Filipina/o literary groups in the early 20th century U.S.

I’ll be giving a talk on pre-WWII Filipino newspapers published in central CA at the 2016 John Steinbeck Festival in the National Steinbeck Center, on May 6, in Salinas. Among other things, I’m thinking about the “Juan Steinbeck Poetry Society” formed by a group of Filipina/o writers associated with the Philippines Mail newspaper in the 1930s. Not to let Steinbeck steal all the fire, I’m also thinking of the other literary and discussion groups mentioned (usually briefly) in Filipino newspapers, and Filipina/o and AsianAm writing groups of the past (thinking of BAPAW in the SF Bay Area, which I joined in the 1980s) and groups and workshops flourishing nowadays. Collectively, what did these groups do to promote literary and writerly aspirations before the internet? Read this passage in an article by Elizabeth McHenry, “Forgotten Readers: African-American Literary Societies and the American Scene” (pub. in Print Culture in a Diverse America, ed. James P. Danky & Wayne A. Wiegand):

“But what of those African Americans who, as early as 1830, chose to write and read in groups in the hope that these activities might help to enlighten others? What of those individuals who used their literary reading to promote discussion and inspire their own writing? We are hardly aware that such a group existed—in part because, in the words of Bayard Rustin, a ‘sentimental notion of black solidarity’ has perpetuated the fiction that, especially before emancipation, black culture consisted of an illiterate mass undistinguished by differences of experience, privilege, or class. Only persistent scholarship has exposed the ‘significant and illuminating distinctions in background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture’ that have always composed African-American communities'”(151).

While the article addresses an issue about the perception of African Americans, one can similarly apply it to Filipino writers, their reading/writing groups, and periodicals in the early 20th century. So, where’s the research? I’d like to see “persistent scholarship” directed to the study of Filpina/o American periodicals–whether formally associated with academia or not–for the love of it, because we see ourselves as part of a commons, and because we care.

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