February 10, 2019

In 2019: More Pinay Bravery, Please

Something I have noticed, women of color writers retreating from public space.

This is happening on social media, which I get. Social media is a cruel place full of trolls. Here’s the thing about trolls. They troll, because they have nothing better to do with themselves in public spaces. We can’t waste time and energy on people who, the only thing we know about them is that they are on the internet.

I say this, having grappled with some negative response to my work recently. It didn’t come from a fellow author, or a literary scholar or critic. It came from some person on the internet. I had to work through it, and remember. This is just some person on the internet. I’ve been trolled a whole bunch, by people whose names I don’t remember or recognize. If I may quote Klay Thompson, they’re “in the past like a ponytail.”

I say this, because if I allowed some people whose names I did not know or remember to silence me from ever putting my voice out there, into public space, I would have never gotten past my second book, in 2006. All the writing and publishing, all the growth, all the community building, all the educating, all the mentoring, would have been lost before it ever was.

Being a woman of color author in public space is hard. Your own community oftentimes are afraid of you or dislike you. They want to take a few steps back from you every time you speak. Every time you publish something new, every time some awesome recognition of your work happens, you see the crazy making passive aggressive extremely pained responses from them, and it breaks your heart every time. People in your community tell you to be quiet, to straight up shut up; they tell you you are doing everything wrong. They call you names. They dismiss or belittle the things you say, berate you as if you are a stupid child, act as if nothing you do or say is important, and in the same breath, demand your time and resources for nothing in return but more of the above.

I see why we want to hide in a cave. But we can’t.

What keeps me going then. I have been saying more and more, seeing more and more, however incremental, these cultural shifts. If one young person of color crosses my path and has normalized the existence of Pinay authors, actual Pinays who write books, then I have done something. If one young person of color decides that they can start writing too, that it is a valid path to take, then I have done something important. If one young person of color reads one of my poems, or reads a poem in my class, and comes away from it heard, validated, visible, articulate, hungry, then I have done something important.

I am saying all these things, because I am sad that people have backed away from me. I know my language and tone are hard. I also know that I have many tones, and many ways of using language. I contain multitudes. I know my strongest public line is that you have to push, and push, and think and speak critically, that you have to be tough, that you have to call people out when how they are speaking to you is unacceptable. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I much prefer this to silencing myself.

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