Exhibit documents rise of U.S. power in Pacific

by Judith Kahn

The Bindlestiff theater group produced "Shadows of War" at the Presidio Officers Club Dec. 4. The free multi-media production, which incorporates live actors and music silhouetted against a backdrop of historical photos, illustrates the stories of the prominent Lopez family.

"Shadows of War" began in November and takes place the first Thursday of each month until Feb. 5.

Alex Torress, executive director of the Filipino-American theater group based in San Francisco, is extremely grateful that the Presidio Trust is wiling to present a theater production and exhibit about a significant event in American History: The Philippine War.

The play is a staged reading of Lopez family letters, which are on display in the exhibit "War and Dissent: The U.S. in the Philippines, 1898-1915."

Torress says he is thrilled that the Presidio trust is sponsoring both the exhibit and their production. He is particularly thrilled to have the opportunity to bring the production to the Presidio since there is often no more than a date and one line explanation in most history books concerning the relevance of this war.

Torress said revisiting this juncture in American history gave him a better understanding of his identity, both as an American and a Filipino. The free production incorporates live actors and music silhouetted against a backdrop of historical photos that illustrate the stories of the Lopez family.

After the stage production the company invites the audience to come behind the backdrops to learn how the play was produced. The visuals used in the production are done with a combination of low- and hi-tech: Low-tech because the troupe utilized shadow puppetry, which involves casting shadows with high-powered lamps (250 watts) and handmade cardboard puppets. They also used traditional overhead projectors.

It is hi-tech because they created custom three-dimensional animations that they projected using an LCD projector. During the production the Lopez family's letters come alive. The Lopez family members were wealthy planters who once owned sugar and coffee plantations and raised cattle in Bantangas Province in southwest Luzon Island, as well as a steamship home port in Manila. As Filipino nationalists, they backed the revolution against the Spanish.

In retaliation, Spanish troops burned their fields and houses. In 1899, the Lopez family supported the Philippine independence movement and hosted U.S. officers at their house in Balayan. Because two of the Lopez brothers were active revolutionaries, U.S. troops seized the family storehouses, steamship and the deeds to their estates. In 1901, Brigadier Gen. Bell arrested three of the brothers and imprisoned them for five months without charges, in hopes of forcing another brother, who was exiled in Hong Kong, to return to the states to swear allegiance to the United States.

During this time, the Lopez family sisters wrote a stream of letters in 1901 and 1902, as the war was going on, to get their brothers out of jail. The letters are the foundation for both the theater production "Shadows of War" and the exhibit. Through them we learn of the involvement of the Lopez family in the war.

Sharp dissent erupted over the Philippine war, which grew into the country's first anti-war movement.

The catalyst for both the play and the exhibit came when a Sacramento man, Alan Harlow, donated his grandfather's diary and 80 photographs he had collected to the Presidio Trust.

Randolph Delehanty, the curator and historian for the Presidio Trust, said the donation came with a question - Harlow wanted to know about his grandfather, who was in the Philippines at the end of the 19th century. Sergeant Alan Harlow was an Army volunteer from Iowa who trained at Camp Meritt in San Francisco's Richmond District and at the Presidio.

Delehanty was thrilled with the prospect of presenting an exhibit that would chronicle the growth of the Presidio into a major military installation and show the rise of the United States as an imperial power. This period was when the Presidio changed from a coastal defense post into a global military installation as the U.S. annexed Hawaii and occupied the Philippines, Guam and Samoa. Letterman Hospital was established to care for those who were wounded or contracted tropical diseases in the Philippines.

The exhibit explores the war from several viewpoints - Harlow's story, the struggle for Philippine independence, the liberation movement against both Spain and the United States, and the experience of the Lopez family members imprisoned by the U.S. Army.

Displays of original color political cartoons exhibit racial attitudes behind the war and recorded excerpts from Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League are exhibited.

For more information, go to the Web site at presidio.gov/calendar or call the Presidio Events Line at (415) 561-5500.