When people think about culture, the first things that come to mind are food, dress, language, and locality. Some might be able to go further and talk about values, cinema, books, and customs. There may be a couple of people out there who are aware that culture is a complex and ever-evolving thing.
Now, as we celebrate the National Arts Month in the Philippines, I think that I would like to reflect on the practice of culture in the country.
The first conflict that I find is the fact that cultural work is not as valued as other types of work in society. Truth be told, I am lucky to grow up in a family who valued agency and freedom, with the stipulation that I should face whatever consequences it entailed, of course. Yes, I will go on and add one of the most classic Filipino plot points: My family used to live in a squatters’ area, and everyone of us had to work hard to be able to reach whatever economic status we possess today.
Still, when I talk about cultural work to people around me, I get expressions of disbelief, shock, indifference, surprise, or amazement (this last item is a positive one, though it still comes as a rather pleasant type of surprise): This is not a shocking reality when even the education system puts culture on the sidelines, treating it as a very minor subject. My wife knows very well the hardships and doubts I had to face back when I began focusing on writing and learning about the craft, both in the Filipino and technical sense.
I am pretty sure that many of us Filipinos who choose to write, create, produce, or compose their works face similar or worse challenges. I am also sure that many of us have heard this oft-repeated phrase: May kikitain ka ba sa pagsusulat/pagdodrowing/paglikha? (Will you be able to earn a livelihood through writing/drawing/creating [art]?)
The truth is that the practice of culture, cultural work, and its peripheries have still so much ground to cover, especially in comparison to countries elsewhere in the world (and even in Southeast Asia). It is not possible, in my case, to sustain myself with only earnings from my writing; I need to have a professional writing and/or consultancy job to be able to both support my family and continue pursuing the art of writing.
However, there are many, many, many encouraging signs at the same time. There are more opportunities for Filipinos to show their art, whether it is visual, written, or something else. The doors have been opened both institutionally and internationally; there are even more chances now to get published not just in the Philippines, but in Southeast Asia and beyond!
From competitions and writing challenges to calls for anthologies and manuscripts; from art grants and performance subsidies to translation and localization programs, the opportunities are beginning to grow. It is even possible to write the hyperlocal as more LGUs and local universities set up their programs and workshops beyond the usual ones! Most importantly, it is now proven that it is possible to be a participant in the cultural scene even if you do not come from somewhere like Manila.
On the side of the general public, more and more people have started to go to art installations, plays, exhibits, and book launches. I do not know if it is just me, but even things like self-publishing and little gatherings get more audiences than expected!
Personally, I am happy to keep writing, not just for myself, not just for my readers, but to show everyone that there is indeed a bright future in Filipino cultural work.
Especially in these times when we all forget the value of human dignity, it is more important than ever to keep creating.
Let’s be corny for once and say this: Likha at dangal ng Pilipino, para sa sining, para sa bayan!
PS: Read this guide here to find a place to publish your work in the Philippines! It might prove useful for you!