A Fresh Look and Listening to the Balagtasan
October 08, 2011 - In my hometown of Union City earlier today, I attended my very first Balagtasan Debate forum with my parents. The event was hosted by the City Council of Union City and the San Francisco Bay Area Filipino Community, featuring young Filipino-American spoken word poets on the first event and three prolific poets who flew all the way to the Philippines to hold a Balagtasan forum to Filipino-Americans familiar with the poetic debating and to those who have never seen or heard of a Balagtasan forum, such as myself. I have attended, watched, and listened to poetry events before during my school days, from watching my former high school's Forensics Club to even listening to local poetry slam sessions at the neighborhood coffee shops. Today was the first time that I attended a type of poetry event that has solid cultural ties to my ethnic roots.
Balagtasan is a form of poetic debating that was founded in the early 20th Century (around early 1920s) during the American colonization of the Philippines. The term was coined from a prominent Filipino poet of the late 19th Century, Francisco Balagtas (1788-1862), often referred to as the Filipino William Shakespeare. Balagtas was known for his collection of epic poetry, most notably Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura), which was considered Balagtas' poetic masterpiece. His poems were written in Tagalog, which was crucial to the Filipino linguistic identity during that time because the Filipino language back then was written predominantly in Spanish.
The Balagtasan forum consists of three poets: the two opposing debaters and the mediator of the debate. The subjects of debate are often of social or political in nature, rooted from the years of its first foundation, where poets, scholars and nationalists often argue and rebut over issues related to their cultural identities and their plights under American occupation of the country. Today, issues such as divorce and even the use of modern technology are some of the popular topics that are debated thorugh the Balagtasan forums.Continued on the next page