NOTEBOOK: Why Andres Bonifacio Festival?
NOTEBOOK: Why Andres Bonifacio Festival?
Why a festival of this nature, meaning having a historical content.
A quick story. In my first week in Canada in November 1984, I was in my sister’s home in a family gathering in Mississauga. The name of Jose Rizal was mentioned. My niece, who was in elementary grade, asked, “Who is Jose Rizal?” There was laughter among the elders in the family who were educated in the Philippines. Everyone in the home country knows Jose Rizal, the national hero who wrote two novels that inspired a revolution against Spanish colonialism of 300 years.
Fast forward 35 years later. Just yesterday. A younger sister of that niece, who’s in her forties and has two kids in high school, was at our home. The Bonifest event today was mentioned and I asked her if she knew Jose Rizal. Her reply: ”No but it sounds familiar.” After 35 years? As the millennials say, SERIOUSLY?
That means we’re not doing our job as parents and elders in the community.
Sure, we have festivals and festivals throughout the year. The Independence Day festivals, gala nights and picnics, the food festivals, the showbiz concerts, the beauty pageants, the traditional folk dance shows, the musical concerts, the religious festivals. I’m not saying all of them have no redeeming value. The problem is most of them promote themes that have nothing to do with the history of the home country. What are lacking are themes of patriotism and nationalism, love of country, knowledge and appreciation of the contributions of our heroes and a sense of sacrifice to contribute to a better future of the country and its people.
Year after year in these festivals, we are bombarded by motherhood statements and cliches about our heritage and traditions, impressed by colourful folk dances, entertained by mindless movie star shows, yet when we look at our youth what we see are young people who have no idea about the country their parents and grandparents came from, the history of that country, the great struggles that they waged and risked their lives for. These young people, they themselves admit, suffer from what is called “identity crisis”. They speak English in Canadian accent, but they don’t know their native languages. All they know that is Filipino is adobo, and sinigang, the tinikling dance, Pacquiao, the Filipino beauty queens who won the Miss Universe contest. Jose Rizal? Sounds familiar. Andres Bonifacio? Andres who?
In Canada, government officials always say that diversity is a source of strength of Canada. And our youth are aware that they look different from other ethnic youth and they eat different food or dress differently. But how different are their home countries in terms of their history and heroes? Most likely they have no idea.
This we want to help change so that our youth may have a working knowledge of our history and the struggles our people, led by our heroes, That is why this festival.
Now, why Andres Bonifacio?
Because he was the founder and leader of the Philippine Revolution of 1896. He founded the Katipunan, the organization that launched the revolution that brought down the Spanish colonial regime in 1898, the oppressive regime that lasted 333 years.
But why not Jose Rizal Festival?
Rizal had great contributions to the liberation of the Philippines from colonialism and his works, mainly his two novels that exposed the evils of Spanish colonialism, was crucial in awakening a nation. In fact, Bonifacio was inspired by Rizal’s Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, as he was inspired by his readings on the French Revolution and liberal ideas from Europe and the United States (He read biographies of U.S. presidents). Rizal was executed by the Spanish authorities for his writings that they labeled subversive. He became a revered martyr and internationally known icon of Filipino heroism.
But it was Bonifacio who not only wrote poems and political tracts but organized and led a national movement to topple the colonial government. Rizal did not believe the revolution would win. He believed it was not the right moment and that the people were not ready. He preferred education as a weapon. That is history.
Again, why Bonifacio? Because he was practically the founder of the nation, the leader who trusted his people and felt the pulse of an enslaved nation crying out to be free. He organized them to fight and give birth to a free nation. We want our youth to learn about Bonifacio and the other valiant heroes.
We want our youth to be proud of their heroes and their revolutionary history. So that they may understand profoundly their unique identity, their historical DNA, if you will, and not again be lost in the diaspora of diverse cultures and communities in north America. And in the process, also remind our elders of our great history and strengthen our community and in the process further contribute better not only to our homeland the Philippines but also to our adopted country that is Canada.
(Speech delivered at Andres Bonifacio Festival 2019, Toronto City Hall, Nov. 17, 2019)
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