(Image: Eliseo Art Silva‘s “Filipinos Tell Tall Tales”)
active verb / sp. variation: magkuwento
translation: “to tell a story”
MAGKWENTO.ORG is a project dedicated to the study, analysis, and dissemination of Filipina/o/x literature in English. The use of the perhaps too general “Filipina/o/x literature in English” tag is intentional, as its breadth allows for a whole host of literary forms, sociocultural affiliations, gendered positions of experience, geographical locations, and ethno-national identifications to fall within its scope. That said, some further clarifications are necessary in terms of defining the project’s aims. While first acknowledging the rich tradition of poetry and drama in the Philippines and Filipino diasporic contexts, MAGKWENTO.ORG is explicitly focused on “narrative” literary forms such as the novel and short story. Thus, when we use the terms Filipino/a literature in English, Philippine writing in English, or Filipino American literature, we use them as shorthand for specific literary forms like the Filipino short story in English, or the Philippine novel in English, or the Filipino American novel, etc. While we intend to utilize other forms of cultural and literary production, like poetry, performance, film, visual art, the graphic novel, and cultural & critical theory as means to think through larger questions about Filipino/a literature in English, our primary archive as object of study is comprised of novels and short stories.
A word on “Anglophone.” Literary studies scholars have extensively called attention to how “Anglophone fiction is a capacious term” and “[s]imply put, Anglophone fiction refers to fiction written in English; however, in the context of postwar canon formation, Anglophone refers specifically to literature written in English from former British colonies (excluding the United States)— known at one point by the anodyne term Commonwealth literature” (Jones). Even well-intentioned attempts to broaden “Global Anglophone Literature” beyond its specific association with British postcolonial contexts still have unfortunately overlooked the vast and amazingly rich archive of English writing from the Philippines. This is incredibly unfortunate given that there are now currently more English speakers in the Philippines than there are in the United Kingdom; additionally, the Philippines is highly literate with a literacy rate of “94 percent” and “70 percent of the population [is] fluent in English, making [the Philippines] one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world” (Hernandez). There are obvious colonial and postcolonial implications for the prevalence of Filipino English literary production, such as the “systematic English-medium education policies under American colonialism [that] led to an explosion of English-language writing from the 1920s” onwards (Patke and Holden 62). These colonial legacies are at once problematic, yet undeniably constitutive, and as such, Filipino/a literature in English also contains within itself (even if not explicitly addressed) the contradictory tension of being informed — as a tool of aesthetic expression — by the shifting dictates of contemporary 21st century globalization and the legacies of early 20th century American colonialism.
All of this to say that despite the significant role English plays in artistic and cultural life in the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora, Filipino/a literature in English is woefully underrepresented, outside of the Philippines, in areas such as international publishing outlets, bookstores and libraries, and formal academic study within institutional contexts. The Philippines rarely registers as a site of English literary production within institutional studies of “Global Anglophone Literature” (even within those well-intentioned approaches redefining the restricted term “Anglophone” to be more expansive). Additionally, Filipino American literature rarely registers within the institutional study of multi-ethnic literature in the United States, with perhaps passing reference to Bulosan or Hagedorn as an addendum (this despite the fact that Filipino Americans are the second-largest Asian American group in the United States). Thankfully, even beyond the efforts of the individual authors themselves, there is an entire social infrastructure (both formal and DIY) dedicated to the publishing, study, and dissemination of Filipino/a literature in English: from the carving out of institutional space within academia by literary scholars in the Philippines, the United States, and elsewhere, such as UH Manoa’s Filipino & Philippine Literature Program; to the efforts of independent literary publishing projects like TAYO Literary Magazine and Visprint, Inc.; to the creation of literary organizations and events like the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, PAWA, Inc. and the Filipino American International Book Festival; to the unique pop-up engagements of the PAL/Pilipinx American Library; to the vital presence of diasporic Filipiniana-specific bookstores such as Philippine Expressions Bookshop and Arkipelago Books; to freely accessible community spaces such as the San Francisco Public Library’s Filipino American Center.
Humbly following the lead of these amazing initiatives dedicated to Filipino/a literature and their incredible expressions of kapwa (in Sikolohiyang Pilipino, “togetherness” or “shared inner self”), MAGKWENTO.ORG hopes to be an accessible resource for anyone interested in diving into the profound depths of Filipino/a literature in English.
Maraming salamat at tuloy po kayo! Tell a Story!