By GEMMA CRUZ ARANETA
Can you help me with my history homework, Lola? How can a grandma refuse such a gentle plea! My youngest grandchild now lives across the street from me, so in no time, she’s ringing the doorbell. She greets me with a kiss and warm hug, unpacks her knapsack and places her cellphone and tablet on the dining-room table. She has no assignment notebook, nor history notebook, nor scratch paper, nor pencils and pens. Her world is a paperless, inkless one, I keep forgetting, so unlike my quill to parchment existence.
So, what is your homework? She consults her iphone and reads aloud the teacher’s instructions. Once, it was about the Reformation, how it began and why it came about. European history is not my forte, I confessed, but you must have looked it up already, on-line, you have that supreme advantage, all the information you need is literally at your fingertips. (I saw myself plowing through encyclopedias and dozens of books in the school library, taking down notes in long hand).
Show me what you have found. She flipped a tablet open and set it up on its own stand. It does not have a keyboard, unlike my antiquated laptop. With a gentle touch letters appear and before you can figure out the spelling of a word, it is there in the sentence you are writing.
However, she did not quite understand everything she read; information overload, I thought, but I did not tell her. So, I had to sort out, connect the dots and translate into comprehensible concepts Luther and his long list of demands. Before she could ask why I had a grasp of all that, I told her I went to convent schools all my life.
I don’t know how, but the Reformation segued to Anglicanism which I called the Church of England. So, I told her to look for Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and the rest of the cast. I did minimize the salacious trivia, but she was baffled just the same—You mean the king had a church established just because he wanted to divorce his wife and marry somebody else? I felt like cracking a joke about ab initio and quo warranto, but the great leap to contemporary Philippines would have been absolutely confusing.
There was an assignment about Philippine history, which she explained, is not a separate subject, but part of something called “humanities.” They were asked to answer this question — Was Aguinaldo guilty of the deaths of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna? Defend your conclusion. You know, I began, historians of all ages and persuasions all over the Philippines and the world are still debating about that very polemical issue, and your teacher wants 13-year-olds to draw their own conclusions? What is the name of your teacher? I heard myself sound as authoritarian as my mother. She blurted a genderless nickname, so I had to ask whether the teacher is a man or a woman, as if it mattered, but my own grandma would have done the same.
Frankly, I did not know how or where to begin. So, I said, Antonio Luna was born in 1866, Jose Rizal in 1861, and Andres Bonifacio in 1863 (Aguinaldo in 1869, but I forgot to mention him). They belonged to the same generation that began the anti-colonial struggle against the Spanish empire. (I did say that there were more than 300 rebellions during colonial times, for myriad reasons, like the Basi revolt.) So, we read the biographical notes on line and I supplied the context.
I said Rizal was not the only one; other Filipinos like Bonifacio were also planning and organizing. Rizal and Bonifacio must have met, I said, at the inauguration of the Liga Filipina because they had the same objectives. Definitely, Paciano, the older brother of Jose, knew Bonifacio because he went to Cavite to ask him to translate Rizal’s last poem into Tagalog.
So, I told her about the anti-colonial struggle, how regionalism reared its ugly head in the Magdiwang and Magdalo conflict. I said, to Aguinaldo’s credit, he established the First Philippine Republic, the first in Asia, and we had a functioning Congress and a Constitution. I touched on the Philippine-American War and how Antonio Luna tried to instill discipline in the revolutionary army, which cost him his life.
So, what is your answer to your teacher’s question? Was Aguinaldo guilty or not? Guilty, she said, without hesitation.
Then we went to see “Goyo, Ang Batang Heneral” with her parents. She was sitting beside me, she whispered a few questions about Gen. Del Pilar’s out-sized presence, that pervasive air of privilege. She wanted to know whether the more riveting scenes with the Bernal brothers were truth or fiction. After the movie while having dinner we had a lively discussion, her parents included. They asked about Mabini, why Luna’s men were hunted, why the Americans invaded.
Then my grand daughter said: Lola, had I concluded that Aguinaldo was not guilty, I would have had to call my teacher to tell him that I have to write my paper all over again.
Now she wants to see “Heneral Luna.”