Mellie Leandicho Lopez

book cover

Filipina American, Folklore, Journalism

Mellie Leandicho Lopez

(ca 1928-2017)

Dr. Mellie Leandicho Lopez was a pioneer Filipina American folklorist whose influence extended beyond the academic world to the arts, journalism, and museum spheres. She was the first Asian to be enrolled in the interdisciplinary folklore program in the anthropology department of the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1970s, embarking on her folklore studies while raising a family. At Berkeley, where she studied with folklorist Alan Dundes and anthropologist James N. Anderson, Lopez was awarded a Fulbright-Hayes grant in 1977 to conduct research on Philippine games. The result of this was the meticulously-researched and annotated 500-page tome, A Study in Philippine Games, which was originally published in 1980 and has gone through at least four reprints. Mellie Lopez’ work comparatively analyzed 178 games, from cockfighting to rhyming. 

Another of her massive achievements was A Handbook of Philippine Folklore (2006), which covered folkloristics in the Philippines, from folk arts to folk architecture and genres in between. In her seminal article on “Tinikling,” a well-known Filipino dance in which dancers nimbly jump in time over two clashing bamboo sticks, she examined its binary structure and theorized that the dance illustrates the pattern of Filipino courtship and marriage. 

Lopez taught in the Philippines as well as in the United States and conducted research on “Pioneer Filipino Women Immigrants in California” as a postdoctoral fellow of the Institute of American Culture at the University of California, Los Angeles (1986-1988). Besides her academic work, she wrote a musical based on a Maguindanao folktale called Sultana: The Pearl King. Sultana was composed by her daughter Melinda and was awarded a traditional arts grant from the Creative Work Fund in San Francisco in 2007. She created the Philippine Folklife Museum in San Francisco, California, and was the first Filipina to be included in the board of directors for the International Committee of the Southern California Symphony and the Hollywood Bowl Association. She served as a member of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Community Folklore Program’s Fund for Folk Culture Task Force in New Mexico. 

In addition to her academic works, Mellie Lopez ran a newspaper called the Associated Filipino Press, with her husband John Lopez. From their house in Berkeley, they held gatherings for scholars, diplomats, musicians, and well-known actors and writers. Lopez also helped to connect Filipino folklorists to American folklorists, inviting distinguished scholars like Arsenio Manuel and Damiana Eugenio, the “mother of Filipino folklore,” to the American Folklore Society’s Bicentennial meeting in 1989.  

Among her many publications are:

A Study of Philippine Games (1980)

A Handbook of Philippine Folklore (2006)

Margaret Magat