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‘Betty La Fea’

All roads led to Paris in 1889 for the Universal Exposition held to commemorate the French Revolution. Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, residents of Paris, opened their studios to countrymen who needed lodging. Jose Rizal complained of the unusually high rates charged for hotel rooms for the duration of the Expo, yet he organized a conference of “Philippinologists” from all over Europe to discuss current historical, anthropological, linguistic, archeological and ethnographic research on the Philippines and the Filipinos. While the congress did not materialize, it prefigured what is today a legitimate subject area in the postgraduate level called Philippine Studies.

Material on the 1889 Paris Expo can be found readily on the Internet, but the Filipino view or reaction to the Expo has to be mined from the correspondence of Rizal, Luna and Marcelo H. del Pilar. Another source of Filipino views on the Paris Expo can be found in the first volume of the reformist paper La Solidaridad. I once thought that they probably called the paper “Soli” as in “Noli” that was short for Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.” When I read Rizal’s correspondence with his colleagues in the Propaganda Movement, I saw that La Solidaridad had a nickname “Sol,” the Spanish word for “sun.” It was hoped that the Filipino newspaper would shine light on the darkness that enveloped colonial Philippines.

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One other thing I had to unlearn was that Solidaridad the newspaper is different from F. Sionil Jose’s Ermita bookshop. Sol was not a newspaper like ours today because it appeared every fortnight instead of daily. Compared to the broadsheets or even the tabloids we have today, Sol was physically small, the size of legal size bond paper folded in half. My original copy of Sol came from the late Armando J. Malay, who had a duplicate for trade so I exchanged a copy of the revolutionary newspaper, La Independencia, established by Antonio Luna. A look at these two papers shows the difference in thinking from the late 1880s “Solidarity” to “Independence” a decade later.

I hope Dean Malay’s collection of newspapers can be exhibited in the UP College of Mass Communication so young people studying journalism can literally see the roots of today’s Philippine media.

Articles in Sol are long winded and argumentative like the essays of Rizal and Blumentritt, which were so long that they were published in installments. Much of the news in Sol is obsolete, but when I read all the issues cover to cover recently I found some material that can still make us smile. In the news section of Sol’s April 15, 1889, issue was a notice of the opposite of a beauty contest:

“In one of our previous issues we reported a beauty contest that will be held in Paris during the [1889] Exposition. Now we shall report a news item appearing in one of the more conservative papers of that capital with reference to a contest of ugly women to be held in that city. It purports to find out how far ugliness of the fair sex goes and this cannot but be amusing. Here is the excerpt from the original program:

“Single women, married or widowed, who are not over 45 years old and not less than 33 years old, excepting those who are physically deformed, will be admitted, because outside these limits, women have no use whatsoever, according to the prospectus.

“To take part in the contest a photograph must be sent with the name and place of birth of those interested to the office of the committee headed by Mr. E. Velliguy, 64 Boulevard Port-Royal, Paris.

“The panel of judges will be composed of representatives of the ‘ugly sex’ from different nations. They will judge the ugliest among those present. The prize will consist of everything collected from the affair.

“We predict that the contest will not succeed because nobody would consider the prize worth the trouble. Provisionally, we can assure the committee that none of our readers will participate in it.”

Shades of “Betty La Fea” or Ugly Betty. This made me wonder why women are described as of the “fair sex” compared to men who are of the “ugly sex.”

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Then there was a “praise release” lifted from the Diario de Manila by Sol and published on May 15, 1889:

“We are greatly pleased, as we are always, when something about one of the sons of the country distinguishing himself in industry, art, or profession, or in whatever he has dedicated himself, obtains public recognition, like the distinguished dentist Bonifacio Arevalo did in the Peninsula.

“A friend of ours while in Madrid took the opportunity to consult an American dentist, who comes from the place where dentistry has made great strides, about the denture of his wife. The American dentist could not refrain from asking where the beautiful dental work was done and on being told where, he had nothing but praise for the work which he said was equal to, but not surpassed by any he had seen.

“We congratulate Mr. Arevalo for the praise he so well deserved, a just prize for his efficiency and diligence which enabled him to work daily at his two clinics on Carriedo street and at the Quiapo Plaza. There people seek his services.”

The above gave context to the ads Arevalo placed in La Independencia with a picture of dentures [postiso] and his address. Old newspapers are often thrown away or recycled, but historians can find material in them for their research.

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TAGS: “Betty La Fea”, “Philippinologists”, Antonio luna, Armando J. Malay, felix resurreccion hidalgo, French Revolution, History, Jose Rizal, juan luna, La Independencia, Philippine history, Philippine studies, revolutionary newspaper, Universal Exposition
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