Thursday, September 20, 2012

In Honor of Filipino & Filipino American Writers - P.C. MORANTTE

P.C. MORANTTE (b 1909, d 2001) was born in Tanauan, Leyte, Philippines. he attended local schools, the University of Santo Tomas, and the University of Kansas at Lawrence. He migrated to the United States in 1930, arriving in San Francisco, then moving to Los Angeles. He worked as a foreign correspondent of the Manila-based Graphic, and for the Philippine government in-exile in Washington D.C. After World War II, he was Information Officer of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

A writer, he knew the other Filipino writers in the US, including Carlos Bulosan; Morantte wrote the book, Remembering Carlos Bulosan. Morantte also wrote God is in the Heart.

He lived for many years in Lompoc, California.

On Morantte's book God is in the heart, these are what two writers say: According to Bienvenido N. Santos, Distinguished Resident at Wichita State University, Morantte's "writing is not only eloquent but lyrical. It is not at all sound, however, but meaning of the deepest kind, the truest. Before long, the reader realizes this is truth of the Bible or the truth of the human heart."

N.V.M. Gonzales, English professor at California State University, Hayward, characterized Morantte "as close as one can get these days to a secular contemplative. In this book, he deals with Beauty, Grace and Truth—ideas we have become accustomed to turn away from. P. C. Morantte invites us to pause and let the anxious world burn itself, if it must, as we discover Purpose and renew our faith."

JEAN VENGUA GIER says the following about Morantte (from
"Morantte was truly a pioneer of Filipino writing in the United States. I don’t think he has received proper recognition as a writer, although he wrote plays, poems and fiction, and his memoir of Carlos Bulosan, Carlos Bulosan: His Heart Affair With America, is often consulted by students of Filipino American studies. His obscurity may be due to the fact that much of his output was in the form of non-fiction, reportage, and editorial. During the Depression Era and later, he edited and wrote for many Filipino newspapers and magazines in the U.S.: book reviews, literary commentary, travelogues, and editorials. Later in life he was published by a Philippine publisher: New Day. 

"During the pre-WWII years, Morantte took some rather gutsy positions on writing and writers in various newspapers and magazines; Jose Garcia Villa and Marcelo de Gracia Concepcion both suffered his critical barbs: "Villa may be dead as a short story writer, but he is too spiritually alive in his poetic imagination to admit of intellectual disintegration...[he] tried to be at once imitative, experimental, intellectual and provocatively modern in his stories. This was tragic."; "one cannot help but deplore the fact that [de Gracia Concepcion] fails to follow his initial triumph with productions of a more commanding interest" (Philippine-American Digest, 1941). Even his friend, Carlos Bulosan was not entirely free from criticism, for Morantte wrote that Bulosan’s writing was often tinged with "an overtone of hysteria in his pleadings for justice...always a strain of overdramatizing in his manner of calling attention to social evils and economic ills" (Remembering Carlos Bulosan, 62). Although Morantte appreciated Richard Wright’s Native Son as "a work of art," he felt that the Bigger Thomas character was portrayed too negatively: "too much a sample of moral disintegration and less a symbol of race vigor..." (Philippine-American Digest 1940) 

"Morantte strove to clarify the issues that Filipinos lived with in America, whether they were literary, political or cultural issues. In an essay on "Filipino Life" in the Philippine-American Digest, he noted with seeming despair that "[Filipino] dreams and...aspirations have been influenced so much by the American and Spanish ways that the indigenous substance of their true beings has been crushed or lost." He gave voice to a situation that many Filipinos of that time seemed to experience: " immediately perceives that I do not belong: I am a Filipino, but a creature that has been an offshot [sic] of the strange elements outside the pale of my native is a sort of spiritual or psychological bondage." (1941) 

"In Morantte’s perspective, the microcosmic experience of the Filipino fieldworker or writer in small-town America translated to something larger and more disturbing; he detected patterns that would echo in the experiences of Filipino immigrants into the next century: 

"The City of Los Angeles was teeming with Pinoys, or Filipinos whose lives had become modified for the worse by the harsh realities in the American milieu; they had become split personalities...They loved American bread and butter and they also loved rice and fish...To practically all Pinoys the abundant Philippine life, the Philippine state of free, happy, peaceful and idyllic life which was the dream of their forebears, had now been supplanted in their memory by the charm of American life. But many of them, insofar as their emotional and mental outlook was concerned, were simply floating in the substratum of American society where the muddy currents were sluggishly buoying them up"(Remembering 76). 

"Although this passage was published in 1984, I think that Morantte’s writings reveal that he sensed the psychic "split" that Filipinos were undergoing, even as early as the 1930s. 

"Morantte chose to live out his last years in the small town of Lompoc, California, in an area imbued with the history of Filipino Farmworkers and laborers. From this somewhat remote spot, he kept in touch with his many writer friends, among them the Bulosan brothers, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Bienvenido Santos and Carlos Angeles. In later life, he became interested in questions of philosophy and religion. N.V.M. Gonzalez dubbed him "a secular contemplative." 

"I think that Morantte contributed to a "West-Coast sensibility" in Filipino American writing. Somewhat suspicious of experimental and "art for art’s sake" writing (he wrote of the "puzzling incoherence" of Gertrude Stein), he seemed to value humanistic writing that conveyed meaning with pragmatic clarity. He contributed to Filipino American literature in his quest for meaning and wholeness. We can benefit from his insightful evaluations of Filipino life in America, from his courage to recognize and discuss both the weaknesses and strengths of Filipino writing, and from his recognition of the necessity for Filipinos and Filipino Americans to unite through knowlege disseminated via the written word. 

"Many of the pioneer Filipino writers living in the United States seem to be leaving us now, among them, Stanley Garibay, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Trinidad Rojo, Alex de Leon Fabros Sr., and of course, Jose Garcia Villa. I understand that Morantte died in his 90s, in a hospital in Lompoc, California. Perhaps you are already aware of his death. If not, Morantte is certainly one writer whose passing deserves mention."
Jean N. V. Gier

Photo: l-r: Linda Nietes, P.C. Morantte, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Bienvenido N. Santos
tags: Philippine American history, Philippine American literature, Filipino American writer

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