Yesterday evening in Filipino American Literature class at SFSU, I taught my book, To Love as Aswang, for the first time. There was definitely something about the energy in the classroom, in the pockets where the Pinays and WOC congregate together. An appreciation, inquisitiveness, a hard processing of all of the book’s voices, existing in some kind of harmony and disharmony. A willingness to delve into these voices and POVs, to slog through the ugly and violent and painful. To sift through it and make sense of it. I kept thinking, and I keep thinking now, of how these young women would answer my 18 questions in “To Proceed, You Must First Understand.” How may I bring them into my poetic world, as this vital connection has been made. I see as well, the young men of color, thinking, really thinking hard about what all of this means, for us as we try to be a cohesive community. The world is such a fucked up and difficult place, our place and status as Filipinos and POC is a terrible and complicated thing to process, is there any good to be had, sitting in a classroom talking about it. What good is art, lit, and poetry. Does/can poetry “fix” any of this. I don’t have an answer. Back when I thought I had the answer, I was really just putting my own arrogance and narcissism on display. But I am so pleased that most of us are on board with the willingness to acknowledge, to think about the difficulty.
To Proceed, You Must First Understand.
I will also add that in Pinay Lit class at USF, we finished reading and discussing M. Evelina Galang’s One Tribe, and I feel like this is the best discussion to date, that I’ve had with my students, since I first started teaching the novel some years ago. We kept ourselves focused on Pinayism, and this thing that many Pinays know from lived experience — that we have been so silenced and marginalized for such a long time, it has always been expected and demanded from us such that it has become our norm and default. And subsequently, when we do have the focus turned back upon ourselves, in a deep and critical way, when we do find ourselves in a forum in which we are seen and heard for who we truly are, for how complex we are, we freak the hell out. We want to hide, and push that away. We want to dissociate, crawl back into the shadow and continue being ignored.
My students have always struggled with/about the literal and figurative endings for the characters of Las Dalagas, lifted into the sky in their homemade craft, into the hurricane. We struggled through a tough conversation on death, liberation, release. We talked through the experience of being young Pinays, newly armed with knowledge that is meant to empower us. What if that knowledge has come too late to save us? What if there are too many practical gaps between our lived experiences, and what that knowledge promises us? Is our prior ignorance ever a better alternative?
Since yesterday, I have also been thinking more about some brown girl, the next manuscript after Invocation to Daughters. I’d had ideas of what it needed to feel rounded out, given more texture and dimension. Today, I feel as though the thing it needs, and the thing I need, is to continue with the letters, my epistolaries, to the young Pinay poet, whoever she is. Surely, I am thinking of my students; I keep thinking, God what if I had had a professor much like my 45-year old self — some tattooed, gray-haired, foul-mouthed Pinay professor — when I was 18, 19, 20. What would my younger self have asked her. What would my younger self need from her. What would my younger self be experiencing, sitting in the classroom with her at the podium, with her asking me what I think, with her hearing me.