I want to say, you get tired of the same old thing, and that you want to do something else. It’s true; you do. The fact that these texts, Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, are requisite texts in Filipino Literature courses, gets redundant for me, but it can’t continue to irk me.
I have complained in social media, about how teaching these two books takes nearly half of the semester, leaving us another eight weeks to cover “everything else.” What is that “everything else,” and will any other text ever replace one of these two requisite texts? What are the politics of inclusion and exclusion? I keep asking who determines the criteria.
Shee-it. I am determining the criteria, and there’s no being coy or passive-aggressive about that.
Last week, I was talking to a Philippine Studies colleague, of different discipline. She was telling me that a while back, she referenced America is in the Heart in one of the classes she teaches, and was dismayed that students hadn’t read the book. I don’t know that it gave my colleague a ton of extra work, to try to bring the students up to speed on why that book is important to know, when moving into other courses — sociology, history — within our interdisciplinary program.
But that’s one thing. We are interdisciplinary, I teach the literature courses, and the content of our program as a whole should have some continuity through and between them.
Related: I was talking to another colleague in our program, about starting off every semester with Renato Constantino’s “The Mis-Education of the Filipino,” because in order to understand and critically discuss the art and literature produced in Filipino and Filipino American communities, it’s important that the students have a basic understanding of the colonial elements and impetus in our communities’ works. But the discussion of colonialism takes a damn long time before we can even get into the core content of our courses.
In my Filipino Literature course, Bulosan and Hagedorn have to be required. I won’t and can’t be mad about this anymore. You can’t discuss the “Flips” — Robles, Tagami, et al — without first getting a deep understanding of the “Manongs.” Hence, America is in the Heart. I suppose you could teach Bienvenido Santos’s short stories in Scent of Apples, but why read something written by a pensionado, an outsider looking into or imagining or transcribing the lives of the labor class Pinoys, when you have this novel written by someone who is of the labor class, whose roots are of the Philippine peasantry. Is this about “authenticity,” or “representation” for sake of itself? I’ll go ahead and say no, that it’s about introducing critical discussions about class struggle, proletariat literature (and language, and aesthetic), the literal exhaustion and frustration of pursuing the “American Dream.”
I am thinking of the narrator Carlos’s concern that his brother Macario’s political concerns seem more intellectual than actual.
I will also say that I hate it when discussions about America is in the Heart are firmly couched in sentimentality and ethnic identity politics — ethnic pride, ethnic authenticity.
On Dogeaters. You can’t read any hallucinatory balikbayan narratives or Manila narratives written by expatriate authors without referencing Dogeaters. You could teach Marianne Villanueva’s short stories in Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila to demonstrate the social changes before and during Martial Law. But there’s something about the form of novel itself, though there’s Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter. But particular to Dogeaters, there’s something about the socially diverse and then the marginalized/invisible (it’s important to me that we talk A LOT about Joey Sands, and then to a bit lesser degree, Orlando/Romeo and poor Trinidad, and how their stories fit in this cacophony with Daisy/Aurora, Lolita Luna, Baby Alacran, Leonora Ledesma, et al.), and unintentionally unreliable narrators (Except Pucha? When she finally speaks for herself, do we have any reason to believe her?), and their selective and fallible memories.
Is Dogeaters still considered a “difficult,” “experimental” text? Is it really a “postmodern” text? In what ways are we now more popularly accustomed to collaged, non-linear narratives and shifting, multiple narrators challenging/refuting Master Narrative, than we were when this book first debuted in 1990.
Is it redundant, or logical, to also teach R. Zamora Linmark’s novel, Leche, after teaching Dogeaters. I am going with logical.
Is it fair, is it enough to have one Filipino Literature course offering, given that we have one century of Filipino writing in English under our belt, given that works in translation have been around much longer and should also be included in Filipino Literature (I teach Elynia S. Mabanglo’s Invitation of the Imperialist in translation), and given that Ethnic Studies and area studies are now becoming increasingly diasporic.
Shee-it (again). In Filipino Literature, I could teach a whole semester of Carlos Bulosan. Or a whole semester on lyric poetry. Or short story. Or graphic novel. Or YA Lit.
Or Pinay Lit …!