“Rosalinda Orosa has seen them all—the great singers of world, the Broadway stage stars, the superb musicians of Europe, and of course, our very own wonderful singers, instrumentalists, actors, and actresses. She has written about them, interviewed them, brought them close to us by humanizing them.”—F. Sionil Jose, foreword, Tapestry
Rosalinda Orosa has never borne a child of her own but she has fostered the growth of Philippine performing arts as if she were its mother—with a love so deep and unconditional dedication.
Orosa has been a critic and reviewer—and thus a nurturer—of generations of the country’s young and veteran performing artists, and the theatrical and artistic shows in which they appear for almost seven decades now. Besides these, she has also authored countless cultural essays and books that are recognized both here and abroad.
Having reached her prime today, there is still no stopping Orosa from doing what she loves best and what she does best as she pens a weekly column “Encore” for The Sunday Times Magazine (see page B2), and just in April, launch her latest book, Tapestry under the Vibal Publishing company.
Day in and day out in her Dasmariñas Village home, Orosa types away a story or an essay—probably of the latest performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines—on the keys of her old but trusty typewriter. She has turned down offers of tutorials to use the computer, convinced that the tapping sound of every key on the iconic writing machine stimulates her mind.
In this exclusive interview, however, it is The Sunday Times Magazine, which has the honor of writing about Rosalinda Orosa, whom Filipino artists and followers of Philippine arts and culture should also celebrate on Mother’s Day.
Raised by artists and servants
How Orosa developed a deep interest and passion for arts and culture is easy to understand. She comes from a family of artists and servants whose contributions to country are immeasurable.
Her parents are the late Drs. Sixto and Severina Orosa, who dedicated their lives to Mindanao as the first Christian missionary doctors in Jolo, Sulu.
“They had just graduated from the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine—my mother the valedictorian and my father the salutatorian—in 1914,” Orosa recalled in this interview with The Sunday Times Magazine.
“In 1916, they left for Jolo, Sulu to be among the Muslims. It was a very great ordeal for them because they were met with new strange customs, traditions and religion. Moreover, they were always exposed to the Juramentados, Moros who behead Christians.”
Despite the imminent danger, the couple stayed on to fulfill their Hippocratic oath and love for country at the Sulu Public Hospital. However, the Muslims still never came to them for treatment as they were perceived as enemies. They were believed to be Christian doctors working for the American government.
“Until one day, Hadji Butu, the most influential Muslim next to the Sultan, became ill. He was a senator and a very educated man so he called for my father. Within a few days, my father cured him,” shared Orosa. Following the incident and by word of mouth, the hospital was soon filled with Muslim patients whom Orosa doctors treated one after the other.
Sixto was hailed as the “Father of Provincial Hospital Law,” having established 17 public hospitals throughout the country; while Severina founded the Kababaihan Rizalista, which is the female counterpart of the Knights of Rizal.
“They were also both writers in English, Spanish and Filipino and awardees of Premio Zobel,” Orosa added. (Premio Zobel is the oldest literary award in the Philippines and the world that honors the best Filipino writing in the Spanish language).
Besides instilling in Rosalinda and her four older siblings their philosophies, values, and love for country, Sixto and Severina also nurtured an appreciation for the arts and culture in their young minds.
“Early on, we already had the complete set of the Harvard Classics in our library. And my father would make us listen to the records of the New York Metropolitan Opera House singers including records of Caruso who was then the greatest tenor of his time,” recalled Orosa. “He would also take us to the dining room where he would bring out articles from magazines, and then ask us to paraphrase the sentences. My father and mother, they were themselves literary writers so their interest in the written word were easily passed on to us.”
Without hesitation, Orosa declared that her parents are her greatest influencers and inspiration in life.
The life and service of her parents, as well as the other great accomplishments of the other members of the Orosa family make up the stories of Rosalinda Orosa’s latest book, Tapestry.
“This book was written upon the insistent suggestion of Ester Vibal of Vibal Publishing since she had long declared her admiration for my family’s contributions to the community and country.”
Humbly obliging Vibal’s request, Orosa then sought the help of no less than National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose to write the foreword. She also reprinted old essays and articles by National Artist for Literature, the late Nick Joaquin, detailing her parents’ stay among the Muslims of Sulu.
Written by her or reprinted from other authors, the book also elaborates the work of her siblings Sixto Jr., Leonor, Helen, Jose and herself, who in different capacities and fields have contributed to the betterment of the Philippines.
Sixto Orosa Jr. for example, her eldest brother during his time was written by journalists as “a banking and finance genius,” and the “best Governor [of]the Central Bank.”
Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, her eldest sister meanwhile was conferred as a National Artist for Dance in 1976, and considered as the “Mother of Philippine Theater Dance.”
“She was regarded by [fellow National Artist for Literature]Alejandro Roces as the ‘greatest National Artist’ for excelling in more cultural disciplines than any other National Artist. She was a pianist, a painter, a playwright, a costume and scenic designer, a choreographer and dancer,” said Orosa of Leonor.
Helen Orosa del Rosario, just like their brother Sixto, also entered the realm of public service. She devotedly served as public relations officer of the Department of Health for 20 years under five secretaries.
“In the family, Helen also produced the most number of artistically talented children and grandchildren,” Orosa noted.
Jose, the youngest son, was a businessman who established his own real estate company and toy company. He also served what was then the National Marketing Corporation, and later co-found Armando Baltazar Ang Arko, a home for handicapped children.
Her father’s younger sister, Maria Orosa, for her part, was a food technologist who pioneered canning and food preservation in the Philippines. She also concocted over 700 recipes, which she kitchen-tested herself. She was also a captain in the ranks of a guerilla group during World War II, and died in line of duty while feeding starving Filipinos and sending food to the guerillas in the mountains.
Finally, Rosalinda Orosa mastered the art of critiquing or reviewing the performing arts through the power of the pen, and today, she is considered to be the Philippines’ premier and renowned cultural essayist and author.
“This book took almost three years to complete,” said Orosa of her labor of love.
Fittingly, it had a grand launch at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and is now available at Solidaridad Bookshop in Ermita Manila.
Writer’s early days
With a clear sense of what she wanted to become, Orosa entered the University of the Philippines at the age of 14 and took up English Literature. Upon obtaining her degree, she received a Julia George Fellowship for Oriental Women in Harvard University’s Radcliffe College where she finished a post-graduate degree in English Literature once again.
Upon returning to the Philippines, Orosa immediately began a career in writing. She recalled, “I started as a proofreader at the Manila Chronicle because at the time there was no place [for me]at the editorial section.”
Six months later, a position opened up for her in editorial where she went on to be the hard-working writer, which she continues to be today.
“I had plenty of assignments!” she gushed. “I would take down telephone calls from reporters outside and would write their stories. I was the official assistant of an editor so he would dictate to me his story and I would type it. After that, I would also copy read his column.”
Despite all the different jobs she had to fulfill, Orosa still found enough time to write editorials about culture and education so that she became one of the youngest columnists of her generation.
Through the years, she has built a reputation to be one of the most internationally recognized Filipino writers. Her recognitions include two French awards for arts and letters; two German awards, one of which is the Commander’s Cross of Merit, the highest given to a non-German; the Isabela la Catolica award from Spain; and a Canadian citation.
She also served as the only Asian juror in Madrid’s Journalism Competition, “Premios Internacionales Rey de España,” which was open to all Spanish-speaking writers.
In the local scene, she has received the Premio Zobel just like her parents, and holds the distinction as the first-ever winner of the Quijano de Manila (Nick Joaquin’s pen name) journalism competition.
Mastering her craft
Asked how she mastered writing about the arts, particularly performing arts, Orosa replied she has sufficient background in music, theater and dance because she studied all of the disciplines under the “best teachers a pupil can ever have.”
For music, she was thought by the original graduates of Sister Baptista Battig, a Benedictine nun from St. Scholastica’s Collage who founded the school’s Conservatory of Music, and introduced classical music education in the country in 1907.
For dance, no less than her sister Leonor trained her, alongside Madam Luva Adameit, an American dancer and choreographer who contributed to Philippine ballet.
Orosa also studied theater during her undergraduate and post-graduate education in UP and Harvard.
As a book author, Orosa has published three books before Tapestry: What’s in a (Nick) Name (1969) with essays by Nick Joaquin; Above the Throng: Portraits and Profiles, Sketches and Silhouettes (1980) of Filipino artists and luminaries; and Turning Back the Pages (2011) portraying diverse Filipino personalities.
With all her achievements, The Sunday Times Magazine had to ask if there is still something she hopes to do.
“Finish my autobiography,” she smiled. “I would call it ‘Autobiographical Snippets’—I have finished the draft of that,” she added excitedly.
Eager to pass on her experience to budding writers, Orosa told The Sunday Times Magazine, she merely has two pieces of advise. First, she said matter-of-factly, “They must read good literary works, and not waste their time on mediocre stuff.”
Secondly, “When they write, they should always do their best because if they don’t, they shouldn’t write at all.”