Maria Clara at Ibarra: reflection on historical dramas and films

October 22, 2022
From: https://gmaworldwide.tv/

As I saw a clip of “Maria Clara at Ibarra” on my social media feed, I can vouch for some pretty good acting.

But, I always find these Spanish-Philippines period films and dramas frustrating for its continuous portrayal the Spanish period as being completely like the dark ages. 

I am not implying that all Filipino period films and TV series intentionally attempt to instil hatred towards our Spanish past. I just want to be clear about this.

However, if we examine how these productions shape perceptions about this period that lasted hundreds of years, there can be no doubt that it fosters animosity, whether deliberately or unintentionally, toward our hispano-filipino heritage.

An example would be characters that mocks another character for speaking Spanish in these films and dramas. This is unnecessary, if not entirely absurd. Such portrayals undermine Spanish, which was the lengua franca of our ancestors for hundreds of years. It is important to remember that some of the most historically significant literature and documents, such as our first constitution and national anthem, were written in Spanish.

Spanish, however, has disappeared from our minds. That’s why so many of us no longer value it.

Throwing the baby with the bathwater approach: On almost all Filipino television shows and films, the Spanish period is almost completely vilified. The need for a villain is understandable, as every good narrative needs one, but this approach undermines our people’s interest in our Spanish past.

Compared to the Americans, who have been portrayed as exemplars, colonial Spain has been depicted in the opposite light.

The portrayal of Spanish missionaries as evil-doers almost seems comical! But that’s what we’ve been taught, that they’re all evil.

Without Spain, Ibarra would not have Maria Clara. (Sorry, bad joke). 

It is essential to read and understand Rizal. Spain was perhaps never appreciated more by him and his writings extolling “madre españa” are still around today. 

Once, a historian said that if you took away all Spanishness from Rizal, he would cease to be Rizal. This is something I completely agree with.

Everything is haunted!: During my trip to Bulacan this year, as we passed through San Miguel, a niece exclaimed, 

“all those big mansions there are haunted!”. It is not surprising that these young people think that about our beautiful antique houses, many of which have been around for over a century.

A quick Google search, one would find a mediocre documentary (from one of our biggest networks) about a prominent “bahay-na-bato” in San Miguel. The host provided a few details about the house’s history but nothing more. It turned out to be a ghost-hunting show.

I’m giving this example to illustrate how producers try to capture people’s attention. They always go for controversies; in this case, it’s paranormal. It is this that will draw an audience. After all, TV is a business.

It is also essential to consider how we inspire the next generation.

How many of our young people, who now view our historic bahay-na-bato houses as unliveable haunted houses, will protect them when they are threatened with being torn down?

Can we really expect our young people to study our Spanish past, which is the closest culture to us, if we indoctrinate them to fear it?

Today, even among us Christians, it is controversial to say that the Spanish Friars brought the belief in Christ to our shores.

My point is that we should refrain from teaching hatred about our Spanish past. Let our people see that there were some positive consequences from it, but not all of it is bad.

Let me name one. Our Christmas period being the longest in the world, is one of them.

What is there to be thankful for? Disputed by many who do not see any positive outcome from our Spanish past. There’s a concept that history is static. Since we started as Filipinos, we have become one all by ourselves.

History, however, is never static. We are the result of our native ancestors’ interaction with history. The key to establishing our national identity is our three centuries of cultural hispanization. As a result of this period, our languages, architecture, arts, writings, costumes, and many other facets of our lives have been deeply influenced.

Why should we scoff at Spanish language when we have so many words derived from it?

My only point is that our Spanish past deserves an objective examination. 

Peeling layers of an onion. The analogy of peeling layers of onion only to discover nothing inside comes to mind. Instead of trying to obliterate our Spanish heritage, how about studying them impartially?

For example, what is the harm in learning Spanish so we can read our writers in Spanish? Among them is a person whose name we hear from birth to this day, Jose Rizal, long considered one of the great writers in Spanish, not just among us but throughout the world.

All local dramas, including Maria Clara at Ibarra, deserve your support. Madaming trabahador at mga empleyado ang kumikita ng pera sa mga produksyon na tulad into.

It is my hope that one day there will be a change in how period films and dramas are presented about our Spanish past. 

It will take time, but I understand.

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