Grand Old Men

In researching Rizal’s influence in Southeast Asia, I have relied on the generosity of scholars and the good will of fellow journalists, but above all I have come to depend on the work and wisdom of “grand old men.”

Father Jack Schumacher (here autographing a book for me, at a conference room in “JR” — the Jesuit Residence inside the sprawling Loyola Heights campus) is in my view the most learned, most lucid historian of 19th-century Filipino nationalism. I take my bearings on Rizal — a revolutionary spirit with an essentially Catholic sensibility who strove to create a secular, national community —  first from Rizal’s own writings (marked, I have since learned, by crucial “turns”)  and second from Father Jack’s deeply documented work.

F. Sionil Jose, the country’s foremost living novelist, has created a body of work (especially as seen in the Rosales saga) that is rooted in Rizal. The young-but-soon-to-be-(academically)-famous scholar Joseph Scalice suggests one possible way to read the five Rosales novels in exactly this light. Manong Frankie (here taking a break from writing — he told me he is finishing another novel — by entertaining my many impertinent questions, in his office above Solidaridad bookshop) argues in passionate, compelling prose for the continuing relevance of Rizal.

Rosihan Anwar (here at his desk, in the house he has lived in since the 1960s) was a 22-year-old accidental newspaper editor when he translated Rizal’s farewell poem into Bahasa Indonesia, in 1944. Pak (short for Bapak, or father) Rosihan has not stopped writing since then. To the many books to his credit, he will add yet one more this year, another in the series of “little histories” that he has written for an appreciative Indonesian readership. He continues to do journalism, and indeed is known and introduced as a “senior journalist” in Indonesia. His translation of Mi Ultimo Adios during the Japanese regime, at a time of heightened nationalist aspirations in Indonesia, is a story in itself.

Two other luminaries have been most helpful to my research, but I failed to take their pictures. I spent the better  part of a morning consulting Anthony Reid, one of the world’s leading Southeast Asian scholars, and his gentle but probing questions have helped me understand what it is I ought to do. And though I exchanged only a few words with the iconic Benedict Anderson, his work, starting with the instant and incredibly influential classic Imagined Communities, has privileged Rizal, and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say he is the main reason for the renewed international interest in Rizal –patriot, polymath, and post-colonial poster child.


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Filed under Readings in Rizal, Spiral Notebook

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