Pinay: Autobiographical Narratives by Women Writers, 1926 to 1998 edited and introduced by Christina Pantoja Hidalgo (2000, 260 pages Ateneo de Manila Press)
On November 12, 2009 Hilary Clinton acting in her role as Secretary of State of the United States made an official visit to the Philippines. During her visit she said the Philippines is ahead of the USA in giving women leadership roles. She referenced the fact that since World War II there has been two women presidents of the Philippines. ( When Hilary Clinton said one thing the women of the Philippines need is a corruption free government the people can trust the TV camera turned its focus on the women leaders in the podium behind her. Sadly there records are no better than their male counterparts.)
Pinay: Autobiographical Narratives by Women Writers, 1926 to 1998 is collection of short pieces by Filipino women on a range of topics. Some of the articles are extracted from books, others from newspapers, some from old family journals and some were written for the book. All were written in English. The fact that the articles were written in English limits the social range of the writers in that only college graduates can write with any fluency in English. The further one goes back in the 20th century (up to say 1920) the closer to standard English is found in the writings of Filipinos. Under the US colonial rule English was mandated as the language of instruction in the public schools. After WWII many began to see the focus on English in the schools as showing a lack of national pride so over all written English declined up until about 1990. It is now the vehicle of instruction in elite universities and private high schools.
There are six sections in this book. The first is devoted to growing up and going to school. These articles focus on childhood memories and the extreme importance of family. One of the best articles is "Growing up Protestant in a Catholic Country".
Section two is devoted to the lives of Philippino women during the Japanese occupation in World War II. There are still a few members of our family with personal memories of this period. I hope we can record their stories before it is too late. Many of the stories are very related to issues in the Women Unbound Challenge as they are about women left alone, women victimized solely because of their ethnic background and women losing their childhood to war. A lot of how Filipinas were treated depended on the temperament of the local commander of the Japanese forces. Some tried to enforce decent behavior on their men and some gave them free reign to do whatever they wished to the local populace. As Japan began to face defeat, as the articles show, they began to take it out on the locals. One of the most interesting articles deals with the reopening of the University of the Philippines right after the war.
Section III deals with falling in love and marriage. It is said all over the world when you marry someone you also marry their family and for sure that is true in the Philippines. The cultural of the Philippines is very romance oriented (not quite sure how to express this correctly). You see this in the articles. To explain it a bit, the best selling western classics in the Philippines are the works of Jane Austin and the Brontes. There is almost no legal divorce in the Philippines. As a partial result of this, in my opinion, their is a high rate of births out of marriage (medical birth control is also looked very much down on by the Church). Abortion is completely illegal under all but the most dire circumstances.
Section IV deals with maternity. Partially as a result of the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is great reverence given to the role of the mother in Philippino culture. When Cory Aquino (a former president-widow of Nino Aquino) recently passed away she was mourned as if the mother of the country had died. The articles in this section cover topics ranging from dealing with sibling fights in the family to the joys of big family gatherings.
Section V deals with the job market and focuses on the transition of young Filipino women into the work place. The Philippines is a very very appearance conscious country. There are none of the laws to protect people from discrimination in employment that exist in the UK and elsewhere. You commonly see ads for big corporations saying applicants must be under 26, over five foot two, and attractive plus have a pleasing personality. One of my wife's female cousins, in her mid-twenties, recently applied for a job at a major department store. She was told by the female human resources person that she could be hired but first she had to raise up her dress so her legs could be inspected as the store was known for having attractive female sales persons in short dresses. This was done not in a way to degrade just as fact of employment. There are articles about starting a restaurant. attending law school and working as a journalist.
One of the big aspects of life in the Philippines is that millions and millions of parents, husbands and wives have to leave their family sometimes for up to two years to go out of the country to work so they can send money back to their families. Many a small town in the rural Philippines is largely supported by earnings from those working outside the country. The range of jobs go from maids (a maid in Hong Kong gets free room and board and makes twice the pay as a Philippino office worker) to heart surgeons and super tanker captains. These long periods away from the family are hard on everyone, especially on the children when the mother is gone. The articles show the turmoil in the mind of women who work off shore. Of course they worry if their children are ok and most worry about the fidelity of their spouses. Many are in fact single mothers who leave their children in the care of a relative. I know of one case where a woman works as a nurse in a hospital in London (she obtained a master's degree from an English university at her employer's expense) and now she supports twenty relatives in a small town in Luzon. I have met in small towns a few people who worked 20 to 40 years in the USA or elsewhere where there is government social security. The day they were able to get a pension they went home. Often their children were grown now barely knowing them. The articles cover issues like home sickness, looking for love in another country, feelings of isolation, and living in cultures where all Asians are lumped together.
If I could make a change in this very well done collection I would have liked the articles to be longer. There are excellent short biographies of each writer from which we can see the career paths of the women authors. (It is an elite list of authors). It would have been interesting to hear from some of the millions of people in squatter shacks next to the huge malls and luxury condos but these people have no ability by and large to write in English.
Pinay: Autobiographical Narratives by Women Writers, 1926 to 1998 has a very well done introduction. The book is worth reading for anyone interested in increasing their understanding of the life of Filipino women. It also give us brief samples of writing from 40 or so POC women. This book is available on Amazon.com (the cost new is $25.00 USA-I hate to say this but I would not suggest one pay that much-some times it is on Amazon for less than ten dollars and some larger libraries may have it). It does focus entirely on middle class or above women. (Middle class women in the Philippines have full time help.)-The book also lets us see what happens in the historical case of one POC group having colonial domination over another.
I am reading this book for these challenges
POC Reading Challenge (over 40 view points from POC women)
Women Unbound Challenge (1 of 3 non fiction selections to be read)
Mel, thank you for writing about this book. Besides Hidalgo, who are the authors featured?
By the way, on a different note, I recommend The Songs of Salanda by H. Arlo Nimmo. If I remember right they're published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press.
I must admit that I don't know enough about the history or culture of the Philippines. This collection of narratives by Filipino women sounds quite intriguing. Thank you for your insightful review.
This looks like a book I'd love to read. Appearance conscious doesn't happen only in the Philippines. It happened widely in China too. Young girls opt to undergo plastic surgery so that they can get a better job.
I wish there were journalist authors out there who gave the women in the shacks and slums a voice and wrote about them. My respect goes out to these women who sacrifice their lifetime in a foreign country, came home and feed the whole village. Admirable.
I certainly agree with your observations about appearance Mel. I few a couple of female friends who applied as flight attendants to Philippine airliners and the story is that they're always asked to present themselves in very short shorts so someone can see if they have smooth legs. Imagine that! As a guy, I of course appreciate it when flight attendants look pretty. But I think the leg inspection is quite silly (if not demeaning) already. It's not like they're going to wear bikini's inside the plane right?
I also agree with JoV, I wish they could have found a way to get the voice of the less fortunate ones. There are, after all, many educated female writers at the University of the Philippines who can be classified as below middle class. And I wouldn't have minded it if they had done translations.
Anyway, as Claire said, thank you for posting this review. I really admire your interest in Philippine literature Mel. Very commendable :)
(by the way, can't believe I forgot to post my comment here before... sorry)
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