Here is a poem I wrote in 2002. It’s so old, I can’t find an actual Word file of it; I suspect it’s on one of these floppy disks I’ve held on to, though I have no computer that can actually read a floppy disk anymore. So here is an image (click on it to enlarge):
It begins: “Kearny and Jackson, San Francisco… There’s a gaping hole in the ground in the middle of this overcrowded city; I’ve never felt I’d earned the right to write about this hole which you gave a voice and a face while all I could do was watch. I never thought it was mine…”
This poem may as well be my literary address for this month’s Filipino American Literature Symposium. This is where the title, “The Rule Is, Do Not Stop,” has come from. I end the poem with, “I have always wanted to write you poems; I just wanted you to remember my name, and when you did, I felt I had finally arrived.”
A long time ago, when I met the NYC Filipino American poets who would later go on to create Kundiman, they asked me over dinner, what it was like, the Filipino American poetry scene in San Francisco. I told them, it’s deep, and old, and when Al Robles remembers who you are, then you know you have made it. There was both uncertainty, and fear in their faces. How were they supposed to know what that meant, and how was that supposed to have any value to them. They were in and of another world, one that at the time I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be a part of. Then, I felt, if I didn’t try to be a part of their world, then I would always just be some brown girl from this corner, this margin of the country, and that wouldn’t mean anything in the larger scheme of things.
Yeah. I’m glad I got over that.
It means everything to me, to be from here, of here, to be acknowledged as such, “Bay Area stalwart poet,” Mike Sonksen called me in Cultural Weekly. The photographs above were taken at the I-Hotel on Kearny and Jackson Streets, the former hole in the ground, right down the block from City Lights Bookstore. This is much of where I have triangulated my literary existence. In the photos above, from left to right: Oscar Peñaranda, Jaime Jacinto, myself, Jeff Tagami, and Al Robles.
I never wanted my writing education to take me away from this poetry scene and this place. Peñaranda once used the word, “concupiscent” in a poem about balut, and I was like, Wallace Stevens! “Emperor of Ice Cream”! Other Fil Ams around us would be like, WTF is this girl talking about. And I thought, can I mend my poetic worlds together, however strange the seams. And then I thought, perhaps being a Filipina poet in the Bay Area, for me, will always be to Frankenstein myself.
Where I am at, as we speak — I’m an elder now, yes? I am going gray. I have five books and three chapbooks under my belt. Three of my five books were published in San Francisco, two of these are with Filipino-focused indie publishers. I know that folks in the industry don’t care much for my SF, Filipino published books. They will conveniently forget about these titles, as if those books are less legitimate, as if they are not books at all.
Isn’t that typical, erasing the efforts of SF Bay Area Filipinos, acting as if we have no right to do anything on our own behalf, as if we have no right to define our own literary and artistic traditions. Because we didn’t ask permission.
I go back to Nick Joaquin’s “A Heritage of Smallness,” and Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place. This smallness is all that is expected of us, and from this smallness, shame, especially those of us who have chosen to remain grounded in the worlds and communities which have nurtured and sustained us, the very writers and authors who first said to us, “I see you.”