It’s no secret how much Juan Felipe Herrera’s performance lecture, “A Natural History of Chicano Literature” has rocked my world. I have always loved the casualness of this talk, coupled with its intensity, its literary and historical reach. I love that its being interdisciplinary — soundly academic, poetic, talk story. Of course, we know the community value of such talk story sessions; we know how necessary they are to us, as communities traditionally thwarted by American institutions.
Some may think there irony in this talk having taken place within the University of California system, delivered by an Endowed Chair of Creative Writing within the University of California system. I prefer to think, instead of irony, of the straight up, undeniable reality, that communities once only existing in the margins, have for decades practiced an activism that’s resulted in placing many of us close to the heart of these institutions, speaking in voices that are resounding and clear.
In other words, we see one aspect of community activism’s concrete results! And within the video itself, he presents more evidence of writers and artists documenting community narratives, for self, for family, for colleagues and contemporaries, for posterity. These should be listed as much sought after community victories then!
I love that digital archiving has made possible the expansion of Herrera’s talk story circle to include us. At last week’s PAWA submission/publication workshop, one of the attendees told me that he was seeking publication so that he could have a written record for his children, documentation of where he’s been. That is it right there. This is why we document.
The only thing I’ve lamented is that I have not seen a talk like this within the Filipino American literary community. I’ve seen glimmers here and there, but honestly, I see and experience how we are limited as a community by our deep divisions, based upon class, aesthetics, gender, politics. Academic jargon and uncritical dependence upon institutions are alienating to the populace, and so are its opposite extremes, anti-institution, anti-intellectualism.
I don’t want to idealize and say that no such divisions exist in Herrera’s world, but surely, there must be moments, spaces of transcendence, making the effort to bridge. This talk is one.
I want “A Natural History of Filipino American Literature,” an equally comprehensive, soundly literary, poetic, politicized talk story. I’d been wondering where it’d come from, who would execute such a thing, and now the only answer I can think of is this: Me.
I really feel like all of the talks, workshops, guest lectures, interviews I’ve been giving over the last few years in so many different spaces, as well as teaching and curriculum development, and of course, writing and publishing, have prepared me for this. I want an opportunity to do this in the coming semesters, to prepare, to deliver, to have documented. If anyone out there would like to help make this possible, please talk to me.