This is where I am this morning, threatening to leave the industry again, and thinking about why I stick it out. There’s a name I’ve been hearing about — Felicidad V. Ocampo. Two novels of hers were published in this country, both of which predate Carlos Bulosan. But you won’t hear much about her.
I’ve been teaching the (short form) writings of Yay Panlilio Marking, and Helen Rillera in my Pinay Lit class at USF. If not for scholar Denise Cruz, I would have never heard of Marking. If not for scholar and artist Jean Vengua, I would have never heard of Rillera. And there at Vengua’s Commonwealth Cafe website, she discussed the work of recovery, and the wide casting of nets to find Pinays’ writings. Hence, the Op Eds in Filipino American community newspapers and newsletters. I also teach Angeles Monrayo’s diary, Tomorrow’s Memories, and Dawn Bohulano Mabalon‘s Afterword to the volume, so we can rethink “Pinay absence,” in Filipino American History. My students talk about Monrayo, and why she stopped writing in her diary. This coincides with her becoming a wife and a mother. As with Rillera, we talk about these “non-literary,” genres, and is this why these women are so obscured. BUT. Ocampo had two novels published. Novels are revered in American Letters. And yet, we know little about her work. We can’t find her work.
When I teach Marking, Rillera, Monrayo, I talk about recoveries of buried work, and we talk a bit about why their writings have been buried in the first place. But what I do not stress enough is that our community is so invested in championing the works of some to the expense of others, and why this may be.
Even in contemporary times, when conceivably everyone is “findable,” people ask me all the time, “What ever happened to Catalina Cariaga? She has dropped off the map.” Some people ask me whether Virginia Cerenio and Shirley Ancheta ever published again, and what ever happened to them. And perhaps the answer is that we can make ourselves “unfindable” if we wish. But also, that if we are not aggressively sticking our necks out there on the regular, we disappear from public view.
The truth is, I am exhausted. The truth is also that I have a spouse who has never asked me to pull myself out of my public life, who knows and respects this is very much a part of who I am and what I do. Not all WOC have partners supportive like this, and there are women and WOC who have partners who will in a fucked up way make them choose. But the truth also is that I fear erasure. I resent the possibility of erasure. I resent the institutional reasons why I, why someone like me, may be erased.