Felino S. Garcia’s thirteen stories in “Sa Pagtunod sang Adlaw” reconnect Hiligaynon speakers with a language they rarely use—consciously and correctly—these days. Native speakers scarcely speak Hiligaynon the way most characters in these stories do.
In this collection, the narrator’s voice, whether it be that of a brother’s , son’s, friend’s, classmate’s, teacher’s, lover’s –in the closet or out—overtly indulges in using Ilonggo idioms. To someone who hopes to get a slice of what and how it feels to be Ilonggo, this collection may well be his User’s Manual. And the reader does not need to equip himself with specialist knowledge to be able to plod through the landscapes of these stories. Garcia shows you around Iloilo and Bacolod’s old haunts in black and white period photographs.
“Ginhingadlan ang nasambit nga barangay nga golf kay yara siya nahamtang sa mga nakilid kag nahilit nga bahin sang Sta. Barbara Golf and Country Club nga gintukod pa sadto sang mga Amerikano… Si San Sebastian ang patron sang ila simbahan gani nga ginahiwat ang piyesta sa bulan sang Enero isa ka semana pagkatapos ang pag saulog sang
Dinagyang kag kon kaisa nagadulugan ang ila kahiwatan (“Abyan”).
Ako naman ginadul ong sang amon driver sakay ang Volkswagen nga trodback halin sa Airport Subdivision nga nagaagi lang gid sa bag o nga nahuman nga police department building sa tunga sang kakugonan sa Kalye Magsaysay kag magaliko ini sa nawala kag magataklad sa taytay sang San Antonio Abad diretso na dayon sa Lizares ….”
While reading these passages, you cannot gloss over the natural sing song rhythm of Hiligaynon and the tell-tale sweetness that comes along with it. More than that, there does seem to be a “vintage” resonance to the way Garcia employs Hiligaynon to tell his “kalipay kag kasubu, kasadya kag kasakit, pagkadlaw kag pagkagha (joy and sorrow, lightness and pain, laughter and hurt). Nor can you miss the sense of pride (read rhapsodizing)with which the narrator’s point of view takes a cursory look at Ilonggo lore– whether it is set in the Old Queen City of the South or across the Strait to the City of Smiles.
Garcia makes no attempt at couching his stories in highly symbolic motifs. To a writer who has earned an advanced degree in survival aesthetics from the University of Hard Knocks, all this merely comes down to artifice. In pedantic terms–for students of literature and creative writing– what Garcia does is to veer away from the writer’s habit of stylizing narrative in the order of formalist fiction method.
To Garcia writing is more than just craft—it is achieving authenticity: “ While technique or craft is aesthetically necessary for good writing, writers also achieve authenticity, honesty, sincerity, truth, justice, among other non-formalist stringent exigencies in their writing when they write from their very own lives. Personally, more than form or craft, I write ever conscious of my subject-position as a middle class gay Negrense of the Third World.”
The stories are told in a slightly elevated kind of Hiligaynon. But fans of pulp fiction will surely find enough pleasure in the confessionals: “Panuadon sang Isa ka Subang”, “Hibubun-ot”, “Sa Hingapusan”, “Paathag”, “Ang Tiyo”
However, we shouldn’t overlook the craft at work in the collection. The best story, as far as stories go, is “Si Araceli.” It is told in such a bare and strip down manner that it cannot go anywhere but straight between the reader’s eyes. Call it bildungsroman or initiation fiction—either way, it offers up a complex story pretending to be a simple narrative. “Si Araceli” provides a whole new definition of gayness at an early age.
In spite of the openly gay theme in this collection, Garcia’s subject position doesn’t get in the way of our reading. There are episodes in which Garcia could have taken liberties in going full on explicit: But he carefully—and strangely– confines his intercourse scenes to acceptable norms: “Nadula ang kakulba niya kag sa baylo, nakabatyag siya sang kainit, kakalam kag kanamit. Waay siya makatingog luwas lamang sa iya ugayong kag pagpulupusnga. Buot sayuron nanamian siya sang ginabuhat sa iya ni Marlon. Pagktapos sang dungan nila nga pagpautwas sang kainit sang ila lawas kag balatyagon, ginahakos ni Marlon sang mahugot si Arnold….”
Felino S. Garcia’s narrators, participants and observers alike, have a keen eye for domestic drama. They brood and pass judgment mainly on themselves and their place in the scheme of things—fragile relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and dorm mates, friends and lovers.
“Panuadon sang Isa ka Subang”, for instance, takes on the confessional mode with very little alterations to real-life characters and circumstances. It’s a story we have heard many times over the AM band on the radio, but one we never tire of listening to again and again. It is AM radio drama fodder, yes, but it is also a story that poses a stark contrast to the city dwellers’ life that revolves around work, road rage, street crimes and tight traffic. Precisely the reason why these stories have to be read, is because they transport us to a time and place where most things were affordable and took on the quality of misty window panes– Spandau Ballet and OMD cassette tapes and off campus recollections. That Garcia’s morals in the stories come across as deeply rooted in Ilonggo sensibility is another matter.
For serious readers: Read closely, the syntax of the stories in the collection varies little from the author’s prosody (“Heartsong and Other Poems”, 2008). The voice goes the way of irregular, jagged catch-me-if-you can rhythm and breathing patterns reminiscent of projective verse. The only difference this time is these stories do not elevate the material any higher than where they are rooted in– the “la noche oscura del alma”– “kadulom kag labi satanan kawad an kag pagkadagdag—some of which I have weathered through beautifully together with the author.
Garcia revels in his syntax as Walt Whitman reveled in his. You can’t take away the celebratory tone even in the saddest episodes of these stories. For one thing, lived experiences fuel Garcia’s writing engine:
In fact, in periods of great distress and tribulation, I seek refuge in my writing as a way of rekindling hope, faith and most important of all—love.
Most of the work that I have done in recent years have gone full circle on things that have affected me as a gay person—things that might have been dismissed often as irrelevant and trivial from a heterosexist point of view. Hence they can be classified as quasi-autobiographical although not in the manner of true-to-life stories dished out by reportage or documentary write-ups.
You cannot fault the audience of these stories to read into the author. Which is just as well right: Garcia writes in the Hiligaynon and digs deep into his Ilonggo core. No harm done either with gay themes. Let it be. Let’s read gay Ilonggo fiction then. After all little has been produced along those lines. At one point in Felino S. Garcia’s his writing life, he became part of a short-lived writing movement in Iloilo. It was a writing movement looking for an audience. It had a captive crowd that was mainly made up of college students and teachers who led lives far removed from what they taught. Now these are stories Felino S. Garcia has lived through with pain, joy and hope.
If these amount to Ilonggo School of Gay Writing, so be it. We can read ourselves into these stories—yes, we can—and we owe it to ourselves first. We owe it to Garcia second.