(This July 2008 piece was originally uploaded at a website I used to work for years ago.)
Jose Maria A. Cariño sold a painting and used the proceeds to publish a book he would later sell below cost.
From a purely financial perspective, the transaction was not expected to bring in a profit.
After all, the painting Cariño sold was priceless.
It was a Juan Luna, one of the many pieces in his Juan Luna collection. Never mind that he reportedly owns far more valuable Juan Luna pieces than any other Philippine museum (on top of the fact that he has also restored two classic European automobiles).
But Cariño, a career diplomat and an art and history researcher, considers the undertaking a fair exchange.
“If we can make more people think because of this book, then it’s worth it,” said Cariño. He was referring to Portraits of a Tangled Relationship: The Philippines and the United States, a book he published and co-wrote with four other people which was launched in Makati City.
To emphasize his point, Cariño opened the book – the size of a record album and the weight of a laptop – on pages 164 to 165. He then laid the volume out on a table for everyone to see.
On the left page (known as the verso) is a full-size, black and white photograph of a door to an establishment with a sign indicating “Positively No Filipinos Allowed.”
On the recto (the book’s right hand side) is a quote in white letters superimposed on a red background: “I wanted to live in an America where there is freedom for all regardless of color, station, and beliefs.”
It was from an undated letter written by novelist Carlos Bulosan to the spouse of the late University of the Philippines president Salvador P. Lopez.
The juxtaposition of word and image is intentional.
It underscored Filipinos’ different views about America, the country that purchased the Philippines for $20 million dollars after the US Senate—by one more vote than the majority needed—approved the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
Debates about the treaty were heated.
Not only did American writer Mark Twain oppose his country’s imperial ambitions, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie—considered as the Bill Gates of his day in terms of his wealth—also petitioned the US Senate to reject the treaty, without much success.
However, with the treaty’s endorsement, more American soldiers and teachers were deployed to their country’s colony, the first tasked to quell rebellion and the second mandated to win Filipinos’ hearts and minds.
Although the natives resisted American conquest through a war that lasted longer than expected, they later took to American language and culture, in ways far too complicated to explain.
And this is exactly what the book intends to convey —”the story of a complex and intriguing relationship that spans more than century, with a perpetually changing cast of characters,” the book’s foreword says, written by Cariño and Sonia P. Ner, an editor and former Asia Society Philippines president.
As if underscoring this unique relationship, the book was launched two days before the Philippines’ Independence Day this year at the Tower Club in Philamlife Tower, a building owned by a company founded by Earl Carroll, a American war hero. In the meantime, the company’s first chairman was Paul McNutt, the first US ambassador to the Philippines.
The book is a collective effort of Cariño, Ner, multi-awarded novelist and GMANews.TV blogger Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., acclaimed archivist Crispina M. Reyes, and poet Mabi David.
Despite the book’s physical heft, the short essay by Dalisay, the quotes collected by Cariño and Ner, and the timeline put together by Reyes and David provide a refreshing take on what is more than just a love-hate relationship between the two countries.
Composed of two-thirds photos and one-third text, Portraits enumerates and summarizes the life stories of Filipinos and Americans who have, for good or ill, changed the nature of the so-called “special relationship” between both countries.
Portrait cites American architect and urban planner Daniel H. Burnham, Chicago’s city planner, who refused to collect fees for designing Baguio City because he was so impressed with the city’s hills.
It also mentions “Manila Men”—one of which was even featured as a character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick—the name used for stowaways from the previous Spanish colony.
A group of Manila Men later jumped ship in what is now known as New Orleans, helping establish the shrimp drying industry in a bayou called, not surprisingly, Manila Village.
Portrait also relates the story of Pita-pit, a indigenous boy in Bontoc, who was adapted by Fr. Walter Clapp early last century.
After securing a medical degree in the US, Hilary Pita-pit Clapp went home.
Using his knowledge, he became the province’s medical officer and later the governor of Mountain Province who died “at the hands of the Japanese while protecting his people.”
While the book’s price—at P3,000—will not exactly reach a wide audience, Cariño has undertaken his best efforts to ensure that many Filipinos will have access to it.
During the launch, he requested each of his 30 guests to list five Philippine schools where the books could be donated to, a gesture which will be appreciated by its recipients.