Skip to main content

Conversation with Lilia Hernandez Chung, Ph.D.

Lilia Hernandez Chung, Ph.D. graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Letters  from the University of Santo Tomas where she taught for four years after graduation. In 1958, she won a Fullbright scholarship and received a fellowship for graduate studies from Syracuse University in New York where she earned her doctorate degree in the Humanities. She met her husband, Kai Lai Chung, at said university where he was a Professor of Mathematics. They later moved to Stanford, California where she taught Ethnic Studies at Foothill College for 24 years and also served as one of its directors of Multicultural Affairs. Dr. Chung received the Women of Achievement Award from the League of Friends of Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women in 1980. She has three children and four grandchildren. She divides her time between the Philippines and California.

Aside from being an educator, Dr. Chung is a published author. Her publications include Peninsular Prose Fiction of the Philippines, Jovita Fuentes: A Lifetime of Music and The Rush of the River. She translated the travel chronicles of her father, Fernando Hernandez and uncle, Jose Hernandez Gavira and published these under the title, The Muslim World: What We Saw in Jolo and Zamboanga. Dr. Chung’s latest publication is the second edition of Mi Copa Bohemia, Poesías by J. Hernandez Gavira which was published in collaboration with Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA). 


How did you find the writing path?

As a teenager, I gravitated towards writing. A retired professor of English, Prof. Viterbo, read a short essay I wrote for the Capiz High School newspaper and in a conversation with my father, he mentioned the essay and said that if I wanted to continue writing, I should read good books. He mentioned a book that he thought I should read. I had never read that book, but his affirmation of my ability to write made me aware that perhaps I could write. My relatives readily saw me as a writer. 


What inspired you to write your first novel, The Rush of the River?

My aunt, Jovita Fuentes*, entrusted her diaries to me and thus, I began the serious task of writing her life story. The biography, which was very well received, gave me the impetus to rewrite and seam together the stories I had written over the years. Thus was Rush of the River born.


*Jovita Fuentes was an accomplished opera singer and was recognized as National Artist for Music in 1976 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. She was born in Capiz in 1895.


What was challenging about writing the biography of Jovita Fuentes?

My aunt’s diaries were written in Spanish. I had to translate them first before I could begin writing her story. She was ill when I completed her biography but my cousins read every page of my manuscript to her. Her approval was total.


What was it like living with Jovita Fuentes?

I think of my aunt whom I called Tata as music with a capital M. Gatherings at our home were filled with musical performances. I became familiar with the opera from watching my aunt at rehearsals. Tata and her sister, Mercedes Roxas, sent me to the College of the Holy Spirit for piano lessons. I had to practice playing the piano for three to four hours daily for my piano recital. 


Among your recent cultural projects in Capiz were the Jovita Fuentes anniversary retrospectives at the Ang Panublion Museum and the piano concert at Filamer University with renowned pianist Ingrid Santamaria. What motivated you to bring a concert pianist to Capiz?

I wanted to keep alive the musical legacy that my aunt left behind. 


How did you find the time to write while holding a full time job at Foothill College and a busy family life?

I think what made everything possible for me to write was the fact that my husband accepted my intellectual aspirations without any reservation. I always felt free to take whatever path I chose.


Do you have a favorite author?

I don’t have a favorite author. I’m basically a curious person. I like to browse in bookstores and pick up books that catch my fancy.  


Books have been my constant companions since I was a child growing up in the Philippines. They were especially comforting during the war years when my family had to leave our home. I’ve kept some of the books my father gave me when I was in my teens. These volumes are wartime editions meant for the Armed Forces of the United States. It offers a rich selection of poetry, essays and classic literature from Beowulf to Thomas Hardy. I still leaf through its well worn pages on occasion.


What is your reading preference, print books or ebooks?

I prefer print books as I’m not good with tech gadgets. I do like to go back and reread certain sections of a book and highlight passages. 


What new literary projects do you have in the burner? 

I’m preparing to publish a second edition of Jose Hernandez Gavira’s book of poetry, De mi Jardin Sinfonico: Poesías. It was first published in 1921. It’s been a little difficult to get the first edition due to the pandemic but I’m hopeful this will be resolved soon. I’m also looking into the possibility of a second edition for the biography of Jovita Fuentes as many people have expressed interest in acquiring the book. 


Philippine Education Secretary, Leonor Briones, indicated the need to improve the educational system in the country. As an educator, what improvements do you think should be made to the educational system to prepare the Filipino youth to be productive in our society in the next 50 years? 

Aside from the degree programs we currently have in place, we need excellent vocational schools in the Philippines for students for whom the degree programs may not be suitable. There is a need for good craftspersons because fine craftsmanship is a marketable skill and is in high demand by society in general.  


Parents often impose their own dreams on their children instead of trying to understand their innate abilities. The educational system should give children solid, basic skills to enable them to function competently in the community. Schools should recognize and foster the skills and strengths of every child. Opportunities should be made available to encourage their aptitudes. No one plan fits all.


*****


About the author: Charie Albar is a travel writer and lifestyle blogger. She is the founder of Balay ni Charie Foundation, a grassroots organization that gives school supplies to the children in Capiz. She divides her time between Capiz and California. You can check her stories here: travelswithcharie.com.

Conversation with a Capizeño is a series of interviews with Capizeños who are making a difference in their community. 


Popular posts from this blog

8 Heritage Houses of Iloilo

Lizares Mansion The province of Iloilo on the island of Panay has a rich trove of heritage houses, left over from the sugar industry boom in the 19th century. Iloilo also had the largest port in the Philippines at that time which facilitated the export of sugar to foreign shores and deposited money in the hands of the sugar barons. The barons dropped their earnings into the acquisition of properties in Negros and the construction of beautiful homes in Iloilo, many of which are located in the vicinity of the Jaro Cathedral. The Lizares Mansion was built in 1937 by Don Emiliano Lizares for his wife, Concepcion Gamboa and five children. The family fled to safety when World War II broke out and the house was occupied by the Japanese military. The family returned to the house after the war but left once again after the demise of Don Emiliano. It was sold to the Dominican order in the 1960s and was converted in 1978 to a private school, Angelicum School. The mansion now houses the

Filipino Struggles in History - Carlos Botong Francisco

In 1968, Antonio Villegas (then Mayor of Manila), commissioned Carlos "Botong" Francisco to paint the history of Manila for Manila City Hall. The series of large scale paintings was called  Kasaysayan ng Maynila  (History of Manila).  The paintings deteriorated over time and no attempt was made to preserve these historical canvases until 2013 when Mayor Amado Lim sent them to the National Museum for extensive restoration. Four years later, in 2017, Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Manila City Council signed an agreement with the National Museum to leave the paintings at the museum so they may reach a larger audience in exchange for museum grade reproductions to replace the originals. Kasaysayan ng Maynila was later renamed Filipino Struggles in History and is now on display at the Senate Hall of the National Museum . Carlos "Botong" Francisco died in March 1969, a few months after completing the paintings. He is one of the first Filipino modernists and

The Art of Carlos Botong Francisco - Progress of Medicine in the Philippines

Pre-colonial period Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas (The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines) is a group of four large-scale paintings depicting healing practices in the Philippines from pre-colonial times to the modern period. Carlos Botong Francisco was commissioned in 1953 by  Dr. Agerico Sison who was then the director of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) together with   Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing of the National Museum, Dr. Florentino Herrera, Jr. and Dr. Constantino Manahan. These oil on canvas paintings measure 2.92 meters in height and 2.76 meters in width (9.71 ft x 8.92 ft) and were displayed at the main entrance hall of PGH for over five decades. Owing to its location, the artworks were in a state of "severe deterioration" at the beginning of the 21st century from exposure to heat, humidity, dirt, dust, smoke, insect stains, grime, termites and an oxidized synthetic resin used in an earlier restoration. These canvases were restored three times, the last was