Pinay Lit: Origins and Evolution of the Course

I first taught Pinay Lit in Spring 2012, a couple of years after not fitting so great with the classes I was given to teach in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco. This class began as an idea, put in my head by then-program director Professor Jay Gonzalez. I don’t remember now exactly how the subject of a Pinay-specific literature class came about. I do know that when the idea was put on the table, I immediately thought of Professor Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s Comparative Literature class at University of the Philippines at Diliman: Filipino Women Writing in Love, War, and Exile. How damn amazing is that. I took her class back in the mid-1990s, and my world opened wide.

I want to say it was because Professor Gonzalez wanted to encourage me to have ownership over this teaching thing, which I do part-time, and which, in 2012, I was still pretty green about. Now, I can say, how forward thinking was that; I don’t know that adjunct professors are ever encouraged to have ownership over anything we do in the university. So this was already a different animal, my being encouraged and supported through course proposal, and curriculum development — create the class of my dreams, and step by step, make the thing real.

The original title of the course was Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature. From the original Spring 2012 course description:

In this course, we will be reading and discussing Filipina/Pinay works of literature written in English. Some intersecting themes of their work include Body, Memory, Love, Work, War, and Tribe.

In the texts we will read, we Pinays speak for themselves. Throughout historical movements and into contemporary times, how do Pinays see themselves, and where do they place themselves in the world? How does this correspond and/or contrast how the world sees them, and where the world places them? We will talk about Pinay autonomy or lack thereof, and we will talk about the “dominant paradigm.” We will discuss how our Pinay protagonists and heroines subvert or succumb to this. We will read these texts as literature, as historical document, as testimony.

My original list of required texts  was not too radically different from what I teach today: Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons! and M. Evelina Galang’s One Tribe have been on my reading list from the very beginning. It’s the portrayals of young Filipinas in this country that continue to make these works important for me to bring into my classroom. Already, in these texts are social and gender expectations. How are we to “appear,” present ourselves socially as Filipina daughters in this country. Why are we expected to present ourselves in certain ways. Whose criteria, whose standards are those. Why have we accepted those. What happens when we don’t.

And how are these Filipina authors writing about social expectation. There are power dynamics that my above set of questions are trying to get at. How do these authors handle questions of power. This “how” becomes a question of language, narrative strategies, genre; in Barry’s case, the visual representation of Filipinas is very important. In both of these works, we are looking at generations of Filipino women and girls. We are looking at issues of socioeconomic class.

I always try my best not to predetermine the conversation. I always try my best to give space for my students to arrive at their own answers. What have they noticed? What have they honed in on and prioritized?

So those are some things to start. I do want to write more about the original texts, and then eventually, how this class has evolved, given the six years of literary production since this class’s inception, and given what I am continually learning about my students.

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