Sunday, November 18, 2007

After the Fair

At the turn of the 20th century, international world fairs were the rage in the United States of America and in Western Europe. Millions of dollars were spent on landscaping the fair grounds, on engineering marvels and ostentatious pavilions of marvelous architectural design. Ostensibly, those fairs aimed to foment trade and commerce that would redound to the benefit of colonies like the Philippines and possessions like Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, to name a few.

At the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, there were magnificent palaces dedicated to Commerce, Electricity, Manufactures and other scientific breakthroughs of that era. However, it was the savagery exhibited at the “Philippine Reservation” , those contrived villages of “uncivilized “Igorrotes and Moros, with trees houses and animal sacrifices, that have lingered in the collective memory of North Americans. Of course, to give a “balanced” picture of life in the P.I, there was a handful of ilustrados “on display”. Visayans dressed as Gibson girls and bands of Philippine Scouts and Constabulary, in crisp uniforms, parading and entertaining millions of visitors with lively tunes and American songs. But such urbane refinements have long been forgotten.

I was appalled to learn that one of those ilustrados “on display” was famous botanist, Leon Maria Guerrero, my great grandfather, After the St. Louis World Fair, he was interviewed by Alfred O. Newell, Chief of the US Department of Exploitation ( a huge P.R. office) who included the encounter in his book, THE PHILIPPINE EXPOSITION, WORLD’S FAIR, ST LOUIS, 1904. Dr. Guerrero, secretary of the Philippine Exposition Board, knew no English so he spoke through an interpreter. When asked about the effects of the Fair on the Filipinos, Dr. Guerrero said there should be closer commercial ties with the USA, reduced tariff for Filipino products like hemp, American capital to establish factories and to help native inventors like the one who invented a machine to extract hemp fiber. Significantly, Guerrero stressed that Filipinos did not want trusts (big monopolies).

As the Philippine-American War was still raging during the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, notwithstanding Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s capture in 1901, Alfred Newell asked Guerrero what he thought of Aguinaldo to which he replied. “All Fliipinos have respect and sympathy for one who has been their leader.” Then Newell asked that crucial question: ”Do you think the Filipinos are capable of self-government?” And Guerrero emphatically declared: “If the government of the United States expects to make an Anglo-Saxon of the Filipino, it will take a long time. …If taken as they are, as Filipinos, I mean, they are capable of governing themselves—now.” That was precisely what the St. Louis World Fair did not want to project, that Filipinos were capable of self-government.

No wonder the memory of the First Republic had to be severely extirpated and what better way than through savage displays at the “Philippine Reservation” of international fairs. After St. Louis, Filipino minorities continued to be ‘imported” to various fairs and carnivals in the USA and Europe like the Lewis and Clark Centennial, American Pacific Exposition , Oriental Fair in Portland, Oregon (1905) Jamestown Tercentenary Exposition in Virginia (1907), Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle (1909), Ghent Exhibition in Belgium 1913 and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

In the meantime, the Philippine Assembly convened in 1907 ( some of the ilustrados “on display” at St. Louis had won seats) and passed two laws , the first of which (1908) provided that “ no tribal people should be exhibited except those who were customarily fully clothed”, and the second, in 1914, penalized anyone who “exploited or exhibited tribal people “. The fine was five thousand dollars and imprisonment of not more than five years.

When Manuel L. Quezon was Philippine Resident Commissioner in the USA, he was invited to “Philippine Day” at the San Francisco Exposition where he lamented: “I have traveled to every part of the US and I have been saddened to learn how many misapprehensions exist here as to the real conditions in the Philippine Islands due… to the exhibition of the native Igorrote village at the St. Louis Exposition ten years ago.’ Yet, as late as 1931, the US War Department wanted to set up yet another “Igorrote Village” at the Paris Exposition and had the gall to demand that the Philippine Legislature appropriate US$50,000 for that purpose. Outraged, the Filipinos protested vehemently so wax figures and dioramas had to be used instead to project the US government’s enduring social Darwinism.#

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