This is a guest post by Joshua Kueh, Southeast Asian Reference Librarian at the Asian Division of the Library of Congress.
On Saturday, December 3, 2022, the Library of Congress will host an evening with 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Maria Ressa. A journalist with extensive experience in Asia, Maria Ressa is acclaimed for holding power to account and championing freedom of expression. Her principled stance and reporting have garnered multiple awards such as the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the Golden Pen of Freedom Award, and the Knight International Journalism Award. Her determination to tell the truth—to hold the line—has also made her a target of autocrats.
In her most recent book, “How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future,” Ressa recounts the consequences of this battle with authoritarianism by looking at the weaponization of the law to suppress Rappler, a digital-only news site based in the Philippines that she co-founded. She also traces the role of social media in spreading disinformation, fear, and strife, creating the conditions that have seen the rise of fascism and undemocratic rule around the world. Drawing on lessons learned from her personal and professional life, Ressa answers the implicit question in the book’s title, providing an approach to confronting the erosion of democratic values. To gain further insight into the book and Maria Ressa’s perspective, consider attending the December 3 event, which will feature a conversation between the author and the Library’s Chief Communications Officer, Roswell Encina. Free registration is available on the Library’s Events site. Please note that the event has been moved to room LJ-119.
In conjunction with the event, there will be a display in Room LJ-113 located the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building. The display, which will be open to the public on the day of the event from 4:30-6:00 pm, will highlight various Library items connected to historic Philippine newspapers, “seditious” Filipino playwrights, freedom of the press, photos of the 1986 People Power protests, and Filipino American publications from the Asian American and Pacific Islander Collection. These items give visitors a glimpse of the Library’s holdings on topics related to the press in the Philippines and the role of Filipino and Filipino American writers in shining a light on injustice in society.
A particularly valuable resource at the Library for exploring how Filipino journalists dared to imagine a freer society in the face of oppression is the Library’s collection of historic Philippine newspapers. Nationalist periodicals of the late 1800s drew attention to oppressive conditions of the Spanish colonial system and later the occupation by the United States. The Library holds several of these publications—originals in some cases and reproductions in others. An example is Filipinas Ante Europa, pictured below. The Library holds a rare first edition original copy of this newspaper, which was edited by Isabelo de los Reyes, a pioneering Filipino folklorist, lawmaker, co-founder of an independent church with Filipino leadership called the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and one of the first labor organizers in the Philippines. To learn more about other historic (and contemporary) Philippine newspapers at the Library, please consult the Southeast Asian Serials research guide.
Besides newspapers, Filipino writers asserted their independence in theatrical works. Playwrights penned what colonial authorities saw as “seditious” dramas that questioned the injustices of the colonial order and advocated for freedom within a national framework.
One of the most famous “seditious” dramas was Aurelio Tolentino’s “Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas” or “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” During the performance of this play at the Libertad Theater in Manila in 1903, Americans in attendance were reported to have stormed the stage when the heroine threw the American flag to the ground and raised the standard of the Filipino nationalist Katipunan society. The disturbance made the news in the United States, appearing on the front page of a newspaper in Texas.
Filipino writers have not only made an impact in the Philippines but also here in the United States. Carlos Bulosan (c. 1911-September 11, 1956) was a Filipino American writer, poet, and activist best known for his novel, “America Is in the Heart.” He arrived in Seattle onboard the S.S. President Taft in 1930 and closely aligned himself with the causes of his fellow Filipino immigrants, many of whom worked in agricultural or cannery jobs on a migratory circuit that took them to points up and down the West coast of the United States: California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. As editor for Local 37’s 1952 Yearbook for the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), Bulosan drew attention to how the union’s Filipino American officers were threatened with deportation for their union activities during the years of McCarthyism. In his other publications such as “The Power of the People,” Bulosan linked Filipino experiences both in the Philippines and America to larger themes of social justice. In an essay accompanying the Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want,” which pictures a scene of a plentiful Thanksgiving table, Bulosan gave voice to the struggles of workers in capitalist democracies. This jarring juxtaposition of abundance and need, featured in the Saturday Evening Post issue of March 6, 1943, captured the attention of an American audience and served as an introduction to Bulosan’s writings. The Library’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Collection counts among its holdings some of Bulosan’s works mentioned, as well as the archives of several Filipino American writers and activists like Sarah Joaquin and Royal F. Morales.
For questions on Philippine and Filipino American resources, please contact Southeast Asian reference staff through the Library’s Ask-a-Librarian service.