The Emergence of Filipino Literature: Sparking conversation

Written by: Amadine

Edited by: Jagat

Visual by: Xiatian

The Philippines exhibits no definitive representation of the native “Pinoy”. Clustered with a population of 100 million, we are composed of people who exhibit differences in beliefs, appearances, and norms.  A mixture of Eurasian, oriental, and Euroamerican genetics, a specific “Filipino” blueprint has been severely obscured, both on levels of exterior make-up (our eyes, skin color, build) and internal (the languages we speak, our religion). 

A nation having only recently examined its own identity, our islands float in a dynamic state of reinvention. Every day, we test the waters of what constitutes our country. Divided geographically and culturally, uncertainty fills the void left by a tumultuous history. 

As an archipelago, communication in the Philippines spreads at various speeds. This creates a cycle of unevenness, most visible in social thought and religion. This is why so many tangible and intangible disparities are seen. It also contributes to cultural unrest. 

That is why the present is such a significant era. We are finally left in circumstances where we possess our own sovereignty. This has made it easier for Filipinos to define their identity. 

One creative way in doing so is through literature and the power of words

Literature has made it possible for important topics to be addressed. Through digesting prose, readers develop a deeper insight into settings both foreign and familiar to them. Specific to our home-country, Filipino literary voices have begun to emerge with the country’s rapid modernization and development. At such a critical time, Filipino literature delivers commentary illuminating perspectives that can redefine Filipino identity.

The political satire, I Was The President’s Mistress!!, a new release by Filipino novelist Miguel Syjuco showcases the Filipino identity for readers nationally and internationally. His book enables our culture to be viewed from an outsiders perspective. This is done in the form of 24 fictionalized interview transcripts from a diverse cast of characters, ranging from political figures to celebrities embossed in the limelight. Providing external point of view,  to assess what some would view as flawed pieces in our nation, Syjuco’s work explores exactly such topics of power, rights and freedom – seemingly simple concepts that plague the Filipino mind.

“Muslims in the Philippines” by Nationalist Artist Abdulmari

However, this is not the only work exemplifying the emergence of contemporary literature that comments on the FIlipino life. Another outstanding work by a Filipino writer is The House on Calle Sombra written by Marga Ortigas .A review in Penguin describes the work as,  “Sardonic, witty and brutally frank” (Penguin), Ortigas novel is a parable that tells the tale of the fictional Castillo de Montijo family, along with their values, fates, desires and turbulent history. 

The House on Calle Sombra explores the traditional saying of “FAMILY FIRST” and the extent to which it applies and why it does. A reviewer writes how, “(the story) mirrors events in the country’s (…) history, (with) the Castillos’ perfect façade fracturing as shadows from their past return to claim their due”. A fantastic story –  conservative culture, gendered norms and familial duty are revealed to paint a picture of the conventional family dynamic we see in real life. As such, this novel focuses on a more cultural, rather than political, area in Filipino culture giving readers a look into different lifestyles. In its scope, it recalls Pachinko, the bestseller and National Book Award finalist by Min Jin Lee another work by an Asian writer chronicalling generational changes in a family over time. 

Lastly, a timeless literary Filipino classic to spotlight is The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin. Good Reads describes the short story collection, stating, “Joaquin’s work meditates on the questions and challenges of the Filipino individual’s new freedom after a long history of colonialism, he explores folklore, centuries-old rites, the Spanish colonial past” and infuses, “magical realism, and baroque splendor”. This collection blends politically relevant discourse with fantastical elements to cater toward all audiences and create meaning through vivid storytelling that is more than just storytelling. 

These are a few examples of many, many other creative works created for a reason: to spark change. Amid recent radical shifts, voices are emerging to carve a newer path – one that the coming generations can lead into success. As such, literature can be important in encouraging and inspiring systemic change. Through books and our interpretations of them, the public can initiate conversation which can impact the present. Especially as the youth, we control the course of what’s to come. Digesting work that challenges present norms, we take steps toward creating a better future.

Geography of the Philippines

Works Cited:

Joaquin, Nick. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic. Penguin, 18 Apr. 2017, Accessed 17 Oct. 2022.

“Opinion | Fake News Floods the Philippines (Published 2017).” The New York Times, 2022, Accessed 17 Oct. 2022.

“Philippine Literature in the Post-War and Contemporary Period – National Commission for Culture and the Arts.” National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2 June 2015, Accessed 17 Oct. 2022.

“Sex Goddess, Celebrity and the Best Hope for Her Country.” The New York Times, 2022, Accessed 17 Oct. 2022.

“The House on Calle Sombra: A Parable (Paperback).”, 2021, Accessed 17 Oct. 2022.