Sunday, March 27, 2011

More than just a library of her own

Sunday Inquirer Magazine/FEATURE/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure, Books, Travel & Commuting, Women

“A ROOM of her own” is what it used to be. But why stop there? Why indeed, when she could have an entire home to herself. A library, gallery and archive all hers.
The Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww) is proudly the first of its kind in the Philippines and in this part of the world. It is not merely a place to marvel at and feel good in, simply because it is there. It is, in fact, a treasure trove that functions and serves this universe of diverse, sentient beings, half of whom are women.
Aliww has not been wanting in attention during the last 16 years of its existence. A lot has been written about it, about the women who presided at its birthing and the women whose works have found room in it. Much has been said about its conception and reason for being. When at last Aliww came to be, there was no turning back. Like any work in progress, Aliww continues to grow and evolve into something worthy of celebration.
The latest? Aliww recently moved to a much bigger “room of her own,” the ground floor of the Rizal Library where the university art gallery used to be. It is inside the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. For Women’s Month this March, the women behind Aliww, executive director Rica Bolipata-Santos among them, made sure something extra special would be going on – the must-see exhibit of paintings (“Foretelling”) by noted artist Brenda Fajardo.

The metaphorical “room of her own” may have sounded like wishful thinking then, but in the case of Aliww, it is a wish come true. As Dr. Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, board member, who co-founded Aliww with Dr. Soledad Reyes, does not tire repeating: “Without documents, no history exists.”

What a pity then if women are nowhere in history simply because what they had written or what had been written about them were allowed to crumble and be blown away like dust.

Manlapaz happily adds that since Aliww is an equal-opportunity institution, the present chair of the board is a man, Leo Garcia.

“I would like to see Aliww become something like the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America [at Harvard University],” Manlapaz muses.

“Procure, preserve, promote” writings by, and about, Filipino women. These three P’s sum up Aliww’s mandate, which has led to the creation of archival “rooms” for women where print items are preserved – items that “allow entry into the world of a woman who has distinguished herself in a particular field.” By providing researchers with access to such primary sources, Aliww facilitates the writing of a national history that includes and acknowledges the contribution of Filipino women.

But Aliww is not the exclusive domain of the distinguished and accomplished born-with-the-pen types. Out there in the hills yonder might exist recorded tales written in ancient scripts by, and about, women which might be in danger of getting buried in mudslide. Seize them gently.

Aliww considers women as “instinctive archivists, guardians of memorabilia, assiduous note-takers and journal-writers” for their families and clans. Sadly, their efforts are often lost to time, pests and neglect. Now, with the use of science and technology, Aliww is able to preserve priceless documents, memorabilia, photos, films, and videos through microfilming, digitization and acid- and pest treatment (for print). These are stored in rooms where temperature, humidity and ventilation are controlled. The women and their works are cited in “Pamana,” Aliww’s monographs published occasionally.

But just as important is making all these (copies of the original) available to the public for viewing, reading and research purposes. Adjacent to the archives is a room that contains published works by women. When SIM visited, the research room was full of researchers going over digitized publications. Two Ateneo students were going over back issues of the Inquirer in CDs. The subject of their research: oversupply of Filipino nurses (who, incidentally, are mostly women).

Famous names in Aliww’s archives have been mentioned often and repeatedly (see sidebar). The number has grown and the names are now too many too mention. For a change, here are photographs. That should be reason enough for you to walk through Aliww’s rooms, nooks and spaces.

There is such a place. Go, see and believe. •

AMONG Aliww’s prized collections are: the handwritten journals of Paz Marquez Benitez (1894-1983) which contain her notes on “Dead Stars,” the first modern short story written in English by a Filipino; two notebooks bequeathed by Angela Manalang Gloria (1907-1995), containing a handwritten draft of “Revolt from Hymen,” the poem that stirred up controversy at the 1940 Commonwealth Literary Contest; marginal notes by Lina Flor (1914-1976) on typescripts of “Gulong ng Palad,” the most successful daytime serial in the history of Philippine radio; the original program of “Filipinescas,” the 1961 landmark dance epic conceptualized and choreographed by Leonor Orosa-Goquinco (b. 1917); a scrapbook containing love poems by Liwayway’s “star writer” Rosario de Guzman Lingat (1924-1994); illustrated booklets on preventive healthcare by Mita Pardo de Tavera (b. 1929), veteran advocate of community-based healthcare; a poster and playbill of “Juan Tamban,” by playwright Marilou Jacob (b. 1948).