Losing our memories
It finally happened. This commentary came to me whole—in a dream. You know what Shakespeare said? That “Life is a dream”? Well, it’s true. Mydream just proved it. It happened this way. I’d been mulling over the public response to the last National Artist Awards, wondering why the Palace was so out-of-step with national sentiment on Nora Aunor, and what people in power really know about how people feel. Then I realized the key wasmemory—what people remember about our history.
That was the disconnect. People in power who remember our history differently from us are trying to take us to where we refuse to go. We, in turn, still remember what our nation has already been through and want to go elsewhere.
That’s when my dream came. It went like this: I walked into a huge garden party thrown by Baron something, whose mansion was ablaze with lights somewhere in old Pasay City. The guests were all dressed in silk and satin, their faces covered with masks.
What it was, I found, was really an art auction with magnificent canvases and sculpture by Filipinos from different periods of our history. And, oh my God, the painters and sculptors, living and dead, were mingling with the guests.
I remember Juan Luna among them, casually saying, “Sa tinagal-tagal naming sinasabi sa inyong ito ang nangyayari sa Pilipinas, bakit ngayon lang kayo? (We’ve been telling you for so long what’s happening to the Philippines. Why have you come only now?)”
“At pera lang ang ipapalit niyo sa pasakit namin para sa bayan? (And you’re exchanging only money for our sacrifices for our nation?),” someone standing behind Juan Luna added. Oh my God! It was Ka Memong, my distant uncle Guillermo Tolentino, the first Filipino sculptor after generations of pre-Conquest creators of likha, the faces of our ancient gods.
There was an uneasy flurry among the guests when the host stood up in his tuxedo and declared the auction open. People took their seats, the baron stood on a podium with his gavel. Eight men carried the huge canvas of Luna’s “Spoliarium” and propped it up against two old trees.
“Tayo ’yan. Tayo pa rin ’yan ngayon (That’s us. That’s still us now),” Juan Luna said gruffly.
The bidding started. The first bid was $100 million. In the trees hovered white Chinese ghosts. We were losing even our memory to money.
———— Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.