Review by Christine Fojas
Pa-Liwanag / To the Light: Writings by Filipinas in Translation, compiled by Gantala Press
(Tilted Axis Press 2020)
All art is political for all lives are subject to political forces, and that is nowhere clearer than in the stratified country of the Philippines. This chapbook, Pa-Liwanag or To the Light is an anthology compiled by the Gantala Press, an independent, volunteer-run, feminist small press/literary collective, with works from across the country and across positions of varying privilege as women. Some of the works are translated from local tongue, while others were conceived and written in English.
The chapbook serves as reminder of continuing struggle by offering poems and essays not as aesthetic artefacts but as distillation of human thinking and feeling and experience. As calls to action, as means to mourning, as expression of love, as externalization of human desire and despair.
“Compared to other Asian or Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines does not really engage in translation—whether of foreign books to local languages, of local books to another local language, or local books to foreign languages. This book is our response to that gap.” (5)
Of the poems in this collection, “Sika” by Ilay L. Quidangen, written in English with phrases in Ilokano is offered side-by-side with the all-English version, “You.” And the piece “Bembaran o Alongan” by Elin Anisha Guro weaves together both English and Meranaw phrases: “Mataya ami a inged, you may now be in ruins, but we will come home to you still.”
Maybe that’s one reason why translation is not much-practiced in the Philippines, where many are able to navigate between English and their local tongue. We say what we mean in the language that carries it best. And even if we are capable of translating ourselves, we know full well what is lost in the process—what we’ve already lost to this process of imperialism which continues to exert itself upon us, as a people, as regional groups, as workers, living in land already broken open for profit, and as individuals with our own circumstances, of pain, inherited and carried forward, of poverty in body and in spirit, of love that cannot untangle itself from the needs of the body. Language is but one field in which we contend with colonial legacies.
In this collection you will find poems, essays and personal narratives born from individual experiences of what it means to be a woman as well as texts spoken in the collective, of shared joy and grief and struggle, from taking on the triumph of a Filipino winning the Miss Universe in Karla Quimsing’s “Pia Wurtzbach and I” to the injustice of imprisoned striking workers in Melanie dela Cruz’s “Pasig Jail,” whose last repeated lines are doubled in power: “We workers were the ones imprisoned / While the real criminals run free.”
The collection’s title Pa-Liwanag is translated as To the Light. These are texts that are directed, sharp and pointed, and purposeful. These are poems that carry hope, even the ones that make us cry. Words have power, they keep telling us. These are the powerful words of these often-powerless women, who do not mean to stay that way, marching towards the light carrying their own luminosity within them.
Christine Fojas (she/her) is a Filipino-Canadian hailing from Las Piñas City and currently living in Metro Vancouver. She has a BA in Comparative Literature from University of the Philippines and works as a library technician at Douglas College. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @chrisfojas. She is a regular contributor for Marias at Sampaguitas.