Maria Clara Speaks (pre-memoir)

[For Master’s Thesis Project]

The working title of my thesis project is Maria Clara Speaks; part personal story, part literary analysis, part excavation of heritage, lineage, and history.

Maria Clara is a character from José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, a novel first published in 1887 that would become a part of the Philippine revolution against Spanish rule that lasted for more than 300 years. I read the Penguin Classics edition (translated by Harold Augenbraum) from 2013-2016, during a time when I was searching for my Filipino identity through literature. I was surprised to learn that this female character, written by a man of his time, stood as my only representation in books for more than a century–the demure, pious, obedient young woman serving as the love interest of the hero Crisostomo Ibarra–known to be “the ideal Filipina”.

I will be working on this project in two-fold. One side will focus on the academic and historical research on Rizal’s novel: who/what were Rizal’s literary and real-life influences; critiques on the novel and Rizal’s other literary works; Philippine history during Spanish colonization and American occupation, in relation to gender roles and politics; and how the character of Maria Clara transformed into an archetype that would enter the Filipino consciousness of how Filipinas should and are expected to conduct themselves, and the intergenerational conflicts surrounding this idealization among family and community members (particular focus on Filipino Americans).

The other side, which is the main reason why I started this sub-blog, is to share my (semi-filtered but let’s-keep-it-real) reflections on the research and recollections of how I came to (almost) embody the Maria Clara archetype… basically, “the fun stuff” of writing.

Some of what I write under this sub-blog may eventually become part of my manuscript for the memoir, which I hope to publish in the near future, when all of this comes together. It is in my hope that this memoir helps to expand on the ever-growing Filipino American literature for representation and to reach out to any other Maria Clara-esque Pinay that needs to hear and tell her own story.

UPDATE (11/02/2021): After spending more than a year in my current program (with one semester break included), I decided to change the direction of my thesis. Initially, I envisioned this work to be more academic research-based, writing my own biography of Jose Rizal and analyzing his seminal text, from the perspective of a Filipina American literature student. But due to the pandemic and the lockdown, both of which limited my accessibility to certain resources and caused a mini existential crisis on my new adulthood, I felt the need to break away from the thesis project for some time and focus on other projects and my overall health.

And so, my current thesis stance is to simply write a memoir about a young woman living under the shadow of a fictional character, the “dalagang Pilipina”, and address the multitude of identities I have had to grapple with in search of myself, all of which tie in with my ideas and understandings of Filipinoness, womanhood, gender, sexuality, relationships, and family. Hopefully with this approach, I can help expand on the ever-growing catalog of Filipinx literature, while also inspire someone else to tell their own story with things that resonated from my own story.

[NOTE: Thesis project description may change, at the discretion of the author, so that its purpose becomes more coherent and intellectual-sounding.]

[updated 02/15/2021]