July 30, 2010
More than a century ago today, Valeriano
Hernandez y Peña wrote the novel Mag-inang
Mahirap. Being the Father of the Tagalog novel,
he is a very important writer in Philippine literature.
I believe that his novel Mag-inang Mahirap
is an essential piece of historical fiction. Thus,
every Filipino and everyone with Filipino roots
should get to read Mag-inang Mahirap.
I am translating it for the benefit of those who
cannot read old Tagalog.
. . . Carmelita C. Ballesteros
Julia’s initial doubts did not last. Alberto’s promises in his letters were enough proof of his true love. For Julia, there was no other faithful heart except Alberto’s. It seemed that she readily agreed to anything he said so that his heart and hers could be united. Slowly, this led to one path, one desire, and one heartbeat which filled their souls with gladness. And so it could be proudly said then that Julia’s heart belonged to Alberto who, in turn, was Julia’s unmistakable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Pilar’s sweetness to Alberto did not hinder Julia’s surrender to him.
Utterly blinded with love, Julia ignored Pilar’s existence completely. Julia trusted with all her heart that Alberto loved her more than he loved Pilar. And because of this, she entrusted to him the most important secret of her womanhood. However, Alberto had been agitated since his last visit with Pilar when she showed him the letter that had fallen into her hands. Although Julia’s sweet surrender had given him pleasure, it could not make him happy. First of all, he did not love this woman. And second, it was unthinkable that she could replace in his heart his sweetheart for whom he had endured many years of hardships and sufferings. Not only once but several times was he able to talk with Pilar again, but it was coldness that confronted him each time. He could never bring back the old sweetness and the old trust in their love. Miserable and despondent, Alberto often sighed, “What a tragedy to lose Pilar! … What a tragedy that because of my dishonorable heart, I would lose her forever.”
He did not know how he could bring back his sweetheart’s trust which he had betrayed. On the other hand, time was slowly putting him in a tight spot, owing to Julia’s condition which could not be denied anymore and which was giving Pilar a good reason to remain cold to him. Time was running out on Alberto. Although Julia was helplessly in love with him, it did not mean that she would not do anything to make him, who had brought her to that shameful condition, shoulder his responsibility. “What about me?” this was Julia’s question when she and Alberto spoke with each other. “What’s in your heart for me, Alberto? So this is how my fate ends? Answer me. I need to know right now what will happen to me.” “Don’t worry, Julia,” replied Alberto. “Trust me. I’ll take care of you. I’m not irresponsible.” “That’s true, Alberto. It’s because I trusted you and your promises that I’m now in this condition. But when are you going to give me shelter from people’s condemnation?” “What condemnation should you worry about? Someday, I’m going to take you to the foot of the Altar.” “Someday! … Exactly when, Alberto? I have to know.” “It won’t be long, Julia. Don’t rush.”
“I’m not rushing. Tell me the exact day. I need to know when.” “Don’t ask me for the exact day. I might not be able to fulfill it and that would make me feel bad.” “If it will make you feel bad, then you won’t fall short of the appointed day.” “We cannot guarantee our commitment. What if something happens during the days to come?” “It’s because of Pilar, isn’t it? Shame on you! Didn’t you tell me that you’re slowly distancing yourself from her?” “Am I still close to her?” “Then what ‘days to come’ are you worried about? And why can’t you name the exact day? Are you planning to end your relationship with me just like this? Answer me.” “No, Julia, no, never. I care for you.” “If you care for me, think of my humiliation.”
“You’re not the only one who should be ashamed because of your condition.” “And who else?” “I am ashamed, too.” “Then we should help each other avoid further humiliation. When shall we see the fulfillment of your promise? It’s a debt of gratitude that I’ll always owe you. Please tell me when.
I want to know.” Alberto could not speak. Julia’s questions had trapped him in a corner, but he could not tell the truth that he did not want to get married just then because he felt that doing so would put him in danger. And so he changed the topic and talked about all sorts of things for a while, then hurriedly said goodbye. Julia was left with nothing but tears because her fate remained in the dark.
“This is all my fault,” mused Julia after Alberto had left. “If I had not given him my heart, I wouldn’t be crying now. But this won’t pass just like that. I vow on my child’s blood that something terrible will happen to Alberto if he does not take care of me. “He shall never be married to Pilar whatever happens. I have a reason to make him vindicate my honor. I’ll sue him in court if my strength is useless. Ah! Now he’ll know who I am and what a precious womanhood he has ravished. We’ll find out in due time.”
* * *
Julia’s condition was the new problem of Alberto’s heart. Pilar whom he would lose was almost as priceless as his own life. Pilar would become thoroughly disenchanted with him, and rightfully so, because she would soon know the incontestable proof of his infidelity. This was the fear that confounded him and led him to think of a more shameful course of action. Alberto’s plan to avenge his father’s wretched death was neglected and what distressed his conscience all the time was his life that was spinning out of control. And so his true obligation to his parent became secondary to his obligations to a reckless love which had kept him confused and undecided. “I can do it,” he said, “I can abandon Julia in favor of Pilar. But what will happen to our child whom she now carries? Who will this child, my flesh and blood, call father? And when it grows up, how much hatred will it harbor against me for not taking care of it, though I had the means to do so? “And suppose I disregard these considerations, what will happen to Julia who’ll be the mother of my child? I don’t love her. It was just a passing fancy which brought us to this dilemma. Why should I marry her? “What kind of marriage shall I have if the woman I will live with for the rest of my life is someone I don’t love and doesn’t deserve to be loved at all? Ah! I cannot accept her as my wife.
“But will she accept her fate as a fallen woman whose honor has been defiled because of me? Perhaps not. She’ll prosecute me until she’s able to vindicate her honor. “But what about Pilar? What about the very first woman whom I loved and whom I owe much affection? Will I find Pilar’s admirable character in Julia? No! … Oh, no! Pilar’s an extraordinary woman… What a tragic loss! “Perhaps, I shouldn’t marry either one so that neither would be able to find fault with me. But what will happen to me? How can I become the father of the future sons and daughters of my country? “I must abandon Julia no matter what happens to us. Why should I care whatever happens to a woman whom I never loved at all? I can’t marry her.
I’ll tell her honestly as soon as we see each other again. “I will court Pilar again to bring back her old love for me.” This was how Alberto concluded his reflections. Not once did he see Julia again after their last tryst. He was convinced that he could escape his moral responsibility for vindicating a woman’s tainted honor. Poor Mother and Daughter, an English Translation by Carmelita C. Ballesteros Copyright © 2009 (Mag-inang Mahirap by Valeriano Hernandez at Peña, 1905-1906)