Traditional historiographies such as historian John Schumacher’s seminal work on the Propaganda Movement have portrayed the propagandists as larger-than-life individuals tasked with being at the forefront of political struggles. They are often depicted as intelligent, conscientious, fierce even amidst petty politicking and intrigues. Yet, a look into their day-to-day lives through various works and correspondence will reveal personal struggles hinging on frailties and fears that make them altogether human. Separation from their families and their homes were realities that the propagandists experienced profoundly. For many, while feelings of homesickness became bearable with the passage of time, its intertwined desire to return home hardly abated. Thus, while the experience of studying abroad has often been easily subsumed within the grander purpose of fighting for reforms for the Philippines, the emotional costs were no less real nor no less painful.

This article focuses on the emotional experience of homesickness and relate this to the birthing of the Filipino nation in the late nineteenth century. While the natives in the Philippines have had a long history of travel, it would only be in the late nineteenth century when a real glimpse of the emotional costs of travel and living away from home would emerge. The documented writings of Filipino propagandists who lived in Europe at the end of Spanish colonial rule reveal that the experience of homesickness was indeed real. Yet, more than this, it is argued that the story of homesickness among Filipino propagandists also presents a narrative of a nation in the making.

Two points demonstrate this argument. First, the propagandists’ familiarity with Enlightenment ideas of independence and individualism helped them cope with homesickness only to a certain extent because, as young men fighting for reforms, a strong sentimental connection to the native land was still necessary to propel them into action. Second, analyzing the words these men used to express emotions, it can be seen that while their gaze toward home had expanded to roughly include the larger concept of the nation, no exact term to clearly express homesickness had yet come into being. In the end, what these two points portray are the tensions found in a nascent nation as Filipinos increasingly navigated their emotions within the context of colonialism and modernity.

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