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Radical History Review 89 (2004) 92-114

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Bastards of the Unfinished Revolution:

Bolívar's Ismael and Rizal's Martí at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Acabarán como el padre—contestó Elías en voz baja—; cuando la desgracia ha marcado una vez una familia, todos los miembros tienen que perecer; cuando el rayo hiere un árbol, todo lo reduce a cenizas.

["They will end up like their father," Elías answered in a low voice. "Once misfortune has marked a family, all its members must perish; like a bolt of lightning that wounds a tree, reducing everything to ashes."]

—José Rizal, Noli me tangere (Do Not Touch Me)

The title of my essay aims to highlight two important themes in the late colonial literature of Cuba and the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century, embodied in the figure of a bastard son or daughter in various novels and poems. The first theme is the recovery of a lost legacy, patrimony, or the intimation of fate, which reconfigures the ethical and political decisions of the colonial subject on the eve of revolution. The second is the bastard's anomalous identity, which prefigures the colonial subject's abandonment by the society that engendered the colonial condition, but also gives her or him the relative freedom to break with the familial or paternalistic past by criticizing it and by announcing the advent of historical self-assertion [End Page 92] in the colonial world. Certainly, these themes frame the central tensions in the most important Cuban novel of the nineteenth century, Cecilia Valdés (1882); but they also provide the central metaphor to Cuban patriot and lawyer José Martí's early collection of poems Ismaelillo (1882), dedicated to his son. Across the Atlantic Ocean, not many years afterward, colonial expatriate of the Philippine archipelago (and soon-to-be national martyr and hero) Dr. José Rizal produced his two novels Noli me tangere (Do Not Touch Me) and El filibusterismo (Will to Subversion), around a woman whose bastard origins catalyze the hero's unjust persecution and recourse to revolution against the Spanish colonial government.

In each of these instances, the tension between the necessary rediscovery of a lost patrimony, and the equally necessary negation of that patrimony in order to take control of one's individual destiny under colonialism, frames a crucial confrontation in the geopolitics of the Americas. That was the confrontation between two contesting inheritors of the economic and political upheavals in Europe and the Americas throughout the early nineteenth century: on the one hand, modern imperialism as an international policy; and on the other, the recuperation of Simón Bolívar's anticolonial thought in the Spanish colonial world. One of the most dramatic manifestations of this confrontation at the end of the nineteenth century, the 1898 war with Spain, resulted in the U.S. occupation of Cuba, as well as the takeover of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam between 1898 and 1912. In doing so, the United States extended its territorial sovereignty by might across the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico and set an astonishing precedent for military invasions and interventions in other countries throughout the twentieth century.1 Less known, however, is the way in which the discourse of late liberal, anticolonial revolution continued to serve as a suppressed archive open to cultural elaboration and transformation in both countries up to the present.

Central to this archive are the works of José Rizal and José Martí. Indeed, one may go so far as to say that no conception or discussion of national consciousness in the Philippines and Cuba is possible without somehow identifying their place in their respective countries, or citing the stirring words of their literary and political writings. Both shared a series of ghostly parallels. They were both colonial expatriate intellectuals born in two of Spain's last colonies to survive the Latin American wars of independence (the Philippines and Cuba); both began their careers optimistic with the...


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pp. 92-114
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Archived 2004
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