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Jun 28th
Home Sections History More-than a Century of Filipino Writing in English
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Thursday, 24 May 2007 04:39

Part One of "More-than a Century of Filipino Writing in English" 

When the United States took over the Philippine Archipelago at the turn of the 20th Century, nearly all of the Filipino authors and journalists were writing in Spanish and/or in the various Philippine languages.

The Philippines officially became an American territory on Feb. 6, 1899, when Spain ceded the archipelago to the United States for $20 million. This was pursuant to the Treaty of Paris signed between Spain and the United States on Dec. 10, 1898. The United States Senate ratified the Treaty of Paris on this day by a mere vote over the required three-fourths vote.
(Editor's Note: The author is the grandson-in-law of Sen. Isabelo de los Reyes and nephew of Dr. Jose S. Reyes, who are both mentioned in this report. He is asking the scions of the authors mentioned in this essay to contact him and discuss the possible reprint of the books written by their elders. Most of the works cited in this report are out of print. This report, as revised, was originally written for the participation of the Filipino-led Multiethnic Media, Business & Consumers' Coalition in the 1998 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA. The MMBCC participated for the third straight year in the same book festival held also at the UCLA on April 29-30, 2000.)

But even before the Americans invaded the Philippine Archipelago, some Filipinos in the Metropolitan Manila area were introduced to English by British troops. At the height of the Seven Years' War between Great Britain and Spain, British troops captured Manila and some surrounding towns from 1762-1764. The British invaders did not, however, force the colleges and universities in Manila to adopt English as the medium of instruction nor did it establish English grammar schools for the Filipino masses.

More contacts with English-speaking sailors started in 1796 when the first American trading vessel made Manila its scheduled port of call.

Even at the height of the Christian-Filipino war for independence against America (1899-1901), Julian Gerona, a Bicolano writer from Bulan, Sorsogon, wrote in English a revolutionary publication with the name, "Do With Mask." The American authorities eventually arrested Gerona and exiled him to Guam, together with some Filipino national leaders.

Many more Filipino revolutionary figures got instant training in English from the 16 Buffalo soldiers who defected to the Filipino Army during the Christian-Filipino war with the United States.

Americanization of Philippine Literature

The United States officially ended the military rule of the Philippines on July 4, 1901, when the first civil government in the archipelago was inaugurated. William Howard Taft was the first civil governor of the Philippines. (He eventually became the 27th President of the United States in 1909.) Thus began the Americanization of the Philippine Islands, the Filipino people and their literature. The marriages to Filipino brides of more than 1,200 Buffalo soldiers, out of the more than 6,000 Black-American troops sent to the Philippines from 1899-1901, contributed also to the learning of English as a primary language of the archipelago.

The Thomasite Teachers

In trying to win the hearts and minds of the Filipinos, the United States brought American teachers to the Philippines, starting in 1901. The teachers were later called the Thomasites, as the first batch of instructors arrived on board the transport ship, USS Thomas, on Aug. 23, 1901.

David Barrows, the director of education in the Philippines from 1902 to 1908, stressed academic curriculum. He inaugurated also a program for young talented Filipinos to study in the United States. The Filipino students were called pensionados, the first 100 of them sailing for the United States in October 1903. Every year thereafter more and more Filipino high-school valedictorians and salutatorians were sent to the United States for college education, and for those who managed to excel, an additional opportunity to earn master and even doctorate, degrees.

Pretty soon Filipino writers started to write in the newly-found second foreign language, Spanish being the first foreign tongue.

(To be continued . . .)

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 December 2010 11:25

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