01 July 2016


Character Connection 54

Created by The Introverted Reader

When I read an F. Sionil Jose novel, I like to spot the characters who are stand-ins for himself and for the whole country. This year, I also found a character who could have been a stand-in for me.

And that's a funny way to introduce this post because, at the last minute, I decided not to write about her. =P But I am writing about her father . . . and this is still a non-sequitur because he has no resemblance to mine.

Eduardo Dantes
My Brother, My Executioner
by F. Sionil Jose

Dantes stood up, elegant in his cream linen suit, alligator shoes, and green silk tie . . . "Why should you feel uncomfortable with your money, Luis? It's not a crime to be rich, you know."

. . ."I think I understand your motivation," Dantes said. "I think you are a bit muddled and not clear, not even to yourself. The quest for justice is in every man, even in me. I have vision, too, I like to think. I would like to see this country grow . . . to see it laced with prosperous towns, with people who have money to enjoy life, to buy the good things in the market, the products we make . . . Can you not see, Luis, what I'm trying to do? I want my hands not only on industry but also on communications. Radio and television--we have them now and power, electricity, and shipping, and transport--the whole complex that would make this country surge forward."

With the Danteses in the lead, Luis repeated to himself.

It's uncanny for me to see recurring character Eduardo Dantes make his debut in F. Sionil Jose's parallel Philippines, when I've already read the book in which he dies. (Does this count as a spoiler? It shouldn't: we all die) 

Dantes is a satire of the old-rich mestizo class that drove the Philippines' development after World War II. Their names have become synonymous with real estate, shipping, publishing, and pretty much any industrial pie you'd like to have a finger in. And the empire they have built has created more economic opportunities for the poor than any other group in the country. We can hardly say they put personal gain over the good of the country, when what makes them richer makes us all richer. 

For a few minutes into what we might call Dantes's apologia pro vita sua, he could be an Ayn Rand industrialist. And Luis's concern that Dantes wants to turn the Philippines into America seems like misguided patriotism: isn't it better to be like America and be able to feed ourselves than to keep our Filipino character and starve?

I am reminded of a Kiwi friend who lived in the UK for a few years, where she mostly worked as a supply teacher. She had hoped to find steadier work in the primary school system, but everyone hiring pretty much told her the same thing: as good as her credentials, experience and methods were, British parents just didn't want their children picking up a Kiwi accent. Would she, some principals asked, be willing to change the way she talked? . . . At this point, when telling the story to Filipinos, I pause for dramatic effect. For what happens next is something a Filipino with a shot at a job in the UK would never do . . . My friend said no and went back to New Zealand. It's what people who are proud of their country do. 

In contrast, Filipinos don't wait for economic opportunities abroad to change our accents: we're doing it right here at home! Training in certain sectors includes "accent neutralisation." The trade-off is a great compensation and benefits package. Tangible prosperity. It has got Eduardo Dantes's mark all over it. But this only brings us back to Luis's question: at what price do we Americanise "modernise"?

Dantes himself pays a very high price in the novel--one which he thought his riches had insured him against. And of course it has something to do with the character who is most like me. But that's all I'm going to say about that, for it does count as a spoiler.

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If you've already read My Brother, My Executioner, you might be interested in another Jose book in the Philippine Literature Giveaway pool: Option #14: Ermita: A Filipino Novel. Enter using the Rafflecopter below . . .

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Sheila said...

This is always the tough question for me. Tight cultures seem to thrive in poverty and hardship while properity seems to destroy them. Take the interstate system in America -- now that you can zip all over the country quickly, there's a ton of prosperity, but there's also the same fast-food chains off every exit. The rich lose their regional accents (did you know George W. Bush's is *fake*? He lost his Texas accent at Yale and had to train to get it back, because Republicans like certain accents) and regional cuisine is all but forgotten. And the old backbone of the country, the farmers, have dwindled to a tiny percent of to population, mostly over fifty.

And yet I feel selfish to lament these things when often those farmers were in dire poverty, when the inner cities were packed with dirty tenaments and disease. I don't *really* want to go back to that. I just -- you know -- want it all!

Enbrethiliel said...


My current idealistic philosophy is that we can have both, as long as we want to. I mean, people who truly value regional cuisine will find a way to preserve it in the culture, even if they also want to take advantage of modern innovations that really do make life easier . . . right? But I'm torn between thinking we're losing these things simply because we don't value them and accepting that certain traditional things really can't coexist with modern lifestyles and would get phased out no matter what.

On another level, it's interesting to see that even Americans are ambivalent about "Americanising"!