“Yes. It is a very American invention, nods Griswold: We have manufactured how to see the world” (Apostol 160)
Perception isn’t set, isn’t objective, but is something that can change. It’s subjective; what each person sees may be different, what each person thinks of the same situation need not be the same. Is our perception completely our own, then? Yes and no, I think. Our thoughts can be shaped, can be changed by outside forces. We are taught what everything means, what to believe, and that changes how we see our surroundings. We are fed information and our brain translates it, crafts it into part of the system. As we learn, our perception changes. The world becomes complicated, is complicated, and we uncover complications and translate them.
Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto is an experiment in perspectives. Following a film director and her hired translator who write their own scripts for the same movie, it takes the reader through the perspectives of a variety of characters, both real and film creations, to tell the story of a massacre that happened during the Philippine-American War in the village of Balangiga. Balangiga changes shape depending on who tells the story. For the American photographer Cassandra Chase, the villagers are props for a set, part of a story that Cassandra wishes to tell. For American soldiers, they are enemies, people to impart American customs and religion on, people to twist to their own bidding. For the villagers themselves, they become people struggling to free themselves from a tyrannical force that abuses them and ruins their livelihoods. From character to character, from movie to life, from past to present, Balangiga changes.
The translator, Magsalin, writes about “readers who ask, Why do you always bring up history no one knows anything about?” A question that could follow this is “what history do people know about and why?” People can’t know everything, but for Americans it seems we draw from the same few events, seen through the eyes of the same people. Our history is one of specifics, a sort of highlight reel. Whatever is included in this highlight reel is the history we learn from, the history we base our perception on. The last words of the book are that “the Philippine-American War is unremembered,” but why is it unremembered? Because of its massacre, of Americans behaving in horrifying ways? Is it a taint on the carefully polished history of our country?
Think of the recent issues involving teaching the history of racism in schools, partially explained in an article from Vox. Erasing these lessons of racism creates a clear perspective that attempts to naturalize racism, erasing its roots and the harm that it’s caused, making it more difficult to fight. Jarvis R. Givens in a Vox article on Critical Race Theory states that “the choices we make about what to highlight or omit, all of that reflects certain values and biases. It’s just that we often take these for granted when it’s the ‘preferred’ or ‘dominant’ history” (qtd. in Illing). It’s interesting to review history lessons like books, full of literary devices, all with their purposes, lessons we’re supposed to learn. How do we teach history if no one is objective? Certainly in a way that is less harmful, that benefits more people than just those considered the norm. We have one perspective where we need many. We need the shifting narration of Insurrecto, more information provided for putting together the puzzle of the past.
Insurrecto’s focus on movies also ties them together with history, with education. Movies, books, any type of media provides us with perspectives. We learn from all movies, even if that’s not their purpose, picking up ideas, ways of being, social cues. Books can fill in gaps where education fails. Insurrecto does just this, but in a way that makes its purpose clear, that serves as a reminder to the true ability of books, their power. Movies bleed in with life, blending together and becoming one, to change how the characters think and feel. They can do the same for us.