This new chapbook proves that writings by farmers and peasants are overdue

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Gantala Press’ collaboration with British publisher Tilted Axis Press is translating Filipina stories for a wider audience. Cover photo from TILTED AXIS PRESS

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Published by feminist press Gantala, the digital zine “Kumusta Kayo? Naratibo ng Kababaihang Magbubukid Ngayong Pandemya” documents the experiences of peasant and rural women. But it is long overdue, says Gantala Press founder and poet Faye Cura.

Because most presses were historically in Manila and geared towards bookstore circulation and sales, indigenous women and peasant women are hardly given a platform to disseminate their thoughts. “We know of a farmer who writes poems in her little notebook while waiting for people to buy vegetables in her stall,” she says. In contrast, Gantala actively seeks out these works by women, including those who don’t necessarily identify as artists or writers.

Founded in 2015 by an all-women team, Gantala Press always set out to publish poetry and fiction by women as well. But when one of the contributors to their first anthology, a Meranaw woman, was affected by the Marawi Siege, Gantala Press made the conscious choice to call themselves a feminist press. By doing so, they bring to light how publishing itself can become a radical political act.

Since launching its first book in 2017, Gantala Press hopes to continue the work of the women who came before them, “such as Lilia Quindoza-Santiago who collected the canonic book of Filipina women’s poetry; Women in Media Now, and the journalists who worked underground during Martial Law.” Cura also points out that Kalayaan (Katipunan ng Kababaihan Para Sa Kalayaan) and Kilusan ng Kababaihang Pilipina (Pilipina) were among the first collectives to call themselves feminist in the 1980s, and produced anthologies of women’s works.

“It was at this point that activist women, or women in opposition to the Marcos government, began to organize as women. Their aims were primarily to mobilize women as a gendered force and to politicize them against the regime,” writes the historian Mina Roces in “Women, Power, and Kinship Politics: Female Power in Post-War Philippines.”

“We are proud of the representation contained in 'Pa-Liwanag' because the works are not only literary; they talk about the actual lives, struggles, and aspirations of ordinary women.”

Today, the gendered issues during the Marcos regime — the violation of women’s reproductive rights, as well as issues on gender violence and fair access to employment —remain, and Cura observes that more young women or women’s groups seem to be braver now to call themselves feminist. “Perhaps, this phenomenon also coincides with the rise of Duterte’s administration,” she said, citing policies such as the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the killing of peasants and advocates in the countryside.

Another one of the feminist press’ publications in the time of COVID-19, “Pa-Liwanag,” is a chapbook that is part of a series crowdfunded by the nonprofit British publisher Tilted Axis Press, which has published works by Yu Miri, Duanwad Pimana, and Prabda Yoon. “Pa-Liwanag” is a collection of prose and poetry gathered from a wide range of voices and translated into English to open it up to an international audience.

Gantala Press made sure to cast the net wide. When the initial call for submissions for the chapbook yielded mostly works by writers with internet access, Gantala saw the need to balance that out with works by peasant women, union organizers, women farmers, and women migrant workers.

“We are proud of the representation contained in 'Pa-Liwanag' because the works are not only literary; they talk about the actual lives, struggles, and aspirations of ordinary women,” Cura said in an interview with Tilted Axis Press. Some of the contributors include the poet Estrelita “Ka Inday” Bagasbas, chairwoman of Kadamay-San Roque, an alliance of residents, who, in June, was blamed by the president for the arrest of Sitio San Roque residents following a spontaneous protest in April. Another contributor is Melinda Babaran, a poet working as a factory worker in Taiwan who is also the winner of the Jury Award at the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants for “Latay sa Laman,” an article that talks about her relationship with her father who couldn’t accept her being a lesbian.

Related: In Taiwan, a Filipino factory worker wins prestigious literary award

The works in “Pa-Liwanag” — which is under Tilted Axis Press’ Translating Feminisms 2 series, featuring “chapbooks by women and nonbinary writers from Indonesia and the Philippines — cover themes of love and sexuality, motherhood and the body. A poem by the indigenous people’s rights advocate Roda Tajon (and translated by the poet Kristine Ong-Muslim) entitled “Mend” talks about the mundane, touching on women’s everyday struggles and the burdens they carry: When once my husband came home / with a rip in his pants / I shook my head in frustration, muttering: / this man is so sloppy!

Each piece in the chapbook had different author-translator teams. Cura herself translated a few pieces, first asking permission from the authors (“a woman farmer, a union organizer, and two migrant workers”). Most of the pieces were translated by the authors themselves. At the moment, Gantala Press is working on three new books centering women’s health pioneers, former comfort women, and poetry by Marites Nicart, a farmer from Cavite.

“Our work as a feminist press would not have the same impact that it seems to have had we not started to educate ourselves on and joined the national democratic movement against imperialism, bureaucrat-capitalism, and feudalism,” said Cura. “This is the longer, larger struggle that we all have to be part of.”


The chapbook can be purchased here through Tilted Axis Press. Gantala Press will be publishing a local edition early next year. Visit their website for updates.