In Memoriam: Edel Garcellano

Edel Garcellano, poet, critic, novelist, teacher, passed away on April 23, at the age of 73.

I first met Edel in 1990, right after I graduated from the University of the Philippines at Diliman and applied for a job as an Instructor at the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

As an undergraduate, I had many excellent, inspiring teachers—Franz Arcellana, Amelia Bonifacio, NVM Gonzalez, Nieves Epistola, Winifred Evangelista, Wilhelmina Ramos, Pacita Fernandez, Sylvia Ventura, Yolanda Tomeldan, among others—who trained me in the art of reading, writing, and research.

In those days, literary studies was largely New Critical, formalist in spirit, orientation, and method. English majors studied the classics and engaged in “close reading” of literary works.  My concentration was “Imaginative Writing,” not “Creative Writing” (don’t ask me what’s the difference). We read novels, plays, and poems, not “texts.” We worked on “analyses”, not “critiques.”

The education was not entirely (neo-)colonial. Our solid grounding in English and American literature (no problem acing the GRE Literature in English test when the time came to apply for graduate school in America) was complemented by language-training in Spanish, French, and Chinese and by coursework in Philippine, European, and Asian literature. Few of the courses at UP were being taught in Filipino, though, and there were no courses specifically devoted to Southeast Asian, Latin American, and African literature.

Encountering Edel came as a shock, intellectually and otherwise. With his leonine features,  polemical style of talking and writing, and unfailing sense of humor, Edel was charismatic, funny, and provocative. Unflinching and unrelenting in his pursuit of a point of fact or argument, he embodied a critical stance that I had only come across in the pages of La Solidaridad and the Philippine Collegian, in the loose-leafed Xerox copies of essays, pamphlets, and little red books that our Social Science II instructors surreptitiously circulated among select students, and in the mimeographed manifestos and statements issued at rallies and demonstrations.

I entered UP in the heady aftermath of the People’s Power Revolution in 1986. Over the next six years, the euphoria of toppling the Marcos dictatorship slowly bled out as dynastic names dominated the election rosters, activists like Lean Alejandro and Rolando Olalia were killed and protesting farmers massacred in Mendiola, members of the Armed Forces repeatedly plotted and staged coups d’etat, poverty remained prevalent, the government elected not to repudiate the gargantuan foreign debt and instead cut social spending, agrarian reform ran aground, business was crippled by power outages, and natural disasters (typhoons and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo) took their heavy toll on communities and livelihoods.

Edel helped me make sense of these unfolding crises.  Some of the English department’s junior faculty began gravitating toward Edel and gathering at his office at the Faculty Center to form a kapatiran of sorts. The office, room 1027, was meant for all of the department lecturers, but for us junior faculty, it was quickly known as “Edel’s office” or, simply, “FC 1027.”

I was part of a group that included people like Felicidad “Bliss” Cua Lim, poet and film critic and scholar now based in the University of California at Irvine; Antonio “Tonchi” Tinio, activist and former national chairperson of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers who has represented the ACT Teachers Partylist at the 15th, 16th, and 17th Kongreso ng Pilipinas; Patricia “Pat” Arinto, former Dean of the Faculty of Education of the UP Open University and now Dean of the University of the Philippines-Visayas’ Tacloban College; Lila Ramos-Shahani, former Secretary-General of UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines; Anne Marie “Nana” Mabilangan (Ozaeta), Editor-in-Chief of FOOD Magazine; and Maria Theresa “Tess” Dizon (De Vega), currently Philippine Ambassador to Germany.

Through Edel, I was introduced to Neferti Tadiar (one of the Philippines’ foremost literary critics, now at Barnard College), Luisa Mallari (Hall) (before she went to the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to conduct her now-classic comparative study of Tagalog and Malaysian novels; a plane crash cut short the life of one of our country’s pioneering Southeast Asianists), and soft-spoken but redoubtable revolutionary Monico Atienza.

We were joined by the Filipino-American scholar John “Jody” Blanco, and would in turn link up with Jaime “Bing” Biron Polo, who was then with the Department of Anthropology, and Patrick Flores of the Department of Art Studies to form the Critical Forum.

Edel “was the real heart and soul” (as Jody puts it) of the Critical Forum’s project of “bringing together scholars, artists (in literature, film, and the performing arts), journalists, and cultural workers to engage in dialogues over social and cultural issues.”

We met to discuss books and ideas, debate the issues of the day, hang out between and after classes, and dream up ways to criticize, perhaps even disrupt, what we saw as the reactionary complacency of our field and the institutional practices of reading, writing, teaching, and working in academia more generally that underpinned it.  We read Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Etienne Balibar, Marx and Engels, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Julia Kristeva, and Helene Cixous with the same appreciative but critical eye as Edel did. My M.A. teachers Preachy Legasto, Helen Lopez, and Jing Hidalgo expanded my reading list by recommending books on feminism, ethnic studies, and postcolonial studies.

People remember Edel for many things.

There was Edel’s coruscating wit, for one. Of classes at UP, he once complained that “There should be paper reading every week dito pero wala kang maapuhap. Ang paper lang dito yung panglinis ng puwet.” (“Isang Panayam”*). In one giyera patani, he said of his adversary that “He has not lost mind, really, only–alas–his teeth” (“Part One: If Dumbo Could Write, He Would Have Written Thus”*).

Edel, too, was known for his trenchant analyses of, and principled interventions in, issues ranging from the EDSA “Drama” (as Edel calls it) to the Second Great Rectification Movement of 1992 within the Communist Party of the Philippines; from the possibilities and limits of Filipino feminist and progressive writing to the reigning cult of the author, the literary award, and literary barkada; from the nativist and anti-theory turn in Philippine scholarship to the importance, but also pitfalls, of academic konfrontasi between progressive intellectuals, on the one hand, and writers, artists, academics and media practitioners, on the other hand, who, as Edel put it, “have arrogated upon themselves this privileged slot in the so-called ‘command post’ of civil society” (“The Silence of the Lambs”*).

To me, however, Edel was the consummate listener. I have a clear image still of Edel sitting quietly, head slightly bent down and forward, listening intently, intervening very infrequently to ask brief but pointed questions that forced the speaker to clarify her ill-conceived thoughts, reconsider the ideological position that grounds her thinking and action, and attend to the gaps and silences that riddle her own agenda.

Edel defied the basic assumptions that inform our commonsensical ideas of the critic as teacher,  ideas of the teacher as an unchallenged authority, fountain of truth and wisdom, and source of one-way learning and transmission of knowledge.

Edel’s idea of pedagogical practice–or more accurately, anti-pedagogy–is revealing for its resolute modesty.

In a 1994 interview with the Philippine Collegian, he said: “Hindi naman ako nakikibaka sa classroom. It’s just that I say what I want to say, according to the logic of my discourse. Pero yung messianic spirit that I will change the kids, wala. In fact, they’re the ones changing me” (“Isang Panayam”*).

He went on to joke that “Ako nga tamad ngayon, kasi tamad ang mga estudyante ko,” but his main point was that he was teaching himself: “So ang nangyayari I do things on my own. Basa na lang ako ng basa.”

Although I didn’t have the privilege of being Edel’s student, the way he talked about what he did in his classes suggests to me that the value of coming into contact with an inspiring teacher like Edel, who changes your way of thinking, perhaps even your way of life, has more to do with the critical stance Edel encouraged his most gifted students to develop on their own, rather than any distinct style or method of teaching, let alone transfer of ideas.

Edel was of a generation that had been radicalized by the political and intellectual ferment of the 1960s and early 1970s, the generation that experienced martial law and was fully aware of the brutality beneath the mask of what Imelda Marcos, shamelessly stealing from the Latin Americans, called the “smiling dictatorship.”

Edel once told me that getting a failing grade of “singko” in class was a badge of honor in the fight against reactionary teachers, the irrelevance of the subject being taught to students, and the bureaucratism, careerism, and self-promotion of academics and artists (including creative writers) who engaged in vicious infighting over the crumbs that the state and private sector deigned to brush off the table.

He was also of that generation of writers, like Nick Joaquin, Gregorio Brillantes, and Kerima Polotan, who, whatever their ideological stripes, honed their skills in journalism and had first-hand experience of the world outside the cloisters of academia.  In his time, as he would say in his “Letter to Young Poets” that “The idea of a Ph.D. or master’s in whatever was somewhat preposterous.”

More than critic and writer, Edel was a complex, brilliant man.  He was my imagined and real-life interlocutor, the person whose voice echoed in my head whenever I took up book to read and pen to write. Who are we working, writing for? What are the intellectual and political stakes of our research? Who benefits?

There’s much more that I can say about how Edel shaped my thinking, and that of several generations of students, researchers, and activists at UP and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (where he later taught), how unstinting he remained in his emotional and intellectual support all these years.

But it’s Edel’s voice I keep hearing these past few days, his voice over a cup of coffee at the Katag in the basement of the Faculty Center, sadly burned down in 2016; over iced tea at The Chocolate Kiss on campus; over pasta at the Jorge Vargas Museum.  Edel, food, and thought: sustenance.

And his words resonate still, incisive and plangent as ever, in his poems, his masterful novels Ficcion (1978) and Maikling Imbestigasyon ng Isang Mahabang Pangungulila (1990), and his essays.

 

____________

*”The Silence of the Lambs,” “Isang Panayam,” and “Part One: If Dumbo Could Write, He Would Have Written Thus” appear in Edel Garcellano’s essay collection Interventions: Essays (Quezon City: Polytechnic University of the Philippines, 1998). “Letter to Young Poets” (2016) is from The Works of Edel Garcellano, https://theworksofedelgarcellano.wordpress.com

 

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Video Golay Lecture: For Whom Are Southeast Asian Studies?

The 11th Frank H. Golay Memorial Lecture, Cornell University

“For Whom are Southeast Asian Studies?”

Caroline Hau (Kyoto University)

 

 

Video of lecture: https://www.cornell.edu/video/caroline-hau-for-whom-are-southeast-asian-studies

Which audiences, publics, and peoples do Southeast Asianists address and serve? The question of “audience(s)”—real and imagined, intended and unintended—is arguably central to (re)conceptualizing the rationale, scope, efficacy, and limits of Southeast Asian Studies.  It has an important bearing on what kind of topics are chosen for study, what and how personal and institutional networks and intellectual exchanges are mobilized, which dialogues and collaborations are initiated, what language(s) one writes in, where one publishes or works, which arenas one intervenes in, and how the region is imagined and realized.  I focus on Jose Rizal’s two novels–Noli me tangere(1887) and El filibusterismo (1891)–and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983, 1991, 2006) and examine the ways in which the issue of audience(s) crucially informed the intellectual projects of the two authors, and how the vicissitudes of production, circulation, translation, and reception shaped the intellectual, political, and artistic trajectories and legacies of these three notable Southeast Asian studies texts. I will also discuss the power of these texts to conjure and call forth unexpected and unintended audiences that have the potential to galvanize Southeast Asian studies while stressing the connected histories that link Southeast Asia to other regions and the world.

Previous Golay lectures were delivered by Barbara and Leonard Andaya, Benedict Anderson, James Scott, Claude Guillot, Aihwa Ong, Anthony Milner, Jomo K.S. Sundaram, Ruth McVey, Craig Reynolds, and Erik Thorbecke.

Caroline S. Hau is Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan. Born in Manila, she was educated at the University of the Philippines and Cornell University. She is the author and (co-)editor of more than thirteen books, including Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946-1980The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines; (with Kasian Tejapira) Traveling Nation-Makers: Transnational Flows and Movements in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia; and Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture.  She has published a novel, Tiempo Muerto, and two volumes of short fiction, Recuerdos de Patay and Other Stories and Demigods and Monsters: Stories.

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Opening Lines of 50 Filipino Novels

 

Aguilar, Faustino. Pinaglahuan (1907)

Bayan ang tumawag at bayan ang dumalo.

 

Alfar, Dean Francis. Salamanca (2006)

Seven years after the complete destruction of Manilaville in Louisiana, the dissolute author Gaudencio Rivera decided to settle the matter of his prodigious sexuality and beget a child.

 

Bautista, Lualhati. Bata, Bata…Pa’no Ka Ginawa? (1991)

At sa wakas, tumugtog ang graduation march at nagmartsa ang mga batang magsisipagtapos.

 

Bulosan, Carlos. America is in the Heart (1943)

I was the first to see him coming slowly through the tall grass in the dry bottom of the river.

 

Bulosan, Carlos. The Cry and the Dedication (1995)

Now long shadows were falling upon the hushed silence of the great forest.

 

Castillo, Erwin E. The Firewalkers (1992)

Once upon a time, in the year of 19 hundred and 13, there lived in the town of Lakambaga, the province of Cavite, a man named Gabriel Diego who was sergeant of the police.

 

Cleto, Luna Sicat. Makinilyang Altar (2002)

Dadamputin ko na sana ang librong nakapatong sa pasamano nang mapansin kong dumapo ang maraming tarat sa punong sampalok sa bakuran.

 

Coson, Mara. Aliasing (2018)

A volcano is about to explode, but perhaps if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen.

 

Cruz, Andres Cristobal. Ang Tundo Man ay Langit Din (1986)

Lalabas na sana si Victor del Mundo sa silid na kulong ng salamin nang kumiriring ang telepono sa kanyang mesa.

 

De Guzman-Lingat, Rosario. Ano Ngayon, Ricky? (1971)

Nakita mo na ang Maynila?

 

De los Reyes, Isabelo. Ang Singsing nang Dalagang Marmol (1912)

Matapus ang kasindaksindak na labanang nangyari sa mga tagalog at americano sa Kingwa, lalawigan ng Bulakan, ng ika 23 ng Abril ng 1899, na siyang ikinapatay kay Coronel Stotsenburg, sa Capitan at iba pang mga kawal americano, kaming mga tagalog naman ay nagsiurong sa Sibul, at sa isang bahay-gamutan ng aming mga kawal ay natagpuan ko ang isang matapang na pinunong tagalog na bahagya nang makagalaw at makapagsalita dahil sa marami niyang sugat.

 

Derain, Allan. Ang Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag (2013)

O Dakilang Manunubos na isinugo ng Dios Ama buhat sa Kinabuhayan na siyang unang langit.

 

Diaz, Glenn. The Quiet Ones (2017)

The airport’s impersonal contours and antiseptic light discouraged strength of feelings, but the regret in Alvin’s chest brooded, a petulant child.

 

Firmeza, Ruth. Gera (1991)

May dalang balita ang LO, ang pinunong pangkomunikasyon: Kaalis ng napakaraming sundalo, galit dahil walang natagpuang NPA sa baryo.

 

Francisco, Lazaro. Maganda pa ang Daigdig (1955)

Natatalisod ng tao kung minsan sa landas ng buhay ang isa o dalawa o ilan mang pangyayaring nauukit nang malalim sa gunita at di nalilimot.

 

Galang, Zoilo M. A Child of Sorrow (1924)

Lucio had just received his sheep-skin diploma from the provincial high school, and had laid his book on the dust-covered shelf.

 

Gonzalez, N.V.M. A Season of Grace (1956)

It is in the hills beyond the sitio of Bondoc where the Alag begins.

 

Groyon, Vicente Garcia. The Sky Over Dimas (2003)

The fact is: George Torrecarion went crazy.

 

Guillermo, Ramon. Ang Makina ni Mang Turing (2013)

Mula sa kinatatayuan natin ngayon, kinamamanghaan natin ang kamangmangan ng mga pangunahing panauhing pangkasaysayan tungkol sa kanilang sariling daigdig at panahon.

 

Jalandoni, Magdalena. Lucia (1919)

Sa isa ca malinong nga hilit nga mahamtang sa isa ca bahin sining matahum nga cadatuan sang Iloilo, may isa ca masangcad nga baybayon; baybayon nga ang iya masadia nga hunasan napunihan sang mga matin-ao nga paquinhason nga naga silac sa tunga sang iya malum-oc nga cabalasan nga sa guihapon guina hadcan sang iya maazul nga ilog.

 

Javellana, Stevan. Without Seeing the Dawn (1947)

He was only eighteen years old but already he was tall, as wide as a house, and he had big strong arms like those of the town blacksmith.

 

Joaquin, Nick. The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961)

When she told him she had two navels, he believed her at once: she seemed so urgently, so desperately serious—and besides, what would be the point of telling a lie like that, he asked himself, while she asked him if he could help her, if he could arrange “something surgical”—an operation.

 

Joaquin, Nick. Cave and Shadows (1983)

The vision–a crab on a string being walked by a naked girl–occurred in deep hotel-corridor twilight and moreover  when he, Jack Henson, was feeling himself in a swoon.

 

Jose, F. Sionil. The Pretenders (1962)

On the night her husband left her, Mrs. Antonio Samson could not sleep.

 

Hernandez, Amado V. Mga Ibong Mandaragit (1969)

Nangalahati na ang 1944.

 

Laya, Juan C. His Native Soil (1972)

Martin knew what it was to come back to these seven thousand islands and find a place to live in among sixteen million people.

 

Lee, Ricardo. Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata (2011)

Sa labas, habang ang mga kababayan ko ay hindi pa nakaka-recover sa sunod-sunod na bagyong pinasimulan ng Ondoy, ako, sa loob ng High Notes sa kanto ng Timog at Morato, ay naka-split sa stage, ini-impersonate si Beyoncé, kinakanta ang If I Were a Boy, theme song ng mga tomboy.

 

Melvin, Reine Arcache. The Betrayed (2018)

In their exile they knew that nothing could last, yet the family tried to feel at home in the new country.

 

Mendoza, A.A. III. Aklat ng mga Naiwan (2018)

Walang nagsusulat upang magpasupil.

 

Nolledo, Wilfrido D. But for the Lovers  (1970)

He was beginning to eat flowers and the crescent moon was in his eyes when he awoke again.

 

Ong, Charlson. An Embarrassment of Riches (2000)

Oh! But for the waste, the awful waste!

 

Perez, Tony. Si Crispin (2012)

Madilim ang gabi.

 

Polotan, Kerima. The Hand of the Enemy (1962)

On Wednesdays, Emma Gorrez knew that as soon as she entered the shop, Isabelo, the cajista, would pull himself up from his shelf of types and look at her with his small bloodshot eyes, parting his lips in a dreary smile.

 

Posadas, Mano de Verdades. Hulagpos (1980)

Pilipinas, 1974.

 

Regalado, Iñigo Ed. Madaling-Araw (1909)

Puno ng tao ang Luneta.

 

Reyes, Edgardo M. Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1986)

Sa simula, siya’y isang kalansay na nakatalalan sa hangin.

 

Reyes, Jun Cruz. Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe (1987)

Hindi ako makaraan doon nang hindi mapapahinto at mag-iisip.

 

Rizal, Jose. Noli me tángere (1887)

A fines de Octubre, don Santiago de los Santos, conocido popularmente bajo del nombre de Capitan Tiago, daba una cena que, sin embargo de haberlo anunciado aquella tarde tan solo contra son costumbre, era ya el tema de todos las conversaciones en Binondo, en otros arrabales y hasta en Intramuros.

 

Rizal, Jose. El filibusterismo (1891)

En una mañana de Diciembre, el vapor TABO subía trabajosamente el tortuoso del Pasig conduciendo numerosos pasageros hácia la provincial de la Laguna.

 

Rizal, Jose. Makamisa (c. 1891-1892)

Tumigil ang tugtugan at natapos ang misa ni Pari Agaton.

 

Rosca, Ninotchka. Twice Blessed (1992)

The formal ball usually begins with the rigodón de honor, a quadrille by seven couples, six along the hall’s length and one in the middle, underneath a ball of mirrors spinning in its axis, piercing space with the pink, blue, yellow and purple of reflected light, reflected images, its harsh brilliance an insubstantial waterfall spilling upon the dancing pairs, all drawn from high society, provided of course there are enough who can dance without tripping on their feet or causing the help to titter under their breath, otherwise dancers will have to be pulled in from the Women’s School, where they train future society-page ladies and discreet prostitutes.

 

Santos, Bienvenido. The Praying Man (1982)

The President of the Philippines arrived late as usual.

 

Santos, Lope K. Banaag at Sikat (1906)

–Kailanman pong nagpakarami-rami ang taong umahon dito ay di gaya ngayon–anang isang taga-Antipulo sa ilang taga-Maynilang nanunuluyan sa kanyang bahay.

 

Sitoy, Lakambini. Sweet Haven (2015)

You see I didn’t love you.

 

Syjuco, Miguel. Ilustrado (2010)

When the author’s life of literature and exile reached its unscheduled terminus that anonymous February morning, he was close to completing the controversial book we’d all been waiting for.

 

Tuvera, Katrina. The Jupiter Effect (2006)

Gaby, the only Contreras daughter, was a difficult child to conceive.

 

Ty-Casper, Linda. The Peninsulars (1964)

In the early morning sun, the Mexican creoles standing guard on the forty-foot limestone walls appeared like bleached shadows.

 

Ty-Casper, Linda. Dread Empire (1980)

Past nine the night of Friday, September 21, Don Paco—having finished a large supper that began and ended with soup—turns on the porch radio for news from Manila.

 

Yabes, Criselda. Broken Islands (2019)

In my childhood I counted nine bridges.

 

Yuson, Alfred. Voyeurs and Savages (1998)

It was the farthest Chief Antonio had ever thrown his spear.

 

 

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Q&A on “Tiempo Muerto”

Q&A with ABS-CBN News Channel’s Jam Pascual about Tiempo Muerto.

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Tiempo Muerto: An Excerpt

Town & Country (Philippines) features an excerpt from my novel, Tiempo Muerto.

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Featuring “Tiempo Muerto: A Novel”

An article by Spot.ph‘s Mia Rodriguez about Tiempo Muerto, just out from Ateneo de Manila University Press’ Bughaw Imprint.

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Tiempo Muerto: A Novel

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On Filipino Food

palabok.jpgIn 2011, Ligaya Mishan, in her review of the Filipino restaurant Maharlika, wondered if Filipino food might finally be having its moment. In 2012, Andrew Zimmern predicted that Filipino food is the next big thing in America. In 2016, in another review, Mishan again says that Filipino food might have reached a tipping point in popularity.

Maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. I’ve been hearing a version of this since the early aughts. There are certainly many more Filipino restaurants in New York these days, trendy ones worlds away from the old Elvie’s Turo-Turo. And if Filipino food has indeed reached a certain level of popularity, it’s probably because of the heroic efforts of Ligaya Mishan herself. Mishan, a restaurant critic and contributing editor at the New York Times, is Fil-Am, and uses her position, energy, and talents to promote Filipino cuisine.

Last year, Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad, owner and chef of thriving Filipino restaurants in New York, came out with the cookbook entitled I Am a Filipino and This Is How We Cook. The title is somewhat unsettling, with the drama of its declaration, the confusing pronouns, and the inconvenient fact that Trinidad is Dominican and not Filipino.

But it’s also ballsy and quite brilliant. Ponseca used to be an ad executive and obviously understands marketing. In an America that’s struggling to be woke, the book has been noted and celebrated. It’s in Sam Sifton’s list of 2018’s best fall cookbooks, in the New York Time’s list of 2018’s best fall cookbooks, featured on Saveur, and one of the sixteen books of the year featured on Food52’s Tournament of Cookbooks.

And the cookbook deserves the acclaim. It’s comprehensive, knowledgeable, and accessible. Ponseca’s love for the cuisine and the culture is clear and quite moving. I have to admit that I haven’t had great experiences in her restaurants. I’ve mentioned in another blog post here how the kare-kare and sisig in Maharlika, while delicious, tipped into being cloying, and how a carelessly served cold tinola in Jeepney made me sad.

And the first time we went to Maharlika, we were made to wait and then not given a table after waiting. The restaurant had just opened a few months before, it was lunchtime on a Sunday, and the place was packed. We didn’t have a reservation and we didn’t think we could get seated, but we were in the area anyway so we went. The hostess told us she might be able to seat us if we were willing to wait for twenty minutes. For some reason, she made the assumption that the group of people with a reservation wasn’t coming. Or maybe she wanted to make sure that, in the slim chance that the group didn’t arrive, the table would be occupied. She was in her twenties, with glowing dewy skin, a spiky crewcut, multiple earrings, a flannel shirt under her apron, a swaggering confidence. In my mind, she looked like a film student from nearby NYU and was supercool, incredibly pretty, a Filipino-American obviously, an Asian-American, a New Yorker.

We waited, got hungry, and didn’t get seated. It would be a couple of years before we had the opportunity or inclination to visit Maharlika. By that time, the excitement about the restaurant had subsided and it was easy to get a table. A few months after, we went and ate at Jeepney, its sister restaurant, one billed as more casual.

Who is a Filipino? What does it mean to be a Filipino? The young gorgeous Fil-Am at the restaurant is a Filipino. The beauty queens on the walls of the restaurants are Filipinos. Jose Rizal, his iconic image shown in the restaurant, is a Filipino. In photograph after photograph in the cookbook, Filipinos are in marketplaces, kitchens, fishing boats, food stalls, and carinderias. Filipinos are cooking, eating, and smiling. And the Philippines is a verdant country with abundant fish, meat, and all kinds of produce. It has urban spaces with tangled electric wires, churches and Catholic saints and jeepneys, mildewed walls in markets that are strangely haunting and photogenic.

I like the cookbook but the narrative it offers is obviously simplistic. One can even argue that it’s problematic, with its strange epigraph from Carlos P. Romulo, its tired tropes of smiling Pinoys and colorful jeepneys, and the overarching importance invested in the idea of some kind of American recognition of the wonderfulness of Filipino food. I mean, we love our food. Isn’t this enough? Why do we need Americans’ approval of our food? Why does Filipino food have to be, as Ponseca says, “universally regarded as one of the world’s classic cuisines”? What does that even mean? And does it only become valuable if this universal recognition is attained? These are complex questions and I truly don’t know the answers. Or perhaps the answer requires a book. (Or perhaps a longer essay, this time from Carol.)

Ponseca herself calls her book a manifesto, not just a cookbook. It works brilliantly as a cookbook—I’m so inspired to cook old favorites like kare-kare and pancit palabok. I was introduced to dishes like sinanglay na isda and manok sa tsokolate. Last week, I cooked tortang talong. Every time I open the book, I long to go back home and feast on batchoy and burong mustasa and sinigang. I’m delighted that there’s even a recipe for burong mustasa, a dish that, in my hometown, was traditionally bought from a street peddler who, legend has it, sent his four children to college from his burong mustasa revenues. But that’s another story.

One shouldn’t really ask for more from a book, and I don’t. I applaud Ponseca’s entrepreneurship and championing of Filipino food. I want to drive to DC and check out Bad Saint. I love Mishan’s columns and have gone to other Filipino restaurants she has recommended. My husband and I have been disappointed by most of them, however, and our hearts continue to belong to Ihawan in Woodside.

Maybe I should write about that next time.

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