I am trying to write this literary address for the upcoming FIlipino Literature Symposium at the Asian Art Museum. I have so many thoughts, so many beginnings in my head, and then when I try to start typing my many thoughts, I stop. Some things I am trying to form into coherent paragraphs.
- I grew up here, went to school — K-12, college and grad school — here. At Holy Spirit School in the late 1970s-mid 1980s, there were only two or so other Filipino families, the Baldozas and the Tatads. The Baldozas were family friends. And maybe before this, one of the priests at Holy Spirit Church was FIlipino — Father Flores. He blessed our house when we moved to Fremont from Daly City. I had a sense that outside of our family parties, no one knew what a Filipino was. I had no idea that our still agricultural Fremont, much less all of California, much less the whole West Coast and Hawaii, had been cultivated by Filipino laborers. If you return to Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart now, see where Allos has jumped a train in/around Niles, Irvington, or Sunol. No one ever taught me this in school; fourth grade California History never mentioned Filipinos. How could I have possibly become an author under these conditions. If I were to revisit Bulosan’s “I am not a laughing man” now, I would see pieces of myself there, so full of anger because no one ever told me or taught me that I could write what I could write, that it was not impossible, that I could find my life in letters. Imagine that, the girl child of immigrants, told she was nothing but nothing, told she was invisible, thinking she could write books, be mentioned in the same sentence as renown, even prestigious men and women of letters.
- When I discovered I loved poetry, I didn’t know that I had a right to. A scrappy little immigrant girl who was always told to shut the fuck up, who was always told no one would ever be interested in the stories of her dirty third world people, trekking to City Lights Books in North Beach, and dreaming she could one day have a place here.
- During Spring semester, 1990, at UC Berkeley, I met Ray Orquiola in Professor Ronald Takaki’s Asian American History class. Ray told me he had started Maganda magazine, and was looking for young Fil Ams to come and be a part of this thing. I don’t know why I trusted him enough to hand him a stack of my handwritten poems, final versions, when only a few people very close to me had ever seen my poems. I did my first poetry reading on April 29, 1990, at the Faculty Glade on the UC Berkeley campus. We sat in the grass and I shared poems. This felt exactly how a poet should share poems, sitting in the grass on a lovely spring afternoon. There were perhaps seven or so people there. My dad drove up from Fremont for this. His hay fever was so bad, he stood under a tree in the shade faraway but within eyesight. I don’t know if he actually heard me speak. It would be easy to say, the rest is history. That was the beginning of my public life in letters.
OK, so I think this is the beginning of my literary address.