“In the fall of 1942, Ben Santos was summoned from his studies at Columbia University and assigned a basement desk in the Information Division of the Commonwealth Building (now the Philippine Embassy) in Washington. Some of the upstairs officials preferred speaking Spanish and, on the avenues, passing as Latin American. Near Santos worked Jose Garcia Villa, mindlessly clipping news items about Bataan and Corregidor while lost in reveries about his first volume of poems, just released: Have Come, Am Here. Santos’ own sentiments were fixed on his homeland and the immeasurable distances placed by war between it and not only the Philippine government-in-exile which he served, but also anxious pensionados like himself with endangered families still in the occupied islands.”
Leonard Casper, “Introduction”, in Scent of Apples: A Collection of Stories by Bienvenido N. Santos, University of Washington Press (1979).
1617 Massachusetts Avenue, NW served as the Office of the Resident Commission of the Philippines from 1943 to 1946, until Philippine independence, when it became the chancery of the Philippine Embassy. Today the building is the consular section of the Philippine Embassy. Among those who have worked here as staff members are at least one future Philippine president and members of the first and second generation of Filipino writers in English. Diosdado Macapagal worked here as Second Secretary in 1949, a little over a decade before he became President. Writers Bienvenido Santos and Jose Garcia Villa worked in the basement in the 1940s. Although Mr. Villa eventually became a long-time New York resident and is sometimes referred to as the “Pope of Greenwich Village”, in fact he published his celebrated anthology Have Come, Am Here (Viking Press, 1942) while he was a DC resident. In his autobiography, Mr. Santos recalls their days writing press releases, speeches and articles—their dreaded writing assignment: articles about abaca. In addition to Mr. Santos and Mr. Villa, poet and playwright Manuel Viray was a staff member in the 1950s and one of his plays was first performed at Trinity College (now called Trinity Washington University).
Jose Garcia Villa (1953) Photo Credit: Library of Congress Print and Photograph Division
Photo credit: University of Washington Press
Embassy of the Philippines. 1617 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. Restricted access. For more information, click here.
Philippine Embassy Website; Bienvenido Santos (1993) Memory’s Fiction: A Personal History (Quezon City: New Day Publishers); Peggy Preston (1942) “No Rustic Bard is Jose Villa” The Washington Post, September 15, 1942: B7.
Click here to listen to poet and writer Luis Francia read Jose Garcia Villa’s “Poem 39”, an audio recording made publicly available by the Asia Pacific Forum. Francia wrote the introduction to Doveglion (Penguin Classics, 2008).
Click here to see the inside front cover of the first edition of Have Come, Am Here.