Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Trailblazing Cebuana writers

DIYANDI - DIYANDI By Linda Kintanar-Alburo -
In celebrating Women's Month, the Provincial Women's Commission is launching a compendium of Cebuana Trailblazers, 60 of them no less! This column will feature the four writers among them. Maria Kabigon wrote in Cebuano but had a far-reaching influence that caught readers even in Hawaii. Friends Estrella Alfon and Lina Moore both wrote in their native Cebuano, but writing in their adopted medium of English has brought them national recognition. The fourth, Cecilia Brainard, writes only in English but has put Filipino women's literature in the map abroad.

MARIA ALCORDO-KABIGON (1878-1962) was called "the Dorothy Dix of the Visayas," and considered everybody's favorite aunt for her regular feature in Bisaya magazine, "Ang Panid ni Manding Karya," which gave advice to letter-writers on matters of love, family, and social manners. She would get as many as twenty letters a day.

Born in Carcar, Maria Kabigon had, like women of her day, little formal schooling. She learned reading and writing and elementary Spanish from an aunt. Her first story entitled "Ang Gugma sa Inahan" was written at age 16 under a pseudonym. She began using her real name in 1912, and her initials MAK accompanied a body of works carried by numerous Cebuano publications, including plays, poems, stories, and essays. At a time when men writers dominated the literary and journalistic scene, Cabigon helped pave the way for succeeding generations of women writers. Her short stories alone until 1953 numbered more than a hundred, earning her the title of "most prolific Cebuana writer."

Maria was married to Filomeno Kabigon, who left her a widow in 1943. Her daughter also wrote stories under the pen name Water Lily.

ESTRELLA ALFON-RIVERA (1917-1983), finished high school in Cebu and earned an associate in arts certificate at the University of the Philippines. She took up courses in law and medicine but was forced to give up her studies because of poor health. She never took up formal training in writing, never bothered about theories in creative writing which everyone in academe was deep into. But in Manila she kept the company of the day's most talented writers (who would form the canon of Philippine literature in English) including Manuel Arguilla, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Paz Latorena, Francisco Arcellana, Manuel Viray, Delfin Fresnoso, Bienvenido Santos, and H.R. Ocampo.

After her first short story appeared in Graphic in 1935, she contributed regularly to Philippines Free Press, Philippine Magazine, and Philippines Herald, winning numerous national prizes for her stories, essays, and plays. Her collection of short stories, Magnificence and Other Stories (1960), a fine evocation of life in her home province, established her reputation as a fictionist. She was also active in journalism.

Few literary students know, however, of Ester's writing in Cebuano, a gap that we hope to fill soon. One of her stories, "Panamilit sa Kabatan-on" will be in an anthology of Cebuano stories to be launched at the end of the year. But even in her stories in English, Cebu lives on in her favorite setting, Espeleta St. in San Nicolas.

Hailed as one of the important pioneers in women's writing in the Philippines, Estrella Alfon was honored by the City Government of Manila with the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award in 1978. Here's an interesting aside: Feminists have hailed her for daring to publish a story about sexual initiation, "Fairy Tale for the City" in 1957, for which she was declared "guilty of writing an obscene story" after conservative Catholic groups sued her in court. AUSTREGELINA ESPINA-MOORE (1919-1999), was born of Cebuano parents in Cagayan de Oro. Moore grew up in Cebu where she attended the public school and finished high school and a bachelor's course at Southern College (now University of Southern Philippines). World War II interrupted her studies in Law at Far Eastern University. She joined the guerrillas and was arrested by the Japanese military. After the war, she studied foreign service at FEU while working at the Malacañang Press Office and writing for Manila magazines.

Her first story in English, "Just Like Any Dream," published when she was only 16, started a very productive literary career. She used her war experiences in many of her stories. Lina started writing in Cebuano in 1956, producing written 11 novels in her native tongue. Beside this, she has only two novels in English, Heart of the Lotus (1970) and A Lion in the House (1980). She has also a collection of stories, Cuentos (1985).

Lina received honors as writer: the Pan-Pacific Southeast Asian Association Award in 1975; the Southeast Asian Writers Award in 1989; and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (Umpil) in 1992. Her stories have been translated into Bahasa, Mandarin, Japanese and German.

She was married for seventeen years to Kip Moore, an American working in the Mountain Province, but was widowed in 1976. She returned to Cebu in 1997. CECILIA MANGUERRA-BRAINARD (b. 1947) is the daughter of Concepcion Cuenco, who was Carnival Queen of Cebu before the war. She was educated in Maryknoll College and did graduate work in Film Making at the UCLA. Since 1988, she has published three collections of stories and essays, Woman with Horns and Other Stories, Philippine Woman in America; and Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories; and two novels: When the Rainbow Goddess Wept (Dutton, earlier published as Song of Yvonne by New Day in 1991; and reprinted 1995 and 1999) and Magdalena (Plain View Press, 2002). She has also edited various anthologies of Filipino folklore and literature: Seven Stories from Seven Sisters, Fiction by Filipinos in America, Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, Journey of 100 Years: Reflections of the Centennial of Philippine independence (co-editor), Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, and Behind the Walls, a collection of convent-school memoirs. Her own memoirs are found in Cecilia's Diary.

In 1998 she received the Outstanding Individual Award from Cebu City. She has also received a California Arts Council fellowship in fiction, a Brody Arts Fund Award, and a Special Recognition Award from the Los Angeles City Board of Education for her work dealing with Asian American youths. In 2001 she received a Filipinas Magazine Award for Arts and a Certificate of Recognition from the California State Senate. She teaches writing at UCLA Extension and the University of Southern California. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with husband Lauren Brainard, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and her three sons. Baby Brainard never fails to get in touch with her writer friends in her intermittent visits here. Her book Growing Up Filipino includes two short stories by Cebuanos, one of them by Ruby Enario. With Ruby in the US, together with other members of the Women in Literary Arts who have found new pastures abroad - Tina Martinez-Juan, Cathy Viado, Maripal Sandiego, Dindin Villarino, Dindin Cañete and lately Cora Almerino - Cebu will live on in poetry and fiction abroad.

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