By: Zeidrick-J Cudilla

Esteban S. Javellana, whose birth centenary we celebrated last year, is just one of the many Filipino writers whose corpus (a novel and some short stories) is considered by many critics as a tour de force in terms of using the English language in our national literature. Unfortunately, the current generation is on the verge of forgetting his humble contribution to the country’s literary scene. As I have observed, his only novel—Without Seeing the Dawn, first published in 1947 in the United States and Canada—is not readily accessible to students, aggravated by the lack of enthusiasm from young readers.Totruly cement Esteban’s place in our cultural patrimony, the Salustia Soliviovda de Javellana Foundation confers an accolade for creative writing bearing his name. The organization,established in 1981 and named after his mother, is tasked to oversee the estate of the Javellana family. Esteban had already envisioned this but with his unexpected death in 1977, the plan of putting up the foundation was never materialized.

In December 2018, I was asked by a friend to write a biography of the novelist. I hesitated at first due to school commitments but after some thought, I accepted it to give justice to Esteban whose Google search entry would bring the Internet user to a page that cannot even satisfy the curious. In the course of my research, I found a newspaper account from the mid-1950s that narrated his progress on a second novel, purportedly entitled With Cross and Sword. I have not seen the manuscript of the work as of this writing.

Local chroniclers may have forgotten that Esteban visited the United States in 1955 to take part in an educational trip. In our conversation over repast of biscuits and coffee, Ilonggo historian Demetrio P. Sonza did not agree with the idea that the writer went to the other side of the Pacific during the war, as some secondary sources tend to suggest. However, Sonza made mention of Esteban’s journey to the West when he was 37 years old. The sojourn was for an annual program of the United States Department of States known as the International Educational Exchange Service, an activity whose aim was the “breaking down [of] the barriers that divide our people from those of other nations and building in their stead avenues for cooperation through the free interchange of knowledge and skills”.

On July 31, 1955, along with other Filipino grantees of the program, Esteban traveled for the rare chance of experiencing the American dream. The three-month stay gave him the opportunity of acquiring pedagogical techniques from American educational institutions, meeting academicians, and giving talks to the interested crowd.

As the cultural exchange drew to a close, he was brought to Texas. We are left with a little documentation of what had transpired in his stay at the said state. On October 17, he arrived and “was met at Carter Field” by two educators. The following day, a Tuesday, a generous fellow gave Javellana “a tour of the city, which included Carswell Air Base, residential sections of the city, Bell Aircraft Plant, and Swift Meat Packing Plant” and had dinner with a couple. On Wednesday, he went to a local university and had lunch with its faculty. Four days counting from his arrival, he was toured to a ranch where Esteban saw an oil drilling process. By Friday, he “attended the literature and language classes” and again had lunch with a group of teachers. The afternoon was spent at the local art galleries and museums while the evening saw him and some companions to a cinema in Dallas.“The visitor [Esteban] attended the church of his choice Sunday morning [October 23] and had dinner with Dr. and Mrs. Conditt at the [Texas Wesleyan College]. Dr. and Mrs. Conditt toured the city with him Sunday afternoon and took him to Carter Field where he left at 4:05 p.m. for Washington, D.C.”

We read history for accurate retelling and not just for rote memorization of facts. Inserting a human dimension to the tales of our past, which some historians tend to omit, makes for an engaging read of such stories.