The eminent historian, journalist, technocrat and diplomat, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, was in a class of her own. Her elegant prose was impeccable, charming, witty, wry and incisive. The 100th anniversary of her birthday is July 19, 2022.
In her honor, here are some insightful quotes that describe the iconic writer who passed away on July 30, 2018.
I start with her own words. Mrs. Nakpil wrote in her autobiographical trilogy Myself, Elsewhere; Legends & Adventures; and Exeunt:
“Without being aware of it, I must have acquired the certain knowledge of what everyone has been calling a ‘sense of identity.’ I have always known who and what I am and have been free from the qualms and confusions others have had to wrestle with. What a valuable gift from the instinctive pedagogy of my elders.” — Myself, Elsewhere
“A new life is riskier than the old one, as any tatterdemalion survivor will tell you… The steely old rules of Ermita are gone … and the only etiquette is Dog eat Dog.” — Legends & Adventures
“We Filipinos draw our endless patience, our good nature and our trust in God’s master plan from a simple unshakeable faith. I surprise myself by quoting to a distraught, son, daughter or friend, Teresa of Avila’s comforting lines which I learned when I was nine, ‘Nada te turbe, Nada te espante.’ Let nothing disturb or frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Solo Dios basta. God alone suffices.” — Exeunt
“No longer restless or fractured, rid at last of all strange gods, this very old heart withdraws into peace.
“In the very end, after all is said and done, we need only God. Everything else is vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity.” — Exeunt
Here are the words of others:
“When she was coping with old age, I was by her side. Mommy became very demanding. Her threshold for pain was no longer high so she was uncomfortable most of the time. I had to coax her to eat, to drink water often. She complained that she no longer had anyone to talk to because all her close friends had gone before her. We prayed the rosary together, recited the Ultimo Adios which always made her cry. She reverted to talking in Spanish, sometimes she would look at me and call me Mama. Indeed, we had changed places without being aware of it.” — Gemma Guerrero Cruz Araneta
“Lifelong lessons we learned from Mom are: First and foremost is love of country. And the rest are: Integrity. Industry. Impeccable manners and dressing tastefully.” — Ismael “Toto” Guerrero Cruz
“When I was little, I was convinced my Mom was Lucile Ball. I would watch TV in the afternoon and was enthralled by the antics of the I Love Lucy comedy series. Just as each episode would end, Mom would show up, back from one of her outings. So, I assumed that Lucy had ended her show and decided to come home to me.
“Much later, when I confided to my siblings that it had been my long-held conviction that Lucy and Mom were one and the same person, they took it as early proof of my eccentricity. I have since often wondered where I got that misimpression and I am guessing that, even as a little boy, I had focused on one of my Mom’s most essential traits: her sense of humor and wit. No, my Mom was not anything like a red-headed American, TV sitcom star but she was truly funny, witty and endlessly entertaining.” — Luis “Luijo” Guerrero Nakpil
“I don’t know whether it came from jumping in and out of foxholes in World War II — during the Battle of Manila — but Mom was of an impatient, impulsive character. No slow-burn for her, no carefully laid-out plans; she often had no time for the big and the little in life. She would get dressed for a fancy-schmalzy ball in 30 minutes; and dash off her daily column in about the same time.
“One had the sensation that she was always in perpetual motion, hurtling through space as it were. Thinking about it now, I can only explain the phenomenon as an excess of talent that made everything she did, no matter how difficult, look easy.” — Lisa Guerrero Nakpil
“Carmen Guerrero Nakpil is a most intelligent Filipino writer. Her mastery of the English language is incomparable. Her sense of history is as great as her knowledge of our country’s past.” —Virgilio S. Almario, National Artist for Literature
“Not for her untrammeled, whimsical, headlong spirit, the qualifiers of Ph.D. dissertations: the ‘yes buts.’ The ‘on the other hands,’ the interminable appendices, the ponderous weighing of ‘facile conjectures against available evidence.’ Against the turbulence of such heavy weather, Mrs. Nakpil gaily bounces her gleaming, miraculously maneuverable monoplane. She is a storyteller, which most historians aren’t. And so she makes history come alive when all most textbooks can do is bury it with honors.” — Fr. Horacio de la Costa S.J. wrote in the preface of her book History Today, a compilation of her newspaper columns on history.
“Tita Chitang — a force of nature with her cutting wit.” — Katrina Legarda
“Carmen Guerrero Nakpil was the greatest National Artist we never had.” — Deanna Ongpin Recto, former UNESCO representative
“Tita Chitang is special to me. She recommended me for my first job to the Associated Press, and to the middle-income condo which is my permanent residence. She was also close to my mother in spirit. They both suffered during the war. Both lost their husbands in February 1945.” — Amadis Ma. Guerrero
What they wrote about her book Myself, Elsewhere that won the National Book Award:
“Sparkling wit and ravishing language… material here for a War and Peace.” — Adrian Cristobal, Manila Bulletin
“It is the authenticity that makes her book so powerful, her authentic affection for so alien a life as to seem impossible to present day readers. This is a look back at the way people really lived, loved and even hated, with details no novelist could have invented.” — Manuel Quezon III, Philippine Daily Inquirer
On a personal note, Tita Chitang was my cultural Mom who inspired and encouraged me on my art journey and matters of the heart. She loved and cared about her family and friends. She was the epitome of regal elegance, eloquence, wit and style. The confident woman of the world who used the perfect word or turn of phrase. She made history easy to read and enjoy.
The CGN friends celebrated historical events, book launches, exhibits for many years. We were fortunate to have her until her 96th birthday. She is now a glowing star in the firmament. We all miss her. Cheers to 100!
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.