Statue of Jose Rizal, author of Filipino literary classics “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”/Erwin Dimal/Shutterstock
This article is available in Spanish.
Most major bookstore chains in the Philippines have books in either English and Filipino. Recently, some publishers have also started publishing books in other local languages. But there’s another one, which feels like a Black sheep in a white herd, that doesn’t get the same treatment: the Spanish language. In this day and age, rare are books in Spanish-language literature in the Philippines due to their lack of mainstream and commercial success. Whatever one’s opinion about Spanish, the works under this genre are part of the wider publishing landscape.
One publisher, Vibal Foundation, under its imprint Academia Filipina+, puts out academic works originally from Spanish, but it has yet to release a book in the said language. The Philippines has yet to see a locally published book exclusively in Spanish that is available on a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and one that is not academic. Think young adult, romance and fantasy books written by a Filipino writer in Spanish.
Since most don’t get the recognition through traditional means, modern Filipino writers in Spanish find ways to adapt, taking the off the beaten path of publishing. Most of their works are in the trenches — they are published abroad in independent magazines. But mostly, they start in literary awards.
The Premio Rafael Palma is a literary contest launched in 2019; it is now on its fourth edition.
The said contest is organized by the Spanish Section of the Department of European Languages of the College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines, Diliman; the Fil-Hispanic literary journal Revista Filipina; the Asociación Filipina de Enseñanza del Español lengua extranjera, the Círculo Hispánico, UP’s student association; and the Department of Education of the Embassy of Spain in Manila.
The award aims to promote the “study, practice and use of Spanish as a Filipino language” and the “knowledge of Hispanic-Filipino literature among the youth.” It also aims to pay homage to the Spanish-speaking Filipino writer Rafael Palma.
The Premio Rafael Palma is targeted toward Filipino students enrolled in universities. All genres are accepted, be it a poem, a short story or a short article. Among other prizes, the winners in this award get published in Revista Filipina. The journal annually publishes a selection of the most interesting works through its section Cuadernos Palmianos.
The Antonio M. Abad Award is also another Spanish-language writing contest, which was launched in 2020. It is now on its third edition, opening its door to the Chavacano language as well. The award was created with the objective of “honoring, disseminating and promoting the Hispanic linguistic tradition of the Philippines in order to foster Filipino literary creation in both Spanish and Chavacano at the national level.” It was also created in honor of the writer Antonio M. Abad.
The said contest is organized by the Far Eastern University of Manila and Editorial Hispano Árabe de Barcelona, with the collaboration of Revista Filipina.
Another Spanish-language writing contest called Jose Rizal Award for Philippine Letters was instituted in 2015 and has the backing, through Biblioteca HUMANISMOEUROPA, of the Instituto Juan Andres de Comparatística y Globalización. It is also in collaboration with the Grupo de Investigación Humanismo-Europa of the University of Alicante and Revista Filipina.
It is dedicated especially to the “Hispanic-Filipino cultural field and the subjects of Filipinism.” The prize is awarded annually from Spain to a work already traditionally published in print.
Though the aforementioned initiatives evoke fanfare in the community, the don’t get media coverage, much less receive support from the Philippine government, which usually backs English- and Filipino- language writing contests.
La Jornada Filipina reached out to the National Book Development Board, the government agency mandated to improve the publishing industry — and to some extent, literature — in the Philippines, but it hasn’t responded as of the writing.
The contemporary Spanish-language literature in the Philippines doesn’t only survive through literary awards. Fortunately, works under the genre are found on other spaces as well.
Filipiniana.net, an online library of scholarly and historical texts, was recently relaunched. “The development of new technologies, the increasing amount of digitized sources, and the ever-widening and opening access to knowledge present both a challenge and an opportunity, as the expanding body of original texts, transcriptions, and translations have made source materials easier and more convenient to access,” the portal wrote in a lengthy blog post. In there, rare material on Spanish colonization are published, which visitors can access for free.
Aside from that, there’s the DigiPhilLit, an Erasmus+ K2 project organized by the University of Antwerp in Belgium, Université Clermont-Auvergne and Université Paris Nanterre in France, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Spain, and Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Much of their work, however, is done offline.
Then there’s the Clasicos Hispanofilipinos project of the Instituto Cervantes de Manila in which they once published Spanish-language works by Filipino authors. Two of the books published in the said undertaking are “Pájaros de fuego” by Jesús Balmori and “Cuentos de Juana” by Adelina Gurrea. This, however, only caters to one genre, which are the classics.
Spanish-language literature in the Philippines remains difficult and inaccessible to many as distribution and reception have never improved. Works under the genre certainly exist in other facets of the local publishing industry, but they struggle to keep up with their counterparts.
As long as Spanish is treated as a foreign language, literature written by Filipino writers in this language will remain on the dusty shelves, forgotten by many.
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