Native hero steals birthday light but inspires beyond grave

Eric Ariel Salas

Eric Ariel Salas

November 30 is the day I turn a year older. It is the best time for reminiscing about sweet memories of the year before, musing on all things that have been left undone, reflecting on friends who, in all my years of existence, have remained faithful and never changed and, most importantly, a time of facing a new chapter of my life.

In the Philippines, November 30 is a red-letter day. It commemorates the birthday of a brave, noble and distinct Filipino, Andres Bonifacio. He roamed the land a century ago, fought for our independence and became one of the country’s heroes. His dreams and aspirations of one day seeing and living a cheerful dawn of freedom and national unity came true. Had he not shed sweat and blood and led an uprising, along with other revolutionaries, against the Spanish government, I would have been deprived of the feeling a century of freedom could give.

I was supposed to be named Eric Andres or Ariel Andres, in honor of the hero. But as to why I was baptized Eric Ariel instead, Mom couldn’t recall. Some friends call me Andres, which never embarrassed me though.

A red day means a holiday for all. No work, no class. In most years, I had my birthday celebrated in my hometown. Mom prepared my favorite roasted chicken, plus the ever-present Chinese pansit for a family get-together later in the evening. The night was never complete without the karaoke blaring out music from yesteryears. Oh yeah, a night of multiplex CDs and minus-ones, of grandpa’s and grandma’s singing voices, of the Salas’ family talents, of giggles and joys-all are meant as a thanksgiving for an added year.

Aside from going to mass, I was only out of the house when an important errand called for it. Few close friends, those who are too observant on birthdays, gave me surprise visits at home. Others dedicated their greetings in advance. The remaining few, perhaps because it is Andres’ day, failed to remember my special day.

I studied how Andres grew up as a kid. He rallied round to help sustain daily needs by selling paper fans and rattan canes. He even sacrificed his future for the benefit of his siblings. That was how he lived his life: diligent, persevering and steadfast.

Andres had a share of notable talents and skills, his inclinations quite similar to mine. Inclined to writing, he wrote short stories about anything that inspired him. He was also fond of reading books, mostly about uprisings in foreign lands. Brought up with good values, strengthened by determination and courage, braced with the idea of peace and liberation, he led a revolt against the Spanish conquistadores.

Andres died more than a century ago, yet he handed down a heritage that I can truly be proud of. Every time I see a photo of him, I am reminded of the challenge I and the rest of the Filipino race must take up.

Andres would have turned 143 years old this month and I would be in my happy years. There would be no celebration here in Brookings for an added year. No fun and festivity. Nevertheless, I would still be very satisfied, not just because I was born on a hero’s day, but for what Andres taught me: I don’t have to shed blood to prove that I can be a hero. Heroism dwells in the heart of one who dreams.