana a certain strange settlement of Malay fishermen—Tagalas from the Philippine Islands. The place of their lacustrine village is not precisely mentioned upon maps, and the world in general ignored until a few days ago the bare fact of their amphibious existence. Even the United States mail service has never found its way thither, and even the great city of New Orleans, less than a hundred miles distant, the people were far better informed about the Carboniferous Era than concerning the swampy affairs of the Manila village....

Out of the shuddering reeds and grass on either side rise the fantastic houses of the Malay fishermen, poised upon slender support above the marsh, like cranes watching for scaly prey.... There is no woman in the settlement, nor has the treble of a female voice been heard along the bayou for many a long year.... How, then, comes it that in spite of the connection with civilized life, the Malay settlement of Lake Borgne has been so long unknown? Perhaps because of the natural reticence of the people...

What is curious is that Hearn, in another "take" of this landscape (in Times-Democrat, 18 March 1883), shifts our attention to the mood and atmosphere of the place in order to foreground his verbal artistry. The need to know these strange swamp dwellers is now subsumed into the program of a self-indulgent aestheticizing drive; the will to defamiliarize turns the inhabitants, the "outlandish colony of Orientals," into performers of fin-de-siecle decadence. Voyeurism feeds on invidious contrasts and innuendoes that weakly recall Baudelaire's posture of worldly ennui:

Louisiana is full of mysteries and surprises. Within fifty miles of this huge city, in a bee line southwest, lies a place as wild and weird as the most fervent seekers after the curious could wish to behold—a lake village constructed in true Oriental style, and equally worthy of prehistoric Switzerland or modern Malacca.... The like isolation of our Malay settlement is due to natural causes alone, but of a stranger sort. It is situated in a peculiarly chaotic part of the world, where definition between earth and water ceases—an amphibious land full of quiverings and quagmires, suited rather to reptile life than to human existence—a region wan and doubtful and mutable as that described in "The Passing of Arthur," where fragments of forgotten peoples dwell...a coast of ever shifting sand, and, far away, the phantom circle of a moaning sea.

...Nature, by day, seems to be afraid to speak in a loud voice there; she whispers only. And the brown Malays—forever face to face with her solitude—also talk in low tones as through sympathy—tones taught by the lapping of sluggish waters, the whispering of grasses, the murmuring of the vast marsh. Unless an alligator show his head—then it is a shout of "Miro! cuidado!"

Is precedence a claim to authenticity and autochthonous originality? What if we came last, not "fresh off the boats," clinging to the anchors or even floating on driftwood? Does this entitle us less to "citizenship" or the right to inhabit our constructed place here?

Since the voices captured are in Spanish, we know that these brown settlers have been Hispanicized and estranged from their original surroundings. But never mind: the sounds blend with the other creatures of the bayous, a cacophony of organic life orchestrated by Hearn's precious craft. St. Malo's miasma is domesticated for the elegant French salons of New Orleans and the adjoining plantations. Unlike the foggy, damp and rainy Siberia of Chekhov's story "In Exile" (written in 1892), which becomes the site of epiphanic disclosures and cathartic confessions, Hearn's theater affords no such possibility. Old Semyon, Chekhov's choric observer, can demonstrate his toughness and fortitude all at once in the face of Czarist inhumanity: "Even in Siberia people can live—can li-ive!"

The repressed always returns, but in serendipitous disguise. Hearn would be surprised to learn that St. Malo's descendants, now in their eighth generation, are alive and well, telling their stories, musing: "Well, if we don't know where we come from how do we know where we are going?" The indefatigable filmmaker Renee Tajima interviewed the Burtanog sisters in New Orleans and notes that "there are no mahjongg games and trans-Pacific memories here in the Burtanog household. The defining cultural equation is Five-card Stud and six-pack of Bud (Lite). The talk is ex-husbands, voodoo curses, and the complicated racial design of New Orleans society."

Out of the mists exuding from Hearn's prose, the Burtanog sisters speak about anti-miscegenation and Jim Crow laws, the hierarchical ranking and crossing-over of the races in Louisiana. But, in conformity with the Southern ethos, they consider themselves “white.” These exuberant women certainly do not belong to Bienvenido Santos' tribe of "lovely people"—a patronizing epithet—whose consolation is that they (like artists) presumably have ready and immediate access to the eternal verities. No such luck. Not even for internal exiles like Mikhail Bakhtin, Ann Akhmatova, Ding Ling, or for "beautiful" souls like Jose Garcia Villa and their epigones in the miasmic salons of the Empire.

* * * * *

Why this obsessive quest for who came first? Is precedence a claim to authenticity and autochthonous originality? What if we came last, not "fresh off the boats," clinging to the anchors or even floating on driftwood? Does this entitle us less to "citizenship" or the right to inhabit our constructed place here? Who owns this land, this continent, anyway? Weren’t the American Indians the stewards of communal land before the cartographer Amerigo Vespucci was recast as the name-giver to a whole continent?

To shift to the romance of the Spanish Galleons is to repress this birth of the Filipino in the womb of the imperial body, a birth which—to invoke the terms in which Petrarch conceived his exile as the physical separation from the mother's body—implies liberation.

In his semantic genealogy, Raymond Williams (in Keywords, 1983) traces the etymology of "native" to the Latin nasci (to be born); nativus means innate, natural; hence, "naive" as artless and simple. After the period of conquest and domination, "native" became equivalent to "bondman" or "villein," born in bondage. This negative usage—the ascription of inferiority to locals, to non-Europeans—existed alongside the positive usage when applied to one's own place or person. Williams observes further:

Indigenous has served both as a euphemism and as a more neutral term. In English it is more difficult to use in the sense which converts all others to inferiors (to go indigenous is obviously less plausible than to go native). In French, however, indigenes went through the same development as English natives, and is now often replaced by autochtones [sic].

We may therefore be truly naifs if we ignore the advent of United States power in Manila Bay (not Morro Bay) in 1898. This is the inaugural event that started the process of deracination, the primordial event that unfolded in the phenomena of pensionados and the recruits of the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation up to the "brain drain" of the seventies, the political opportunists who sought asylum during the Marcos dictatorship, and the present influx of this branch of the Filipino diaspora. To shift to the romance of the Spanish Galleons is to repress this birth of the Filipino in the womb of the imperial body, a birth which—to invoke the terms in which Petrarch conceived his exile as the physical separation from the mother's body—implies liberation. This is probably why Jose Marti, the revolutionary Cuban who lived in exile in the United States while Spain tyrannized over his Motherland, spoke of living in the "belly of the beast."

Here the metaphor becomes fertile for all kinds of movements, of embarkations and departures. For Petrarch, exile served as the fantasy of discontinuity that allowed the poet immense relief from the tremendous anxiety he felt because of his “belatedness,” his advent after the decline of classic Roman civilization. Petrarch was "wounded" by his Greek precursors; he resolved to heal the wound by conceiving the act of writing as a process of digestion, of engulfing, regurgitating, and absorption. We find analogous strategies of sublimation in Virgil, Dante, Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks, and so on. This displacement of the original trauma, which assumed earlier Gnostic resonance as the imprisonment of the soul within the body, may perhaps explain the preponderance of oral and gustatory images, eating and digesting activities, in the fiction of Jessica Hagedorn, R. Zamora Linmark, and others.

Are Filipinos condemned to this fantasy of cannibalism as a means of compensation for the loss of the mother? Are we in perpetual mourning, unable to eject the lost beloved that is still embedded in the psyche and forever memorialized there? Are we, Filipinos scattered throughout the planet, bound to the curse of a repetition compulsion, worshipping fetishes (like aging veterans of some forgotten or mythical battle) that forever remind us of the absent, forgotten, and unrecuperated Others?

One can only surmise that Mabini's shrewd and proud spirit was able to endure the pain of banishment because he was busy forging in his mind "the conscience of his race," writing his memoirs of the revolution...

That is perhaps the permanent stance of the exile, the act of desiring what is neither here nor there. This paradigm is exemplified in the last speech of Richard Rowan, the writer-hero of James Joyce's Exiles, addressing Bertha but also someone else, an absent person:

I have wounded my soul for you—a deep wound of doubt which can never be healed. I can never know, never in this world. I do not wish to know or to believe. I do not care. It is not in the darkness of belief that I desire you. But in restless living wounding doubt. To hold you by no bonds, even of love, to be united with you in body and soul in utter nakedness—for this I longed .

The quest for the mother as the cure for jealousy, for the illness accompanying the discovery that one cannot completely possess the body of the loved one (the mother-surrogate), is given an ironic twist by Joyce's meditation on women's liberation in his notes to Exiles:

It is a fact that for nearly two thousand years the women of Christendom have prayed to and kissed the naked image of one who had neither wife nor mistress nor sister and would scarcely have been associated with his mother had it not been that the Italian church discovered, with its infallible practical instinct, the rich possibilities of the figure of the Madonna .

I recall somewhere that photo or drawing of Rizal’s mother Teodora Alonzo contemplating the urn containing the remains of her son. This pieta attitude symbolizes the longed-for fulfillment of the exile’s wish to return to the homeland’s bosom, the completion of his earthly journey.

* * * * *

Come now, are we serious in all these melancholy reflections? Was Jose Rizal indulging in this when, in exile at Dapitan, he was preoccupied not just with Josephine Bracken but with a thousand projects of cultivation, teaching, polemical arguments with his Jesuit mentors, correspondence with scholars in Europe, ophthalmological practice, and so on? "What do I have to do with thee, woman?" Or Isabelo de los Reyes—our own socialist forebear—hurled not into the Heideggerian banality of our quotidian world but into the dark dungeon of Montjuich prison near Barcelona for his anarchist and subversive connections: was he troubled by porous and shifting boundaries? And that perchance he was not really inside but outside, something like the in-between hybrid of postcolonial orthodoxy ? Indeed, one may ask: for General Artemio Ricarte, self-exiled in Japan after the victory of the Yankee invaders, is imagining the lost nation a labor of mourning too?

Let us leave this topos of Freudian melancholia and ground our speculations on actual circumstances. Such postmodern quandaries concerning the modalities of displacement of time by space, of essences by contingencies, could not have cajoled the tempered will of Apolinario Mabini into acquiescence. A brilliant adviser to General Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the first Philippine Republic, the captured Mabini refused to swear allegiance to the sovereign power of the United States. This "sublime paralytic" conceived deportation as a crucible of his insurrectionary soul. Intransigent, he preferred the challenge of physical removal to Guam where he was incarcerated for two years.

Imagine the paralyzed Mabini being carried in a hammock along the shores of Guam at the threshold of the storm-wracked twentieth century. Scouring the horizon for a glimpse of his beloved las islas Filipinas across the Pacific Ocean, Mabini must have felt that we needed to bide our time because surrender/defeat was not compromise but a strategy of waiting for the next opportunity. He envisioned a long march, a protracted journey, toward emancipation. One can only surmise that Mabini's shrewd and proud spirit was able to endure the pain of banishment because he was busy forging in his mind "the conscience of his race," writing his memoirs of the revolution, his wit and cunning deployed to bridge the distance between that melancholy island and the other godforsaken islands he was not really able to leave. Who cares now for Mabini? Or for Macario Sakay and the countless “brigands” whom the U.S. hanged for sedition?

At this point in our journey, we can’t stop to savor the pleasure of nostalgia. We are on the way home—“Tomorrow, Manila!”

© E. San Juan, Jr.

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