Joi Barrios as guide to learning language and reading stories critically
Poet, educator and activist Joi Barrios is set to launch two books, a poetry collection and a textbook on the Filipino language.
Sa Aking Pagkadestiyero/In My Exile: Mga Tula/Poems, published by the University of the Philippines (UP) Press, is her fourth book of poetry after Bulaklak sa Tubig: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig at Himagsik (2010), Minatamis at Iba Pang Tula ng Pag-ibig (1998) and Ang Pagiging Babae ay Pamumuhay sa Panahon ng Digma (1990). In Sa Aking Pagkadestiyero, the poems in Filipino are accompanied by translations in English.
“In this book, I face my contradictions. As a migrant writer, my readers — the readers I choose to write for — are in my homeland. At the same time, when I read my poems in events in the US, or when I release video poems, my poems need to be translated to reach a larger audience,” explained Barrios, who is currently a lecturer teaching Philippine arts and culture with the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkeley, in California, United States.
She added: “The book is from the point of view of a migrant constantly engaged in what is happening in the Philippines. In the first section, entitled ‘Sa Kapeng Batangas Bacolod/Sagada at ang Kapalit na Sumatra na Iniinom Habang Nagbabasa ng Balita,’ I write in verse my reactions to news items — the slaying of Jennifer Laude (‘Ang Kuwento ng Inodoro/Toilet Story’); typhoons and the discourse on resilience (‘Sumpa ng Kawayan/The Bamboo Curse’), workers’ conditions (‘Sa Bingit ng Panganib/Dangerous Work’) and peasant issues (‘Peste/Pests’).”
In the second section, “Sa Kandilang Sinindihan sa Aking Pagluluksa,” Barrios pays “tribute to those who have passed on: my brother Amos; my mentors, colleagues and friends, professors Ligaya Rubin and Teresita Maceda; actor Dolphy; and theater director Behn Cervantes.”
The poems in “Sa Nakakuwadrong Larawan ng Aking Kabataan Bilang Payaso sa Dulang Panlasangan,” the third section, tackle issues such as red-tagging, fascism, peace talks and heroism, while reflecting of her work as street theater artist in the early 1980s.
Barrios wrote songs for “A Divergent War: Songs for the Pandemic,” a 2021 collaboration of Filipino artists tackling the pandemic and an oppressive political system and using online platforms. It features music by Fabian Obispo and videos by Jaja Arumpac, and is produced by Ma-yi Theater Company in New York. Her five songs are featured in the fourth section of Sa Aking Pagkadestiyero/In My Exile.
On the other hand, Tagalog Stories for Language Learners: Folktales and Short Stories in Filipino and English, published by Tuttle Publishing, is the fifth book in a series of textbooks for Tagalog/Filipino language learners, which includes Tagalog for Beginners (2011), Intermediate Tagalog (2015), Easy Tagalog (with Julia Camagong, 2015) and The Tuttle Concise Tagalog Dictionary (co-edited with Nenita Pambid-Domingo and Romulo Baquiran Jr., 2017), all emphasizing critical pedagogy in language teaching. This latest volume is divided into sections designed for learners at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
“As a teacher of Filipino to ‘heritage learners,’ Filipino-Americans who want to learn the language, I wanted to have reading materials to improve their vocabulary, review their grammar and learn more about Philippine culture, history and contemporary issues,” Barrios said.
“This came about from a specific problem. Usually, when learners are directed to short, short stories, using concrete or simple language, all they have are stories for children. I wanted my students to read stories that were more age-appropriate, interesting for college students and older learners,” she explained.
The textbook not only teaches readers and learners about language but also issues that beset Filipino society, and it examines the stories and forms themselves.
“I wanted to engage with folklore — not to look at them in an exoticizing way, but to interrogate them as well, realizing that what was oral literature is now ‘fixed’ when published in a book. For example, we cannot just read about Malakas and Maganda without looking at its many versions: how it was referenced during the Marcos presidency; how it has been translated into dance pieces looking at gender issues, and even into film,” Barrios said.
She selected stories derived from folklore that contemporary readers can relate to such as “Ang Presidenteng Nagkasungay” (The President Who Had Horns), about political leadership and what we need to look for in a leader; “Mebuyan, ang Diyosang Maraming Suso” (The Goddess with Many Breasts), intended for mothers who have lost a child; and “Kung Bakit Maraming Puno ng Sampalok” (Why There are Many Tamarind Trees), which is about giving and greed and, according to her, “can be given a contemporary reading when we think of the importance of community pantries.”
“I also included ‘classical’ stories re-written so that they can be level-appropriate for learners. One example is the dagli, the forerunner of the modern short story, ‘Napakatungak ko: Ang Kuwento ng Magbubukid at Panginoong Maylupa.’ In this story, the peasant initially looks up to the landlord but when the latter dies, the peasant realizes it was the fruits of his labor that was sustaining the landlord and not the other way around. I also included in this book Deogracias Rosario’s ‘Greta Garbo’ as an example of a story during the American colonial period and my translation of Maria Elena Paterno’s ‘Sampaguita’ to complement the three Sampaguita legends included in the book,” Barrios revealed.
She also included stories that deal with contemporary issues such as “Ang Mga Susi” (The Keys), which is about a domestic worker; “Kerida” (Mistress) and “Suspetsa” (Suspicion)” which are about relationships from a woman’s point of view; and “Ang Wakwak Queen ng Bundok Diwata” (The Wakwak Queen of Mount Diwata), which is based on an article by “Ka Ben” published in Pinoy Weekly on 9 October 2016.
“It celebrates the life of Wendell Gumban, the brave, brilliant and funny LGBTQ+ red fighter, who was as skilled in wedding planning as he was in planning tactical offensives,” she said.
The two books will be launched in a program titled “Nasaan ang Mutya?” at the University Hotel in University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, on 6 August, at 4 p.m.
Hosted by Noel Ferrer and theater actress Stella Canete, program will feature artists reading Barrios’ poems including filmmaker Joel Lamangan, who will read “Ang Kuwento ng Inodoro;” screenwriter Bibeth Orteza, who will read “Sagot ng Puke,” a poem as reply to then President Rodrigo Duterte’s misogynistic remark; actor Shamaine Centenera – Buencamino, who will read “Habilin kay Mebuyan” and “Bunso;” and Bonifacio Ilagan who will read “Isang Tula para kay Ilocula, ang Ilocanong Dracula.”
Rica Saturay Palis will perform new song to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of Martial law, while playwright Rody Vera will perform song inspired by Barrios’s poem. National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario and scholar Nicanor Tiongson will be guests of honor. Other guests include Arman Ferrer, Astarte Abraham, Romulo “Joey” Baquiran, Jr., Carol Araullo, Shirley Lua, Roland Tolentino, Judy Taguiwalo, Bambi Custodio and Chris Millado.
Organized by UP Institute of Creative Writing, “Nasaan ang Mutya?” is in celebration of Buwan ng Wika or National Language Month.
“Filipino writers should write in the language they are most comfortable with, but there is a need to translate works written in English and other Philippine languages into the national language, Filipino,” Barrios said.
She also expounded on the writer’s important roles: “It is also the writer’s task not only to promote and preserve Philippine language and culture but to constantly interrogate it, to look into how aspects of culture, like folk literature, for example, can be used to engage in gender, class and race. For example, we need to study folk songs like “Magtanim ay ‘Di Biro” but at the same time talk about land ownership and land reform and issues faced by peasants and peasant workers. We need to learn stories such as that of the turtle and monkey, but connect that to homelessness, displacement and the urban poor needing public housing.”
“It is my personal opinion that writers should be engaged in whatever way possible in contemporary issues — learning more, writing about these issues or being involved in social justice campaigns. Just talking about my personal experience, I believe in being organized,” Barrios advised.
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