By Patricia H. Kushlis
I first learned about Inang Bayan’s New Clothes from one of the few informative articles I’ve come across of late in State the State Department’s in-house magazine so I sent out feelers to see if I could obtain a copy.
Don’t ask how I got it but I did.
That’s best kept part of my “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – because of an outdated law known as Smith-Mundt that restricts Americans’ access to learning what our taxpayers’ dollars are supporting overseas. Thanks to the Internet, however, you can at least see American Ambassador Kristie Kenney on the US Embassy’s webpage reading from the book to a group of Filipino girls in 2006 when it first appeared. It then took over a year for the story to appear in State – but better late than never.
Suffice it to say that I’ll bet you never dreamed that US government money would help finance a story about two Filipino girls – Feliza and Nurhana, one Christian and the other Muslim – who live in Mindanao, work in a dress shop after school and despite their families’ religious differences are best of friends.
The purpose of this book is to promote inter-communal understanding – and it is clearly aimed at Filipino girls. It is full of pretty clothes, lovely pictures, and paper dolls to dress. In so doing, it shows the multi-ethnic heritage of Filipinos and it also depicts how it is possible – two girls at a time - to play a part in overcoming the devastating religious cleavage that has bedeviled the southern-most part of the archipelago for years. The name Inang Bayan means the Philippine Motherland or Spirit. It dates back - at least - to the early 1900s. Inang Bayan is also known as the "first muse" of Philippine poets.
In short, this little paperback book with cut-outable inserts is a winner.
Its authors – Tony Perez and Agnes Caballa - are veteran Filipino public diplomacy staff at the US Embassy in Manila and its illustrator is Frances Alcaraz, a illustrator and Ateneo de Manila University professor. Perez is an award winning author in his own right and Caballa is a television script writer, lyricist and stage director, as well as co-editor of the magazine Muslim Life in the Philippines. The book was published by Anvil, a major Filipino publishing house, and its publication and production was financed by the U.S. government. Inang Bayan’s New Clothes is, apparently, still in print – or perhaps back in print because it is so popular. But don't expect to find it on Amazon. The text is in both Cebuano (the language of Mindanao) and English.
Now you might ask why the US government would invest in a children’s book of this sort. It’s not, after all, about promoting the US image abroad. But in the event you’ve forgotten, in 2002 the US sent a small number of troops to the Philippines to help the Philippine armed forces cope with Mindanao-based Muslim insurgents including those with ties to Al Qaeda. As far as I can tell, the insurgents as well as Philippine and US troops are still there and the government’s long-standing insurgency problem has yet to be resolved for numerous reasons.
Yet Inang Bayan’s New Clothes is, at the very least, a tiny – delightful - step in the right direction.