Check In and Working It Out: Against Forgetting

Wow, lapses in blogging have become the norm for me. I told Oscar recently that I missed blogging, and feel I haven’t had a substantial e-space to work out stuff needing working out. I am guilty of becoming the kind of social networking person I dislike — posting up quickie FB updates, oftentimes with minimal context, and oftentimes with very little conversation. The good news is that while kicking my ass, teaching is going very well. I suppose that’s become my space to work stuff out, engage in the kind of necessary dialogue about community and literature.

Earlier this morning, I was revisiting my lecture notes for this evening’s Pinay Lit class. We are talking about Pinays in war; last time we talked about “comfort” women narratives, including Ruth Elynia Mabanglo’s “The Ballad of Lola Amonita,” and while this was a grave downer, I shifted the conversation towards survival and survivors, differentiating these from victimhood and victims. I went back to M. Evelina Galang’s question about the “comfort” women in her Kartika Review interview — “what do these surviving lolas know that our youth do not.” These women have not only survived. “They tell the stories to protect the generation coming after them.” And so this is how we ended our class last time, talking about the ways in which we as the next generations are protected by these lolas’ stories.

We also talked about Pinayism, as we recently had Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and Jocyl Sacramento present to us on Pinayism and Literature. If Pinayism is a process of growth from pain, and entails centering the Pinay, her narrative and experience, humanizing Pinay experience, and if Pinayism is also a pedagogy, then the lolas, and their act of telling us their stories, are Pinayists, mentoring the younger generations, and so is Evelina Galang.

Today, we will talk about Colonel Yay Panlilio, a Colorado-born, mestiza Filipina American WWII guerrilla. I am struck by her current obscurity, especially given the dearth of Filipina American narratives from the earlier part of the century. It is this dearth which Jean Vengua mentions when she presents to us Helen Rillera’s impassioned opinion pieces/essays on being a Filipina in a 1930′s Filipino society, at the Commonwealth Cafe website (not linking to it now because it’s telling me, “You got hacked.”).

So, if there was this Pinay, writing about her life as a woman in war, published in the USA in 1950, which was the original publication date of The Crucible: An Autobiography by Colonel Yay, Filipina American Guerrilla (NY:The Macmillan Company, 1950), then why are we not all over this book? Some perspective: even Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart (1946) fell into obscurity, from which it was rescued by Asian American Studies folks in the 1960′s-1970′s. And it’s been in print ever since, unlike his awesome The Laughter of My Father (1946)

Source: Nehalam Valley Historical Society Online Archive

Colonel Yay Panlilio’s book has indeed recently been reprinted by Rutgers University Press (2010), and this is very much the work of Professor Denise Cruz, whose introduction I’ve told my students will serve as a guide through Panlilio’s narrative. There surely is a lot to discuss in terms of how she portrays or represents herself, and even her author photos are telling. Yay and her husband (original publication), Yay and her children (2010 publication).

But my point here is this: As I’ve found myself writing in my lecture notes, “What are the consequences of forgetting?” Cruz brings up the plight of the “comfort” women fighting for official recognition, an official apology, and reparations. In this country, our Filipino American WWII veterans are still fighting for full veterans’ benefits. Yes, as Filipino Americans have grown accustomed to saying, Filipinos are the forgotten Asian Americans. Filipinos are forgotten. But as I have also found myself writing in my lecture notes, “If we forget our own, then why do we expect others to remember us?”

I am starting to understand that my teaching Pinay Lit is both an ongoing process of recovery of lost or buried voices, and an attempt against forgetting in the first place.

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Barbara Jane Reyes

Author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. Adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

3 Comments

  1. Barbara Jane:

    Thanks to you and Denise for bringing up Colonel Yay, whose story I had never heard. The Filipino Voices exhibit will be presenting some information about another Filipina guerilla, Paulina Morales (from Salinas). More recently, I met another woman who wrote for the Philippines Mail, who I hope to interview soon. Getting women represented in any significant way, I have learned recently, can be a struggle. Yes, it is important to “think about the consequences of forgetting” — and there certainly are consequences.

    Jean

  2. Forgetfulness seems to characterize so much of our culture. And the consequences? Well one only has to go home to see the consequences – in the limited vision and poverty of ideas of the powers that be.

  3. Thanks for this blog. Denise Cruz has just published a book, Transpacific Femininities which you might be interested in. The introduction can be read at amazon.com. I have ordered the book from the US, its an interesting read! Filipina memoirists who talk about the war have been a subject I have been most interested in for the past two years. I’m currently developing a research focused specifically on Yay and and another Filipina who lived, wrote and published at around the same time as Yay.

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