Imperial Endnotes: The First Filipino and Boricua Historians
Ernest Rafael Hartwell
Harvard University, US
Ernest Rafael Hartwell's research is on Philippine and Caribbean prose from the end of the 19th century. Specifically he addresses problems of authority in anticolonial writing in terms of language, race, and intellectual patrimony. He is Departmental Teaching Fellow in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University and recently concluded a stint as Spanish Visiting Lecturer at College of the Holy Cross. Ernest is a Filipino-American teacher, student of literature, lover of languages, and fanatic about playing and watching basketball.
The Philippines and Puerto Rico, often overlooked in studies of Latin American literature and history, are endnotes to Spain’s colonial saga. These island regions continued under imperial rule long after nearly all other former Spanish territories had achieved independence. Two late 19th-century intellectuals, José Julián Acosta of Puerto Rico and José Rizal of the Philippines, dust off 17th- and 18th-century tomes of official Spanish colonial history furnished by European archives. Acosta and Rizal publish critical editions of these histories, and through the annotations, they sneak their voices into discussions over the history and future of their colonies. While scholarship about 19th-century Latin America traditionally affirms that the work of literature is to facilitate the forgetting of differences in the service of community consolidation, I argue that these works constitute a contentious and continual revisiting of difference at the root of the authors’ assertion of their own authority. This article probes the problem of authority at the heart of these notes, examining three processes of authorization: appropriation, racialization, and historiography. The resonances and dissonances between the projects of annotation expose the racialized nature of the colonial intellectuals’ ambivalence toward authority on both ends of Spain’s late empire. Acosta’s and Rizal’s republications show why we have to pay attention to the notes; they destabilize certainties and dare to pursue contentious and divergent truths.