Well, it’s the end of the year and the end of the semester. I’m washed out. It’s been a flurry of events, moderating panels, editing, teaching, preparing syllabi, and reading. I still have to submit grades. I haven’t been writing enough. I want to produce new work, but I’ve prioritized so many other things. I’m behind in responding to folks. A lot of people have asked me for a lot of stuff. This is OK. I am not complaining. I really do appreciate folks asking. I give what I can when I can.
So, here’s one thing. We had a Pinay poets/poetics reading and panel at the Oakland Public Library Temescal Branch this past weekend. I was contacted by librarian and poet Steve Lavoie via my website, and it was great to be sought out as an Oakland poet. Because he left the format of this event up to me, I invited Rachelle Cruz, Melissa Sipin, and Yael Villafranca to share their work as well. He asked me if these Pinay writers were my protégés, and this made me think. Do I have protégés? I don’t think I do. Anyway.
I’d just had these three, and Niki Escobar, close out my Pinay Lit class at USF. I’d told my students that having worked through an entire century of Filipina/Pinay works in English this semester, what we are dealing with here is a tradition of Filipina Literature. Surely, the tradition is larger than English, but given what original works (i.e. not translated works) we could access in an American classroom, and given the all-encompassing nature of American colonization and imperialism, given Americanism/Americanization, there is already so much here to study, read, discuss — so very much more than one semester’s worth of material.
Anyway, because we are dealing with a century of a literary tradition, my questions have to do with what is happening now in shaping this tradition? Given our uses (misuses), re-castings, and inventions (reinventions) of literary forms and genre, given our reverence and irreverence of these, given our ambivalent relationships with popular, counter, and subcultures, with new media, with language (code-switching, creoles, vernaculars) and translation (or absence of translation, or mis-translation), where are our literatures going? What are historical and contemporary concerns, aesthetically, materially, technologically. Who will be the shapers of Filipina literary tradition in this century?
So with this Oakland Public Library event, some wonderful conversation, continuations of ongoing conversation, was had. Sometimes I really love that the questions continue to cycle and recycle, and that our answers exist in a perpetual state of revision. They deepen, take on added dimension or layers. Questions about writing “there” when we are “here,” about being Filipino/a, American or Filipino/a American — these feel like simple questions, and then they’re really not.
The intent behind the asking is not simple, the answers are never simple, and this could be because the sharp young women writers I’ve been bringing into these conversations do not settle for simple answers. And this could also be because none of the above could ever be simplified, even if we wanted it to be. Because we’ve heard simplified answers, and we’re not content with them. Because those answers are reductive and even insulting — to our intelligence, to our sense of self/complex selves.
Finally, here’s the thing. I really believe that students, young adults, can handle the complexity. Even if they’ve entered my classrooms thinking that definitive answers will come (and some answers do come), the harder questions are not immediately answerable, and rightfully so. That if they’ve left my classrooms with more questions than answers, this is a great place to be. I realize that one of my measures of success for my students is that they become askers of hard questions — about process/construction of narrative, about “truth.” Because with literature, they want to see themselves and their layers of experience; they want to know how the works address their own conflicting family histories/stories/lore, their own family silences. And silences are not simple.