JUST WHERE ARE WE?



Text by Nita H. Umali, Manila, Philippines 1946

Reprinted with permission


In 1946, at the age of 23, Nita H. Umali posed a question - "Just where are we?" a few days before the United States granted independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946. Seventy-five years later, in the year 2021, Katrina Stuart Santiago, her great-niece, attempts to reply. Both journalists, one from a past generation, and one actively working today. See Katrina's reply separately.



–And of course, the proper answer, the one I should quite emphatically give myself, would be, “Why, stupid, it is almost dawn, the light is seeping in! A new day is being born. Why do you close your eyes to it? And why do you turn your back to the sun?” Maybe it is because I am near-sighted, physically and otherwise, and I am afraid of dazzling glares, and because emotionally I am not looking through rose-coloured glasses.


This, of course, is striking a discordant note somewhere, and at such a time as this is very improper. I just hope that on the very day of July four* the afternoon mist is here to make me realize that all are not sharp angles, except in my noonday imaginations.


Yes, freedom is here and hundreds of years ago they started to gather the bricks for the stronghold that we have today. Women in long, swishing skirts and upswept hair, going to Church in slipper-shod feet, whispering to God that their men should be saved. Mangled bodies and wet blood smelted and the foundation laid. Time went on, and the materials for building were not so dearly priced, until a few years ago, the iron yoke was laid on our backs. Once more, women, now in short skirts, their wooden shoes punctuating the hush in the chapel, asked from God. Not whispered prayers, but in silent supplication, because spoken words were so dangerous. Maimed limbs, numb minds, and closed mouths. The flame of the blood red sun trying to engulf them, and the blood of past ages and the present day flowing by their feet, urging them on, to fight for freedom, for the greater glory.


And now we shall get it. By a piece of paper, signed and sealed, everything will be different. Or will it? Will there be a change in us as we go to class, or walk the streets? Will our way of thinking, our mode of reasoning, alter? Will our country, with all its men and women, its strong-willed leaders, its weak officials, its priests, and lawyers and doctors, its teachers and bandits, its carefree youths and discontented peasants, its beggars and criminals, will she, the Philippines, with her tropic skies and lazy palms, that small group of islands, after long years of restfully reclining on the solid hunk that is America, will she learn to stand erect, unsupported, even on a pair of wobbly feet?


Nita Umali in Iowa University with poet Leonard Randolph (1949)

We have what we want, what every other dependent nation has long wanted — we have it in our hands; shall we let it slip away? Will the four freedoms** that we have fought for, will it, be just a mockery to what we are? The present dust of Manila is in our eyes, and the dust of the world in our consciousness.


The way is dim and shadowy, and though now and then there are erratic shafts of light, still the sudden brightness of tomorrow may blind us.


Faith, hope, and love, those age-old standards, these are the sole supports we have, the beacons that are here to guide us, as we leave the protecting shadows of the stars and stripes, and venture forth into a new life that is but a continuity to the old.


 

*Following the end of World War II, the United States granted independence to the Philippines on 4 July 1946 via the Treaty of Manila. July 4 was observed in the Philippines as Independence Day until August 4, 1964, when, upon the advice of historians and the urging of nationalists, President Diosdado Macapagal signed into law Republic Act No. 4166 designating June 12 as the country's Independence Day


**freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear (the Four Freedoms speech delivered by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in hisState of the Union address to congress on January 6, 1941)



Nita Herrera-Umali Berthelsen (1923-2014)
In 1952 Nita Umali married Poul Berthelsen, a Dane in New York. They subsequently moved to Manila and in 1973 moved to Copenhagen where Nita Berthelsen forms part of the diaspora of Filipinos in Europe. They returned to Manila in 2005 to stay.

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