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Philippine Generations and Asia House are joined by Award winning author Miguel Syjuco

Philippine Generations has come a long way in the past year and a half, our recent event at Asia House is testament to that. Asia House is the foremost pan-Asian organisation in the UK, they do great work in raising the profile and cultural exposure for nearly 40 countries from Iran to Japan. On Wednesday 11th March 2009 they held their second night of Philippine culture in 10 years. Once again it was in collaboration with PG, with their first night organised by PG almost a year ago! That night we brought Philippine Cuisine to Asia House, this time we were asked to collaborate on a Philippine Literature event.

The winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Award and 2008 Best Novel in English Palanca Award, was Miguel Syjuco. A Filipino resident in Montreal writing his first novel, was brought to the UK to meet his London audience. Asia House have a tradition of breaking young Asian literary stars and Miguel promises to be just that.

The evening began with a short introduction and run through of the evening from Sumi Ghose, Director of public programmes for Asia House. He invited Miguel and Adrienne Loftus Parkins, Director of the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature, to the stage. Adrienne, who has been one of the fortunate few who have read the unpublished manuscript, asked Miguel a series of questions before opening it up to the floor. Miguel talked about his influences when writing, how much of the book is borrowed from real life and how much is actual fiction (the main character’s name is Miguel Syjuco) and how it was a book he has been writing unknowingly for his entire life! The Book itself acts as a parallel history of the Philippines, from revolutionaries to corrupt politicians.

Some interesting questions were asked, there was one regarding whether there are there any references to the Filipino Muslim community in the Philippines or whether it is just focussed on the Christian history of Philippines? Miguel replied that the context of the book is within Manila and so would not have worked from an Islamic angle, although he is working through an idea of a novel from the perspective of a Filipino Muslim.

Miguel declared that although the title ‘Ilustrado’ implies elitism and arrogance, he wanted to reclaim the term for those who are not necessarily from that environment but those who might be abroad and experienced a different life and way of thinking that they can bring back to the Philippines. He attributed this to the ilustrados who were instrumental in the Philippine revolution against Spain, being educated and travelling in Europe. His new ilustrado could be nurses, maids, students, second generation Filipinos or even prostitutes, as long as they can bring difference and change to the Philippines then they are an ilustrado. Strong words indeed, but the term itself still conjures up uncomfortable and negative class systems. The fact a person can become an ilustrado just by going abroad, I would imagine, would be difficult for many to accept in the Philippines.

Miguel spoke of his guilt at being abroad when there are so many problems in the Philippines. He spoke of thinking he was one of a few that believed in the potential that overseas Filipinos could make a difference in the Philippines. He spoke about his privileged upbringing, that his family are prominent politicians and that he was expected to follow in their footsteps. He also asserted that Writing is a strong political tool in the Philippines that can serve to inspire change, which is what he hopes his book will do. When asked which living Filipino he would like to read it, he jokingly said Manny Pacquiao! But on reflection he replied that the President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should read it.

After Miguel read out an excerpt of the book and answered a few final questions, Philippine Generations was invited to come to the podium and say a few words and thank those present. It was a great opportunity for PG to declare its position, to give a statement of intent, to show that the idea we had in 2007 has now blossomed into something more than just a non profit organisation, it is a movement. In under two years we have now had two Philippine cultural evenings with Asia House when there had been none in the previous ten years! In my speech, I stated that “Philippine Generations promotes the Philippines, its people and its culture NOT because it is lucrative, NOT because it makes us look good, but because we were not satisfied it has been done properly for the past 30 years.” PG received a round of applause twice, once after the speech and once after claiming Miguel as a poster boy for Philippine Generations as his outlook and vision matches what PG aims to do. His expression of the potential that Filipinos abroad have to make a difference is exactly what we have been talking about since our inception.

A drinks reception was provided by the Philippine Embassy and there was a lot of congratulatory pats on the back for Miguel, Asia House and Philippine Generations. Present were the Ambassador and his wife and key Embassy staff, as well as numerous PG members and supporters. Unfortunately there are a couple more drafts to go and the book is scheduled for a full UK launch in early 2010. Rest assured, PG will do its utmost to keep everyone in the loop on when and where a copy can be obtained.The evening was a resounding success and a definite sign of things to come. Make sure you come to our next event!

by Adrian Williams

Pics here!

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