Everyday History
Carlos Celdran
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Carlos Celdran was born: Nov. 10, 1972

On this day in 1972, Filipino cultural activist, cartoonist, performance artist and tour guide Carlos Celdran, known as the “Pied Piper of Manila,” was born.

Although born to an affluent Spanish-Filipino family, Celdran didn’t live an affluent life. At the age 14, he began his art career as a political cartoonist for Business Day (now BusinessWorld), and later, for the newspaper Manila Chronicle, two of the major newspapers established after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. He commuted from Makati to Manila and worked under the tutelage of the late cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines Diliman, Celdran sought further studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1991, where he also began working on performance art. As a production assistant for the Blue Man Group, he gained further insight on how performance art is developed and executed. While studying, he worked in a number of blue-collar jobs to support himself.

He also lived in New York City where, his exposure to the arts and the gay-and-lesbian community convinced him to become an advocate for LGBTQIA+ and reproductive health rights.

The Pied Piper of Manila

Upon his return to Manila, Celdran initially worked as an assistant director for the non-profit organization Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), which advocated for the preservation of historical and cultural heritage in the country. His experience at HCS led him to become a full-time performance artist/tour guide for his company “Walk This Way” in 2003.

Dressed in period clothing and equipped with a lapel, flashcards and music, Celdran led tourists both foreign and local along Manila’s historic districts of Intramuros, Binondo and Quiapo. It’s an immersive experience, which combined music, visuals and history lecture to give participants a taste of what life was during the Spanish and American colonial period in districts like

Attracting tourists from far and wide because of his flamboyant performance and engaging lectures, Celdran earned the moniker “The Pied Piper of Manila.” His daily presence in Intramuros has helped restore the tourism and business boom in the once-neglected corner of Manila.

In 2009, his one-man show Livin’ La Vida Imelda premiered. It started out as a walking tour of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which was built in 1969 under the auspices of the former first lady.

The show underscored the lavishness and opulence of Imelda’s lifestyle amid the human rights abuses and widespread poverty during her husband Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorial regime. Celdran has since performed the show in cities like Manila, Cebu, New York, Toronto and Dubai and even got a glowing review from theater critic Anita Gates of The New York Times in 2014.

Controversial protest

Celdran was ardent supporter of reproductive health rights. On Sept. 30, 2010, he became controversial after he held a protest inside the Manila Cathedral.

That day, Celdran entered the cathedral dressed as Filipino reformist Dr. Jose Rizal while the archdiocese held an ecumenical service. He held up a placard with the word “Damaso” on it, in obvious reference to the antagonist Padre Damaso in Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere.

The protest alluded to the fact that Catholic Church still wielded considerable influence in Philippine politics, such as in its opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill pending in Congress.

Authorities immediately arrested and threw Celdran in jail under charges of “offending religious feelings” based on an archaic provision in the Revised Penal Code. He paid bail a few days later and released.

In August 2018, the Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld Celdran’s conviction for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. To avoid jail time, he decided to leave the Philippines for Spain in a self-imposed exile on January 2019.

On Oct. 8, 2019, Celdran died of cardiac arrest in his sleep. Before his death, he had just launched a guided tour of the different places in Madrid associated with Rizal, which he dubbed Camino Rizal.

Trivia Question

What was the name of Alonso’s half-brother, who in 1872 was jailed along with her after being falsely accused in the attempted poisoning of her sister-in-law?

Yesterday’s answer: Catbalogan

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