Arts and Culture

Filipino - Foreign writers: on the way to dominance?

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star
Filipino - Foreign writers: on the way to dominance?
National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera had been proven wrong when he declared the death knell for English writing by Filipinos in the 1970s.

The realization started dawning on me when I became cognizant with the upsurge in poetry and ?ction being published by Fil-Am authors well over a decade ago.

Participation at the 5th Filipino American International Book Festival in San Francisco last month could only validate a forecast: that literature in English being written by Filipinos residing abroad would soon prove more notable, in both quantity and quality, than that being produced by Filipinos who stay home.

Last summer at the Siliman University National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete, I said as much to newly minted National Artist for Literature Resil Mojares. Knowing this longtime friend to be a nationalist at heart (and in superb mind), I wasn’t surprised when he took quick exception to my proposition.

All he acceded was that his fellow nationalist and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera had been proven wrong when he declared the death knell for English writing by Filipinos in the 1970s at the height of the bilingualism divide. I knew then that Bien’s forecast could only turn out wrong, since English as a literary language would necessarily remain in force among non-Tagalogs.

True enough, anthologies and literary journals drew even stronger participation in the 1980s onwards from writers in the Visayas and Mindanao, as well as Bicol and Northern Luzon. And this has continued apace, even as writing in Filipino similarly gained strength. Eventually, creative writing in regional languages also experienced increased publication.

But these days, if any demographic should be applied at all when comparing the source of literary production, I have to say that while the local publishing scene remains dynamic, thanks to university presses, the burgeoning number of noteworthy titles published in the USA, from authors with Filipino roots, suggests future domination. A young Fil-Am writer, Randy Ribay, has been making waves with his YA novel Patron Saints of Nothing, which has been nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Published last June, it’s a good follow-up to the recent success of Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto.

Ribay was at the SF book fest, but I regret failing to meet him due to con? icts in program schedules. Keynote speaker at the book fest was Jose Antonio Vargas, whose best-selling Dear America, Notes of An Undocumented Citizen, still has him busy on an extended book tour. Another young Fil-Am writer who’s been gaining a following is culture critic Gia Tolentino, with her ? rst book, Trick Mirror. She wasn’t at the SF fest, but I understand that she’s appearing in Manila sometime soon. Among the numerous Fil-Am authors who were there were several with whom

I’ve enjoyed long friendships, and who continue to do well with their recent titles, such as R. Zamora Linmark (The Importance of Being Wilde At Heart) and poet Eugene Gloria (Sightseer in This Killing City).

A poem read by Jason Bayani, whom I had been unfamiliar with, impressed and convinced me that indeed, Fil-Am poets, ? ction writers and essayists are well on their way to replacing home-based Pinoy writers as the greater fount of literary production in English.

That, and meeting Grace Talusan, Aileen Cassinetto, Cristina Querrer, Almira Astudillo Gilles, Beverly Parayno, Betty Quirino, Walter Ang, Rick Rocamora and Tony Robles. (I should review Bayani’s Locus, Cassinetto’s The Pork House of People Yam Preserves, and Ivy Alvarez’ Diaspora: Poems, in this space sometime soon). 

To be sure, young locals haven’t stopped coming out of the woodwork, as manifested in literary contests like the Palanca Awards and Philippines Graphic’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. And fresh workshoppers such as those of SUNWW have been making their mark by winning international competitions.   Indefatigable online denizens also keep cropping up, while university presses, joined of late by the very active Ateneo de Naga University Press, continue to provide stellar titles.

Writer-editor Dean Francis Alfar had been doing a yeoman’s job inspiring and helping craft world-class speculative ? ction by more and more young writers. But the local turnover of literary talent writing in English has been surpassed abroad, where in New York alone, apart from Apostol, we have Ninotchka Rosca, Jessica Hagedorn, Lara Stapleton, Sabina Murray, Marivi Soliven Blanco, Luis Cabalquinto, Luis Francia, Eric Gamalinda, Fidelito Cortes, Patrick Rosal, Jon Pineda, Joseph Legaspi, Bino Realuyo, and others I have yet to learn about.   Then in the West Coast and other parts of the USA, there’s an additional roster that includes Cecilia Brainard, Eileen Tabios, Barbara Jane Reyes, Michelle Bautista, Jean Vengua, Leny Strobel, Fe P. Koons, Oscar Peñaranda, Noel Alumit, Felix Fojas, Luisa Igloria, Rowena Torrevillas, M. Evelina Galang, Angela Narciso Torres, Remé Grefalda, Vince Gotera, Peter Bacho, Ricco Siasoco and Elmer Omar Pizo.

Elsewhere in the world are Reine Arcache Melvin, Merlinda Bobis, Arlene Chai, Noelle de Jesus, Ella Wagemakers, Miguel Syjuco and Jun Brioso. I could contend that important scholarly titles, particularly on culture, sociology and history, still ? nd greater production in the home country, understandably so.

For memorable output abroad, the only ones I can cite are Vicente Rafael, Benjamin Pimentel, Nerissa Balce and Sheila Coronel. It stands to reason that Fil-foreigners, especially Fil-Ams, would eventually outnumber home-based Pinoys in terms of English-language authorship. In creative writing, over-all quality might also be more robust, especially among the younger ones.

They employ their speaking and dreaming language, after all. And the training they get in their adopted environment, competing with the natives, is like what provides Fil-Am basketball players an edge when they’re invited to join Manila’s collegiate and professional leagues.

Into the far future, while writing in Filipino will certainly get stronger and more popular, along with that in regional languages, Pinoys writing in English will not exactly turn into a diminishing breed. But for pro? ciency and excellence, they will have to compete with the more numerous Pinoys schooled abroad, or who have migrated abroad as is naturally done with an international company of writers in English. How far into the future? No telling, since Trump’s spare tire likes to say that gay aliens may soon take over the world.

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