Hindi pa tapos ang Lagulad Essay Prize last year sa Socsargen, naisip ko nang gumawa ng something similar sa Cordillera. Maganda ang naging feedback sa proseso ng Lagalag. Organic ang naging approach namin ni Jude Ortega, editor ng Cotabato Literary Journal. It was a profound and urgent response to the pandemic, to save ourselves through language. To care for our mental health and write our way back to recovery and life. To write was to matter. To write dangerously was to defy the threat of the pandemic. My truth and my worldview will persist. That energy propelled Lagulad. Ang dami kong natututunan, sabi ni Gerome dela Pena, author ng Brief Moments. That was the idea. Kahit sinusubaybayan mo lang ang contest, may natututunan ka. May overlap ito sa The Writing Hour, isang series ng online writing exercises and conversations that I hosted. Katulad ng TWH, process-oriented ang Lagulad. Relationship building and participation were key. Sa akin, the true and most precious payoff was how it brought together a community of readers, writers, teachers, and learners. Mahalaga ito sa panahon ng isolation and despair: that we can get together through stories of loss and the language of brokenness.
I couldn’t wait to work with Frank Cimatu and LA Piluden, share best practices from Lagulad, learn new things. I kept going back to the trembling language of resistance. The traumatized and confused, the lifeblood of my peripatetic life across oceans and continents. Lagulad was a catalyst; language was the impetus. The years I spent with Room to Read was instrumental in understanding the heart of the human language, the right to speak the truth to power.
It didn’t take long to come up with a name for the prize. When I asked Frank to think of a name we would call the prize, he knew right away. Scotty’s Prize. Unfortunately, lumala na ang PTSD ko and I couldn’t function anymore. I was hospitalized for a month.
A week after my discharge, I messaged Frank about Scotty’s Prize. He shared a few developments that got me excited. Over time, sa mga kuwento’t update ni LA, the issue of language would come up. It wasn’t so much an issue but a flowering; how some of those who submitted would talk about how it felt to write personal essays in their own language. The last one was an emotional knockout for me. It reminded me of all the hundreds of authors, teachers, artists who I’ve worked with in other parts of the world. Batid ko na maraming bumubuhay at binubuhay ng wika. The most powerful moments to me were those occasions when the workshop participants would silently read their work and smile. It kills me, that smile. Sometimes, it’s a frown. Tears. Getting people to care about language was life-changing. I noticed some of the participants pausing in the middle of their writing and they would look out the window. Sa Sri Lanka ang mga activities namin sa tabing-dagat ay from sunrise to sunset.
I love that Frank and LA nurtured it, ran away with it, and it is where it is, at the moment, anxious to come out. Salamat talaga, guys. May variations yung level ng mentorship. Kasi nga first time so noong una they were worried. What if they couldn’t find enough and the right people who would be willing to read and translate these languages? I don’t know how they did it. Pero salamat talaga LA, Frank, Gawani at lahat ng tumulong. Congrats sa six finalists! Your stories in Kankanaey give light and reason to the world.
Mahalaga sa akin ang Kankanaey. Sa Sagada nagsimula ang ikalawang aklat ng buhay ko noong 1987 and I wanted to honor the place. February that year, unang anibersaryo ng EDSA, sinundo ako ng parents ko sa Saint Theodore of Tarsus Hospital sa Sagada. Napakalayo ng binyahe nila. Iba pa ang mga daan noon. Ang tagal nila akong hinanap. Isang araw, may naglongdistance sa kanila. Nandito po sa ospital ang anak niyo, Malou Guieb-Demetillo told them.
Nagdrive ang parents ko from San Jose, Nueva Ecija tapos nag-overnight sa Baguio sa mga relatives namin na nagmigrate doon after the war. Doon sila nagtanong kung saan ang daan papuntang Sagada. This was 35 years ago. “Diyos ko,” sabi ni Auntie Lourdes sa Aurora Hill, “paano siya nakarating doon?”
Unang anniversary ng EDSA, nakahiga ako sa ospital bed sa Saint Theodore’s Hospital. My parents quietly walked into the room. They drove a long way to find me. I had survived childhood trauma, homelessness, drug addiction, and two suicide attempts. Twenty years old. “Paano ka nakarating dito?” my mother asked tearfully.
The most enduring image that surfaces when I think about my time in Sagada in early 1987 emerged through the thick early morning fog. I was climbing up a narrow trail of mossy rocks, a dark gentle slope walled on both sides by a tall jungle of sunflowers, giant ferns, and wild berries. The path felt ancient, moss-grown rocks packed and paved.
Kasama kong naconfine sa ospital si Jonathan Liu, turista, a young Asian American tourist, Stanford business student. Nakabenda ang ulo. Initak sa falls. Ninakaw ang kamera. Wala akong memory ng mukha niya. Lagi kasi siyang nakasunglasses kahit nasa loob kami ng ospital. His attackers broke his prescription glasses. So he was left with his huge dark glasses. Para siyang invisible man.
May isa pa akong naging kaibigan doon na nasa Peace Corps. Dinadalaw ako ni Jerry Ward. Nakacheck-in siya sa Saint Joseph’s Hostel. May kinukuwento siya sa akin na bagong technology, abangan ko daw. Sattelite cable TV! Kahit noon pa ethereal na ang presence ni Sister Celestine.
Further up the trail I could hear children’s voices. Sila Celestina, Orlando, Maisa, Leah, at Donna. Anne made handmade tacos and Malou asked me to tell the kids lunch was ready. I was told that around this time, nakatira si Scotty sa Lantang. Language is not merely prep work, a requisite for higher education. It’s who we are, a vessel, not just of memory but of aspirations as well. It holds everything in us that’s brilliant and fragmented. It takes a lifetime to master, nourish, interrogate, and pass on. It’s a shelter, a bridge, a well where our consciousness dips to connect with others. Everything we fight for to make our world a better place, our battle for our own survival, in fact, all these are grounded in language. You can’t let it run dry.
This article is part of a series on the Scotty Prize. Find the rest here: