English poet Rupert Brooke, in his poem “The Soldier”, wrote:
“That there’s some corner of a foreign field
“That is forever England.”
In California, United States of America, Linda Nietes-Little has started doing exactly that – turning a section of Los Angeles into something that will forever be the Philippines through her Philippine Expressions bookshop.
Linda has started a book business that has become the repository of books by Filipino and Filipino-American writers about and for the Philippines and its people. It was originally meant to preserve and protect writings under martial law, which the repressive government did not want the people to read.
Today, still under the caring hands of the 80-something Nietes-Little, the store does not only showcase the works of Filipino writers but has also become a cultural hub, a venue for art exhibits, book launches, even mini-displays of Filipino culture and tradition, as well as the Philippine’s unique cuisine.
Linda’s political “wokeness”, to use the language of today’s generation, is not surprising. Born in 1937 in San Jose, the capital of the province of Antique, one of four provinces on the island of Panay in Western Philippines, politics was pretty much in the DNA of the fifth child of Emigdio V. Nietes and Iluminada Uy Kimpang.
Her father Emigdio was a member of both the First and Second Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines (1945-46) and of the First Congress of the Republic of the Philippines (1946-49).
The young Linda studied at the Instituto de Mujeres in Manila and San Jose Elementary School in Antique. She finished high school at the University of Santo Tomas. She earned in 1958 an undergraduate degree in Commerce from what is also known as the Pontifical and Royal University.
Ms. Linda discussing how Philippine Expressions Bookshop started on its 30th anniversary celebration
After marrying retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Robert J. Little, Jr. of Miami, Florida, the couple finally settled in Rancho Palos Verdes. The retired USAF colonel is currently connected with an aerospace company in California.
Linda worked from 1964 to 1967 with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith (MLPF&S), an investment management company in Hong Kong. When the Manila branch (Asia Regional Office) was opened in 1967, she was appointed operations manager, a milestone for women as, at the time, there were only a few women executives in the stock brokerage business.
When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Linda opted to go into early retirement. The bibliophile wanted to do something for the country at a time of crisis. She opened Casalinda, the first all-Filipiniana bookshop in the Philippines, to help promote the works of Filipino authors and energize the declining Philippine book industry.
Casalinda Bookshop, which operated for 12 years in San Antonio Plaza in Forbes Park, Makati, carried books written by Filipino authors. The opening of the bookshop encouraged several Filipino writers to resume writing despite the risk of censorship from government “guardians” of moral, intellectual and ethical standards.
Together with the late well-known writer Gilda Cordero Fernando of GCF books, Nietes-Little was the first to popularize coffee table books.
The repressive martial law regime made her decide to migrate to California, USA, where she opened in 1984 the Philippine Expressions bookshop. She dedicated the store to Filipino-Americans in search of their roots. It was the first truly all-Filipiniana bookshop in America even though Filipinos had been in North America for a long time.
The bookshop has become both a showcase and repository for Philippine writings (both in English and Filipino) in America. It has pioneered in promoting Philippine books in the US since 1984 and celebrated its 37th year of service to the Filipino-American community all over the North American country in 2021.
The bookshop also hosts regular publication parties, book readings and talks, lectures on Philippine culture by visiting Filipino scholars, poetry readings during the National Poetry Month in April, and other literary events throughout the year.
Philippine Expressions hosts the annual celebration of Pinay Gathering honoring Filipino and Filipino-American women authors during the International Women’s Day on March 8 and the National Women’s History Month in March.
The bookshop has helped put Filipino and Filipino-American authors on the literary map of Los Angeles. For 17 years, he participated in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (LATFB) at the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and at the University of Southern California (USC).
Over the years, the bookshop has supported various community events, such as the LA Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (FPAC) and the biennial conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). He also participated in the Filipino-American Book Festival at the San Francisco Public Library in October 2011 and 2013.
In 2017, the bookshop opened its affiliate Pinta*Dos Philippine Art Gallery as a venue for Filipino and Filipino-American artists to exhibit their works and to showcase indigenous art from the Philippines.
During the pandemic, while the physical bookshop opened only once a week and visits were by appointment only, the store made itself available online through its website https://philippinebookshop.com/ and held regular virtual Book Talk programs.
Pinta*Dos Art Gallery organized its own events, separate from those hosted by Philippine Expressions.
For what she has done personally and through Philippine Expressions and Pinta*Dos Art Gallery, Linda has received praise and commendations.
LA Philippine Consul General Edgar Badajos said Nietes-Little has been an “ally and partner” in promoting a better understanding of the richness of Filipino culture through her bookshop, which has been at the forefront of showcasing Filipino writings, literature and reference materials since its established in 1984.
Giselle Toengi-Walters, executive director of the Filipino American Arts and Culture nominating party, described Linda as a “gatekeeper of knowledge in the Los Angeles community”, who continued to help preserve and promote Filipino culture and heritage through literature and art, enabling second and subsequent generations of Filipino Americans to discover their roots and identity as Filipinos.
Nietes-Little is a member of various civic and academic organizations in the US. She is a lifetime and honorary member of the Board of Trustees of the Filipino American National Historical Society that promotes, disseminates and preserves the history of Americans of Filipino ancestry.
She is a member of the Association of Asian American Studies, an academic discipline that studies the history, culture, politics, issues and experiences of people of Asian ancestry in America; she and a member of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, an affiliate of the American Library Association, which addresses the needs of diverse librarians of Asian Pacific ancestries and those who serve Asian Pacific American communities.
She has also received awards and recognition from the Philippine embassy, civic organizations in Palos Verdes, the city of LA, etc.
In conferring the Banaag Award to Mrs. Linda Nietes-Little, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte recognizes her commitment and dedication to preserving and promoting Philippine culture and art by establishing the Philippine Expressions bookshop and the Pinta*Dos Art Gallery as a home for Filipino writings and Artworks in the United States.