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COMING OF THE DOCTORS TO AMERICA

Dec 31, 1844- DEC 30, 1896

When Magellan "rediscovered" the Philippines, the voyage came from the West. The only remaining ship VICTORIA returned to Spain with Sebastian Elcano and the surviving 17 crewmen. She was the first ship to go around the world. Magellan (due to his death) and Enrique (the original balikbayan) were left in the Philippines. When the ship’s log was reviewed everyone thought that the log contained an error in the date. One day was missing based on the arrival back in Spain. It was assumed that the navigator made a mistake. These phenomena can be observed by returning balikbayans to the Philippines whose watches had to be adjusted when crossing the International Dateline. A traveller regains the lost day upon his return to the United States. The movie “Around the World in 80 days” will tell how this happened in reverse.

The Spanish explorers who followed later came from the the same westerly direction and never adjusted the date accordingly. Ironically literacy and advanced dating system based on celestial observation were already in place during the Pre-Spanish era. This is among the skills our ancestors needed to rule the southern Pacific ocean. The Spaniards introduced the western calendar system and started with the same European date. It was only in 1844 when the Archbishop of Manila issued a decree that Dec 31, 1844 be dropped and that December 30, 1844 be followed by Jan 1, 1845. The International Date line was set at 180 degrees longitude during the International Meridian Conference in 1844.

 Here’s a bit of trivia from 152 years ago. No Filipinos were born on December 31, 1844 because that day was skipped to conform with the rest of the world. 52 years later on December 30, 1896 the pride of the Malay Race (Dr Jose Rizal) was violently executed because of the reforms he was advocating peacefully.

 The first Filipino doctor to arrive in America was probably Dr Jose Rizal. He was a physician who had performed eye operations that had never been done in the Philippines and Asia. He came to America on his second trip to Europe because the Spaniards were hot on the trail of his propaganda movement. He boarded a ship from Japan and arrived in San Francisco. He took a cross country train to New York on May 13, 1888 with stopover in Chicago. He probably noticed the Yankees moving west but not enough to suspect that they would be crossing the Pacific and be replacing the Spanish rulers in his country 10 years later. He stayed at a trendy Hotel at 200 5th Ave in New York City for three days before sailing for Europe. He returned home in 1892. He was exiled to Dapitan in the southern Philippines.  He volunteered to his medical service to the Spanish goverment  and was accepted as Medical Officer in the growing unrest the Cuban revolution. He was instead arrested for his alleged conspiracy on the local revolution on his way to Manila. His second trip to America to practice medicine ended as he was sentenced to die .

 He wrote his farewell and hid it in the his kerosene lamp on Dec 30, 1896. His poem “Ultima Adios” was presented during the US Congress debate when the body was deciding if the Filipino people should be given independence. His passion and brilliant expression for independence conveyed in the poem convinced some of the bigoted and skeptical lawmakers who did not believe that the Filipinos were capable of self government. He was great man of letters. He proved once more that the pen was mightier than the sword. Almost 50 years later hundreds of Filipino medical doctors started immigrating to the US with heavy concentration on the three cities Rizal visited.

While in Europe in his first trip he passed the medical examination in June 1884. His grades was not as high as he had expected but he explained that he had reviewed the course on the basis of modern German theory but the board were made mostly of old fashioned examiners. In December 1887 he wrote to his friend Bluementritt, "Everyone wants me to leave the Philippines." He made about P900 in practice of his profession . He left Manila in February 1888 for Hongkong. From here he accepted the invitation of the Spanish charge d'affaires to live at the Legation in Japan. Before he left for San Francisco he has been offered a position in the Spanish Legation for $100 a month.

From Leon Ma Guerriro's BIOGRAPHY OF  JOSE RIZAL...the coming of the 20th century were coming to the surface. If Japan was in the rising tide of the Imperial Restoration, the US across the Pacific had just completed the gigantic Re-construction after the Civil War...staring eagerly across the seas to its "manifest destiny" in Hawaii, Samoa, Alaska, Japan, Korea, and China. At home the Americans were plunged in agrarian discontent, inflation, political corruption., Rizal landed in San Francisco at the beginning of a bitter presidential election campaign which would end with the incumbent Democrat Cleveland losing to the Republican Harrison on electoral votes although he had a plurality of the popular vote.

 But Rizal traversed the continent too rapidly to feel the spirit of the great democracy or even to grasp the vastness of its future. Being educated in Europe and sensitive Asian he observed America, raw, grasping, restless with growing pains, could offer neither leisure nor inspiration for him. The American jealous of any cheap competition that might threaten their rising living standards, only excited his contempt and dislike.

"They put us in quarantine because our ship carried 800 Chinese; election were then being held in San Francisco and the government, seeking votes, was making a great show of adopting rigorous measures against the Chinese to capture the sympathies of the people. They notified us of the quarantine verbally, without telling us how long it was going to last (it lasted about 13 days, and even longer for the Chinese and Japanese) yet on the same day unloaded 700 bolts of silk without fumigating them." Race prejudice and, on top of it, the valuings of money over human life were enough to turn Rizal against America. " America is undoubtedly a great country," he concluded, "but still has many defects. There is no true civil liberty. In some states a Negro cannot marry a white woman or a Negress a white man. The hatret of the Chinese leads to other Asian aliens like the Japanese being confused with them and their being looked down too. Custom officials are excessively severe. However, as they well say, they offer a country to the poor man who is willing to work."

 One would conclude that he was not sorry to leave the "land of opportunity." He boarded the CITY OF ROME to London from New York harbor. He enjoyed himself aboard the second largest ship making the trans Atlantic by demonstrating the Pilipino game of "Yoyo."

phix7@yahoo.com Nestor Palugod Enriquez