In line with the upcoming International Symposium for Filipino Literature in Spanish in the Context of Hispanic-Asian Studies, we reach out to one of the persons behind the gathering of scholars and participants to study and talk about some of the most interesting facts that link The Philippines and Spain in terms of culture and literature. The symposium will be held on 3-5 December 2018 at the University of Antwerp. The Ambassador of the Philippines in Brussels, Ambassador Eduardo José A. de Vega is confirmed to join on the second day of the conference.
International Symposium for Filipino Literature in Spanish: A Thorough Conversation with Rocío Ortuño Casanova
Find out more about our compelling conversation with Rocio!
BFL: How did the Filipino literature in Spanish start?
Rocio: With the arrival of the Spanish to the Philippines, of course. The printing press arrived very early in the Philippines, even earlier than in many countries in Latin America. There is an argument about when exactly it was, but it is commonly agreed that the first book printed in a typographic press was Doctrina Christiana in 1593 (as I said there are divergent voices, but anyway, they were printing books around the end of 16th century). In the early times, most of the books printed were either grammars and dictionaries of native languages (most of them did not have a written system before the arrival of the Spaniards) or religious books. Thomas Pinpin was a Filipino printer of Chinese descendant who authored some Tagalog – Spanish grammar books. One of them, although not the best known, was Librong Pagaaralan nag manga Tagalog nang uicang Castilla. Isaac Donoso says in his book Historia cultural de la lengua Española en Filipinas that Pinpin inserts in this book some awits (poems) in Spanish with a Tagalog translation. Here you have some Filipino literature in Spanish! That was in 1610. Now, the first modern Filipino author writing in Spanish is believed to be Luis Rodríguez Varela who published the book Parnaso Filipino in 1814. This book was thought to be lost, but Ruth de Llobet, a researcher who is attending the symposium, has rescued it and is preparing an annotated edition.
BFL: What is the relevance today of Filipino literature in Spanish?
Rocio: That is an interesting question. If we are talking about the academia, Filipino literature in Spanish should have a huge relevance: the Philippines has been a kind of crossroads in which many nations had a role. Those nations left a footprint in Filipino literature, at least in Filipino literature in Spanish, which is my specialization, but did not take the memory of it back to their homeland. Filipino literature in Spanish is crucial to understand the construction of “Hispanismo” after the end of the Spanish Empire, for instance. It is very important to understand South-South relations between Latin America and Asia. It completes the Panorama of US colonial literature, which is almost not even acknowledged. However, its real presence in school and University curricula is minimal.
BFL: What makes Filipino literature in Spanish beautiful?
Rocio: It is the expression of a set of beliefs, a culture, some traditions, and aspirations, and provides a unique view of these. It portrays a beautiful country and is trying to build a Filipino identity based on beauty. Have a look at this quote by Epifanio de los Santos (EDSA!) that I chose as a heading for the portal of Philippine literature in Spanish of the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes: «Luz, colores, aleteos misteriosos, susurros, rientes valles, todo es letra muerta para quien no los tiene impresos en el alma» (Light, colours, mysterious flutters, whispers, laughing valleys, it is all dead letters for those who do not have them printed in their souls). It is talking about the Philippines and about reading about the wonders of his homeland, implying that if you have not experienced that beauty it is difficult to have a grasp of it when you read about it.
BFL: What makes the Filipino literature in Spanish unique to hold a Symposium in Antwerp?
Rocio: Well, on the one hand, Belgium has a story with the Philippines. Between 1869 and 1875, there were plans and reports for Leopold II to buy the archipelago. José Rizal lived in Belgium, in Brussels, and in Gent, and published his second novel, El Filibusterismo, in Gent in 1891. And at the Gent Exposition Universelle in 1913 there was an Igorot village exhibited. These links, however, have been forgotten for a long time. On the other hand, the Department of Literature of the University of Antwerp is really interested in rescuing and preserving the memory of forgotten literary hideaways. I work on Philippine literature in Spanish, a colleague of mine works on literature in Equatorial Guinea and another one on literature in the Caribbean, especially the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. We all use similar theoretical frameworks and try to expand the traditional scope of literature in Spanish.
But also, we have a niche here: the field of Hispanic-Asian cultural and literary relations is rising fast now and becoming very popular. The Philippines is in the middle of these relations. Although historical studies on them are frequent, the literary scholarship is still behind. This was the right moment to gather specialists in Philippine literature in Spanish, to exchange opinions and settle the bases for the recuperation of the field.
BFL: Which famous literature writers will be discussed at the Symposium?
Rocio: We have received quite a few abstracts about José Rizal’s figure and writings, of course. But also other writers such as Jesús Balmori, Fernando María Guerrero, María Paz Zamora Mascuñana, Enrique K. Laygo, María de la Paz Guazón Mendoza, Isabelo de los Reyes or Adelina Gurrea, among others, are present in the proposals. We have a great range of different topics so it is expected that we will have a very complete overview of the Philippine Literature in Spanish.
BFL: Can you clarify a bit about the connection of ” Instituto Cervantes, Center of Mexican Studies of the University of Antwerp, and BETA Association of Early Career Doctors in Hispanism” in Philippine literature?
Rocio: Those are our funding institutions besides The Université Clermont-Auvergne which is co-organizing, the University of Antwerp itself, which is the main founder of the encounter, through the Department of Literature, the Dienstverlening, and a BOF Klein Project. Instituto Cervantes is a Spanish institution committed to the diffusion of culture in Spanish around the world. There is a branch in Makati and they have just opened a center for hispanismo in Intramuros. They do an excellent job of diffusion and preservation of the Filipino heritage in Spanish through different initiatives in collaboration with the Spanish Embassy in the Philippines. One of those initiatives is their collection of Clásicos hispanofilipinos in which they are editing and re-publishing books written by Filipino writers in Spanish in the early 20th century. There is another branch of Instituto Cervantes in Brussels that organizes an amazing amount of high-quality cultural activities related to the Spanish language if you ever want to stop by. Due to their mission, they offered to support the symposium in several ways.
The Centre of Mexican Studies of the University of Antwerp is a part of the University focused on Mexican Studies that also organizes a great range of activities related to Mexico. Mexico and the Philippines have a history of cultural exchange through the Manila Galleon, the commercial route that covered the way between Manila and Acapulco bringing goods and people. For this reason, within the symposium, we are holding a special event about Philippine-Mexican relations. And for this reason, the CEM is also funding the symposium.
Last but not least, BETA is an association that promotes opportunities for early career doctors in Hispanismo, that is, those who got their PhD less than 10 years ago. I am one of those Among the many initiatives that the association impulses for helping these scholars to progress in their career, including a newsletter with job openings and conferences, a publication award, a blog with tips on how to apply for projects, for instance, and an annual conference, they offer a ‘quality seal’ and some funding for excellent projects organized by their members. The project is assessed by a panel of external experts, and they decided that this symposium was worthy of the seal.
BFL: What is the importance of Jose Rizal’s Spanish writings?
Rocio: Again, the matter of ‘importance’ is a bit tricky. José Rizal is the best-known Philippine writer, and his novels are great portrays of the society of his time and reports of the abuses of the Spanish friars at the time. Isn’t that important enough? He and his propagandista friends lightened an awareness in the Philippines that has led to what the Philippines is today. All that is amazingly important! And yet his writings are not known by most of the Spanish speakers in the world. If anyone is still curious about Rizal’s deeds and the importance of his writings, they can come to any of the sessions that we will be holding around his figure in December. Anyone can come and listen, and the attendance is free.[click_to_tweet tweet=”José Rizal is the best-known Philippine writer, and his novels are great portrays of the society of his time and reports of the abuses of the Spanish friars at the time.” quote=”José Rizal is the best-known Philippine writer, and his novels are great portrays of the society of his time and reports of the abuses of the Spanish friars at the time.”]
BFL: Can you tell us a bit more about the Hispanic Asian Studies?
Rocio: Asian Studies is a discipline within Hispanic Studies that includes different aspects of the relations between Asia and the Hispanic World. If we talk about literature, then we are talking about Asian literature in Spanish (most importantly that written in the Philippines), literature in Spanish speaking countries written in Asian languages, even literature in Spanish speaking countries about Asian topics, and literature in Asian countries on Hispanic topics. Reception of Asian literature in Hispanic countries and vice versa would also be included in this field. So, we study matters such as Orientalism, or how is Lorca read in Japan or Philippine literature in Spanish. It is a field that is now being built. Imagine how popular Spanish American and transatlantic studies are… we are just going one step beyond what happens with trans-Pacific studies?
BFL: What is your favorite Filipino literature in Spanish?
Rocio: This is probably the most difficult question. I really like a book of short stories by Guillermo Gómez Windham called Las aventuras de Cayo Malinao, Tia Pasia y Los ascensos del capitán Rojo. And in poetry, I think that Federico Espino Licsi is fantastic. But there are so many interesting texts…
BFL: If our readers would like to learn more, where would you suggest them to start reading?
Rocio: I would totally recommend the Portal de literatura filipina en español in Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/portales/literatura_filipina_en_espanol/ (I directed it ). There are quite a few Filipino works in Spanish available there to be downloaded in PDF for free, and an introduction to Philippine literature in Spanish. To get to know more about current Spanish – Filipino cultural interactions, I would recommend reading the bilingual magazine published by the Spanish Embassy I the Philippines Perro Berde http://www.perroberde.com/pb07/
To learn more about the event, check out the University of Antwerp website.
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