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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF PHILIPPINE LITERATURE

OBJECTIVES

To identify the theme of Philippine literature written during the American Colonial
Period.
To recognize the notable Filipino writers of this genre.

AMERICAN COLONIAL PERIOD

A new set of colonizers brought about new changes in Philippine literature. New literary
forms such as free verse [in poetry], the modern short story and the critical essay were
introduced. American influence was deeply entrenched with the firm establishment of
English as the medium of instruction in all schools and with literary modernism that
highlighted the writer's individuality and cultivated consciousness of craft, sometimes at
the expense of social consciousness.

The poet, and later, National Artist for Literature, Jose Garcia Villa used free verse
and espoused the dictum, "Art for art's sake" to the chagrin of other writers more
concerned with the utilitarian aspect of literature. Another maverick in poetry who used
free verse and talked about illicit love in her poetry was Angela Manalang Gloria, a
woman poet described as ahead of her time. Despite the threat of censorship by the new
dispensation, more writers turned up "seditious works" and popular writing in the native
languages bloomed through the weekly outlets like Liwayway and Bisaya.

The Balagtas tradition persisted until the poet Alejandro G. Abadilla advocated
modernism in poetry. Abadilla later influenced young poets who wrote modern verses in
the 1960s such as Virgilio S. Almario, Pedro I. Ricarte and Rolando S. Tinio.

While the early Filipino poets grappled with the verities of the new language,
Filipinos seemed to have taken easily to the modern short story as published in the
Philippines Free Press, the College Folio and Philippines Herald. Paz Marquez Benitez's
"Dead Stars" published in 1925 was the first successful short story in English written by a
Filipino. Later on, Arturo B. Rotor and Manuel E. Arguilla showed exceptional skills
with the short story.

Alongside this development, writers in the vernaculars continued to write in the


provinces. Others like Lope K. Santos, Valeriano Hernandez Peña and Patricio Mariano
were writing minimal narratives similar to the early Tagalog short fiction called dali
or pasingaw (sketch).

The romantic tradition was fused with American pop culture or European influences
in the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan by F. P. Boquecosa who also penned
Ang Palad ni Pepe after Charles Dicken's David Copperfield even as the realist tradition
was kept alive in the novels by Lope K. Santos and Faustino Aguilar, among others.

It should be noted that if there was a dearth of the Filipino novel in English, the
novel in the vernaculars continued to be written and serialized in weekly magazines like
Liwayway, Bisaya, Hiligaynon and Bannawag.

The essay in English became a potent medium from the 1920's to the present. Some
leading essayists were journalists like Carlos P. Romulo, Jorge Bocobo, Pura Santillan
Castrence, etc. who wrote formal to humorous to informal essays for the delectation by
Filipinos.

Among those who wrote criticism developed during the American period were
Ignacio Manlapaz, Leopoldo Yabes and I.V. Mallari. But it was Salvador P. Lopez's
criticism that grabbed attention when he won the Commonwealth Literary Award for the
essay in 1940 with his "Literature and Society." This essay posited that art must have
substance and that Villa's adherence to "Art for Art's Sake" is decadent.

The last throes of American colonialism saw the flourishing of Philippine literature
in English at the same time, with the introduction of the New Critical aesthetics, made
writers pay close attention to craft and "indirectly engendered a disparaging attitude"
towards vernacular writings -- a tension that would recur in the contemporary period.

NOTABLE WRITERS DURING THE AMERICAN COLONIAL PERIOD

o JOSE GARCIA VILLA – “Art for art’s sake”; introduced the "reversed
consonance rime scheme" in writing poetry, as well as the extensive use of
punctuation marks—especially commas, which made him known as the Comma
Poet
o ANGELA MANALANG GLORIA – a woman poet described as ahead of her
time; used free verse and talked about illicit love in her poetry; it was during her
education at the University of the Philippines that she and poet, Jose Garcia Villa
developed a life-long rivalry. Both poets vied for the position of literary editor of
The Philippine Collegian, which Manalang eventually held for two successive
years; She was the author of Revolt from Hymen, a poem protesting against
marital rape, which caused her denial by an all-male jury from winning the
Philippine's Commonwealth Literary Awards in 1940. She was also the author of
the poetry collection , Poems, first published in 1940 (and revised in 1950). The
collection contained the best of her early work as well as unpublished poems
written between 1934-1938. Her last poem, Old Maid Walking on a City Street
can also be found in the collection. This book was her entry to the
Commonwealth Literary Awards, losing to Rafael Zulueta y da Costa’s verse Like
the Molave.
o ALEJANDRO G. ABADILLA – advocated modernism in poetry; said to have
influenced Virgilio S. Almario, Pedro I. Ricarte and Rolando S. Tinio
o PAZ MARQUEZ BENITEZ - born in 1894 in Lucena City, Quezon, Marquez -
Benitez authored the first Filipino modern English-language short story, Dead
Stars, was among the first generation of Filipinos trained in the American
education system which used English as the medium of instruction.
o LOPE K. SANTOS - "Father of the Philippine National Language and Grammar"
o FAUSTINO AGUILAR
o CARLOS P. ROMULO
o JORGE BOCOBO
o PURA SANTILLAN CASTRENCE
o SALVADOR P. LOPEZ - won the Commonwealth Literary Award for the essay
in 1940 with his "Literature and Society." This essay posited that art must have
substance and that Villa's adherence to "Art for Art's Sake" is decadent.
o ARTURO B. ROTOR - was a Filipino medical doctor, civil servant, musician,
and writer; was born in the Philippines, and attended the University of the
Philippines. He graduated simultaneously from the Conservatory of Music and the
College of Medicine. He trained further at Johns Hopkins University's medical
school, publishing a paper on a rare form of hyperbilirubinaemia (jaundice) now
known as "Rotor syndrome"; internationally respected writer of fiction and non-
fiction in English; widely considered among the best Filipino short story writers
of the twentieth century.
o MANUEL E. ARGUILLA - was an Ilokano writer in English, patriot, and martyr;
known for his widely anthologized short story "How My Brother Leon Brought
Home a Wife," the main story in the collection "How My Brother Leon Brought
Home a Wife and Other Short Stories" which won first prize in the
Commonwealth Literary Contest in 1940; his stories "Midsummer" and "Heat"
was published in the United States by the Prairie Schooner.

CARLOS BULOSAN

Carlos Bulosan was a prolific writer and poet, best remembered as the author of
America Is in the Heart, a landmark semi-autobiographical story about the Filipino
immigrant experience. Bulosan gained recognition in mainstream American society with
the 1944 publication of Laughter of my Father, which was excerpted in the New Yorker,
Harper’s Bazaar, and Town and Country.

Bulosan was born in Pangasinan Province in the Philippine Islands on November


2, 1911. But other sources give Bulosan’s birth date three to four years later. This is just
one example of conflicting versions of his younger years in a peasant family with three
brothers and two sisters. The family farm was sold, hectare by hectare, to pay for boat
fare for his older brothers’ passages to the United States.

He immigrated to America from the Philippines in 1930, endured horrendous


conditions as a laborer, became active in the labor movement, and was blacklisted along
with other labor radicals during the 1950s. He spent his last years in Seattle, jobless,
penniless, and in poor health.

The Idea of Equality

In the period of Bulosan’s birth, Americanization of the Philippine Islands was


strong. In 1903, the “Pensionado” program offered promising student scholarships to
attend universities in the United States to gain knowledge that could benefit their
homeland.

“PENSIONADOS” - government-sponsored students traveling from the Philippines to


the United States, for the purpose of furthering their education and training in the U.S.

Also in 1901, the “Thomasites,” a group of teachers who went to the Philippines
on the USS Thomas (hence the name), crossed the Pacific to educate Filipinos in the
American Way. This American style of education highly influenced the young Bulosan
as he attended high school. He was led to believe that equality existed among all classes
and individuals in the United States. Then in 1906, Filipino laborers arrived in Hawaii to
work on the sugar plantations (the beginning of the “Sakada” or plantation worker
system).

Enticed by stories of the United States and by the departure of his elder brothers
Macario and Dionisio for California, in 1930 Bulosan quit his job working for his family
peddling vegetables and salted fish at the local market. He paid $75 for passage on the
Dollar Line to Seattle, Washington.

Not a Land of Opportunity

Bulosan had heard how easy it was to earn a living in the United States even as a
bellhop or dishwasher. He had not been told that people of color did not enjoy
democracy. Notwithstanding his status as a “national” and not an “alien," Bulosan
became quickly disillusioned by the reality of life in the United States. The stock market
crash of 1929 and the Depression had devastated the country. Jobs were scarce and
competition was intense for whatever was available.

When Bulosan arrived in Seattle, he was “shanghaied and sold for five dollars” to
work in an Alaska fish cannery to earn $13 for the season. He picked apples in Eastern
Washington and finally moved south to California to continue the familiar seasonal cycle
of picking fruits and vegetables.

Years of Bitterness

In Washington, the future author experienced racism when whites torched a


bunkhouse where he slept. According to Carlos P. Romulo, “it carried him into years of
bitterness, degradation, hunger, open revolt, and even crime. The pool rooms and
gambling houses, dance halls and brothels, were the only places he knew. They were the
only places a Filipino could know.”

Bulosan would later write: “I know deep down in my heart that I am an exile in
America. I feel like a criminal running away from a crime I didn't commit. And this
crime is that I am a Filipino in America.”

Between 1935 and 1941, he became involved in the labor movement, organizing
unions to protect his fellow Filipino workers.

Writing for His Life

Writing also became a means to fight against the discrimination he had witnessed.
In 1932, he was published in a poetry anthology. While living with one of his brothers in
Los Angeles, he had already submitted articles for small newspapers and had done some
writing for The New Tide, a bimonthly Filipino publication. The New Tide was a radical
literary magazine that brought Bulosan into a wider circle of fellow writers.

Writer As Reader

Bulosan had always been sickly. He loved the public library and reportedly read a book a
day. During this time, he came across the works of Karl Marx and began telling friends
“of the rising power of the working classes and what they would achieve in the coming
revolution.”

In 1936, Bulosan contracted tuberculosis and was admitted to the Los Angeles General
Hospital. He spent about two years at this hospital, the whole time actively reading and
writing. “Writing is a pleasure and a passion to me,” he wrote.

In the 1940’s, Bulosan gained recognition for his work as a poet and editor:

• In 1942, his book of poems, Letter from America, was published.


• Bulosan was featured in the 1942 edition of Who’s Who in America.
• He edited Chorus for America: Six Philippine Poets.
• In 1943 he wrote the book of poems Voice of Bataan, a tribute to the soldiers who
died fighting in that battle.
• In 1943, the Saturday Evening Post published four articles on the “Four
Freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and
freedom from fear. Bulosan wrote "Freedom from Want."
• In 1944, Bulosan's Laughter of my Father became a bestseller and established
Bulosan as an important writer. It was translated into several languages and
excerpts were read over wartime radio. He was praised by fellow Filipinos who
“for the first time are depicted as human beings.”
• In 1946, Bulosan published the work that he is best remembered for, America is
in the Heart. In it, stories loosely based on his brothers’ and friends’ experiences
depict an immigrant Filipino’s life in the 1930s and 1940s. America is in the
Heart has been used as symbol for the Filipino American identity movement of
the 1970s and is included in many bibliography lists for college courses on
Filipino American studies classes.

The 1950s ushered in the anti-Communist fervor of Senator Joe McCarthy and the
Un-American Activities Committee. Carlos Bulosan and fellow radicals were
“blacklisted” even by some Filipino writers. Bulosan continued his labor union activities
and edited the 1952 yearbook of the Union Local 37 International Longshoremen
Workers Union (ILWU).

In the 1950s, Carlos Bulosan was living in Seattle, jobless, penniless, and in poor
health. On September 11, 1956, the poet died of tuberculosis. With his passing, Filipino
Americans lost their most articulate spokesman.

His friend, Chris Mensalvas (called “Jose” in America is in the Heart) wrote in
Bulosan’s obituary: “... I am willing to testify that Carlos Bulosan is dead ... but ... [he]
will never die in the hearts of the people.”

Carlos Bulosan, writer, poet, labor activist was buried in Seattle in Mount
Pleasant Cemetery on Queen Anne Hill. Until 1982 his resting place was an unmarked
pauper’s grave. Finally a group of his admirers raised the funds to purchase an elaborate
headstone of black granite.

CONCLUSION

The most popular forms of literature during the American Colonial Period were
free-verse in poetry, modern short stories and critical essays. The most important
contribution during the American Colonial Period, obviously is the use of English as
medium of instruction, which is still widely used up until today.

REFERENCES:

Susan Evangelista, Carlos Bulosan and His Poetry: A Biography and Anthology (Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1985); “Carlos Bulosan” in Asian American Biography
Vol. 1 ed. by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall (International Thomson Publishing Co., 1995),
24-27; “Bulosan, Carlos,” in Current Biography ed. by Anna Rothe (New York: H. W.
Wilson Co., 1946), 82-83; Chris Mensalves, "Reporting for Carlos Bulosan," Daily
Peoples World, December 28, 1956. By Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, February 14, 2003

http://www.aamovement.net/history/carlos_bulosan/carlos_bulosan.html

http://opmanong.ssc.hawaii.edu/filipino/filmig.html