Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The best initiatives tend to be those intended to fill a gap.
Faye Cura, a writer and researcher at the Ayala Museum’s Filipinas Heritage Library, was looking for a publisher that would put out a book she had worked on, but couldn’t find the ideal venue for it. So she decided to put up a press of her own, one that would champion poetry, fiction, and other literary works for and by women.
In 2015, she founded Gantala Press, whose first book, “Danas,” collects work in different genres and languages, including Filipino, English, Bisaya, and Ilocano. It tackles the plight of the Lumads, same-sex relationships, motherhood, female friendship, patriarchy, and even the experiences of a political prisoner during martial law. The book was funded through writing and photography workshops, so the press could pay for printing and compensate contributors. It was launched last year, in March, during Women’s Month.
“We just wanted to create a space for women writers,” says founding member Rae Rival, a creative writing teacher at the Philippine High School for the Arts, of which Cura was an alumna. Then they realized that the press mostly catered to middle-class women, and that there were many other women who needed their help and could use their voices. “Nagkaroon ng bagong direksyon ‘yung [press].”
Teaching in art school, says Rival, showed her that “hiwalay na hiwalay ’yung artmaking sa kung paano ka magiging mas involved sa activism.” Gantala Press helped them bridge the gap, and they began working with organizations to direct their art towards bigger causes.
When martial law was declared in Marawi, they started an information and fundraising drive called Laoanen, named for Princess Lawanen, a character of Philippine folk literature. Speakers included outspoken Maranao women, from lawyers to filmmakers. The project birthed different events across Metro Manila, with the involvement of Better Living Through Xeroxography and Amihan Peasant Women.
At their zine-making workshops, they teach participants how seemingly small publications can become tools to join the discussion and affect social change.
“The best way to be involved is to go out there, mag-rally, ipakita mo ang solidarity mo sa mga nangangailangan nito,” says Rival.
Aside from “Danas,” Gantala Press has published “Laoanen,” an essay collection in response to war and how it affects women, and “Mga Tutul a Palapa,” a recipe book of Maranao food. This year, they are working with artist Emiliana Kampilan on a World War II-set comic centered on comfort women, whom Cura observes are often overlooked in historical discourse. In the future, Cura and Rival hope to put up a full-time office for Gantala Press. “Importante talaga ang space sa women’s groups, so magpupunyagi kami for that,” Cura says.
At a recent cookout for farmers of Eastern Visayas put together by Gantala Press, Amihan Peasant Women, and Sama-Samang Artista Para sa Kilusang Agraryo, CNN Philippines Life sat down with Cura and Rival to discuss building a community, feminism from the Philippine perspective, and the importance of giving women a voice to tell their stories. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Why did you set out to put up an independent press specifically for and by women?
Rival: Most of the literary groups na may capacity na mag-publish are male-dominated. Both intentional and unintentional — ‘yung taste nila [prioritizes men]. Ang napu-publish most of the time, mga male writers din nila. Siguro rin kasi ‘yung mga babaeng writers or members, nagkakaroon ng anak, nagiging busy. Tapos ‘yung topic din ng mga women’s issues, parang nati-trivialize siya. So it’s not something that they would take seriously and publish eventually.
Cura: Like ’yung mga writing workshops sa schools, puro lalaki ‘yung mga speakers minsan. As we went along na lang namin lalong nakita ‘yung ganung sitwasyon. So sabi namin, “Ah, sige, gawa na lang tayo ng sarili nating women’s press.”
“Ang mga pwede lang maging sexist or racist ay ‘yung mga nasa positions of power, and ang mga babae ay wala sa position of power. Medyo walang choice [tayo] in this time but to stand for our sisters and even ourselves.” — Faye Cura
Was it easy for you to find a community?
Cura: It was, actually. Alam mo, the community was the one who came to us, kaysa ‘yung kami ang [lumapit]. When we first sent out our call for submissions for the first anthology, ang daming nagbigay, from Luzon to Visayas to Mindanao, to abroad. Tapos iba’t-ibang wika pa. Para bang hinihintay lang nila ‘yung pagkakataong [magkaroon sila ng platform]. Wala kaming masyadong restrictions. Basta babae ka at meron kang gustong ikwento tungkol sa karanasan mo bilang babae, pwede kang mag-submit. Lumalaki nang lumalaki ’yung sisterhood.
What kinds of stories do you set out to tell through the press?
Rival: Tuwing [sasali kami sa mga expo], gagawa ako ng zines for Gantala Press. [They’re] very personal: “Nanay Notes,” creative nonfiction. ‘Yung latest ko, zines about my body. Lahat ng insecurities na naramdaman ko [nung high school] dahil ang lipunan, sinasabi na, “Dapat ang babae, mabango, hindi pinapawisan,” ganito, ganyan. Eventually naisip ko, pwede pang palawakin ‘yung kwento. So tina-try ko ‘yung zine na mage-emerge ‘yung experiences ko sa women’s issues, and also how it connects to other stories ng ibang babae. Ano ba ‘yung gusto naming ikwento? Gusto naming [iparating] na women’s issues are valid issues.
Zines and independent publishing are largely associated with the feminist movement. What does it mean to you to be a feminist today, especially in the local context?
Rival: To be a feminist, may stigma na kailangang labanan. Nag-post [si Faye] ng isang album, tinawag niyang “Panititikan at Titeratura.” May napu-publish na anthologies tsaka may mga writing conferences na all-male lineup. So 2018 na, ganun pa rin. ‘Pag na-point out mo ‘yun na totoo namang nangyayari, sasabihin nila, “Ang babaw naman nung issue.” Nauuwi siya sa shallow na argument.
Pero ganito ‘yun, eh. Hanggang ngayon, dominated pa rin tayo ng mga lalaki. Kapag all-male ‘yung lineup [ng writing conference for new writers],nandun ‘yung biases nila. Nandun ‘yung pagiging lalaki nila. Pati rin sa anthology na all-male writers — anong ibig-sabihin nun? Bakit nire-reject pa rin ‘yung mga babae? Ibig-sabihin ba hindi pa rin importante ‘yung mga sinusulat naming mga babae kasi hindi enough na makasama sa mga academic journals or mga anthology?
Feminism ngayon is fulfilling, pero mahirap pa rin. Kasi kailangan mo pa rin i-explain kung bakit kailangang mas maging diverse tayo.
Cura: Ang dami pa ring misconceptions sa word na feminist. Tingin nila, [misandrists] ang feminists. Simple lang naman siya: equality ng sexes. Hindi totoo na ang mga babae, pwedeng maging sexist sa mga lalaki, kasi systemic ang oppression. Ang mga pwede lang maging sexist or racist ay ‘yung mga nasa positions of power, and ang mga babae ay wala sa position of power. Medyo walang choice [tayo] in this time but to stand for our sisters and even ourselves.
Why is it important for Gantala Press to give Filipino women a platform to voice out their experiences?
Rival: Kasi sila ‘yung laging silenced. Sila ‘yung laging [sinasabihan na], “Ah, hindi naman importante ‘yung mga concerns nila.” We need to create avenues, create places [for them]. Women’s issues are connected. ‘Yun ‘yung na-realize namin nung nakilala namin ‘yung Amihan — [magkaka-konekta] pala ‘yung mga issue ng mga babae. Issue ng nanay, issue ng babaeng magsasaka, issue sa health system, sa lupa, sa agriculture, sa economy. Ang daming roles ng mga babae, at multiple burden. Kailangan nating marinig ‘yung mga ganung kwento.
Cura: Otherwise, magpapatuloy lang ‘yung oppression. Nung panahon ni Marcos, mga women journalist, ‘yung Women in Media Now, sila naman talaga ang lumaban kaya nagkaroon ng freedom of the press. Kung hindi natin pagsasalitain ang mga babae, patatahimikin lang natin sila, idi-dismiss lang, eh ‘di, wala, pare-pareho tayong matatalo.