Elynia S. Mabanglo is a Filipina poet and multiple awardee of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, whose poetry in the Filipino language has long been well-known in the Philippines. For the first time, in Invitation of the Imperialist/Anyaya ng Imperialista, her U.S. audience can finally read her most recent poems. For readers who are bilingual in English and Filipino, the book is a double gift as nothing is lost in translation.
Translator/collaborator Roderick Labrador admits that the reader “cannot be fully satisfied with translations for they are unable to completely capture the cultural, historical, political and linguistic nuances” of the original. With this in mind, it is easy to be more forgiving when the translation doesn’t quite capture the tone, rhythm, mood, the symbolic language, and passion of the original. But perhaps this merely shows the limitations of the English language itself rather than the process of translation. [End Page 329]
For the non-bilingual reader and those unfamiliar with Philippine history and its contemporary realities, Labrador’s scholarly introduction to the book offers the contextual background for the poems. In framing the poems within the postcolonial and feminist theoretical framework, the reader is made aware of the “whys” of how these poems came to be.
Mabanglo is a revolutionary feminist poet. Her poems are fire; get close enough and you get scorched. The strong and brave can withstand the searing truth of these poems but the weak and fainthearted can take shelter as the truth is spoken for them and with them here, their cause taken up by a woman warrior of words. The valorization of hybrid, diasporic, global, and postmodern identities often denies the presence of problematic identities created by manic global capitalism. The postcolonial response, as these poems assert, is always to re-root the self in its indigenous identity—that which is ancient, timeless, sacred. For Mabanglo, this is the Filipino self; a Filipino is a Filipino anytime, anywhere, and whatever identity-permutations history has thrown her way. It is this self that she searches for and she gives us hints of where this self has been squandered and then found. I am a Filipino/I vow to release/My relatives and family from fear;/ . . . I vow to be free/From any shame -/ . . . I am a Filipino with a soul/ That will remain Filipino/In whatever Country, in whatever Time/In whatever Body. (p. 5)
Invitation of the Imperialist as the title poem, is based on a poet’s experience of being invited to a benefactor’s mansion and the poet soon realizes that she is to be symbolically devoured in the guise of being the honored guest of the imperialist. The tense dialogue between benefactor and poet signifies the U.S.-Philippine relationship which first came into being as “benevolent assimilation” at the turn of the century. The gnawing, biting, chewing of the poet/guest’s body parts alludes to this struggle between colonizer and colonized. Yet the warrior of words grows back her thumbs and fingers after each bite promising: On millions of paper/Unit they become rising fists/Hands that cannot be counted:/Subverting you/Suffocating You/Smothering You. (p. 13)
The rest of the poems are about the heartrending stories of Filipinas who as overseas workers, domestic helpers, entertainment workers (e.g. Japayuki in Japan), mail order brides, nannies many often become victims of rape, abuse, murder, exploitation, unjust working conditions, and always enduring the pain of leaving one’s own children and family to take care of others. For Mabanglo, it is the women who suffer the most according to these poems, because they are the ones most likely to offer themselves as sacrifice in order to feed and clothe their families. The series, “A Pinay’s Letter From Brunei/Hongkong/ Australia/ [End Page 330] Singapore/ Kuwait/ U.S.,” portrays the women as warriors who have met their misfortune in war; they “endure hardship and bear my sorrow...