A Survey of Philippine Literature


In general, the default condition for much of Philippine literature is obscurity.

To learn more about a country and people, a good place to start is their literature. The most loved books of a people are like a lens with which to understand them. With respect to the seven thousand islands, what books are these? Filipinos do not usually think of themselves as a particularly literary people. For those living abroad, literature is secondary to food, television, or music when it comes to reminding them of their homeland. In general, the default condition for much of Philippine literature is obscurity. At home or abroad, Filipinos are more likely to be interested in global pop culture, whether from the United States or more recently, South Korea.

This is unfortunate considering the range and depth of Philippine literature. The Philippines is unique for having important works in many languages. These might be grouped into four - Philippine literature in Spanish, Tagalog, English, and other Philippine languages. It might seem that these different bodies of work correspond only with a period of colonial domination, but this is misleading. Philippine authors made these languages their own, adding a distinct voice to them that was unique to our archipelago.

The most politically important body of Philippine literature is that which was written in Spanish. The Propaganda movement, which included Jose Rizal agitated for independence in the 1880’s and 1890’s, writing exclusively in Spanish. Rizal’s two most important novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Flibusterismo were written in Spanish as well. However, during the American colonial period, Spanish was gradually replaced over the next few decades by English. Even if Rizal was celebrated as a national hero, his writing was almost never read in the original Spanish. Noli and Fili have been taught to generations of schoolchildren, but always in translation. Rizal was not the only major writer in Spanish. Important contemporaries were Marcelo H. del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena. A generation after Rizal came Claro M. Recto, a nationalist lawyer and author, who championed independence from the United States. Recto also wrote primarily in Spanish on a wide range of topics. While all of these figures are honored and celebrated in the Philippines, not much attention is paid to what they wrote, let alone what language they used. Sadly, the old quip about the classics is very applicable to Philippine writing in Spanish - praised by all, read by few.

Tagalog introduction to Florante at Laura

Tagalog is the oldest literary language of the archipelago and now, the most widespread. The earliest major work in Tagalog was Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura, an epic poem published in 1838. Florante at Laura is still taught in schools across the country as the epitome of literary Tagalog. For purposes of comparison, Balagtas wrote at roughly the same time as Edgar Allen Poe and a few decades before Charles Dickens. While important, Florante at Laura can be difficult for modern Tagalog speakers to understand, let alone those learning the language. Thankfully, there have been many authors since Balagtas who have continued to write in Tagalog. Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, also wrote in Tagalog, notably the poem Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa, roughly translated as Love for Native Land. Since then, Tagalog literature has continued to grow. Some modern authors include Ceres S.C. Alabado, writer of Kangkong 1896, a look at the Revolution from a young boy’s perspective, and Lualhati Bautista, author of Dekada Setenta and Bata, Bata… Pa'no Ka Ginawa?. Dekada follows a middle class family through the martial law years, and Bata is about the struggles of a single mother. Both were turned into full length films starring Vilma Santos. Today, the largest venue for Tagalog literature is the internet, with many aspiring writers publishing their work online. A few of these become successful enough to get film adaptations, among them being Diary ng Panget and She’s Dating the Gangster, films released in 2014 that began as online novels. While Tagalog may have changed considerably since the days of Balagtas, it is now a truly national language that has a large and thriving literature.

English remains the language of the Philippine elite. Though there was considerable resistance to English in the first part of the 20th century, Philippine writers mastered it quickly. Paz Marquez-Benitez wrote the first short story in English in 1925, entitled Dead Stars. However, it was not until after WW2 that English became language of choice for authors. The largest names in 20th century Philippine literature wrote in English, namely, Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, Jose Garcia Villa, and others. Perhaps the most important writer in English was Nick Joaquin, whose career spanned from the start of WW2 to the post-Marcos era. Nick Joaquin wrote dozens of short stories, two novels, hundreds of journalistic features, political commentary, historical analysis, biographies, plays, and much more, all in English. He was honored as a National Artist for Literature in 1976. Nick Joaquin attempted to create genuinely Philippine voice in English, going as far as trying to translate Tagalog expressions into English. Among his more notable works are the play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino and the short story May Day Eve. In our new century, there have been many authors who have continued to write in English. An internationally awarded contemporary writer in English is Miguel Syjuco, author of the 2010 book Illustrado.

The Hiligaynon Bible.

 Literature in other Philippine languages may be the hardest genre to appreciate but is often the most sentimentally or personally important. For the roughly two thirds of Filipinos who do not speak Tagalog as their native language, not many books are written in their languages. The situation varies depending on the language, as some regional languages are larger and have more reach than others. Visayan languages with more speakers, like Cebuano and Hiligaynon, are large enough to have their own TV and radio stations. But in general, most Philippine languages are in the shadow of English and Tagalog. Still, there are some important works that can be found in these other languages. The Bible has been translated into every major Philippine language – whether Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Pangasinense, Kapampangan, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and others. YouTube is also a goldmine for finding songs, comedy skits, amateur films, and all manner of material in these languages. The value of this material is more educational than literary. Most Filipinos born abroad have a difficult enough time learning Tagalog, let alone the regional language that their parents might speak. But these materials have the potential to teach them how.

 In summary, the Philippines has a very rich but fragmented literary tradition. Indeed, because of the number of languages in the islands, it has been difficult for a single book or novel to have an effect nationwide. Class also plays a role, as the educated elite and the masses rarely speak the same language. Regardless, over the past two centuries, our authors have created a literature distinctly our own. What remains for us to do today is to appreciate it and contribute to it. In the 21st century diaspora era, Filipinos have reached more parts of the globe than ever before.  Europe, North America, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia are familiar places in the mind of the OFW. With such global reach, the wealth of languages in our literary tradition should be strength, not a weakness. We have a rich literary tradition, one that should not be ignored, and one that we should contribute to.

About the author

10352321_10153026739129050_5599371636193964618_nCristobal Zarco was born in the Philippines and grew up in New York, specifically Long Island. He graduated with a degree in political science from Adelphi University. He enjoys tracking down books about Philippine history and exploring lesser known parts of New York City.



by Paolo Espanola & Sarahlynn Pablo

In this two-part look back of the first #FKEDUP live collaboration in Boston this past February, Paolo Espanola and Sarahlynn Pablo reflect on the team’s brunch pop-up and participation in a regional conference for Asian-American college students.


It takes a certain kind of muted masochism to pull off a pop-up: embracing the uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and heightened stress that comes with these one-off engagements that lack the full commitment of owning your own space. In our case, masochism took the form of a crew that’s never met in person, a venue smack dab in the middle of Winterfellian Boston, and a cuisine that hasn’t quite broken into the local populace’s psyche quite yet. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like we were in the throes of despair as we peeled over 60 lobster tails during prep night... but we definitely preferred the raucous music playing on the kitchen speakers to what must have been bubbling anxiety underneath; courageous denial, so to speak.

The menu - a far cry from Filipino dishes of long ago - seemed more fitting for a sun-soaked Californian patio, not the gloomy slush that covered the streets: Longganisa Scotch Eggs? Chicken Inasal and Atsara na Mangga? No one asked whether the steady snowfall would mean we soft-boiled too many eggs. No one asked whether the unsuspecting populace would “accept” our version of Filipino food. And when a tita - the venerable judge of Filipino food - called and said she would rather eat in Chinatown where it’s cheaper since we weren’t offering some sort of “show” along with brunch service, we hardly had the time to panic.

And so we waited breathlessly during those first few hours; waiting for signs that they’ll like our food.  That’s the paradox of how we were cooking Filipino food: reckless abandon by a people so concerned about what “they” will think of our food. “Baka ‘di magustuhan ng mga Kano!” [“Maybe the Americans won’t like it!”] The feeling that perhaps our cuisine isn’t good enough... not refined enough... not pretty enough to warrant a proper brunch service; food that belongs in the dimly lit turo-turos and not the airy pub-cum-brunch hall we found ourselves in.


It comes with cooking in a transplanted kitchen: having to justify the “Filipino-ness” of our dishes. The Maja Blanca pancakes that we served - fluffy silver dollars topped with a coco-condensada syrup, corn kernels, and berries - were a far cry from the original pudding that utilized latik (burned coconut cream), agar, and was served sans maiz.  The “Lobsilog,” a sexified sous vide lobster tail served with pickled strawberries, was only similar in construct - rice, egg, protein - to its kin, the Long-, Tap-, and Toc-ilogs (Sausage, Cured Beef, and Bacon respectively) of the Motherland. And seeing as those dishes were Spanish (and most probably, Arabic) in origin, were we cooking Filipino enough?

Even our crew, a mishmash of Filipino-Americans and neophytes - some of who’ve never even had Filipino food before - could hardly recite the Panatang Makabayan. Instead of Parokya ni Edgar and intense discussions of whose regional adobo was better, dancehall pumped through the speakers as a fellow cook tasted homemade Longganisa for the first time. And yet our menu had the requisite Filipino sun ray logo, the ever-present calamansi cocktail, the overt jeepney graphic. Could we get any more Filipino? And yet... was it really Filipino enough?

Weeks prior, as the culinary minds put forth the beginnings of the menu, it was evident that our offerings skewed gastropub-Soul rather than kalinderya. My own contribution, “The OFW,” was a Filipino twist on the British (née Indian) Kedgeree: a melange of mushrooms on aromatic rice and a plumcot chutney; hardly recognizable as a -silog in itself.  But just like its namesake, the transplanted Filipino toiling away in foreign lands, isn’t “Filipino food” a cuisine that defies easy definition? One that makes its home in the deserts of Saudi Arabia just as well as the beaches of the West Coast? With all this talk of Filipino Food: what it is, who gets to make it, what it should taste like... perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong question. Better yet, perhaps there was no question to begin with.  Perhaps we cook not to draw boundaries but instead to shout and be heard.

Critics, ourselves included, will pontificate on what constitutes a proper Filipino Sinigang, yet won’t dare question the European “Spanish-ness” of Paella despite the dish’s strong Moorish influences. Therein lies the problem: sometimes the person who’s critiquing our own food and journey the most isn’t the overly skeptical tita who wants to see a group of girls in tutus performing some Mariah Carey song while she chows on her idea of a Pinoy brunch… it’s us. When the person in the mirror is the one asking: “Are you enough?”, it gets tough; masochism born out of centuries of being told we’re only allowed certain paths in life, not others. Perhaps, like ourselves, Filipino food “just is.” One of my restaurateur idols went as far as to defiantly state: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the mainstream wants to call it, I’m cooking it and calling it what I want to.”



Towards the end of the service, one of the line cooks turned dishwasher stepped out to take a smoke break.  In the space of five minutes, the pile of dishes in the back bred and multiplied and when he returned, he stared up at the unsightly stack of fat-drenched plates and sticky syrup. He swore loudly, threw his hands, and complained loudly to no one in particular. And then a curious thing happened. A smile crept over his face as Rupee’s “Tempted to Touch” began playing, he glanced over in my direction, shrugged and said, “Guess it’s gotta be done!” Masochism? Perhaps not. Perhaps like him, we too should accept our obligation -- not with this knot of constant fear...of relentless whisperings of inadequacy -- but with cheerful resignation. That at the end of the day, there is no such thing as getting Filipino Food “right”... it’s just gotta be done.


It takes a certain kind of courage to teach. Those of us who have had the privilege of learning from a great teacher know it’s a noble profession because teaching shares ways to higher knowledge. Teaching is tough. Teachers are expected to do their homework before everyone else and master the subject. Teaching involves a good deal of public speaking and engaging with your audience. A great teacher can motivate students to explore material they have no particular interest in.

There we were: Harvard University at the East Coast Asian American Students Union (ECAASU) annual conference, facilitating a workshop with the #FKEDUP crew and old friends, Brandon Glova AKA DJ Bonics and his sister, photographer Judy Glova. Ok, so we weren't exactly teaching, but approximating it for an hour. By sharing something of our personal journeys, we wanted to give back to the young people we saw so much of ourselves in, just fifteen years ago. Filipino Kitchen is proud to be Filipino American and Asian American, and spaces like ECAASU helped this pride take root.

Our workshop tackled identity. Not exactly light stuff. Though the conference maintains a safe space to express opinion among Asian-American peers -- it’s hard to bare your twenty-year old soul to a room full of strangers. Kinda like group therapy, honestly. And I mean that fondly, and with a degree of sentimentality. ECAASU is fertile environment for young Asian Americans can think about and give names to our experiences ourselves.


Our young people spoke up and told us how they were experiencing the 'not enough' phenomenon themselves. College was a new proving ground, where for some, unlike diverse spaces of childhood, their identities were challenged and provoked from the outside. Multiracial Asian Americans shared pains that ran deep. Feeling ‘not enough’ was the status quo. They felt tired of justifying self, explaining self, and more so, angry at that imposed responsibility.

Before the conference we asked our friends on social media to share the 'not Asian enough' moments they had:

“Oh, you don’t speak Tagalog? You’re not reeeeeally Filipino.”

“Yes, my family would go to debuts and pageants and spectacles like that, which made me wonder where I belonged, do I fit in, what criteria do I need to hit some sort of Filipino-legitimacy threshold.”

“I guess the Filipinos thought adapting to the American lifestyle caused me to lose my Filipino self.”

“My cousins used to tell me, ‘you couldn’t understand, you’re just half-Filipino.’”

In the workshop, we questioned the questions of being "Asian enough." We wanted to expose that there was no test for being Filipino or Chinese or Taiwanese or Laotian or Indian or Korean or any of the heritage origins with which we Asian Americans identify. There was no "Asian enough" test at all.



None of the students spoke of overt racism or prejudice (or wanted to volunteer that information), though we acknowledged them as part of our reality. Instead we spoke of the subtleties of ‘othering.’

The young people said that some non-Asian Americans students didn't understand their need to create spaces for themselves on their college campuses, misinterpreting forming student groups like Filipino Students Associations as exclusionary tactics. A few spoke of the oft-muddled identities and nuances brought on by mixed nationalities and cultural birthrights.

Before the conference, our friends on social media shared their 'not American enough' moments, too:

“What country are you from?”

“Your English is amazing.”

“I remember going to school with a Tupperware of dinuguan and longanisa and the look on my teacher’s face when I asked her to heat it up for me. I wanted Lunchables!”

The conversation about defining American (as famously coined by undocumented Filipino American activist and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, and the 40 million immigrants in this country, lawmakers, pundits and the many others in the immigration debate) is hotly contested.


While that was plenty of ground to cover, we didn't get to touch on how divisive 'not enough' is. How the personal offenses and attacks keep us from building community and prevent us from questioning systems like imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy. Sixty minutes is not a lot of time to dive deep into the subject, and we considered it a success that many of the workshop participants stayed afterwards to talk with us.

We ended the workshop with a shout. Paolo asked if maybe it's just time we start being comfortable with the uncomfortable? Maybe there's identities we can try on, even if we're not "supposed" to? What's a Filipina "supposed to" be? What's an American "supposed to" be? What about someone who grew up in three distinct cultures? Where is home? Can we shout our names at the top of our lungs in a Harvard classroom? Maybe that's when our work really started.



Thank you to our friends at The Vault Restaurant in Boston -- Kate, Corey, Mallory, Liz, Val, Andrew and Vinny -- for a wonderful service together. Thank you to the patrons of the RICE & SHINE Boston brunch pop-up.

Thank you to the East Coast Asian American Students Union for inviting Filipino Kitchen and DJ Bonics to speak at this year’s conference. Thank you to the young people who attended our workshop, and the Filipino Kitchen Facebook community for sharing your 'not enough' moments.

And always, thank you to our entire #FKEDUP Boston crew for your hard work and incredible talents -- Noel Aglubat, AC Boral, Stephanie Chrispin, Brandon and Judy Glova (especially your dj'ing and photography, respectively), and Natalia Roxas.

The Movement is Now: Fil-Am Creative Culture


When you hear the words Pilipino American, what do you picture?

Depending on who you are, you might imagine nurses and immigrants, or maybe even college students adding their hip hop flair to the tinikling. Some might imagine their enormously loud and character-filled families. Some might not be able to imagine anything at all.

Now picture this- a bustling community of sprightly creatives, scratching the inescapable itch to catalyze change. There are artists, entrepreneurs, technicians, writers, and everything in between. They are innovators of all shapes, sizes and skin shades, illustrating diversity as vast as the Philippines itself.

That’s what I picture, and I am not alone.

A movement, a creative culture is happening, my friends. I’m talking tectonic plates. Like the shift from Pangaea, but much faster and technologically pumped. Like never before, Asian Americans are gaining momentum in mainstream media outlets. Since 2010, HBO has been showcasing “East of Main Street,” a documentary series featuring the real stories of Asian Americans, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Just last month, NBC Asian American was launched, providing the community a major news platform specifically catered to our interests. “Fresh Off the Boat” will be premiering this Fall on ABC, making it the first sitcom about an Asian American family to be picked up in twenty years. People are finally starting to pay attention. They’re wisening up and realizing what kind of power the fastest growing ethnic group in America has, with 19 million people strong. And us Fil-Ams (the second largest Asian American group at 3.4 million), are riding the wave.

So why is this a big deal? Growing up, I rarely ever saw faces that looked like mine in TV shows, in movies, or in the news. What does that absence say? That the stories and perspectives of an entire race of people just don’t really matter. Or don’t even exist. I didn’t have champion role models that shared my same background, no beacons of light illuminating what someone like me could be capable of.


As Pilipino Americans, we have to make sure that we see our own faces in glittering stories of success. Our reputation of being the ‘model minority’ has left us neglected and our colonial mentality has had us hiding in the shadows. But no more! We are slowly but surely striding into the spotlight, obliterating stereotypes and showing the world who we really are through the power of our creativity.

The impulse to create and manifest ourselves into something tangible, something that can improve our world is universal. Fil-Ams are no exception to the rule. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with Pilipino American change agents through organizations like UniPro, NextDayBetter, and FilAm ARTS, and have been watching this extraordinary network of people who put passion first expand and evolve. Tons of restaurateurs are putting Pilipino fusion food on the map, entrepreneurs are forging cutting-edge startups meant to engage and help the global Pilipino community, and the surge of Pilipino-centered productions of music and theatre have led many to say that we are in the midst of a Pilipino arts renaissance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pilipino American creative community is a well of talent and ingenuity. We are just as artistic, innovative, and relentless as the rest of them, and the world needs to know that. If we could spotlight and cultivate this culture of visionaries into becoming the norm rather than the exception, imagine what we could build and accomplish. Then imagine the chain reaction.

Photo Credit:

NextDayBetter Presents TFC Speaker Salon in San Francisco - August 9



Ready San Francisco? Inspiration will be flowing through your thoughts and your taste buds at the TFC Speaker Salon this Saturday, August 9th.

NextDayBetter, a culture platform for Pilipino-flavored ideas, is teaming up with The Filipino Channel (TFC), ABS-CBN Balitang America, and Pistahan Parade and Festival to bring you these incredible change agents:

Celina Agaton | Google USAID ICCM Fellow On sharing her tech-driven approach to rebuilding communities post- Typhoon Yolanda.

Lourdes Tiglao | US Air Force Veteran On showcasing Team Rubicon’s approach to unlocking the potential in a new generation of veterans.

Jo Ann Kyle | ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director On the story of the Foundation’s forward-thinking approach to building better communities and inspiring a nation.

And of course, Chef Tim Luym of Attic Restaurant and Frozen Kuhsterd is taking culinary control of the reception to bring out the sweeter side of Pilipino cuisine.

Are you hungry yet?


TFC Speaker Salon August 9, 2014 @ 2PM – 5PM Children’s Creativity Museum 221 4th Street, San Francisco, California 94103

Seats are going fast, so learn more and RSVP today!


An In Depth End Hence of Independence


Summer: Best season ever. You’ve got awesome weather, weddings galore, block parties, summer Fridays (summer Alldays?), and the love/hate relationship you have with food/drinking and the gym is at its peak.

For Pilipino-Americans, you’ve also got Independence Days: June 12th and July 4th.

Personally, I don’t really think of myself as much of a flag waver for either country that I call home. In my younger years, I repped the Philippines hardcore while also trying to assimilate into a new culture when my family immigrated to this country. Now in my late- (ouch) twenties, I’ve realized some interesting things about how these two holidays are celebrated here in the States.

When I think of Philippine Independence Day, I think of the following: a jam-packed parade along Madison Avenue lined with kiosks of ulam and halo-halo; the smell of barbeque wafting from the ihawan; titos and titas marching in matching shirts and facetowel capes that unintentionally make them look like union workers on strike; young beauty pageant queens with their make-up melting on their face as they sashay in their ternos and tiaras; and a bunch of teenagers strolling around in packs.


When I think of Fourth of July, I think of red, white, and blue tank-tops and cut-offs patterned with stars and stripes. I think of beach barbecues, backyard beer pong games, and fireworks. I think of popsicle sticks, ice cream, and swimming pools. It’s truly a holiday - so much so that it gives you a great conversation piece to kill time at work for a full week when you return to the office: “Hey Joe. How was your Fourth?”

Pilipinos see Independence Day as a day to celebrate their heritage and Pilipino pride. They bring out their barongs, go to church and attend masses said in Tagalog, and eat. They eat. Did I already say they eat? I do think there might be a little bit of confusion as to what exactly is being celebrated. Technically, it’s independence from Spain - yet, on a day when we’re supposed to be celebrating what is truly Pilipino, what is truly Pilipino anyway? Much of what we regard as cultural staples either are or have been influenced by other nations. On this day, we all of a sudden revere a nation that many of its people have left and continue to leave in order to pursue a better life. It almost makes one wonder if we here in the States might actually be celebrating independence from the Philippines - a reminder that we can still be Pilipino albeit without the figurative cage of what it is to actually live in the Philippines.

On the flipside, the Fourth of July is exactly just that: the Fourth of July. It’s a date on a calendar. Yes - it’s the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted which granted independence from Great Britain, but since the very first Fourth of July I ever celebrated, it has always been a social event - never a commemorative one. I get it though - it’s difficult to celebrate independence of a nation that instills a spirit of power and pride among its people. A nation so independent that it utilizes its servicemen to ensure that other countries maintain their own independence and peace. America is certainly seen by many throughout the world as the best and most powerful country, no? So when you’re the “biggest and the best” (emphasis on the quotes) and you’ve never really felt the burn of being anything other than that, there’s really no independence to be celebrated. And so we plan our road trips and weekends at the Jersey shore, we fire up the grill, and drink to our hearts’ contentment and our livers’ capacity ... all in the name of celebrating our country’s independence.

Times change and maybe instead of calling these days “Independence Days,” they should just be “Philippine Day” or “America Day.” I think it’s not so much independence that should be celebrated, but rather what reminds you that you are a Pilipino; what reminds you that you are an American.

With that said, moving forward, I will now be celebrating these two days at the gym with my non-existent gym membership. Because all the drinking and eating I’m doing around these holidays are ultimately what remind me that I am a Pilipino-American.

Photo credits: NYC <3 NYC, Day-images