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Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Dekada ‘70’ by Lualhati Bautista

by Bryan Meniado

For Women’s Month, I’m sharing the classic novel and winner of the 1983 Palanca Award Grand Prize: Dekada ‘70 by the late Lualhati Bautista, one of the most celebrated Filipina authors. I’ve read this once before but of course many books, such as this one, deserve a couple or more rereads to really let the lessons sink in and to gain new perspectives.

Lualhati Bautista (1945~2023) was a Filipina writer, novelist, and activist. Her popular works include: Dekada ‘70; Bata, Bata, Pa’no Ka Ginawa?; ‘GAPÔ, and Desaparesidos. Her stories usually feature a strong female protagonist with plots revolving around the themes of social injustice, activism, and women empowerment. 

First published in 1983, Dekada ‘70 tells the story of Amanda Bartolome, a middle-aged woman in Manila, and her middle-class family as they live during the period of Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the 1970s. With its setting, the story goes beyond the Bartolome household, as it also entails topics on women issues, Philippine history, and society. 

Although Dekada ‘70 is a work of fiction, the characters and scenes in the novel are inspired by real people and their experiences. The book also recounts actual events in Philippine history. So if you want to learn more about life and what had transpired in the Philippines during the ’70s, this novel is for you. 

Here are five key reminders from Dekada ‘70 by Lualhati Bautista, and why we Filipinos should read or reread it!

  1. Lualhati Bautista tells us that a woman is not just a “mere woman” or “babae lang.” Women deserve respect not only in the usual chivalric sense but also in terms of acknowledging their struggles, potential, and aspirations. The novel’s echoing message is that women should always have agency. They should be able to think, choose, and shape their own lives without necessarily succumbing to society’s notion of what a woman should be. 
  1. Dekada ‘70 reminds us to be more conscious of our privileges as not everyone has the same life circumstances. Each one of us come from different families, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds. Not everyone of us has the same social connections and networks, which in turn can either limit or boost our life chances and opportunity to thrive.
  1. Once we recognize our privileges (or other people’s privileges), we become more aware of the inequalities and injustices that surround us; we start to see patterns of oppression. Then, we begin to question and analyze our respective positions in society. Jules, one of Amanda’s sons in Dekada ‘70, represents this kind of awakening, as he becomes more aware of the social and historical ills of Philippine society at that time. This is also true for Amanda, as she questions the claim that our society is a “man’s world.” 
  1. Jules’ character in Dekada ‘70 reminds me of one of my favorite books: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. As I’ve learned from Freire, real education is not there to test our memory or for us to perfect our exams. It’s there to make us better human beings who value and cherish our fellow beings. Dekada ‘70 reiterates this point. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ by Paulo Freire”)
  1. This is nothing new but is still worth repeating: Many of us tend to view writing as something we only do on the side, perhaps a hobby or an outlet for our creative juices, but not as something we can pursue as a career. This may be the case because some often see creative pursuits such as writing as “impractical” compared to more “lucrative” professions. But Lualhati Bautista thinks otherwise, as she subtly criticizes this perception in her novel, which in turn reminds me of a line by John Keating from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society that says: 

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” 

If you’re an aspiring writer, creator, or artist, Lualhati Bautista inspires us to just do it. In fact, she would have loved to see more people pursue creative writing and the arts. She would have loved to hear more women expressing their voices more freely and fiercely. She would have loved to see us be fearless, be bold, and more importantly, be truthful. So let us be!

“Tranquil shores are only for those who boldly oppose raging waves during storms.” 

Mabuhay ka, Lualhati Bautista, at Maligayang Buwan ng Kababaihan!




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