Seattle-based International Examiner has recently posted lists authored by APIA writers, editors, and academics, five titles of APIA literature that have influenced them. Fellow APIA writer Claire Light has meme’ed a bunch of us on Facebook, asking us the same question. I’ve left my five items as a comment on her wall, but would like to expand my list here, and talk a bit about “influence.” Sometimes for me, it isn’t about “influence,” as much as it is about resonance. These days, in the thick of reading and teaching, I find in the post-writing and publishing process that work’s out there, and my own work has connected with it. But back to the beginning, it looks something like this:

Jessica Hagedorn, Dangerous Music (Momo’s Press, 1975), and Danger and Beauty (Penguin, 1993). Jessica is THE O.G. Pinay poet, the one we Pinays all purportedly want to be. I wanted to be Jessica Hagedorn when I was 19, 20. I’m 40 now, and while I’ve long ago shed the desire to be someone else, I admit Jessica was the first Pinay I encountered in print, and in gangsta performance. In other words, she showed me what we all could be capable of as Pinay artists. And that is some powerful juju. Her poems were funky, raw, sharp, fearless, the opposite of Maria Clara acquiescence.

I realize now though, that the pieces from Danger and Beauty which have remained with me are her essays, “Papologia,” (which serves as the collection’s intro) and “Homesick.” “Papologia” is a little burst of memories/flashback, ecstatic with belonging, carving out multicultural, multidisciplinary artist communities in the hard and contested spaces that are our Bay Area urban centers. “Homesick” is perhaps its opposite, making problematic our nostalgia for the homeland to which we can never truly return, or can we? Or returning with a different set of eyes, what then of belonging?

At UP Diliman in the early 1990′s, in my comparative lit class, Filipino Women Writing in English: Love, War, and Exile, taught by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, so many of the women (all Philippines-based) were so resistant to Hagedorn’s “Homesick,” and the general sentiment among them was, “You’re in America now, what do you have to complain about?” I remember defending the piece, and defending the position of the balikbayan, returning to a place (as I had just done) that bore no resemblance to our memories, that we now knew more from international news reports, and from our (in)formal post-colonial political and arts education — the irony of learning about Filipino colonial mentality in our First World cultural and arts spaces, and for me, in American university classrooms.

OK, more APIA lit that’s influenced me:

  • Without Names: A Collection of Poems
  • Liwanag: Literary and Graphic Expression
  • Bhanu Kapil, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers
  • Catalina Cariaga, Cultural Evidence
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior, and China Men
  • Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club
  • Jaime Jacinto, Heaven is Just Another Country
  • Al Robles, Rappin’ with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark
  • R. Zamora Linmark, Rolling the R’s
  • Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
  • Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman Native Other
  • Myung Mi Kim, Under Flag
  • Truong Tran, dust and conscience
  • Frances Chung, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple
  • Sesshu Foster, City Terrace Field Manual
  • Russell Leong, The Country of Dreams and Dust
  • Haunani Kay Trask, Night is a Shark Skin Drum

Bonus tracks:

  • Merlinda Bobis (Filipina Australian), Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon / Kantada ng Babaing Mandirigma Daragang Magayon, a bilingual, one-woman, verse performance, a feminist retelling of the Philippine myth of the woman who became a mountain.
  • Ninotchka Rosca, Sugar & Salt, which is a lovely, concise and mythical retelling of Philippine womankind throughout the centuries, from traditional (indigenous) matriarchy to colonial dispossession.
  • Marjorie Evasco (Manila based, Boholano Filipina), Dreamweavers. I admit I haven’t read this entire book, only because it’s so difficult to find a copy. I just now found a used copy (autographed by the author, and inscribed to Jerome Rothenberg and his wife) and ordered it from Abebooks.com. I read a lot of her poems while at UP Diliman, and perhaps in stark contrast to Hagedorn (at least, how I describe her above), Evasco’s work is so gentle, so beautiful, so lush, so feminine. And in this femininity (and I hate to sound stereotypical), this really deep power. So, another version of Filipina, not raw-edged, and not Maria Clara. Another post-colonial relationship with English and with poetry I’ve had to work out, and am still working out.

OK, that’s what I got. What do you got?

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3 thoughts on “APIA Literature that Influenced Me

  • July 23, 2011 at 9:24 am
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    Thanks for this list, Barbara!

    I’m glad you mentioned Amy Tan. I know there were many folks who dissed her because of her place in literature, the limelight on THE JOY LUCK CLUB. I know lots of people who are too embarrassed to say that she was influential. Folks can be haters.

    Anyway, yes to many of your titles, in addition to:
    *Li-Young Lee’s THE CITY IN WHICH I LOVE YOU
    *Marilyn Chin’s THE PHOENIX GONE, THE TERRACE EMPTY and RHAPSODY IN PLAIN YELLOW
    *Luis Cabalquinto’s BRIDGEABLE SHORES
    *Agha Shahid Ali’s THE COUNTRY WITHOUT A POST OFFICE
    *M. Evelina Galang’s HER WILD AMERICAN SELF
    *Jhumpa Lahiri’s INTERPRETER OF MALADIES

    …and many anthologies including, CHARLIE CHAN IS DEAD (1 & 2), edited by Jessica Hagedorn and ASIAN AMERICAN POETRY: THE NEXT GENERATION, edited by Marilyn Chin and Victoria Chang.

    I’m sure there are more. I will have to read Ninotchka Rosca’s SUGAR AND SALT and revisit MYUNG MI KIM.

    Reply
    • July 29, 2011 at 10:56 am
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      Apologies for the delay in response here, Rachelle! Thanks for your titles. I wanted to say that a journalist recently asked me what I thought of Amy Tan, and I said that we should all be thanking her! Unfortunately, that never made it into the article, which is unfortunate. Anyway, I should also add Walter Lew’s Premonitions anthology, which is gorgeous and bad ass! Thanks again.

      Oh and yes, since you’ve mentioned on your blog myth and Filipino writers, let me highly recommend Merlinda Bobis, and Ninotchka’s Sugar & Salt.

      Reply
  • July 31, 2011 at 12:49 am
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    Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men
    Ai, Cruelty/ Killing Floor
    Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart
    Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, the Heat Bird
    Frank Chin, The Chickencoop Chinaman
    Karen Yamashita, I-Hotel

    Reply

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