Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults

What I like most about folk stories is that they tell us something important about other people. They create specific examples of universal themes that exist in all cultures; they express the uniqueness of a particular time and a particular people that enlightens us all about our own humanity.

This is what I recently experienced after reading Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, a collection of contemporary stories for young adults collected and edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. The 257-page book published by PALH (Philippine American Literary House) was first brought to my attention by fellow writer Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor. A bright writer herself who lives in Washington, she was able to share with me not only the beauty of her own literary work but also the richness of her cultural heritage.

Thanks to her I was allowed into the post 9/11 world of Filipino and Filipino American youth. Through this I was introduced to a culture that admittedly I knew very little about.

I learned through the stories that many Filipino children are raised in a very strong patriarchal system that often over rules the individual child’s needs to ‘fit in’ with the dominant American culture. For example, in ‘Double Dutch’ (Leslieann Hobayan) when young Maria Elizabeth comes home one day with her hair braided by her African American school friend her family responds by telling her the braids are ugly and she is no longer allowed to play with her friend. I could feel the poignancy of Maria Elizabeth’s dilemma as she withdrew from the schoolyard community she enjoyed so much.

Other stories also reveal the hard facts of immigrant life. Alma (‘Here in the States’ by Rashaan Alexis Meneses) struggles to understand how hard her mother must work as a nanny to make ends meet. Shame and sadness mingle when she questions the discrepancy between her mother’s role as a respected professional back home and her new role as a domestic helper. Adolescent resentment and rebellion about having to help care for younger siblings (something the maid back home did) further complicate Alma’s efforts to make sense of this new world. It is in her mother’s quiet strength and acceptance of life’s uncertainties that Alma finds her greatest comfort and connection.

While the book is designed to reflect the issues young adults face, it does much more than that. It reaches out to the rest of us in a way that invites deeper understanding and awareness of how our Filipino and Filipino American brothers and sisters experience life in America. Fraught with the angst of adolescence that exists everywhere and grounded in an abiding sense of strong Filipino family/cultural values, the authors of these stories have something valuable to tell us about our own desires and struggles to belong in whatever world we live in.

We are fortunate to have access to such a formidable anthology. It is certainly a must read for anyone who wants to celebrate our multicultural society.

Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults will be released March, 2010. For more information, visit their website.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Start Preserving Those Family Folktales

The holidays are here and in many families the season includes getting together with family and friends.

What a perfect time to start asking questions about the lives of the people you will share the holidays with. Get your uncle to talk about his hobby. How did he get started on it. What about your cousin's artistic talent; did he or she ever display any art? Or maybe your friend became a warrior when she challenged a health care company's decision to not cover the cost of her medical care.

All of these examples are the perfect material for family folktales. You can either take notes or write down later what you recall about the stories people told. In most cases you can probably ask questions at a later date if there's something you need to clarify.

The fun is in capturing stories that have not yet been preserved and then sharing them with others.

The beauty in writing these folktales which are based upon any one of hundreds of folktale motifs (artist, chef, scientist, wizard, first Christmas, funny Christmas, etc.) is that they will last forever. Unlike electronic recording devices that are dependent upon equipment working properly, the written information won't be lost if your computer or camcorder crashes.

Just to be on the safe side, though, make sure you print out any stories you have typed into your computer and/or store on removable flash drives.

So with that in mind, be thinking about the people you are with this holiday season and don't be surprised to find out that almost everyone has a folktale to tell!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Folklore and Mythology

If you've been searching high and low for folklore and mythology from around the world I think you need to check out what D.L.Ashliman of the University of Pittsburgh has put together.

Folklore and Mythology is a compilation of electronic texts that reveal the specific cultural way in which universal motifs (themes) are conveyed. This ethno-centric application also reflects the creativity that people bring to the beliefs and ideas they pass on to each other.

Originally oral in nature, these stories have taken on a more fixed expression in the electronic texts. The texts themselves gathered together as they are in groups also suggests that all cultures have some things in common; particularly, folkloric and mythological images.

For example here is only a portion of what is listed under the category of Air Castles:

The Broken Pot (India, The Panchatantra).
The Poor Man and the Flask of Oil (India, Bidpai).
The Daydreamer (India, Cecil Henry Bompas).
The Barber's Tale of His Fifth Brother (1001 Nights).
A Wise Lesson; or, The Dervish and the Honey Jar (Jewish).
The Milkmaid and Her Pail (Aesop).
Lazy Heinz (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

Here's what's been compiled for "end of the world":
The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts (India, The Jataka Tales).
The Flight of the Beasts (Tibet, Anton Schiefner).
Plop! (Tibet).
The Story of Chicken-Licken (England, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps).
Henny-Penny and Her Fellow Travelers (Scotland, Robert Chambers).
The Cock and the Hen That Went to Dovrefjell (Norway, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe).
The Little Chicken Kluk and His Companions (Denmark, Benjamin Thorpe).
The End of the World (Flanders, Jean de Bosschère).
Brother Rabbit Takes Some Exercise (African-American, Joel Chandler Harris).

This collection which covers everything from Animal Brides to the End of the World to Weather and Climate and beyond is a real treasure. Be sure to check it out. You'' be surprised at how many common themes we share with one another!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Legends and Myths: Just For Kids

Oban the Knowledge Keeper at Planet Ozkids is devoted to telling tales to children.
The site's creator who created the Oban character writes:

Explore our collection of myths and legends, read postcards and stories from the animals we have met and have fun playing our games and puzzles.
Learn about endangered animals and environments, Biomes and read amazing animal facts.
Oban has added some more Native American legends and Aesop fables to his collection of myths and legends.

The tales, drawn largely from Native American Indians, the Aboriginal Dreamtime, Korea, India and many other countries the creator has visited. These tales include Pelican Girl, How Kangaroo Got His Tail, Big Turtle, and How Coyote Got Fire. These tales are definite keepers!

The idea behind Planet Ozkids is a Word Design Interactive venture creating original learning products using the principles of Integrated Themes and Active Learning.

Planet Ozkid's mission is provide children age 8 to 14 years, their educators, teachers and parents with:

* Products that inform, involve, increase creativity and are fun to use.
* A broader, richer learning experience, integrating new technologies and media for a new century of education.
* A safe environment where children can satisfy their natural curiosity and sense of adventure.

I think Planet Ozkids is onto something. Take a look for yourself!