#readPhilippines: The Mats by Francisco Arcellana

Philippine literature Filipino short story in English

The Mats, an old short story written by esteemed Filipino writer Francisco Arcellana, contains existing representations of the Filipino family today. It tells the story of a big and well-to-do family who, at first glance, appears happy and content, but behind this facade is a burden that the members seem to want to forget or to not think about at all.
The father came home from a business trip one day, bringing with him intricately designed mats for his wife and for every child. There were three more mats that could not be given in person because those children died already, and this is the burden of the family. No reasons were given for their death, but I can surmise that they either died at childbirth or at war or during a serious illness in their childhood. The father appealed to his family not to forget them in their daily happy existence, and to accept that they died so they can truly move on.
For me, the writer’s use of a mat to symbolize the personality of the character in the story is not odd at all. In my country, before foam beds became the norm, we use handwoven mats or banig as our bedding, like what futon is to the Japanese. We take pride in our weaving skill and craftsmanship with the use of buri or palm leaves. The product comes in many colors and designs, and we choose the mat that suits us, that reflects ourselves.
The Mats is my first Arcellana story. Francisco Arcellana (1916-2002) is Philippine’s National Artist for Literature in 1990. He is a writer, poet, essayist, critic, journalist and teacher. He is also considered as one of the forefathers of the modern Filipino short story in English.
Banig [Manila Shopping: 20 Filipino Goods To Bring Home]. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30, 2018, from https://www.gpsmycity.com/img/art_item/dd4c0c08aeb-banig.jpg

#readPhilippines: The Small Key by Paz Latorena

The Small Key, a short story written by Filipino writer Paz Latorena, is a bittersweet story of a farmer’s second wife named Soledad tormented by uncertainties of her own making. Really, it is a simple short story, but in it throbs the heart of a farmer’s land and life.

Soledad observes her husband’s movements and comes up with jaundiced meanings for them, such as his act of carrying a small key that opens a trunk filled with the belongings of his first wife. She was not given that key but chanced upon it and, instead of letting the past stay where it should be, she opened the trunk. Like a Pandora’s box, the result does not bode well on the married couple’s supposedly happy relationship.

The Small Key is my first Latorena short story. For this particular work, she won the third prize in the Jose Garcia Villa’s Roll of Honor for the Best Stories of 1927. She was a teacher to many great Filipino writers we know today, including F. Sionil Jose, Juan Gatbonton, Nita Umali, Genoveva Edroza Matute, Ophelia Dimalanta, Zenedia Amador, and Alice Colet-Villadolid.

I learned from reading her brief profiles online that many of her stories are characterized by a wistfulness that project a gentle disillusionment with life and feature the unexpressed heartaches of women. They are often a combination of bitterness, sweetness and sadness over dreams that did not or maybe could not come true. Her death in 1953 due to a fatal cerebral hemorrhage is indeed a significant loss to the country’s budding literature and to the literary community.

Latorena, Paz. (2017, April 29). Retrieved December 29, 2018, from https://panitikan.ph/2014/06/06/paz-latorena/


Koppens, Y. (2017, February 28). Two Black Skeleton Keys [Digital image]. Retrieved December 29, 2018, from https://images.pexels.com/photos/612800/pexels-photo-612800.jpeg?auto=compress&cs=tinysrgb&dpr=2&h=650&w=940

#readPhilippines: Love in the Cornhusks by Aida L. Rivera-Ford

Philippine literature short stories

Love in the Cornhusks written by Aida L. Rivera-Ford is, for me, one of those many short stories that is open to one’s own interpretation as long as it is placed within the context of the period the story operates in. Many events happen in the life of Tinang, our protagonist, which could be a nickname of some sort. She is formerly a maid, now married to a man with property, and a mother to a sensitive baby and a little one on the way.
Many metaphors may be at play in the story, depending on how you interpret it. For example, a cornhusk is the natural wrapping of a grown corn. When unwrapped, it reveals a scrumptious-looking edible grain. It could refer to Tinang who, without the trappings of first love, is a strong mother with a life entirely different, if not difficult, from her life as a maid. It could also refer to when an unsolicited love letter addressed to Tinang fell among the cornhusks, a pile of waste, in the woman’s attempt to save her baby from a little green snake, which, if you like, you can take up as something that carries another significant meaning.
Whatever your choice will be, you may rest assured that Ford’s short story is a bittersweet one, set in the landscape that the author know too well. The short story mentioned Bagobo who constitute one of the largest groups among the indigenous peoples in southern Mindanao in the Philippines. Ford was born in Jolo, Sulu in Mindanao before crossing over to Negros Oriental to complete an English degree at the prestigious Silliman University. She later finished her master’s degree in English through a Fullbright grant at the University of Michigan. Love in the Cornhusks won the Jules & Avery Hopwood Prize in Michigan.
I have read Love in the Cornhusks several years ago. In some way, it reminded me of Servant Girl, a short story written by Estrella Alfon.
Fischer, M. (2017, October 11). Brown and Green Cornfield [Digital image]. Retrieved December 28, 2018, from https://images.pexels.com/photos/614006/pexels-photo-614006.jpeg?auto=compress&cs=tinysrgb&dpr=2&h=650&w=940

(This is an entry for the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge by Bibliophilopolis.)

#readPhilippines: The Distance to Andromeda by Gregorio C. Brillantes

Philippine literature short stories Filipino writers

The Distance to Andromeda, a short story written by one of Philippine’s illustrious writers Gregorio C. Brillantes, is a straightforward reminder that there is a world bigger than ourselves. It questions the scale of our existence in relation to the vastness of the dimensions of worlds beyond the Earth’s spheres, beyond what we know and/or see. It prompts the question, “How far are we to the Andromeda?,” referring to the spiral galaxy nearest to the Milky Way, which is approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth, or to the constellation of Andromeda, one of the 88 modern constellations.
The short story is portrayed by a boy named Ben and set in Tarlac, a landlocked province in Central Luzon region of the Philippines, where the story’s writer is a native of. With his friend Pepe, Ben watches a movie about a spaceship flying through scenes that sound like the Apocalypse. To Ben, the fictional tableau was too fantastic to believe or for it to actually exist. Yet the movie made him feel out of place when he stepped out of the theater, like time out of time, his body drifting through the familiar realities of park plays and old houses. The story brought to mind the feelings one can sense after watching the films Horton Hears a Who! and WALL-E.
The Distance to Andromeda is the first Brillantes short story I have read after I bought one of his collections of essays, Looking for Jose Rizal in Madrid: Journey, Latitudes, Perspectives, Destinations, at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu Press last month. Brillantes, true to the meaning of his name (brilliant, bright, shining), is a Palanca Award Hall of Famer and a multi-awarded Filipino fiction writer. While he is named a “Catholic Writer” for his short stories, he also adds fantastic elements to his work, such as the story featured in this post.
Evans, A. (2010, September 18). Andromeda Galaxy [Digital image]. Retrieved December 28, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_Galaxy#/media/File:Andromeda_Galaxy_(with_h-alpha).jpg

(This is an entry for the 9th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge by Bibliophilopolis.)