I’ll be honest. Back in my elementary and high school years, I used to dread the month of August because it meant a slew of Buwan ng Wika (Language Month) activities. If you’re not from the Philippines and don’t know, every year schools nationwide celebrate our language, history, and culture for the entire month of August. Sometimes it’s condense to a week, depending on the school. It’s pretty much the same every year and in every school: singing and/or dancing to old Filipino songs (I’ve seen so many renditions Pasayawa Ko Day that the lyrics to that Bisaya song are engraved in my mind), poster making, essay writing, spelling bee, et cetera. The activities and contests try to follow the year’s Buwan ng Wika theme but it’s pretty much the same every year.
Because I went to a pretty small private school, there was only one section per year so I couldn’t escape being wrangled into at least one Buwan ng Wika activity no matter how hard I’d try. I had no sense of rhythm so none of the singing/dancing contests were possible for me which left only the more academic activities. And I, a Bisaya girl in a private school that used to penalize any student for speaking in a language other than English, never had a good grasp of the Filipino language, though, supposedly, I’d been learning it every year since 1st grade. It was actually consistently my weakest subject. I’d get better grades in Math than in Filipino and it took me ages to understand the basic idea of algebra.
Buwan ng Wika had only ever given me grief during my childhood, primarily because I just couldn’t seem to get a hang of Filipino. And I can blame my sharp and succinct native tongue for being unable to pronounce the gentle words in my country’s national language but I’d also be lying if I said that I actually tried to improve my grasp of it. In my defense, my old school didn’t exactly try to encourage students to learn the language better. There’d be some rule that students could only speak in Filipino for the month (or week) but nobody bothered to enforce it. Which, honestly, good. It was bad enough that they had to make us kids speak in English all the time but in Filipino? Two languages they expected us kids to be fluent in and they only ever penalized Bisaya, our mother tongue? The audacity!
(And the fact that, for the longest time, Buwan ng Wika only ever focused on celebrating one language, refusing to even acknowledge the other hundred plus languages spoken in the country, reeked of discrimination. Or was at least pretty snobbish.)
Anyway. What I’m saying is that August was never a fun time for me as a student. Even in my first two semesters of college I was required to take a Filipino class and I couldn’t stand them either. But as the years went on and I no longer had to take those classes or was obligated to bother with August’s yearly celebration, I found my grasp on Filipino worsening. It didn’t really bother me at first because I live in Cebu and didn’t have to speak it. But after I graduated college, I realized just how… Western my taste in fiction was. Even when I started to actively read more diversely, I’d feel guilty for not having read as many Filipino-authored books during my many years as a supposed book blogger. And once I sought out more books by Filipino authors, I saw just how many books I had been missing out on because I never really bothered to read books written in Filipino. Bob Ong’s books were my only experience with reading in any sort of Filipino language.
Now that I’m older and – hopefully – wiser, I’ve started actively pursuing Filipino language books. This year I even made it a goal to read at least 10 Filipino books. Unfortunately, the pandemic threw a wrench into my plans since I couldn’t go to any of the local bookstores in my area to find more books. But hope arrived when @yourtitakate announced Wikathon. Exactly what I (and I’m sure a lot of people) needed in this increasingly dystopian world/country.
Twelve-year-old me would flip if she knew that one day she’d actually look forward to anything Buwan ng Wika related. But twelve-year-old me also genuinely believed that J*mes P*tters*n was a good writer so… yeah.
Seriously though, I was so glad when Kate announced this readathon on Twitter. I had been procrastinating reading any of the Filipino books I bought earlier this year so a readathon dedicated to celebrating Filipino authors was just the encouragement I had been looking for.
Not only was the readathon prompts a huge help in choosing the books I’d read for the month, the Wikathon hosts’ bookish content was a major plus. The vlogs, the Filipino author interviews, the bookish discussions on Filipino books – they really warmed my heart and soul. Not only was I motivated to read more, I was inspired to keep on working on my little WIP as well. The Wikathon hosts really made this readathon feel like a celebration.
Here’s a quick link to all the Wikathon hosts and my personal favorite Wikathon content from them.
Gerald the Bookworm’s (ranty) Wikathon vlog
herbookishside’s Wikathon vlog ep.1
Alex on the Block’s Books as Outfits ft. Philippine Traditional Clothes
Seriously, Filipino bookworms were blessed with bookish content last month. I cannot wait for Wikathon 2021.
WIKATHON Mini Book Reviews
As for me, my Wikathon TBR was pretty simple. I chose one book per prompt so I had eight books to finish by the end of August. However, because I am who I am, I only ended up finishing five of the eight I promised but I think that’s a pretty decent accomplishment. I thoroughly enjoyed the spread I made for this readathon though.
Although I only read five books, all of them were, miraculously, five-star reads. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my luck.
Tabi Po, Isyu 1 by Mervin Malonzo
I’ve seen this graphic novel series in bookstores for a couple of years now but never got the chance to pick it up. Even when my friend recommended the series to me when its live-action adaptation was released, I never found the time or opportunity to start reading it.
I actually ordered my copy of Tabi Po a week or two before Wikathon and am I ever glad that I did it. Tabi Po is a book about a recently ‘born’ aswang who looks like a regular boy and explores the world, figuring out who, er, what he actually is. It’s such a gorgeous book that I’d literally just sit there transfixed at the art before me. Every flip of the page is a treat and even the horrifying, bloody scenes are beautiful.
I wish the online shop I got this first volume also had isyu 2 and 3 though. I badly want to know what happens next. You can read the whole thing online (here) but I personally want a physical copy of the story.
Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Closed Door Mystery by Bernalyn Hapin Sastrillo
I read the first book of this middle-grade mystery series last year and it blew me away. The first Detective Boys of Masangkay book was fun, exciting, and extremely well written. It was a kids’ mystery story that was grounded in reality enough that you could imagine yourself in the character’s shoes but bizarre and idealistic enough that you’d enjoy living vicariously through the kids’ whacky adventures.
The second book, Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Closed-Door Mystery is the perfect sequel to such a fantastic first book. The stakes were raised, the tensions were higher, and the case was more mysterious, more dangerous, and more exciting than in the first book. It was a real treat to see the boys tackle the world outside of their familiar Masangkay. Don’t get me started on that Avengers-esque closing credits teaser foreshadowing an even bigger mystery for the DBM to face in the next book. I’m hyped!
Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay
Another middle-grade book only this time it’s in English. This is the first of only two English books I read for Wikathon actually. I bought a copy of Bone Talk online one day when I saw it advertised in social media. I got curious, especially since it’s a historical fiction set in a Bontok community in the early 1900s, during the Philippine-American War. Bone Talk is a fascinating coming-of-age story about a young boy from an indigenous tribe up in the mountains. I liked how respectful and nuanced the story was told. There are so many writers who’d center their stories around a culture they’re not part of (not even tangentially, in some cases) and they’d almost always frame the main character in such an “othering” way that the representation would do more harm than good. Bone Talk, however, feels sincere in its attempt at sharing this interesting and often ignored culture in the Philippines. It doesn’t feel exploitative like in those other cases but rather celebratory. Not encroaching on their space but a respectful exploration of their culture.
What I really appreciated with this book was that the author made it very clearly in her author’s note that she was well aware of the gaps in her knowledge of the Cordillera culture in that specific era. She did plenty of extensive research but, echoing another Filipino historical fiction author, the reports and documents she could find weren’t told by a Filipino, merely “a text within a text, mediated, annotated, and translated by her enemy.”
Si Janus Silang at Ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang by Edgar Calabia Samar
Another sequel! When I read the first Janus Silang book last year, my Filipino reading skills weren’t all that great. And while I still need to look up certain words every so often, I think I’m steadily improving. That and this sequel is so much more fast paced than the first book that I had no choice but to keep up. Seriously, this book upped the ante so much that it made the events of the first book seem almost like a tame fairy tale in compariaon.
My god, this book kept sucker punching me with just how brutal it can be. I should’ve learned better from the first book that the author is fully capable of ripping out my heart when I least expect it but goddamn did that ending leave me speechless. Poor Janus just can’t seem to take a break.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
My last book for Wikathon. Honestly, Patron Saints of Nothing was the perfect book to end this readathon with. I’ve heard so many great things about this book – even my best friend raved about Patron Saints – but somehow I kept putting it off. I think I was a bit hesitant because of the small suspicion at the back of my head that maybe, just maybe, the author wouldn’t deliver on just how terrible the drug war is in the country, especially from an outsider’s perspective.
My worries were laid to rest as early as the first couple of chapters in the book when Jay, the main character, is repeatedly reprimanded by his family not to judge the drug war when he’s literally just heard about it. It’s made clear that this sort of snap judgement, this type of condemnation, from someone far removed from the situation (Fil-Ams) is detrimental. And I wholly appreciated how Jay’s ignorance is treated as a bad thing. In fact, it’s the reason why he sets off to the Philippines in the first place. Clearly, the author did his research and handled the extremely complicated issue with nuance and empathy. I cried so much at the end that it was a struggle to read the pages – not even joking here.
I want to write a whole essay on why this book is a MUST read for Filipinos and diaspora Filipinos alike but I can’t seem to find the words. Luckily, my friend Ysa wrote a great review of this book a while back and I basically agree with everything she said.
I’m genuinely thankful to the people behind Wikathon for creating such a fun and much needed readathon. I do try to read as many Filipino authors and books in Filipino throughout the year but oftentimes with my TBR at such a monstrous scale, it’s all too easy to forget about the local books that I’ve meant to read.
Here’s to Wikathon 2021!