Patterns by Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela: An Analysis

“Patterns” by Elsa Victoria Martinez-Coscolluela chronicles the vicious cycle of compelled marriages suffered by three generations of women of the haciendado Vasquez-Diaz household, focusing mainly on Isabel Vasquez-Diaz, who suffers what her mother Juana once suffered and sees her own daughter Isabelita going through the same suffering.

Isabel Vasquez, one of the most eligible bachelorettes among the landed gentry in the city of Tanjay, was being touted to be the wife of the most eligible bachelor, Jose Luis Diaz. But she was secretly in love with Filemon Castro, a young lawyer from a respectable Iloilo family but who nevertheless had to suffer the fact that he was an Indio, or that he had Filipino blood. Isabel’s father, Don Miguel Vasquez, did not approve of Filemon because of this but was partial to giving his daughter’s hand to Jose Luis. When Jose Luis, impetuous and arrogant as he was, demanded Isabel to marry him, Isabel drove him away, inadvertently disclosing her secret love affair with the more agreeable Filemon. Don Miguel, hearing from Jose Luis, was furious at this revelation. His wife Juana brought up the past: she too was forced upon him at the price of a love affair with an Indio. Although still determined, Miguel felt defeated to some degree, and he offered Isabel the option of going with Filemon at the risk of being disowned. Isabel, filial by nature, obeyed her father and left Filemon to marry Jose Luis. The story begins and ends with her trying to comfort her daughter Isabelita, who herself is being compelled by Don Jose Luis to marry a man she (Isabelita) does not love.

The story’s discussion of the “pattern” of compelled marriage is told against the backdrop of deep issues in contemporary Filipino culture: the sometimes oppressive relationship between parent and children especially with regards to choice in marriage; the relationship between the colonial elite and the native middle and lower classes; and the role of women in society.

Foremost in the issues the story discusses is the at times oppressive control of parents over their children. The story demonstrates how, in Filipino culture children must show deference and absolute obedience to their parents. This sees highest expression in the story with the daughters’ obedience to their fathers’ will to marry men they do not love. But to a higher extent the story also shows how children in Filipino culture ultimately owe their identity to their parents, and disobedience is almost tantamount to a violation of natural law: Isabel chooses to give up her will to be with Filemon when threatened to be disowned by her father (we can rule out fear of monetary instability, as Filemon is a lawyer and has a stable income). The Filipino then is first and foremost an offspring to her parents before she is anything. And this ultimately means parents have a say – often the final say – on the most important decisions in children’s lives. While cases of parents deciding the marriage of their children have decreased in recent years (although the practice still occurs), important decisions such as academic and career choice are still at times entirely decided on by parents. Giving up lovers may be rare these days, but many young people still have to give up their field of interest to obey their parents. As such, the “pattern” in this dimension still continues to this day.

The story is also told in the context of Colonial and socially stratified Philippines. Filemon is derogatorily labeled as an Indio, a Filipino of native blood. This discrimination against the natives is the more negative manifestation of Colonial mentality, a mentality which, while matrimonial restrictions are now almost inexistent, still pervade in the Filipino chagrin for dark skin (the distinction of being native). This endo-racism (for that is what it is, discrimination against someone of the same race) occurs vis-à-vis a highly stratified society. The pre-colonial stratification of the ruling, middle and enslaved classes was retained to some extent by the coming of the Spanish, who granted land to their favorites and to themselves. The stratification was such that even with the introduction of democracy Filipino society remains dominated by the landed elite. Don Miguel is the typical condescending haciendero, and his interaction with the servants and obreros reveals a bit into how the upper classes dealt with lower ones. The element of race complicates this as social standing may be in fact independent from race but the two are perceived to be interrelated. Filemon comes from a family of good social standing, but his being an Indio makes it difficult for Don Miguel to accept him. While the “pattern” of classist-racism seems to have been ended with Isabelita, it is safe to assume that an underlying aversion led to Jose Luis forcing her daughter to marry someone against her will (perhaps the fear that she may end up marrying an Indio as well?). In any case, the “pattern” in this dimension continues to this day as well.

Then, the story is told in a context where women are subordinate to men. Juana surrenders not only to the will of her father, but to her husband’s as well, and she is rendered powerless at Don Miguel’s repetition of paternal oppression. The same happens to Isabel when Jose Luis forces Isabelita to marry. The women have tobe resigned to their fates, it is their fathers and husbands who decide for them. The very problem in the story is to some extent founded on the powerlessness of the women. The story can be said to be a primarily feminist story, as it tells the plight of women in the face of a masculine dominated society. The “pattern” is the continued robbing of will from women.

And yet, in spite of these different contexts, the story has a singular subject matter, expressed in its title. The repeated “pattern” of daughters controlled by their fathers and powerless before their husbands is central to the whole story. The focus on Isabel’s experience with this “pattern” reveals all its painful details, as we see how the “pattern” tears her away from the man she loves.

Tangent to this pattern is the ultimate fate of the women: resignation. The women of the story all end up accepting their fate, retaining a recollection of everything they suffered but recalling this with almost ambivalent numbness. “There are things which come with surrender and resignation. And once the heart has grown too weak to rebel, these things become too deeply etched in the memory, so that while there is a forgiving, there can be no forgetting.” The resignation happens when the women accept their powerlessness as a fact of life, encapsulated in Juana’s line “there are things we cannot alter. Such is life!” and reiterated in Isabel’s line to Isabelita, “We must accept whatever comes to us with resignation. Do not feel so bad, for you cannot change things.” The story ends with a beautiful demonstration of this resignation, when Isabel dismisses her tears as the rain. Her grief, like the existence of storm clouds is a fact of life she must accept, and the falling of her tears is as natural as the rain.

An interesting point however is revealed in Don Miguel’s reaction upon hearing Pomposa reveal Isabel’s love affair with Filemon. “This was a defeated man,” the text describes him as he reflected on the reality just revealed to him. He had earlier recalled how he too had taken Juana from an Indio lover by her father’s coercion. What brings about this sudden defeat? We can speculate that Don Miguel saw himself as the unwitting agent for the repetition of this vicious cycle, that the role of villain once played by Juana’s father was now made his role. He too is a victim of this vicious cycle, for as he forces Isabel to play the role of good daughter, he too must force himself to play the role of good father. We must recall that he is only thinking of the name of his family in his insistence against Filemon, and he must have seen how happy Isabel was with him. As a father it is not easy. And so he decides to present Isabel with a choice (something Juana did not seem to have), freedom at the price of disownment or filial piety for the price of her happiness. Man too is human, and the story subtly captures how the “patterns” dehumanize him and reduce him to a villain.

All these problems are presented by demonstration, and the reality emerges in the story and is not stated. This gives readers the freedom to react to the truth presented. While it is true that the patterns are a reality, the suffering (which is as accessible to us as the reality itself) makes us realize that does not mean that should remain a reality. “Patterns” presents a reality against which the reader is compelled to struggle against, and while the women in the story are defeated and resigned, the woman in the reader is definitely not. There is a Brechtian utilization of the distance between reader and character, and the character’s unresolved suffering motivates the reader not to suffer the same.

The story is also plot and dialogue driven, presaging Martinez-Coscolluela’s future success as a playwright. The story begins with the setting, Casa Blanca, then introduces the dramatis personae. The whole story is composed of several flashbacks, each flashback deftly introduced within a scene that fulfills the three unities of space, time and action. As such the reality being presented emerges from the predicaments of the characters, on which they land with inevitability.

The story is also characterized by a rich local color. It is set specifically in the city of Tanjay in Negros Oriental, a city with a long history of Hispanic society. The dialogue is organically interspersed with Spanish and Cebuano words. But what makes the dialogue most authentic is how Filipino the English is. For instance, at some point, Juana tells Don Miguel, ““Por Dios, Miguel, what’s the matter? You are red with anger. Remember your illness. What’s the matter?” The observation of Miguel’s facial coloration and the reminder to mind his health (although I cannot here cite a linguistic study to confirm it) is barely an American tendency, but is perfectly Filipino. In any case, there is no mistaking the local specificity of the story.

“Patterns,” as far as I can trace, has only appeared in the 1965 issue of Sands and Coral, literary folio of Silliman University. It was written when Martinez-Coscolluela was only a student. This might well be the first work of criticism on the story, and as such I have delved into the story here into detail.


Snake by the Water (New Year Poem)

(A poem for the coming year. Also, the first of a form I’m experimenting with, consisting of 5 lines of 9 syllables for the first three lines, 6 for the fourth and 3 for the last)

 

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Adam Fuss, Untitled, taken from http://akemihiatt.tumblr.com/page/2

Must you hear bell-eyes on glass surface
just to see the silence of water?
On mud, snake makes undying ripples
as it whispers rivers
on the Earth.


Thoughts on the Atenews 57 Years Anniversary Issue

My friend and president of Ateneo de Davao’s ARETE Alex Abando was the first to meet me since I returned to Davao for the Christmas break. Over red velvet cupcake from Dumaguete and native chocolate at Chicco Di Cafe Roxas he updated me about student politics in my dear alma mater. True to his role as president of the club for excellence, Alex even presented me a copy of the latest Magazine by Atenews, student publication of AdDU.

The magazine is the Atenews’ 57th Anniversary issue, and it has a strong historical tone. When I read it I was utterly delighted with the content, and as such any negative remarks I might make will merely be for improvement.

The issue begins with a message from Kathleen Veloso, the Editor-in-chief for 2012-2013. Being unacquainted with miss Veloso I have no good opinion of her, but I have no bad opinion either, so this message is really my first glimpse of her work. And it is an excellent first impression, as the message, written in thankfully perfect grammar (a frequent pitfall in past Atenews issues), sets at once the historical and opinionated tone of the issue. Her message starts objectively, but with a brevity that at once draws readers in. The second paragraph practically encapsulates the whole issue’s coverage, and the reader feels prepared for what is coming. My only problem is when she borders in equating Atenews history with Ateneo history. I see a lost opportunity for terminological precision: she should have discussed how crucial Atenews is in Ateneo historiography. Other than that minor detail I can say that miss Veloso is a disciplined writer and a competent editor.

Further evidence of miss Veloso’s competence as editor is shown in how the first article is about the larger than life character that is Mr. Ricardo Enriquez, drawing the reader immediately in. With two writers (miss Veloso and Edward Lactaoen) the article is substantially full of details, from his revolutionary tenure as OSA director to his flamboyant modo de proceder (which has often landed him in controversy) to even the image of authoritarianism many students have of him, ending with not exactly a patronizing but not a vilifying picture either. Miss Veloso and Mr. Lactaoen have succeeded in painting a profile at once (to use their term) “iconic” and human. Perhaps their only shortcoming was not mentioning sir Rikki’s time as student (when, if my sources are accurate, he demonstrated equally “iconic” feats).  Oh and his dancing, sir Rikki is an amazing dancer.

What follows is perhaps the weakest article in the issue, a feature on the Samahan by Almira Jane Villegas. For one thing, the article has not defined the terms (the distinction between “Samahan” and “Samahan Central Board,” which cease to be synecdochic in the context of profile features). For another thing, the author’s own surname is spelled with typographical error. Perhaps its biggest problem is its uncertainty of tone: will it be purely objective and talk history and structure or opinionated and proceed to pontificate? This uncertainty renders the article mediocre: where points ought to be substantiated historical facts are introduced, leading to new topics; where chronology and explanation of structure is needed the author proceeds to talking about how important Samahan is. This even puts some historical points into question, as the reason for Edgie Uyanguren’s conflict with Fr. Martinez was not expounded on clearly enough.  There isn’t even any mention of the officers of the SCB, the GACP and the CCO. To put it bluntly the article feels like it was written to meet the deadline, which is a shame considering how rich the material is.

But another well written article by Maybelle Anne Yutiamco on the buildings of the Ateneo follows. The presentation of buildings is chronological and as such is easy to understand, although more substantiation could help (such as a focus on the old chapel, the development of the library and the historical gymnasium). In typical Atenews fashion the article also includes a part on rooms for improvement. Atenews has truly established an image of constructive complaining! My biggest problem with the article (and generally in this issue) however is its lack of committment to defending historical heritage. Ateneo de Davao is fast destroying its old buildings to replace with new ones, which makes it a historically shallow campus. Now there is little for the first Ateneans to return home to. Atenews ought to make a stand on this.

Next is an article by Marie Florienne Melendrez on what Atenews has discussed most: the tuition and other fee increase. I need not go in detail here, first because I risk betraying my ignorance in accounting, and second because I trust Atenews to be compulsively thorough in their reportage on the matter.

Yet another juicy article is one on the defunct courses by Clemarie Secuya. Because of the wealth of material this article is already very informative, but there are needs for improvement in the writing. The courses first mentioned in the article (Agronomy, Animal Husbandry, etc.) were not discussed further. I am tempted to comment on the demise of AB Literature, but I believe I have articulated my stand on that enough elsewhere. I do like however how it ends with the hope that perhaps some of these defunct courses would be revived, and again I’ve reiterated my stand on Ateneo de Davao’s literature enough.

The first pages of the article on the Atenewsitself by Mr. Lactaoen and Kathleen Joyce Pastrana are incorrectly laid out as the white font could not be read against the light colored background. But this article is also quite well written, revealing to us the colorful history of what might be one of the most vocal student publications in the country. Rooms for improvement perhaps would be more discussion on how the Atenews emerged in the first place, on what the campus journalistic scene was before Atenews, more contemporary writing on what the logo has come to mean (the article only gives excerpt from a 1977 article), and a dicussion on some famous names in the list of moderators and editors (Aida Rivera Ford and Freddie Salanga are just mentioned as names). There is also a general lack of discussion in two key components of Atenews: the literary folio Banaag Diwa and the lampoon issue Kuyanews. I here suggest that Atenews do work with the existing literary organization of Ateneo de Davao, SALEM, to make a detailed historiography of the university’s literary folio.

On this note, I must point out that the article and issue itself seems to be subliminally polarized against PIGLASAPAT. The party is portrayed negatively in every instance it appears. While the paper dismisses any suggestions of bias, the glaring mention of the party is quite noticable. This of course is a perfectly objective observation.

I am sure Jenny Mae Saldaña’s article on the Daily Bread Program has its fascinations for people interested in such things, but I have an aversion for Catholic propaganda.

We get another weak article in Arielle Sta Ana’s feature on teachers. It leaves a lot wanting as a piece of historical reading. Questions like how did the Faculty club emerge and why did the union appear when there was already a club are not addressed. But in spite of its weaknesses it still remains a good read, as it is still quite informative and, in typical Atenews fashion, involved in its truth telling.

Ursula Calipayan’s article on the non-teaching staff is Atenews at its socially-involved best. The opinions of the guards, of the janitors are all presented against a backdrop of need for improvement in smooth writing. Although the article just ends abit to heavy-handedly (almost all the articles do), the piece is an excellent read.

Miss Sta Ana’s article on Vandalism needs to be fleshed out a bit more, particularly with contextualization into the Ateneo scene. I do not see why the Ateneo student would find it relevant to read this article, specially since it advocates vandalism as struggle and self expression while in the context of the campus it remains a purely malicious act of idiocy punishable by expulsion. It also presents the opinion of students as if the students were experts in the field, and corrections on tone can be made to improve this.

I further do not see the relevance of an article dedicated to the commericalization of education. While admittedly relevant, the article sticks out like a sore thumb in an issue that has begun with a historical tone. It is a demonstration of how Atenews has a tendency to excessively pontificate, sometimes at the expense of proper form.

Miss Veloso’s article on the community tower is quite informative, but it would have been better placed right after miss Yutiamco’s article on the buildings.

Finally, I can say that while the issue has touched much about Ateneo de Davao history, there remains much to be written. There is no mention of Kalasag and its unique tradition of Awitenista, only passing (and at times negative) reference to the political parties, no mention of the campus clubs, COMELEC and of the SICO.

Nevertheless the issue is a welcome contribution to Ateneo de Davao’s historiography. Hopefully what miss Veloso’s editorial board has done will begin a movement of historiographic output not only in Atenews but in the whole Ateneo de Davao as well. Ateneo de Davao has a rich history, and it’s about time we begin writing it down.


“Sa mga higayong sama niini, pinangga” by Ioannes Arong: A Translation from Cebuano

(This poem by my Iyas co-fellow Ioannes Arong appeared in the September 26 2012 issue of Bisaya Magazine. Thoughhis poem shines brightest when it demonstrates his dark Cebuano humour, this poem nevertheless showcases how musical Ioannes can be as a poet, with a repetition reminiscent of the villanelle or Elsie Coscolluela’s “In Time Passing,” and a theme as old as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130)

Sa mga higayon sama niini, pinangga
ni Ioannes Arong

(alang kang Carmie)

layagon kos tumang kahidlaw
samtang sud-ongon ka sa hilom.

kay sa mga higayong sama niini
pinaphaan na sa dayan-dayan imong
panagway. gani, ang imong aping
nga ganiha nabulit sa makeup
karon nagmanteka na. ang pinungpong
mong buhok gahina sa imong
paglakaw karon nagkalkag.

sa mga higayon sama niini sab
dili na sinukod ang imong matag lihok.
wala gyoy timailhan sa imong
pagkahinayon nianang hagok
mong lupig pay bunok sa uwan
nga nahagba ibabaw sa aton atop.

ug dili sama sa naandan,
sa mga higayong sama niini
yano lang ang imong pamiste.

dakong pahiyom ang akong mga wait
sa mga higayong sama niini, pinangga
kay karon maanyag ka labaw kanus-a.
oo, labi kang maanyag niining mga higayona!

ug sa akong hunahuna
labi kang nabulahan
kay ako ray gitugtan mong
makasaksi niining tanan.

In moments such as this, beloved
by Ioannes Arong

(for Carmie)

The deepest want assails me
while I look at you in silence.

For in moments such as this
ornaments have rubbed on your visage. that your cheeks,
a while back smeared with makeup
now glistens with oiliness. your well-bound
hair a while back dancing as you walked
now strewn unkempt.

In moments such as this as well
your every movement is no longer measured.
There is nothing to recognize you in your
peaceful slumber, that snoring
louder than the rain
crashing like fallen tree trunks down our roof

And unlike what is usual
in moments such as this
simple is your appearance.

My lips crescent to a big smile
in moments such as this, beloved
for tonight you are lovelier, more than ever.
Oh, you are loveliest in moments such as this!

And in my mind
I feel blessed
for you let my eyes alone
behold all this.


In Time Passing by Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela: An Analysis

In Time Passing
by Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela

In time passing there are things you come
to learn as well: codes crafted by our fathers
and silences of our mothers as they spun
tapestries of their secret songs.

In time passing, you have broken through
hurtling past law and language defining
you to Other, Daughter, Sister,
Wife or Mother: keeper of bones and beads.

And so you are all these: but always
you are more.

Adam’s rib, apple-gatherer, candle-bearer;
though you have plucked the forbidden fruit
still, in time passing, you hold infinity
in your womb as from your blood and bone

Lie the primordial source: revealing
there your awesome power – reaping
there a rich harvest of sons and daughters
all sprung from your marrow.

In time passing, though life has etched landmarks
and milestones upon your face, and your words
are weighed with mother-wisdom, you remain
stronger than light, gentler than rain.

 

While Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela (ma’am Elsie, my literary mother from Iyas) is better known as a playwright, she is also much decorated for her poetry, winning awards for her poems and having at least one collection published.

“In Time Passing,” perhaps her most anthologized poem, demonstrates the symbolism, the rich texture of diction and deft stylistic execution that make her poems some of the most musical in Philippine Poetry.

The poem begins by not yet defining the addressee, but revealing to the reader (as the addressee itself is exposed to the same) the “codes crafted by our fathers and silences of our mothers.” From the active role of the fathers and the passive role of the mothers in language (codes and silences are linguistic terms), we can infer a context of a paternally dominated discourse. This is the context the addressee is born in, and it comes to learn the roles. That the first stanza goes on to focus on the mothers hints at the addressee’s being a woman, and there is almost disclosure of the “craft of silence” in the mention of “tapestries of their secret songs.”

In the second stanza, the image of language is continued. The addressee is said to hurtle “past law and language.” Mention of female social roles (daughter, sister, wife and mother) establishes the hint of femininity, while the power of “law and language” to define, as well as the explicit mention of “Other” lend to the male-dominated discourse mentioned in the first stanza a coercive and dehumanizing connotation. The image of menial work, established first in “spinning tapestries” is repeated in “keeper of bones and beads.”  This alliterative statement is rich in solidity of specification: “bones” could have ancestral connotations, making the home the altar of ancestors (progeny is piety to our progenitors? Domesticity as the ritualistic remembrance of our ancestors’ ways of living?), or it could have culinary connotations (the woman as cook and, after the meal, the one who cleans after scraps); “beads” could be an allusion to the rosary, further strengthening the image of domesticity as ancestral worship, or it could simply mean crafting, strengthening the image of crafts established in the first stanza’s “tapestries.” In any case, the woman, along with the limiting roles in the male-dominated discourse, is relegated to menial jobs.  What makes this stanza ideologically consistent is how it implies the emergence of a character even in spite of all the restrictive “codes” that try to define the woman: in spite of all these limiting roles there is still a person behind.

The short stanza “and so you are all these: but always you are more” is delightfully ambiguous to the heteronymous degree. On one level it is a complaint of more roles to play. On top of being other, daughter, sister, wife and mother, and of keeping the bones and beads, the woman has other roles, and these are listed by the first half of the next stanza: adam’s rib (an allusion to the biblical inferiority of women), apple-gatherer (also a biblical allusion, but has additional culinary and domestic connotations), candle-bearer (a solidification of the mother’s role as “light of the house,” which at the most basic might entail actually holding candles while the children study, but at the most symbolic reading might again be alluding to the genesis, when woman brought about the “light of understanding” to man, beginning the fall. The specificity of “candle” nevertheless gives this word a domestic connotation). But it could also stand for an affirmation of the “hurtling past” of the woman in spite of her restricting roles, reaffirming her “always being more” than them. In this line of interpretation, the list of trivialities become trifles that do not stop the woman from being herself.

The biblical reference established in this list is continued with the plucking of the forbidden fruit, but is at the same time a symbolic phrasing of sexual intercourse. In spite of this “defilement” (sex having always had a connotation of impurity in the Abrahamic-dominated western culture), the woman is still superior in that she is the source of life. The very endlessness of posterity as springing from conception is solidly expressed in “holding infinity in your womb.”

The last stanza situates the woman addressee into later life, reaffirming her strength and her gentleness. The image of wrinkles is metaphorized to landmarks and milestones when it is “etched… upon your face.” There is immense solidity in “words weighed with mother-wisdom,” as it at once describes the care given by mothers to every word (“weighed” meaning the act of measuring weight) and the gravity of wisdom in each mother’s word (“weighed” being reminiscent of “weighted”).  The simile of “stronger than light” is at once kinetic and visual: the woman shines bright, and in her non-solidity she is indestructible. At the same time this could mean the woman is more than the role of “candle-bearer.” “gentler than rain” evokes rain’s delicate touch on the skin and its nourishing effect on the earth, but the line at the same time hints a continuation of the thought of strength, as rains can be strong in spite of its gentleness.

This all happens with language lush with stylistic flourish. The lines are semantically diverse, lending the poem a sense of grandness scope and diversity of subject matter. There are a lot of aural devices that contribute to the musicality, alliteration, assonance, consonance and rhyme. The most deftly executed stylistic device is parallelism. In the list of “more” things, there is a parallelism of two part phrases. In the penultimate stanza rhyme is used viz-a-vis the parallel structure “verbing there” (“revealing there…” “reaping there…”). The poem ends with another parallel structure, “Xer than Y.” But what gives the poem its most musical tone is the refrain of the title, “in time passing.” The immense scope of the line also lends the poem an almost epic flavor.

The poem is stated explicitly as an affirmation of womanhood, but at the same time it subtly reveals concrete realities about women. It is not arranged rhetorically but chronologically, and the ideology of womanhood emerges not as a result of conceptual buildup but is stated alongside the facts of being woman. The poem then uses explicit ideology to reveal experiential reality. It glorifies women, but in the process makes them human. “In Time Passing” is the quintessential woman’s poem. It is the epic poem of every woman.