MenagerieLounge: Joaquin De Jesus
Lounge: Joaquin De Jesus
September 25, 2011
September 25, 2011

Q: You have won several essay writing competitions. Can you name some of them?

A: My first ever major award was the Grand Prize for the Rizal na, Europa Pa Nationwide Essay Writing Contest, which I received in 2009. It was a contest organized by the European Union, the Order of the Knights of Rizal and other European Cultural Institutes, and we were tasked to write about Rizal and how life in Europe influenced him.

In the same, my children’s story Quintin and His Violin was selected as one of the top 10 in the Gig and the Amazing Sampaguita Foundation’s Seafaring Families’ Children’s Story Book Writing Contest. In July 2010, I won the Film Development Council’s nationwide essay writing contest on the first Filipino musical, Emir.

In December of 2010, I won the Grand Prize of the Holcim nationwide essay writing contest on Sustainable construction. In February 2011, I won the Chilean Embassy’s essay writing contest on Chilean heroes; I wrote about Pablo Neruda.

Q: Your passion for history and tradition is definitely not commonplace among people our age, what sparked this interest?

A: My family. Our heritage influenced me in my crusade for culture and in particular, our Hispanic heritage. We may not be mestizo, but I grew up learning to appreciate it. From stories to family recipes, to our summers in our family farm in Bicol to the old photographs and antiques, all of these left great impressions upon me.

My mama, in particular, inspired me, she is well-read, eloquent and an expert on Shakespeare. Through the years, I befriended people, older people, who told me so many stories about Pre-War Manila. In college, I immersed myself in literature that tackled culture and the Philippines’ Hispanic heritage.

Q: Would you say that hispanism is undervalued in Philippine society?

A: Hispanism in the Philippines is historically relevant. I share the position, along with experts. Our major religion in the archipelago, our practices, our family and social dynamics, our political history, our physical features, our very language is very Hispanized. And yet, the seeming rejection and sad ignorance of our Hispanic heritage is disturbing and debilitating to our national and cultural identity.

Many factors, influenced the death of the Spanish language in the Philippines, and these continue to this day silently killing our Hispanic culture. Many pieces of literature that were written by both Spanish and Filipino writers residing then in the country, and many books on the Philippines during the Spanish regime, are left unread by a population that one, does not like to read and two, that does not know Spanish, a language that should be considered a national language.

Q: Do you feel that there is a stigma when it comes to appreciating our Spanish roots because of the oppression our country received in the past?

A: Yes, there is a stigma against our Spanish past because of the many decades of American revisions on our history. For decades, many articles and exaggerated, totally biased commentaries on our past under Spain were written and read.

The stigma is also perpetuated by an ignorant and highly-sensational media and showbiz, often portraying anything Hispanic as related to cruel, mestiza mother-in-laws. One should take note that it was a common feature in Philippine Cinema from the 50s until the 90s that the contrabidas or the villains were rich, Spanish-speaking families or individuals. Brats were often called señorita or señorito, and as I mentioned, the Spanish language was often used by antagonists.

Q: About your blog, what made you decide to start it? Can you tell us about it?

A: I initially wanted to put stuff related to activities I attend or organize that celebrate history and culture. Eventually, I included food recipes, photos of my antique finds and also my essays and personal (often lengthy) articles on Faith, Art, History, Culture and the like. It is my way of celebrating those, which were “hecho ayer” (made yesterday), as it is this generation’s inclination to forget the past.

It is my vision to be a repository of not only personal but also socially relevant historical pieces of information and likewise, a place one can visit for commentaries on heritage and culture and how these can help us in tourism, commerce, and in general, our view of life.

Q: How has this interest in Philippine culture, particularly our Spanish roots,  shaped the activities and hobbies you engage in?

A: For me, culture is a matter of appreciating life, beauty, truth, goodness and holiness. Culture is expressed in the many beautiful and “heavenly” things man has gained through the ages – the science of cooking, the powerful arts such as dance, painting, design, music, the world of fashion, the technology of building structures.

Q: How do you think culture applies in your daily life?

A:Well, it’s not only about patronizing and attending cultural activities. One’s active and voluntary participation in such are helpful and greatly educational. Book fairs in Instituto Cervantes, free Film Fests by the French, Japanese and Korean Embassies, wine tasting classes, enrolling in two culture classes in school (one is on Cultural Heritage, the other one is on Culture and the Senses), watching plays either at the CCP or school productions, blogging – all of these, I consider helpful and are forms of nourishment for my love and passion for culture.

But these are not the bedrock or the basis for my love for culture. For me, the appreciation for culture starts with a general appreciation for life. Life is beautiful; la dolce vita. I see life as a beautiful gift and manifestation of the human spirit, which allows me to appreciate what I call the “by-products” of culture (e.g. museums, food recipes, exhibits, plays, opera productions, concerts, and etc. ).

And today, in our very banal, secular and chaotic generation, all the more do we need to imbibe the poetic view, a view of the life that goes beyond getting a job or buying a car.

We need to learn to appreciate flavors, colors, sights, sounds and smells. Our palettes have been so heavily abused by junk food and artificial flavorings, we no longer appreciation bitterness or sweetness or sourness or even saltiness by their own virtue. We often look for that which simply tastes like barbeque, or anything we’re familiar with.

We fail to appreciate beautiful things because we are bombarded by the ugly and imitated. Our ears fail to appreciate singular notes or complex pieces from the classical genre because we have been raised in the tradition of noise being considered as music. I live culture daily by my daily appreciation for life’s offerings and the heights of the human spirit, as manifested in history and culture.

In conclusion to this interview, the Menagerie once again bids you to think; about culture, about heritage and about life.