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Reminiscences of a Cultural Worker



By Renato Perdon
Sydney, Australia
May 12, 2016

 
 


I have always been conscious of my Chinese heritage from my maternal side. My mother, a half Chinese-Filipino, always reminded us of our Chinese lineage.


It was therefore with excitement many decades ago when I got involved with the preservation and promotion of Filipino-Chinese Heritage, which I consider the beginning of the present popular Bahay Tsinoy Museum located just behind the Manila Cathedral on Intramuros, Manila.

It is one project I will never forget. It was undertaken by the Filipino-Chinese Heritage Committee which was created purposely to set up an exhibition on Filipino-Chinese Heritage in  the late 1980s. I was one of the original members of the small committee.

The main concept of the exhibition, similar in presentation to the Floating Museum of History, the first project I was involved with when I got employment with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines in 1968, was to highlight how much influence the Chinese had in every aspect of the Filipinos’ way of life— culture, science, agriculture, trade and economy, traits, language, and others.

The committee was composed of Dr. Serafin D. Quiason, chair of the NHC, Mr. Go Bon Juan, a Chinese Journalist, Dr. Chinben See, a Chinese scholar who was assisted by his wife, Teresita Ang See (husband and wife were connected with the De La Salle University as lecturers on history and culture), and myself.

It was a small committee and the project was funded through contributions from Chinese traders and businessmen. Like the Floating Museum of History, we organised a big opening night of the exhibition on the ground floor of the National Library which was adorned with Chinese decorations, complete with huge red coloured Chinese lanterns and other decorative items.

It was a big affair and so much food brought in by Chinese restaurants given the quota to feed the public composed of high ranking officials in the Chinese Community, members of the diplomatic corps, education officials, school and university representatives, and the general public.

To guarantee success, I formed my own group of technical people, graphic artists, history researchers, and others; but a great part of the research work was undertaken by the late Dr. See who meticulously undertook unheard of work such as tracing Chinese granite stones or piedra china found in cemeteries and churches, including the Intramuros area.

Many of these stones were used during the Spanish colonial period as ballast or balance weight for the Spanish galleons travelling Acapulco and Manila for more than two hundred years, in what is now known as the Galleon Trade.

We worked seven days a week, until the wee hours, and many nights we slept in my office on top of the table or on the floor lined only by materials used for the exhibition. I did not have a   problem. I was used to that kind of situation at the sweat shop, a couple of years previously as a working student. 

But I was surprised at Mr. See’s and Mr. Go’s work ethic and the fair way they treated my team. Mr. Go, who was also connected with a bank, would come rushing in after five o’clock in the afternoon to help us in our work, while Tessie Ang See, now known as a crime buster, would come with her little daughter in tow and help her husband set up the exhibition. I realized that it was very important to them as Filipino-Chinese living in the Philippines.

The Filipino-Chinese Heritage exhibition toured the country, after its successful run at the National Library on T. M. Kalaw, Manila, and a number of replacements of damaged mounted photographs were made. I was particularly interested in the project because of my own Chinese ancestry.

When I returned to Manila, after many years absence, I visited Mrs. Tessie Ang See, who was already a widow, and who had become one of my closest friends in cultural works in the Philippines. She showed me around theBahay Tsinoy where the museum is located. I got misty eyed and was very proud of my Chinese heritage.

In fact, I donated a few additional items from my mother’s collection of personal objects, which are now in the inventory of the Bahay Tsinoy Museum.

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