Marcos’ ‘National Thanksgiving Day’
Like most Filipinos who grew up watching American westerns, I used to think that the cavalry of white Americans wearing Stetsons and blue uniforms were the good guys and the “savage-looking” North American natives were the bad guys.
I remembered these false stereotypes when my teachers in a recent learning design and technology class challenged us to review a well-acclaimed 1992 yearlong class project inspired by the European pilgrims in 1620. It turns out that despite the project’s success at making privileged grade school students learn life skills like planting and harvesting wheat, baking bread, and building tables, there was one critical historical viewpoint that was missing in the 1992 retelling of what is known as the Pilgrims’ Voyage: that of the Wampanoags, the North American natives who had a thriving culture long before the arrival of European migrants.
In 2019, the historian David Silverman opened his lecture on the Wampanoags by telling his audience that, “I love Thanksgiving… But I must warn you. I’m gonna provide you with everything you need to ruin your family’s holiday.” What that everything is could be found in his book “This Land is Their Land,” a book which asserts that the so-called New World the European pilgrims discovered belonged to the Wampanoags, and that the “first Thanksgiving… the one where the peaceful Natives and generous Pilgrims put aside their differences if only briefly, to sit down to a spread of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin” is a myth. In this sense, the book is an invitation to Americans to reframe their understanding of the history of Thanksgiving.
I wonder if former president Ferdinand Marcos aspired to something analogous just a year after proclaiming martial law in 1972. According to the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, “Marcos built up the cult of September 21, proclaiming it as National Thanksgiving Day by virtue of Proclamation No. 1180 s. 1973 to memorialize the date as the foundation day of his New Society.”
Did Marcos, being a student of history, envision that Filipinos would eventually tire of what he anticipated might be the dark narrative of martial law and work toward a more “inclusive” recollection of this divisive chapter of our nation’s history? To wit: that his declaration of martial law supposedly to save the country from communists and the construction of world-class edifices overseen by Imelda Marcos ought to be recognized alongside the 3,200 killed, the 70,000 detained, and the 35,000 tortured, not to mention the eventual 2003 and 2012 Supreme Court rulings on the Marcoses’ unexplained wealth?
If yes, the Marcoses and their supporters seem to be succeeding. Consider: In addition to the fact that 14,155,344 Filipinos voted for Bongbong Marcos as vice president in 2016, we only need to read the latest surveys to know that he is one of the top 2022 presidential contenders even if he has yet to file his candidacy. During a recent kapihan at the UP College of Education, one of the participants, apparently a principal, asked what she could do if some of her teachers told their students that the Marcos years were our country’s golden years. Two weeks before that, a participant in the first installment of UP’s TeachTalk webinar, a best practices forum which in September focused on the teaching of Kasaysayan 1, complained in the chat box that he thought this was a best practices sharing in general education, so why should Marcos be discussed? Moments later, another teacher seconded the complaint.
At the rate this is going, it is no longer enough that we simply continue reading the reminders of public intellectuals like Randy David, Ceres Doyo, John Nery, Ambeth Ocampo, Michael Tan, etc. to never forget. All of us who still care about never forgetting the dark side of the martial law years are called to do our part to remind our youth not to treat this as a protracted battle between our public intellectuals and the martial law revisionists. As the novelist Lualhati Bautista scribbled on my youngest son’s copy of her book “Dekada ’70”: “Hindi pa tapos ang laban ng bayan. Tulad ng lahat ng henerasyong nauna sa inyo, harapin n’yo rin ang hamon ng inyong panahon.”
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Von Katindoy is a college lecturer and a graduate student based in the metro. Aside from specializing in philosophy of education, he is also studying learning design and technology and philosophy for children (P4C).
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