Johns Hopkins University Press
  • When the Shoe Doesn't Fit:Reading Cinderella as Colonial Children's Literature in the Philippines

This essay explores how non-Anglophone versions of the Cinderella story are used to affirm or challenge certain colonial or imperial ideals that were carried by canonical Eurocentric children's texts circulated during the Golden Age of children's literature. Examining two specific Philippine versions of Cinderella that were initially produced during the American colonial period (1898-1946) in the Philippines demonstrates that children's literature—particularly texts imported by colonial educators as well as texts produced by local writers—was a site of contestation and creation. This analysis focuses on how these adaptations were used as a tool for colonial expansion and education, but at the same time, were adapted to suit the search for a Philippine national identity.

When I was younger, I thought that Cinderella had to be tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. The Disney version emphasized that the Cinderella story was white and European—or at least a fantastical version of European medieval times with castles and kings and pumpkins. It was only when I was in my teens that I encountered other versions of Cinderella that were written by Filipinos—such as The Amazing History of Elang Uling by Nick Joaquin (1979) and Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella by Myrna J. de la Paz (2001)—and I began to realize that Cinderella was not just a single character or story but was fluid and in flux. It also made me realize that canonical, Eurocentric fairy tale characters like Cinderella could take place in the Philippines, portray characters who were Filipino, and highlight indigenous identities as well as Philippine colonial histories, weaving them into the familiar fabric of Cinderella's tale. I also credit my parents for introducing these Philippine Cinderella stories to me as a child, which emphasized the ways in which fairy tale stories could stretch to accommodate multiple versions.

In this essay, I explore what it means for non-Anglophone versions of Cinderella to question the Eurocentricity of the Golden Age of children's literature. [End Page 171] In particular, I read specific Philippine versions of Cinderella and examine whether they affirm or challenge certain colonial or imperial ideals that were carried by canonical Eurocentric children's texts circulated during the Golden Age of children's literature. That these versions were initially produced during the American colonial period in the Philippines, in which the public school system was modeled after the American educational system and used as a tool for colonization, implies that children's literature in the Philippines—texts imported by colonial educators as well as texts produced by local writers—was a site of contestation and creation. By examining two versions of Cinderella produced in the Philippines during this historical period, I focus on the possibilities of an alternative canon that considers the Filipino child reader as the primary audience. In particular, I demonstrate how children's literature, as exemplified by the two Philippine Cinderella stories I explore here, has been used as a tool for colonial expansion and education, but at the same time, has been adapted to suit more nationalist purposes. Through these lines of inquiry, I trace how attempts at national canon creation and colonial education influenced the adaptations of stories that belong to the Golden Age of children's literature, and how these adaptations can be traced back to colonial tensions and subversions.

The two Cinderella adaptations I investigate can both be traced back to the American colonial occupation of the Philippines (1898–1946). One is a version that appears in the Philippine Readers series by Camilo Osias and is titled "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers"; the other is a version that appears in the Lola Basyang series by Severino Reyes, Jr., which was serialized in the magazine Liwayway and is titled "Mariang Alimango." These adaptations, which were distributed through primers and popular publications, respectively, navigate the tension between the Eurocentric educational philosophies brought by American colonialists and nationalist legacies that were emphasized by writers in the Philippines who challenged Spanish, and later, American, colonial structures. I aim to make explicit these tensions by focusing on the fairy tale motifs in both the Osias version and the translated Reyes version that is currently in circulation.1 By examining and comparing how each author adapts specific characteristics of the Cinderella tale to address a Filipino child reader, I posit that these two versions represent the two significant trajectories that seeded children's literary canon-formation in the Philippines: Eurocentric affirmation and nationalist subversion. The tension between these two versions, their publishing history, and the narrative and symbolic tropes that they highlight show how fairy tales are primary examples of glocal literatures that circulate beyond the Golden Age of children's literature canon and are adapted by local authors to suit non-Western audiences.

Will the Real Cinderella Please Stand Up?

Though there are many versions of the Cinderella tale scattered across the world ("The Cinderella Bibliography"), several key components of the story remain [End Page 172] consistent across these versions. According to the Aarne-Thompson index of tales, the Cinderella tales are usually separated into two distinct varieties: the "Cinderella" stories, in which the focus is on the maltreatment of the protagonist at the hands of the stepmothers and stepsister, and the "Catskin" stories, in which the fathers' sexual desires for their daughters force them to flee their homes (Aarne and Thompson qtd. in Tatar 102). In both tales, the basic narrative pattern is made apparent in the way the protagonist, usually a young woman, is transformed through both her virtue and her appeal to a higher power and can find protection or escape. In Cinderella stories, the young woman is rewarded by a spirit or a magical being and transformed into a version of herself that becomes appealing to the ruling elite; however, in Catskin stories, the young woman is afforded a means of escape by wearing a magical pelt that allows her to evade the "unnatural" desires of her father and retain her virtue (Tatar 103).

The canonical, literary versions of the Cinderella story come from three specific European sources: Cenerentola by Giambattista Basile, published in 1634; Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre by Charles Perrault, published in 1697; and Aschenputtel by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, published in 1812 and updated in 1819. An English translation of Perrault's tale appears in Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book, first published in 1889. Drawing from both the Perrault and Grimm versions, Charles S. Evans retold an English version in 1919, accompanied by the now classic silhouettes illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The now familiar version of Perrault's Cinderella was adapted as an animated film by Walt Disney Studios in 1950, cementing its status as a classic fairy tale for children.

However, it is also important to note that though the version of Cinderella that has made its way into the canon of children's literature is usually visually depicted as white and European, other versions of Cinderella do not necessarily align with this specific image. For instance, in her analysis of Afro-Caribbean versions of Cinderella, Courtney Weikle-Mills points out that "Black Cinderella tales have persisted in the form of folktales and reggae songs. These new forms continue to address sexual violence in slavery and also challenge the legacies of white investments in black children … [in which children] encountered Cinderella in schools not just as a rags-to-riches tale, which has variants from many cultures, but as the specific story of a white girl named Cinderella" (70). Similarly, versions outside of Europe have long existed but have not attained the same level of popularity as the European versions, though they have been collected and interpreted by scholars and folklorists.2

In tracing the evolution of fairy tales, Jack Zipes writes that "the literary institutionalization of the fairy tale genre had to wait until the Romantic movement asserted the value of the imagination and fantasy at the end of the eighteenth century," underscoring that the canonization of fairy tales as literature roughly corresponds to ideologies of what constituted "literary" in the first place (145). This move, which enshrined the fairy tale as a literary genre for children, was wrapped up in the "shifting attitudes toward children, whose imaginations [End Page 173] were gradually declared more innocent than sinful [and] allowed for greater use of works of fancy to educate and amuse them" as well as in the creation of institutions and systems that allowed for a systematic curation of books meant to encourage a child's imagination (Zipes 147).

However, Anna Katrina Gutierrez moves further away from the simple institutionalization of fairy and folk tales as literature and positions these children's texts as part of a network of glocal literatures, in which "identity construction is not limited to traditional and national discourses but connects with the flows of globalized cultural narratives and social orders" (Mixed Magic 14). Gutierrez pays attention not just to the one-way flow (usually from West to East) of information, influence, and capital, but also takes into account the overlaps and blending between the global and local, or the "glocal," and pushes back against the hegemony of globalization, in which "[p]enetration or contamination entails the infiltration of global ideas (images, signs, processes, things) into local spaces (landscapes, rituals, routines) through cultural flows that occur in language" (Loriggio 55). This definition of globalization implies a one-way transfer of information, notably from the West to the East, and a passive acceptance of these ideas. Gutierrez resists this notion and instead advocates for an equal transfer of ideas from local to global and vice versa, noting that the integration of the global into the local is equalized when "the local is assimilated into and becomes indistinguishable from the global" (Gutierrez, Mixed Magic 7). Glocalization—particularly in the ways in which cultural narratives coming from colonial presence, such as that of the United States—frames the Cinderella versions in the Philippines as a way of presenting a canonical Eurocentric tale to Filipino child readers that moves "towards a pedagogical goal that is also charged with ideological meaning" (Gutierrez 7). The Cinderella version present in Osias's primer leans toward teaching the English language to children who were recently colonized by the United States, while the translated Reyes version seems to have a more nationalist purpose. Both versions indicate the push-and-pull movement of a nascent children's literary canon in the Philippines.

From Cinderella to Cecilia: Shifts in Philippine Education

Many of the folk and fairy tales circulating in the Philippines existed primarily within an oral tradition. In her essay "A History of Children's Literature in the Philippines," Maria Elena Paterno notes that many of the indigenous groups across the Philippine archipelago maintained some form of oral literature during the pre-Hispanic period that was passed down from one generation to the next, including folk narratives, songs, and riddles. These narratives were rarely codified into print even during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines from 1521 to 1898; instead, most reading materials for children were imported from Europe (Paterno 10).

Between 1898 and 1946, during the American colonial period in the Philippines, many American clergymen and public-school teachers, who traveled [End Page 174] across the Pacific Ocean in order to staff what was the fledgling public school system, used fairy tales in order to educate young Filipinos in the English language and Western morality. This mirrored the educational processes enacted in Central Europe a century before, in which "fairy tales and moral stories to teach reading comprehension effectively brought fairy tales like Cinderella to the Continent's public school children in nineteenth-century Europe" and continued the circulation of these texts (Bottigheimer 41). This access to folk and fairy tales was brought to the Philippines in what Malini Schueller describes as "intensely ideologically saturated texts" as part of the so-called benevolent assimilation of the Philippines under American colonial control (161). It was under American colonial rule that a public school system was institutionalized in the Philippines and modeled after the one that indoctrinated Native American children and systematically eradicated much of the diverse heritage of various Native American tribes. Schueller writes:

Little wonder that Fred Atkinson, the first general superintendent of public instruction, conscious of his duty to "Americanize" the archipelago, visited the Indian boarding school at Carlisle before leaving for the Philippines and that six thousand copies of the Uniform Course of Study for Indian Schools were printed for use in Puerto Rico and the Philippines.


In 1900, Act No. 74 of the Philippine Commission was enacted across the Philippines, creating the Philippine public school system (modeled after the American public school system) and declaring the use of English language and English-language texts as the primary mode of learning (Casambre 9). These declarations were made for both ideological and practical purposes since many of the first teachers in American-occupied Philippines were soldiers and civil servants, most of whom had no pedagogical training. This sense of "Americanization" is also articulated in many of the first-person accounts of the Thomasites, a group of 540 American school teachers who traveled to the Philippines in 1901 to set up the American colonial school system for Filipino children. Along with the arrival of the Thomasites were American textbooks, to be distributed across the archipelago (Casambre 8), upon which "[t]he success of the American experiment in the Philippines [was] largely due to the success achieved by the first American teachers in winning the hearts of the Filipino people" (Encarnacion 37). The books that the Thomasites brought to the Philippines, including primers and readers that contained folk and fairy tales from Europe and the United States, became tools for establishing the primacy of the colonial imagination by "transmitting American values to Filipino children" (Paterno qtd. in Sta. Romana-Cruz et al).

However, as more and more Filipinos entered the educational system as teachers and administrators, American primers and readers were slowly replaced by books that were written exclusively for Filipino children—with the approval of the American colonial government, of course. Camilo Osias, author of "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers," the first Cinderella tale under consideration [End Page 175] in this essay, is credited as the first Filipino textbook author as well as the first Filipino division superintendent of the Philippine commonwealth school system in 1915. Osias's The Philippine Readers series was completed in 1917 and first published in 1920 by Ginn and Company in Boston, Massachusetts. The set of seven volumes—one for each elementary grade—was continuously used in Philippine schools until well into the 1960s. Coloma observes that "[d] ue to its use and scope, the Readers [series] significantly impacted the development of Filipino mind, character, teaching, and learning for generations," particularly in its emphasis on the use of English as a primary language for the schoolroom and its hybrid nature as a text that both idolized and subverted American core values (305).

Unlike previously imported American text series such as The Baldwin Readers and The Insular Readers, The Philippine Readers series was consciously created to inculcate subtle concepts of national identity, especially in the reading selections that Osias curated for the series. Schueller describes the books themselves as being "[culturally independent] in the prefatory materials to the readers, while Osias affirms the difference of his materials from others through appeals to authenticity" (182). In fact, nowhere is this more obvious than his inclusion of Philippine folktales throughout all seven volumes, placing them on the same page as stories from the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. In fact,

Osias validates his inclusion of Filipino folktales in the volume by claiming a special familiarity with them. … [and although] Osias's statements about compiling folktales preserved from the past in order to transmit Filipino culture do assume cultural purity… it is vital to read these statements in the context of increasing calls for independence and the colonial administrators' insistence on the continued needs for tutelage.

(Schueller 183)

This influence can be seen particularly in the intermediate volumes of The Philippine Readers, where Osias directly addresses the student in the section "A Talk with the Pupil," in which he elaborates that the stories included in the volumes are stories "which your fathers and mothers enjoyed when they were young, stories that tell about brave and kind deeds, and selections that will help you to understand more about life and the things you see around you" (iii). Moreover, "Osias's readers boldly placed Filipino folktales alongside Grimm's tales and were notable in the sheer number of folktales they include" and were some of the very first Filipino folk stories that children encountered beyond the oral traditions endemic to their provinces (Schueller 182). A quick glance at the table of contents in volume five, for instance, shows folk stories such as "The Spider and the Fly" (Mary Howitt) and "Androclus and the Lion" (uncredited) sitting cheek by jowl with "King Crab" (described as a Filipino folk tale). That these stories were not separated or ghettoized into another section of the book shows how certain democratic attitudes informed Osias's editorial control over [End Page 176] the selections and insistence that Philippine folktales be recognized alongside American and European folktales.

However, while many non-Filipino folktales were included, many with either geographic or authorial attribution, Osias seemed inclined to adapt others to specifically address Filipino children, perhaps to showcase the versatility of well-known children's tales or to emphasize a nascent Philippine identity within a broader colonized space. Osias's adaptation of the Cinderella tale, "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers," appears in the Philippine Readers volume three. In this version, Cecilia is a young woman from the barrio whose mother had passed away, and so she is sent to live with her cruel aunt and cousins, who treat her terribly and force her to be their household servant. While doing the laundry, Cecilia overhears her cousins talking about the prince's ball and the kind of finery they were going to wear. Dejected, Cecilia goes to the river to wash the family's clothes, where she encounters a speaking crab, who introduces itself as the godmother of Cecilia and promises to make her dreams come true.3 The cruel aunt sees Cecilia speaking to the crab and orders the girl to capture and cook the crab for their supper. The crab forgives Cecilia and instructs her to bury the crab shell in the garden, from which a magical tree grows, and provides Cecilia with the finery and vehicle to attend the prince's ball. As the clock strikes midnight, Cecilia rushes to leave the ball but leaves behind a golden slipper. The prince orders his men to search for the girl whose feet could fit such delicate finery. The cousins try on the golden slipper and attempt to discourage the prince from seeking out Cecilia, but in the end, Cecilia is found in the kitchen, the slipper fits perfectly on her foot, and the prince marries her. The story ends with a moment of gratitude: "[a]fter Cecilia became his wife, she took good care of the tree that had been so kind to her" (90).

The story, which runs for about six pages and is printed in a font suitable for an elementary-age student, is written with very generic descriptions of the setting and the characters that may not necessarily indicate, at least on a textual level, that the story takes place in the Philippines. However, the black-and-white illustrations, created by Fernando Amorsolo for the Philippine Readers series, depicts a rural life in the Philippines. There are three illustrations deployed throughout the story that illustrate Filipino culture at the turn of the century. The first, which is presented at the top of the first page, shows a young woman in traditional household garments of a baro, a loose blouse worn by rural women, and a tapis or malong, a wraparound skirt with a woven pattern or design at the hem. The young woman cooks in front of an open fire, which is typical in poor households in the Philippines, and is surrounded by sets of banga clay jars typically used to hold a household's water supply. The house itself seems to be made of bamboo and nipa, a kind of mangrove palm typically used as building material in the Philippine lowlands. Amorsolo seems to reference the typical interior of a bahay kubo, or nipa hut, which is one of the names used during the American colonial period to refer to this kind of building. [End Page 177]

In the second illustration, Cecilia is once again depicted as a young woman with very clear Asian features walking barefoot on a stony ground and wearing the same clothes as in the first illustration. In her hands, she carries the god-mother/crab on a plate or serving dish and in the background is the exterior of the nipa hut. Once again, the details in this image serve to ground the tale in a specific Philippine setting and evoke a kind of rural aesthetic that is overlaid on Cecilia's tale.

In the third illustration, Cecilia is seen moving towards a young man, who is gesturing towards her while simultaneously opening the door of what looks like a profusely decorated carriage. Here, there seems to be a clash of visual elements. Cecilia, as well as the stepsisters and stepmothers, seem to be wearing more modest and formal clothes; the headpieces and draperies evoke either Catholic modesty and innocence or lean towards the style of dress known as the lihin-lihin, layers of formal blouses and decorated capes and robes worn by women in various other parts of the Philippines. The young man, who we may assume to be the prince, also wears a headpiece and what seems to be more elaborate clothing, and carries a bolo, a traditional Filipino weapon, strapped to his side. However, the carriage itself seems to be decorated in a more European manner that seems to clash with the otherwise very Philippine-centric drawings. Though there is no concrete evidence that Amorsolo's illustrations were dictated or influenced by Osias over the course of the creation of the Philippine Readers series, the illustrations are clearly doing the work of establishing the milieu of "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers" beyond what is indicated in the text. The gap between the text and the illustration provides a space for the tension between colonial power and national identity and depicts the push-and-pull of these two forces on the page.

Furthermore, Osias's Cinderella adaptation seems to recognize that it needed to satisfy two different ideological projects that can be gleaned from both the text and the illustrations. First, it works to normalize American colonialism through institutionalizing a foreign language, English, within a formal educational structure, thereby ignoring the diversity of tongues that existed throughout the Philippines. Coloma points out that "[t]hese different types of stories are meant to fulfill the goals of English language acquisition and literacy ... [and that] these goals are fulfilled with the use of stories that are culturally meaningful to Filipino children," thereby inextricably linking student literacy with the American colonial project (318–319). Even Osias tacitly connects the two in the paratext of the volumes. He credits American folklorists such as Mabel Cook Cole as the source of many of the Filipino fairy tales, not the indigenous sources themselves, and he explicitly addresses this in his preface to the 1932 edition of The Philippine Readers volume three, saying that he is "aware of the things in Philippine and foreign life and literature worthy of transmission to Filipino children" (Osias iv). He tacitly acknowledges his part in creating the Philippine canon of children's literature by curating stories for children that leaned towards a pro-imperialist project. These stories were not only edited [End Page 178] and condensed for young Filipino readers but also approved by the American colonial system that oversaw public school education in the Philippines.

Second, the adaptation subverts traditional American and Eurocentric values regarding Cinderella's character and behavior. Admittedly, Osias constructs a "passive" Cinderella character whose eventual ascension to royalty and all that it represents is not through her action but her inaction, but this does not necessarily mean that Cecilia simply accepts her fate. As author Vida Cruz observes in her essay on the "inactive" protagonist, "What is perceived as 'activeness' in a character manifests the American values of rugged individualism, of 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps,' of Manifest Destiny. 'Activeness' in character, as promoted by the US publishing industry, ignores the contributions and influence of community and society on the personality and actions of the character" (Cruz). In this case, Cecilia's character is a product of her childhood trauma and her marginalized upbringing as a young girl in servitude for unclear reasons. Her desire to attend the prince's party in a new dress and slippers can be seen as a desire for acceptance and pleasure, two things that are clearly absent in her current life. However, she does not have the power to obtain these items on her own; her subject position does not give her many opportunities to take action. But what Cecilia does have is the capacity to believe, first, that her godmother is the crab that she found in the river, and second, that if she buries the crab's remains, a tree will grow and fulfill her desires. If Cecilia's subject position as the mistreated orphan is mapped on to the Philippines' status as an American colony, then Cecilia becomes emblematic of a kind of Filipino subject within the colonial system, with very little recourse or ability to actively challenge the system as an individual. It is curious that at the very end of the story, when the prince comes with the golden slipper, Cecilia's first (and possibly only) action is to hide: "Cecilia did not want to come. She tried to hide, but the prince's friends found her. They brought her in to try the golden slipper" (90). The moment that Cecilia tries to act for herself, she is prevented by more powerful figures: the prince and his friends. And yet, despite this act of force, Cecilia seems to find a way to assert her individuality and identity even as she is married off to the prince. By ascending to power, Cecilia takes her godmother's tree with her and shows her gratitude to the tree by ensuring its survival, since it was the only constant element of kindness in her life.

Maria Talks Back: Identity and Ideology in a Cinderella Story

Unlike Camilo Osias's primers, which were written within the system of Philippine public education, Severino Reyes's series of stories for children were written to entertain and inspire and better showed a Filipino national identity beginning to emerge. Using the pseudonym Lola Basyang, Reyes published over five hundred stories for children in Liwayway Magazine, a popular mainstream periodical, from 1925 until Reyes's death in 1942. Philippine book historian Patricia May Jurilla notes that Liwaway was the most popular Tagalog-language [End Page 179] weekly magazine circulating at that time, which meant that both children and adults would have had access to the magazine, and therefore to the Basyang tales (37). As Paterno notes, though "the prevailing idea of children's literature at the time seems to have been as a vehicle for teaching or transmission of concepts, knowledge, and values … a break from this traditional idea occurred in the mid-1920s [when] Severino Reyes published his first story for children in Liwayway magazine under the pen name Lola Basyang" (qtd. in Sta. Romana-Cruz et al.). His children's stories were attributed to a grandmother figure, the titular character Lola Basyang, which has been compared to the Eurocentric Mother Goose character. Extant versions of the Lola Basyang tales use the framing device of having a grandmother telling various Philippine folk stories to her grandchildren to entertain them and to pass down morality lessons or some aspect of a Philippine identity. Not only did Lola Basyang represent how generational memories are passed down from adult to child, there is also an emphasis in the orality of the tales themselves. Furthermore, Reyes was also conscious of the language that he used to write in Liwayway, using Tagalog as his language of choice to consciously reach out to readers who may not have had access to the kind of English-language education that Osias promoted.4 This choice of language reflects the larger trends of literary production during the "Golden Age" of the Tagalog novel, in which Tagalog authors were quickly overshadowed by "the gains of American colonial policy … a new elite [of] educated Filipinos fluent primarily in English, Western-oriented, and alienated from the native heritage" (Jurilla 37, 39). As such, writers such as Reyes were slowly pushed to the margins by the Philippine literati, who celebrated writers who were fluently writing in English and educated in American institutions.

Not only did Reyes seem cognizant of these cultural changes but he also used them to subvert or poke fun at American colonialism and those that benefit from it. It was clear that he was aware of the Eurocentric folk and fairy tale patterns he used in his stories, and he adapted these narratives to suit local tastes. Garces-Bacsal et al. observe that Reyes "imbued the foreign fairy tales with social tensions and realities from within a local context. He overtly inverted the balance of power by allowing the underdog to prevail, giving a voice to the silenced in most of his tales," implying that not only was he aware of fairy tale patterns coming from the West but that he saw them as a malleable form that could be used as a platform for social commentary (20). Similarly, Lola Basyang scholar Christine Bellen points out that "[Reyes's] ability to provide a new form—to include or approximate Philippine culture in these traditional stories—is probably the reason as to why his stories were able to withstand the test of time" (55).5 But beyond Reyes's own creative work, it is also valuable to note that his original stories are not easily or publicly accessible—rather, it is the work of contemporary academics, editors, and translators in the Philippine children's literature community that have provided the means for readers to be able to read partial compendiums of his work. [End Page 180]

Furthermore, unlike Osias's work, which complied with the educational requirements of the American colonial school system, Reyes was clear in his position as a critical voice against the American imperialists. His stories were replete with characters who represented or stood for the various struggles of the Filipino working class. Unlike the conflicting ideologies between colonial powers and national identity present in Osias's adaptation, Reyes mined "indigenous and animistic roots woven into the multivocality of stories in a colonized country [where] his fearless appropriation of fairy tales ... establish[es] resonances with the common folk's sensibility" emphasizing that a national identity could be built on a diversity of Philippine precolonial narratives in his children's stories (Garces-Bacsal et al. 25).

In her own study of the Lola Basyang stories, Gutierrez emphasizes that Reyes's creative choices were also a result of access to international children's fairy tales, especially since these texts "are some of the most well-travelled forms of literature, flowing from East to West and back so that they have become truly global" and are prone to becoming localized depending on where they end up ("Mga Kwento" 164). In fact, Reyes's conscious decision to incorporate subversive elements in his stories—such as Filipino trickster characters able to outsmart Spanish colonial characters—shows how the Lola Basyang tales were overlooked, especially since

[h]is revolutionary writings earned him unfavourable attention from the colonisers, causing the timely shift of his focus onto Lola Basyang. Reyes realised that [the American colonial powers'] predisposition to look upon fantasy and fairy tale as a form of low culture and as escapist entertainment caused them to overlook the revolutionary undertones of Lola Basyang. He relished the freedom intrinsic to the genre, drawing upon Western and Asian tales and grounding them on ethnic folk tales.

In a way, by adapting Cinderella for a popular magazine readership, especially a readership of young Filipinos, Reyes seems to imply that the English-language fairy tales that were being circulated by American educators and institutions were actually not solely Anglo-American in origin, but rather can also be traced back to a Philippine literary tradition. Reyes's adaptation of a version of Cinderella for his own Lola Basyang series, "Mariang Alimango," seems to have been particularly inspired by the Tagalog metrical romance Salita at Buhay ni Mariang Alimango,6 which has been described as "an interesting mixture of the Cinderella story with the Constance-Saga. Two oral versions of the life of Maria taken down from the mouths of Tagalogs in 1903 have already appeared in English" (Fansler 226). This may have been referring to the versions of the Maria tale written down by American folklorists Fletcher Gardner and W. W. Newell in 1906, which seems to have served as a launching point for Reyes's adaptation as well. Maria is a common female name used in many Philippine folktales, and seems to be used as a placeholder name in the version Gardner and Newell are analyzing. [End Page 181]

In these contemporary times, the version of Reyes's adaptation of "Maria Alimango" that can be easily accessed is the one translated by writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando, based on research conducted by Filipino scholar Bienvenido Lumbera, who had access to the archives of the Reyes family. This version, along with eleven other translations from Reyes's oeuvre, appears in the anthology The Best of Lola Basyang: Timeless Tales for the Filipino Family, released by Manila-based children's book publisher Tahanan Books in 1997. Almost two decades later, Tahanan Books published three more volumes of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang in 2013, retold in contemporary Filipino by Christine S. Bellen. However, "Maria Alimango" does not appear in these additional volumes. The adaptation by Cordero-Fernando and Lumbera is the one I use for my analysis in this section.

Unlike Osias's "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers," which tells a short and straightforward version of the Cinderella tale, this translated version from Reyes divides the story "Maria Alimango" into three parts, which seems to mimic its serialized nature when it was first published. It also shifts away from the common narrative pattern of the Cinderella tale, providing a long introduction that focuses on Maria's parents, Juan and Dalida (Tagalog for "delight"). It starts with Juan falling in love with another woman named Kikay (Tagalog for "vain"); Kikay orders Juan to murder his wife so that they can be together. The lovesick Juan takes his wife out to sea during an oncoming storm and pushes her to her death, then returns to town and marries Kikay. Maria is treated like a servant in her stepmother's house, more so when she is truly orphaned after her father dies.

However, similar to Cecilia, Maria encounters a talking crab who reveals itself to be her mother and provides Maria with support and company as she goes about with her chores. But Kikay discovers this and orders the other servants to capture the crab and cook it for supper. The crab instructs Maria to gather the scraps of its shell and plant them in the garden after she is consumed and asserts that the tree that will grow from the shell will bear a magical fruit that could fulfill Maria's desire. After the death of the crab-mother, and during another one of her chores, Maria also encounters an old woman, who magically gives her a "star of goodness" on her forehead, signifying the purity of her spirit. When Kikay moves to punish Maria with a stick of firewood for an infraction, the magic seems to make the stick comes to life and hits Kikay instead.

The third part of the story focuses on the arrival of Don Enrique, the son of the governor-general, who essentially plays the role of the Prince Charming character in the story. While Maria's stepsisters and stepmother prevent her from attending the celebration held in his honor, she whispers to the magical fruit that she wishes to dance with Don Enrique. The fruit provides her with her finery and carriage, and she dances with Don Enrique all night. However, in an effort to prevent her stepfamily from discovering her identity, she leaves abruptly and forgets her glass slipper. Don Enrique orders his soldiers to search the entire town for the owner of the glass slipper. Suspecting that Maria might [End Page 182] be the mysterious woman, Kikay ties up Maria in a rice sack and hides her behind the kitchen stove; however, when the soldiers visit, the magical tree whispers to them that there is another young woman hidden in the kitchen. Maria is able to prove that she is the owner of the slipper and she is brought to Don Enrique, who recognizes her and asks her to marry him. As his wedding day gift to Maria, Don Enrique banishes her stepmother and stepsisters to a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.

Unlike the linear narrative that Osias uses in "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers," Reyes opts for a more fragmented narrative structure of Maria's trials and tribulations. In eschewing the traditional cause-and-effect progression of the Cinderella plot, Reyes seems to mimic a heteroglossic method of storytelling by leaning into shifts in narrative voice, in which the voice stops and starts, or even contradicts itself. For instance, the father Juan is initially introduced in the first part as a man with "a soft heart," and yet at the end of the section, he is described as "crazed… [and] wicked" as he murders Dalida (28, 32). Similarly, in the second section of the story, the narrator begins by describing the conversations between two characters (such as Maria and the crab-mother, or Maria and the old woman) but never quite informing the reader of the results of these conversations. As such, when we get to the end of the section, when Maria receives the "star of goodness," the scene suddenly shifts to Maria and Kikay:

Kikay saw Maria laughing to herself and grew angry. She took a stick of firewood to hit the girl. Miraculously, the stick came to life and gave Kikay a swift blow on her behind instead. Kikay was about to hit the girl again when all of a sudden she stopped. A beautiful star was shining on Maria's forehead. Kikay was dumbstruck by what she saw. She dropped the stick and fled.


And yet in the third part of the tale, Kikay does not recognize Maria's "star of goodness" (in fact, most of the characters do not notice it); during the Governor-General's ball, one of her daughters, Felisa, says "Look at the star on her forehead … isn't that the star that we sometimes see on Maria?" to which Kikay responds, "I just don't know" (42). This momentary lapse in memory is never explained in the text, and there is no follow up to clarify why Kikay would respond in such a way to a visual cue that was described in the previous section.

Furthermore, the opening scene of Juan and Kikay's romantic dalliance and the subsequent murder of Dalida does not seem to belong in a children's story, but seems to have taken on an almost melodramatic turn that does not seem to impact the rest of the tale:

One day, while Juan was in Kikay's house, the crafty widow began to complain. "Everyone is saying behind our backs that I am nothing but your plaything. If you really loved me you would do something about it."

"What can I do?" Juan answered. "You know I have a wife and child."

"That's true," said Kikay. "But if you really wanted to, you could save me from all the terrible gossip." [End Page 183]

The widow began to pout and weep. "I guess you don't really love me," she cried.

"How can you say that?" asked Juan. "You know I can't live without you."

"You have no pity for me," sobbed Kikay. "Maybe it's best that you leave!"


This raises a question: Why did Reyes include this section? Why not start with Maria's childhood? Perhaps this is because Reyes might have been more familiar with the versions laid out by Gardner and Newell, which similarly open with the affair between Juan and another woman, and Juan's subsequent murder of his wife. I suggest that, to Reyes, the influential version of Cinderella was not the European version but the folk version that circulated in the Philippine islands prior to the arrival of the Americans. If so, then this ties back to his larger concerns regarding the establishment of a body of Philippine literature written in the local language rather than in English.

A written version of this localized Cinderella folktale is preserved in an article titled "Filipino (Tagalog) Versions of Cinderella" collected by Gardner and Newell in The Journal of American Folklore. In this article, they provide a translation of two versions of Cinderella from Tagalog to English and compare these versions to a Spanish Cinderella tale. In the footnotes, Gardner and Newell insist on the authenticity of the orality of the version they were able to put on the page, saying that they first heard of the Tagalog version in 1903 from a man named Cornelio, who said he had heard the stories from a different person living on another island. Gardner notes that he took down the story by "listening attentively to the tale in Tagalog, and then at once writing it out in English, from memory, and having this story retold, with the translation at hand, to detect inaccuracies" since "at the time the stories were written I [Gardner] was almost as familiar with spoken Tagalog as with English" (265). It seems that this kind of assumption of linguistic superiority allows the authors to claim that their version, which was conveyed in Tagalog orally, translated into English by a non-native speaker, and then repeated in both (spoken) Tagalog and (written) English is authentic. In their comparative analysis of the two translations, they note that the Tagalog version "gives a lesson in respect to the diffusion of märchen [sic]. In the glass slipper and other traits, the Spanish shows the influence of the printed form, from which, however, it is not exclusively derived; according to the usual rule, we have the 'contamination' of one form of the tale by others" (275). Though there is no definition or reference of what they meant by "the usual rule," it seems that they make a strong argument for the authenticity of one version over another, as though the Spanish Cinderella story should be considered more original or authentic than the Mariang Alimango version collected by Gardner and Newell. Given the porousness of the Reyes adaptation and the broader project of Reyes's literary production as a way of emphasizing Philippine literatures written in the vernacular, it's clear that the experiences of colonization are is intertwined with identity. Reyes does not seem to be imagining a pre-colonial past, or an imagined Philippines before [End Page 184] the arrival of Spain. Rather, Reyes seems to want to include the experience of colonization as part of a Philippine national identity.

As such, this concept of "contamination" is not really contamination in the sense of a "pure" version and a "dirty" version; rather the concept can be mapped as a kind of proto-description of glocal literatures: the heterogeneous nature of the Cinderella narrative, as per Gardner and Newell, shows how malleable the story is. That they can trace a "Cinderella"-type story as a tradition from Spain—perhaps circulated or originating from three centuries of Spanish colonial presence in the Philippines—but also as a Tagalog folktale and then link it to the English (in other words, American) version of the story shows how meme-able (to borrow from Jack Zipes) such cultural narratives are. In fact, Gutierrez notes how Cinderella is a prime example of "narrative prototypes" that can easily cross geographical and cultural borders because of shared human experiences (Mixed Magic 21–22).

As such, the Philippine versions show how such local adaptations emphasize that "each version does not simply perpetuate the prototypical script but conveys something about the domain in which it is produced"—in this case, exemplifying the tensions between colonial and national hegemonies (Mixed Magic 21). For instance, the role of the fairy godmother in both the Osias and Reyes versions also takes on a more complex turn. In both versions, the godmother is not human but takes on the animal form of the crab, thereby becoming the fairy crab-mother. In Philippine mythology, crabs were usually seen as cosmogenic entities. For example, in the stories of the Mandaya tribe in the Southern Philippines, the giant crab Tambanokano was the child of the Sun and the Moon and is credited with controlling the ocean tides (Cole). The crab is also intrinsically tied to images of water. In the Osias version, Cecilia encounters the crab while washing clothes by the river; in the Reyes version, Maria encounters the crab while drawing water from a well. These intimate ties to the landscape seem to be important in showing how Cecilia and Maria were beloved by the very land that they were born on and that their rewards were a result of that birthright. By using a creature that exists in the everyday life of a Filipino child reader, Osias and Reyes draw upon native familiarity in order to shift the story from a Eurocentric to a Philippine location.

In both versions, the heroic sacrifice of the crab becomes the conduit for the land's magic. Aside from helping the Cinderella characters with their household chores, once the crab's presence is discovered by the cruel stepmother, the crab allows itself to be sacrificed in order to save Cecilia/Maria from being punished. Though the crabs are consumed by the stepfamilies, the remnants of the fairy crab-mother still reward Cecilia/Maria, since the buried shell of the crab becomes the site of the magical tree that flowered and provided the means by which Cecilia/Maria could access the ball. This kind of physical self-sacrifice does not appear in the same way in Eurocentric versions of Cinderella, if at all; for instance, in Perrault's famous French version, the fairy godmother simply appears and disappears without consequences. Niels Mulder points out that [End Page 185] this focus on the mother (and not the fairy godmother) is "at the heart of social life" for the Filipino, since the mother exemplifies "self-sacrifice and life-giving qualities" (81). This turn exhibits particular social cues and value systems in Philippine culture that further emphasizes its shift away from the Eurocentric versions of Cinderella.

Furthermore, in terms of Cinderella characterizations, Reyes's Maria seems to play a more active role compared to Osias's Cecilia. Maria tries to ask her father about his choice in marrying Kikay so soon after Dalida's seemingly accidental drowning and voices her own sorrow at the death of her mother, while Cecilia seems to accept her fate as the workhorse in her stepmother's household. But much like Cecilia, Maria still allows events to happen to her instead of acting on events. Author and educator Jane Yolen writes that "the mass market books have brought forward a good, malleable, forgiving little girl and put her in Cinderella's slippers" and argues that, had Cinderella not been enshrined as a canonical fairy tale by her transformation from oral tradition to print, she would have stayed truer to her folk roots (25). Unfortunately for the Filipino Cinderella tale, there is little evidence of what those folk roots could have been, since even earlier variations of the tale had already been adapted, both linguistically and narratively, from pre-existing forms—in Osias's case, from the children's books imported from America, and in Reyes's case, from the metrical romances left behind by Spain combined with fragments of local legends and written records from American anthropologists. However, despite drawing from narrative traditions that lean heavily on colonial influences, both Osias and Reyes did not just retell an existing story. Rather, they braided together different strands of folkloric elements—including the Spanish and American elements—and began to create something new: a story specifically meant for the Filipino child. This moment shows how glocal literatures can push back against the Eurocentric singularity of the Golden Age of children's literature and shows that they can hold alternative purposes beyond the colonial push towards English-language acquisition and, consequently, Western values.

The Filipino Child Reader: Then and Now

As National Artist Virgilio S. Almario emphasizes, both Osias and Reyes created stories that were "instant successes" and were adapted and circulated to an entire generation of Filipino children who, for all intents and purposes, were receiving print stories crafted with them in mind for the first time. However, Almario also notes that

Unfortunately, the two projects entrenched the division between the "educational" and the "popular" reading materials begun during the Spanish colonial period. They also typified much of the initiative in the field of children's books in the last six decades. Thus, we can speak of [Osias and Reyes] like two sources of influence or like two modern historical signposts which have guided the writing of children's literature up to the present.

(27) [End Page 186]

This division between what is educational and what is popular has always been part of a longer historical debate about the purpose of children's literature in a larger social context, and many argue that "[c]hildren's books are thus inevitably didactic in some way: even the most child-friendly is adopting some implicit attitudes" (Hunt 14). In this case, we can already intuit some of these "implicit attitudes" towards the Filipino child reader by examining how Osias and Reyes used the Cinderella tale to impart specific identifiers meant to showcase a nascent and postcolonial Filipino identity. The use of narrative elements such as shifting the story's location from a vaguely European medieval setting to a more homely Filipino setting, the presence of specific magical creatures such as a talking crab, which would perhaps be more familiar to a Filipino child growing up in an archipelagic country, and showing how the characters behave in culturally specific ways allows the Filipino child reader to identify with the characters and the narrative.

By positioning Cecilia and Maria as the center of their own narratives, the authors implicitly center the Filipino child as a reader, privileging their experiences as a way to access the story, instead of forcing the Filipino child to identify with the more popular European versions. In a way, although "the intricate relationship between colonialism and children's stories … betray[s] 'a pattern of imperial culture,'" it is clear that there were also pockets of resistance (Bradford qtd. in Garces-Bacsal et al. 26). Unlike the Cinderella story imported by colonial educators, both Osias and Reyes do not alienate the Filipino child reader; yet by having different versions written in English and Tagolog, respectively, they also have diverging views on who exactly the Filipino child reader is. It is clear that Osias meant for "Cecilia and the Golden Slippers" to be used as a pedagogical tool to systematically teach English to Filipino children, while Reyes develops his version of "Mariang Alimango" from a mix of Spanish and Tagalog sources that highlighted a desire for national identity and representation.


By using these two stories as case studies for the ways in which stories from the Golden Age of children's literature were received, adapted, and circulated in the Philippines during the American colonial period, we can see the seeds of a Philippine children's literary canon being planted. In taking a tale considered to be a canonical children's text in a Western context, and then adapting and recasting the elements of the story in order to address a specific group of children while at the same time maintaining a particular cultural identity and tone in the way the tale was adapted, it is clear that there were already attempts to differentiate stories in which Filipinos were subordinate and stories in which Filipinos are the protagonists of the tale.

By including aspects of ordinary Philippine life in their adaptations, Filipino children are seen and included in the tale, instead of being excluded or marginalized. Furthermore, by making explicit the indigeneity and variety of Cinderella versions, Osias and Reyes laid the groundwork for other Filipino [End Page 187] authors to seek new ways of adapting, twisting, and recontextualizing Western fairy tales for Filipino children.7 In this manner, fairy tale glocalization becomes a way for children's story writers to reassert dimensions of a national identity that can be easily subsumed by colonial hegemonies.

By reimagining the Cinderella story in the Philippines and distributing these adaptations through both institutional and popular methods, there was an opportunity to renew them for the Filipino children living and learning during the American colonial period. Caught between the colonial hegemony of state education and the nascent national awakening brought, in part, by the dissemination of newly adapted cultural narratives, these adaptations raised a new generation of Filipinos who became familiar with multiple versions of canonical children's texts and gave them a chance to learn how to navigate a glocal and expansive cultural path. [End Page 188]

Gabriela Lee

Gabriela Lee is a faculty member at the University of the Philippines, teaching creative writing and children's literature. She is currently on study leave, pursuing her PhD in English at the University of Pittsburgh.


1. To my knowledge, there is no public access to the original Lola Basyang archives. For the purposes of this essay, I use the English adaptation provided by Gilda Cordero Fernando in my analysis.

2. See Rhodopis (Egypt), Yeh-Hsien (China), Finette Cendron (Spain), and a number of Greek Cinderellas used as examples by Ruth B. Bottigheimer in her chapter "Cinderella: The People's Princess" in the book Cinderella Across Cultures (2016).

3. Many other Asian versions of Cinderella feature talking water creatures in rivers as a motif, though it is unclear if Osias was aware of this while adapting this story.

4. It's important to note that while Reyes uses Tagalog in his works, there are many languages other than Tagalog that are used in the Philippines. Reyes's choice of Tagalog may complicate his anti-Imperialist project, but I argue that it was a conscious choice for contributing to a Filipino national identity. However, a fuller examination of Reyes's contributions to Philippine literature and the politics of his language use is outside the scope of this essay.

5. Translated from the original article in Filipino, which reads: "Ang kakayanan niyang bigyan ng panibagong bihis–ang iangkop o bigyan ng apropriasyon sa kulturang Pilipino ang mga tradisyunal na kuwento–ang siyang dahilan upang makipagtagisan ang mga ito sa panahon."

6. Trans. "The Words and Life of Mariang Alimango"

7. These include Nick Joaquin's Pop Stories for Groovy Kids series, Gilda Cordero-Fernando's Bad Kings and The Magic Circle, and Edgar Calabia Samar's Janus Silang series, among others.

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