Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Where is George Washington?

My wife and I are opening a children’s library to address the needs of the new generation to rediscover the pleasure of reading books. We took advantage of the discount sales in Powerbooks and National Bookstore this weekend, and we have gathered a hefty harvest of children’s books. In the course of buying the books, I managed to sneak Adrian Cristobal’s "The Tragedy of the Revolution" in the shopping list, as I argued that our children need to be familiar, if not enamored, by Philippine heroes. Cristobal’s book is full of illustrations, pictures, and even replicas of Bonifacio’s letters that could excite young and old minds alike. I thought, it might be a good start.

When we got home, I opened the big book immediately and gathered my older sons, Juancho (six years old) and Hans (four years old) around it. Juancho was particularly impressed, and judging from his reaction, I expect that he would be opening this book regularly. But Hans -- well, after I announced that the book was about Andres Bonifacio, he asked, “ Where is George Washington?”. I dismissed his question as a joke, but after I explained to him who Andres Bonifacio was, I still am not sure if he understood.

Hans’s innocent question has made me feel guilty. What are we feeding the mind of this child? Cable TV, computer games, foreign written children’s books, Pixar and Disney movies? And what a shame it is that my Filipino son knew George Washington before he knew Andres Bonifacio. And this brings me back to my point, we need to make our children familiar, if not enamored, by our Filipino heroes. For it is only through the awareness and understanding of their history that our kids will appreciate what is to be Filipinos and find their place in the world.

But for a Filipino parent, the task is difficult. Mass media is dominated by Hollywood. I have not seen a decent film of Andres Bonifacio in my life. And Cristobal’s book is one among few books on the man that is accessible to all ages. There is very little about Filipino heroes on the bookstores and video shops. In spite of the fact that our history is never lacking in material, our mass media have not given our children a decent fare of Filipino heroes. It is quite an irony that in the age of mass media, Filipinos would have to pass stories about their heroes by oral tradition.

Why? One word says it all: chicken.

Our media moguls are afraid to exploit the untried and untested as they are afraid to lose money. And so they give us their regular mediocre material that rakes in the cash. But they are unaware that if only someone would dare, they would find a generation hungry for their heritage. And it might even be a more profitable proposition, for what could be a better reward than the certainty that our kids will carry on with the ideals of our heroes and avoid the sins of their forefathers?

Hollywood did it to them. Hollywood did it to us. It took away our courage -- the courage to be ourselves. Let’s not allow it to do the same to our children. I won’t allow it anymore. No. Not to my Juancho and Hans.


Filipino Librarian said...

good luck on the children's library! are you planning on setting up a blog for it? please let me know because i am planning to write about the increasing number of private library initiatives.

re george washington, i think part of the problem is that writers and publishers can't seem to be bothered to think of more creative ways of presenting our heroes beyond the tried-and-tested but very boring, "he died for his country."

what we need is for a historian like ambeth ocampo to team up with a publisher like adarna to come up with a series that children will actually want to read.

marvin said...

Thanks for your comment Vernon,

A website is part of the general plan, My wife will run a reading program for kids in the library. The real thrust is to take the kids back to the books.

Ambeth has done a good job bringing back Philippine history to the mainstream consciousness with his columns, I hope somebody sets up a fund or him to produce history books for kids.

Coco Alcuaz said...

I hate to sound like a ``mental colony'' but what I'd do if I was Hans' father was to get him a book on George Washington ASAP. Or, another, if he's already read one, or books on Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and so on. Heroism, leadership and other values are universal. Hans doesnt need to see them in his Filipino forebears to emulate them. Hans doesnt even need to see them in his Filipino forebears to love the Philippines. In fact, Washington & Co. are as good a place as any to stir any person's interest in and love of history and public affairs which I daresay will make him understand and appreciate and love his country more. They werent perfect, and neither was the nation they forged -- it still isnt -- but they more consciously than the founding fathers of most nations designed their state and their debates, compromises and vicissitudes may hook and inspire Hans.
That being said: where will this library be? It's a wonderful idea, particularly the readings!

Paul said...

Hi Marv, I should buy Cristobal's book, probably this weekend at the Book Fair.

I wonder if you've noticed but there are very few children's books in Pilipino meant for toddlers and preschoolers. Most books I've seen typically begin at the kindergarten or prep level.

Good luck with your project!

Sassy Lawyer said...

Marvin, if you accept donations, we have children's books in the house that my daughters have outgrown.

marvin said...


Thanks for the comment! Kumusta na Bloomberg? You know before I saw your comment, I was thinking that somebody might about heroism being universal? And what a surprise that it came from you. Indeed, heroism is universal. You got it right. But Bonifacio's story has got me a little wounded. I have nothing against George Washington, but I think my son should start with a Katipunero.

About the library, it will be in the Scout area in Queson City. It's part of a duplex that has been newly-built near Quezon Avenue. It's a small place, because we're just starting it. I will announce the launching date, and put up it's own blog.


Thanks for your offer. That would be great. I will get in touch with you these days about it.


Guess what? I saw the La Solidaridad translations by Guadalupe Ganzon at the Bookmark booth. All seven volumes are available for PHP 5k. Couldn' resist it, so now they're in my bookshelf at the office.