Dani D'Umuk Aguila
The Little Giant With The Pen
Q: What does ace cartoonist-editor Dani D'Umuk Aguila have in common with Loida Nicolas Lewis, head of a multi-billion dollar business empire, Ben Cayetano, first Filipino U.S. governor, Pacita Abad, New York world-class artist, and Lea Salonga, international stage performer-singer?
A: They are all featured extensively in the “Filipino Achievers in the USA and Canada: Profiles in Excellence” by Isabelo T. Crisostomo (Bookhaus, Hardcover | 1996 | 384 pages). This book is the "Hall of Fame" for more than 100 of the best and the brightest among Filipinos, Filipino/Americans and Filipino/Canadians. These Filipinos have overcome the hindrances of their cultural backgrounds into a new world and not only triumph beyond all odds, but also excel resplendently in their respective professions.
Dani D'umuk Aguila (aka “El Dani) is the creative force behind the cartoons in all of the Asian Pacific American Time's ten years of existence. But if you think that's all he does, please stay tooned. And in case you did not know, aguila literally means "eagle.". How appropriate. Aguila's wit is as sharp as an eagle's beak
The Eagle has landed on my page
Editorial caricatures can be extremely powerful and are vital in our society as well as deserving of our sincere consideration and genuine scrutiny. Any newspaper without any editorial cartoons seems to be incomplete and lacking that unique ingredient that many look for immediately as they turn the pages.
With the cartoonists' razor-sharp wit and incisive humor, their small boxes of images and abbreviated phrases can illustrate a million words of wisdom and opinion that can affect the way we think. It does not matter that the 'toons' reflect the artists' often cynical and sardonic view of the world, politics, religion and social issues, which may differ from those of their readers'. What's important is that they are thought provoking and most-often put a smile to our faces as we read and reflect on them.
Yes, the power of the editorial cartoons cannot be underestimated. They can break or make a person, place or thing; worse, they can spark fury and violent protests throughout the world. A recent mordant cartoon in a Danish newspaper about the Prophet Muhammad triggered not only worldwide Muslim demonstrations, but also slayings in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Aguila's caricatures have not sparked any such rioting, but a cartoon he had penned entitled "Watergate" had caused such uproar at the Parthenon Hall in Nashville. The museum is famous for its full-scale reproduction of the Greek temple, and "Atheno Parthenos"--the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world at 42'. Though Aguila's Watergate won a Gold Medal during the show (the Annual Awards Exhibit of the Art Directors Club of Nashville) it was taken down by the Museum Director, claiming that it was political and anti-Nixon. "The morning daily The Tennessean defended my First Amendment Right," says Aguila. "It ran two editorials, and a 9-part series that featured not just my Watergate winner, but other winning entries." Watergate was later included in the Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year 1975 edition. "The book," says Aguila, "along with over 50 other American Books were sent to the Kremlin for a US-USSR Cultural Exchange that summer. And unwittingly, "BECY'75" was one of over three dozens yanked out of the show. Thus, Watergate had the dubious distinction of being banned in both Superpowers during the Cold War!"
The Eagle's Nest
Aguila was born on September 24, 1928, to the late Governor Doroteo Aguila of La Union and his midwife-registered, nurse-deaconess mother, Donata D'umuk. "Dumuk is my late mother's maiden name," explains Aguilar. "By adding an apostrophe after D, the rest of the word Umuk means "nest" in Ilocano. So literally, my abode is officially known as "Eagle's Nest," or Umuk ti Agila, in Ilocano."
Aguila and his wife, the former Norma B. Alampay ("Normahal" as he endearingly refer to her), migrated to the US in late 1967. They immediately settled in Nashville, Tennessee and fell in love with the city right away. If he had his way, he said he would rename the city "Niceville." Known as the "Country Music Capital of the World," and home to the "Grand Ole Opry," where dreams have come true for the superstars in country and western music; Nashville is also known to many as a religious, educational and publishing center. This latter reputation proved itself to Aguilar for he excelled on all counts in Niceville. He was Art Consultant for Upper Room -- the world's largest daily devotional guide in 60 countries. "Later, he was appointed Art Director of the R.G. Field's Advertising Company, winning the first Diamond Award in TV commercials. In 1972, he became the Art director of WDCN-TV/Channel 8 public television; scripted and produced prizewinning TV ads. And in 1975, he was elected the first ethnic non-American president of the Art Directors Club of Nashville, consistently winning major prizes in illustration and editorial cartoons. The Eagle's Nest is still thriving after almost 40 years. The Aguilas have three children (Normalinda, Daniel Bliss and Dina), and two grandchildren (Kathy and Andrew).
An alumnus of the University of the Philippines, Aguila has been an editorial cartoonist, illustrator, journalist and design artist, cartoonist and editor for almost all his life. It all began at age 5, when his father, then a traveling salesman, took him to see a live baby elephant. So impressed with the animal that boy Aguila started drawing the baby elephant on the gravel with a stick. His father saw his son's great potential as an artist and he immediately bought him a paint box set. And the rest, as they say, is history. His works have appeared in numerous major publications in the Philippines and in the United States. He has also been the recipient of countless journalism awards, citations, fellowships and grants--too numerous to mention in this article.
To name a few of Aguila's achievements, he holds the honor of being the first non-white member of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) to receive the coveted "Ink Bottle Pin Award in June 1992. In summer of 1963, he was one of five who received the "Outstanding Son of Bauang (La Union) Award," presented by Mayor Delfin Florendo during his hometown's Centennial. The other awardees included "RP Banana King Antonio Florendo," and National Press Club President Liberato Marinas. In August 1976, during the Siliman University's Diamond Jubilee and Founders Day in Dumaguete City, he was presented with the "Outstanding Silliman University Alumnus in Communications Arts Award" by then University President Quentin 'King" Doroma. In January 2001, he was one of two inductees to the "UMAC Hall of Fame, Class 2000" during the annual convention of United Methodists Association of Communicators. In April 2005, he received Doctor of Humanities (honoris causa), from the Philippine Christian University. "My homily response," he says, "included my definition of PILIPINO, as a dual word meaning, "PILI " meaning "choice", and "PINO", meaning "fine" ergo, The (F)ilipino People are both a "Chosen" and "Fine" People.
The legend of "El Dani"
In 1953, at the lst International World's Fair in Manila, Aguila met Xavier Cugat, the Hollywood cartoonist-turned Latino band leader. Along with his classmates in the UP School of Fine Arts he brought his cartoon impressions of Cugat. In receiving his "cartoonitials" (using the subject's initials as a basis for his cartoon), Cugat's gimlet eyes grew more narrow as he remarked, "Senor Aguila, I love this cartoon very mootch, except for one thing; why did you sign Danny instead of Dani, which I trust comes from your given name Daniel, right?" Before Aguila could reply, Cugat continued, "You should retain your real name Daniel, and use Dani for a nickname. That way, someday, when you decide you've become famous or infamous" you can return the suffix "el" and make it a prefix, hence, "el Dani."
It had to take three censorships of Aguila's controversial cartoons before he could affix "el Dani." These are: (1) His "Watergate" expurgation as related above; (2) When the Philippine Consulate in Canada invited Aguila to showcase a retrospective exhibit of his work at the Toronto Public Library, the Consul General himself, without consulting him, took down a row of six cartoons featuring Israel. "I kept my peace," Aguila explains, "since I was his guest, but when I returned to Nashville, I wrote a pictorial center spread on my censored show, and the Consular General took no time to throw all the names in the books, calling me an "ingrate," etc. His umbrage went on for the next few minutes. And when I thought he was finished, I gingerly asked: "Is that all?" He resumed his tirade." (3) A fourth cartoon featuring possibly the first to feature a condom was not allowed in Aguila's one-man show at Watkins School of Art in Nashville where he taught Cartooning l0l; but it was included in the "Annual International Humour Anthology" in Montreal. It was entered but taken down from the Cartoon Biennial in Brazil, later that year.
Thereafter, Aguila started signing his cartoons "el Dani."
And that, my friends, is the legend of “El Dani.”