Ibagsak! or, This Pinay’s Epistemology

[Note: I wrote this essay almost exactly one year ago; it was an attempt at “anti-memoir,” which now I do not remember what that is.]

Ibagsak! or, This Pinay’s Epistemology
Barbara Jane Reyes

“Who are you, why are you here, and what do you want?”

…We, Devil and Dogeater We, Indio and Immigrant We, Malakas and Maganda We, OCW and Oaktown We, Devil and Dogeater We, Pacquiao and Pensionado We, Malakas and Maganda We, Taliban and Turntable We, Devil and Dogeater We, Karaoke and Katipunan…

This is not a confession.

Hi, my name’s Barbara Jane Reyes. I’m some Filipina American kid who grew up in the 1970s in the ‘burbs, in the shadows of San Francisco and a rising Silicon Valley. For a long time, others’ shadows framed everything about me. Not American, I was also not Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican. I was some dark, ugly girl, whose too-large-to-keep-track-of family shouted, gossiped, and prayed in languages no one else recognized, and who disembarked in frequent waves, from international flights at SFO, armed with balikbayan boxes labeled with impeccable penmanship, filled with dried, packaged, stinky pasalubong.

This is not a piece about self-hatred, and trauma, and healing.

My entire writing life, I’ve been writing to figure out my relationship to centers of power.

I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago: I don’t say this enough, but as a Pinay author, I am grateful I grew up in the SF Bay Area. I am grateful I majored in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, where activism and DIY were built into my foundations and my programming, and my world view. I benefited from TWLF activism as an artist, via Kearny Street Workshop and BAPAW. I am grateful I did my MFA here. I am grateful I teach here, and have had the opportunity to propose new Filipino and Filipina literature courses, to have these courses fulfill university breadth requirements for literature. That, to be based in the Bay Area, I have the autonomy to write what and how i want to and need to write, to publish how I want to, to have my work critically received well outside of my  circles, that I have access to a lot of literary spaces, am in a position to advocate for fellow Pinay writers, to make space for them. It’s a privilege to do this work.

As is customary in social media, virtual high fives. 100 “likes. “What a blessing.” “More power to you, girl.” But this bears some unpacking.

Like Chief Sitting Bull, Tom Paine
Like Martin Luther King, Malcom X
They were renegades of their time and age
So many renegades -- Afrika Bambaataa, “Renegades of Funk.”

TWLF is the Third World Liberation Front, a student movement that began in 1968 at San Francisco State University. TWLF demanded a School of Ethnic Studies that held actual power in hiring and decision making, representation among faculty and student body, and in curriculum.

Things were not just given to us. Things are never just given to us out of the kindness and benevolence of the structures of power.

Assess those structures of power, see where rearrangement is required. Sometimes, in your assessment, you see it requires much more than rearrangement. You shout, Ibagsak! You fall in love with the sound of your own voice, shouting in public for the first time. You move on. You envision possibilities to fundamentally dismantle. You begin to construct alternatives.

From TWLF, not just student activism. Arts in activism. Activism in arts. Arts organizations were born, reflecting the histories, diversity, and political concerns of Third World peoples. Kearny Street Workshop formed in the same space of the legendary International Hotel on Kearny and Jackson, right outside North Beach, Chinatown, and the growing financial district. KSW’s art was very much tied to issues of immigration, labor, urban development, and gentrification. In classrooms, I studied the I-Hotel. In real life, I knew only the decades-old giant, unused hole in the ground on Kearny and Jackson. Something alive once stood there. Human beings had a home there. My mom told me, your uncle’s uncle lived there. He was evicted. We don’t know what happened to him. People I knew fought for the I-Hotel. People I knew wrote about that fight. Kept it in people’s memories. Made sure the City of San Francisco would not bury it.

Liwanag Literary and Graphic Expressions was born in 1975 at SFSU. Here, I first read Al Robles, Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn, and Serafin Malay Syquia. Here, I first saw the art of Carlos Villa. Syquia wrote, in “Politics and Poetry”:

The nature of the times requires, no, demands realism, both in politics and poetry. A people starving cannot be fed on pictures of gourmet dishes. A people with nowhere to live cannot live inside 21 inch television sets. To feed people obscure thoughts perpetuates the obscurity of such thoughts. If poetry is to reflect life as it is, it must concentrate on the symptoms of the sickness that have necessitated the various escapes that artists are forced to take in order to separate themselves from reality. Poetry should not nurture the symptom that created the sickness in the first place. It should help to cure the problems of the world by exposing and offering a sensitive response to the causes of the failures in society.

We frequently overlook that the artist activists of the 1970s wrote thoughtfully about aesthetic choices as political choices. I could not access Syquia’s essay the first time I read it. A 20 year old spoken word artist, still grappling with “meaning” and “message,” I wasn’t ready for a conversation on aesthetics.

My first artist mentors, the people who gave me poetic possibility, were poets of color who took the means of cultural and literary production into their own working hands. KSW published Asian American writers so grounded, gritty, and angry. Imagine that! Unapologetically angry! The writers of BAPAW (Bay Area Pilipino American Writers) regarded me as their militant baby sister poet. Jaime Jacinto! Jeff Tagami! Virginia Cerenio! Imagine that! Filipino Americans wrote books!

I recently blogged: I had to be reminded that everyone else may still operate within much more limited and oppressive MFA frameworks, in which the Western-Euro-centric, Judeo-Christian, hetero-male perspective is always the unbudging standard by which we must gauge ourselves.

I don’t live and work in that world. I am a fortunate soul. Or maybe, it’s better said this way: that world does not break me or tell me what I should do.

Anything of wit that’s interesting to spit
Show who’s king of this fucking English lit? -- Eminem, “Baby.”

I’ve been disobedient a very long time. Some time in my adolescence, I became quite the rebellious back-talking thing. Ask my mom, and she’ll tell you about my relationship with authority. A working mother of four daughters, she surely bore the brunt of my rebellion. These days, she regards my unruliness with pride — my girls do not get pushed around.

Still, I entered MFA space, a “master’s house,” of ethnic horror stories — brown people who entered, and emerged bloodless, processed and packaged meat. Stacked, shiny cans of SPAM®.

To MFA is to bathe in Eskinol.

Stacy Doris found me in grad school. For the too brief amount of time that Stacy (may she rest in peace) was in my life, she pushed me harder than anyone could. Break apart the multilingual in me. Bastardize.  Translate. Omit.

Dig into the heart of my languages. Gut them. Dig into the languages of my family. Gut the languages of this specific geographical place. Its lies. Its propagandas. This liminal space. This site of collision. This lawless frontier. This precipice of empire.

My Pinay mentor Eileen Tabios had been shrewd and direct. Think hard about the “ethnic” and “cultural artifact,” she advised. Explore, execute in complex, interesting ways.

Be smart. Be aggressive. Always be brave. Upset the monolingual, a charge to break convention and expectation.To form its broken pieces into so many barbed and strange configurations.

And the world was a woman puta que bruta siya ay bruja kontrabida y demonia wala siyang hiya ay que bárbara

And the word was a woman a bitch spitting witch splitting the hissing hussy tongue fussy  

And the word was a woman tsismosa she loca y loba disgracia borracha usap-usap bunganga

People used to ask me if my handling of language and culture presented a barrier to publishing. The less I cared, the more I found publication.

These days, Tagalog, Spanish, and Baybayin, various registers/dictions enter my work when they must. The page is their performance space. The poetic line gives structure. The music facilitates entry. I have always thought of my poetry as Pinay-specific, but in my Pinay-specificity, I find readers open. Opened by my work.

These days, I am still some Filipina American in the SF Bay Area. Oakland, to be exact. Everyone around me shouts, gossips, and prays in languages that sometimes intersect with English. The people in my family hold fancy degrees and own homes. We don’t trip on balikbayan boxes and stinky pasalubong. We welcome them. We are living the Filipino American Dream.

Wait. Are we?

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” -- Audre Lorde.

I remained challenged by Audre Lorde’s statement. Rather than fixating on who occupies the “master’s house,” I try to remember, the most important part of Lorde’s statement is to “enable us to bring about genuine change.”

How to enable? Who to enable? What does genuine change look like?

After we collectively shout, Ibagsak! -- and who is “we,” in the first place -- What then? This is where I’m stuck. This is where it’s frustrating. What I want is to find others who envision genuine change. What I want is to have a dialogue about genuine change. This is a credo, for myself, for those who want to be a “we” with me:

Not inferior. Not alien. Not other.

We will not ask permission. We will not apologize.

No shame. Sin vergüenza. Walang Hiya.

Poem: Continuation of “And the Word Was a Woman.”

It goes without saying that as far as sources go, I love the creation story, especially re-articulated creation stories, each written as prayer, each retold with a different POV or agenda. “And the Word Was a Woman,” will be a multi-part creation story poem, a “long poem,” which is slowly getting itself written. (Yes, “getting itself written,” as I think of Carlos Bulosan’s essay, “How My Stories Were Written.” It sounds passive, but he’s saying something about source, influence — where does story come from, and what is the author’s role in making that story happen/emerge, in creating a story by synthesizing from these multiple sources.)

I have previously posted a draft of part one. Here’s the very beginning of part three (part two is currently a brief one-liner, which I like, but that’s not set in stone. Many things change.)

3 All things were made by her; and without her was not any thing made that was made.

your breakfast, your bed, your benefits package
your myths, your medicine, your maids for hire
your leisure, your pleasure, your cheap labor pool
your tech, your toys, your purchasing power
your love, your lunch, your urban renewal
your realm, your retail, your dollars at work
your trinkets, your tongue, your taste for travel
your savior, your supper, and always your succor

[This, of course, is also subject to change.]

Brain Dumping: writing and poeming (why, what, how)

"To Proceed, You Must First understand," from my forthcoming book, To Love as Aswang.

“To Proceed, You Must First understand,” from my forthcoming book, To Love as Aswang.

 

More variations on the ongoing theme.

I am continuing on with both the slow process of writing the next (fifth) book, and gearing up for production and PR for the fourth book, To Love as Aswang. I like this work and this pace, both slow-going, meditative, and then just faster than I can breathe and take care of things needing care and attention. I like this life, I like that I’ve chosen to write what and how I want to write. Poeming. Reveling in poem, reveling in musicality. Loving compressed language. Loving poetic lines. Loving these things well-formed on the page. (I’ve also become very pointed in my criteria for poetry, to the point that I encounter others’ poetry and quietly ask myself, is that really a poem s/he has written — apart from its being left justified and broken into lines somehow, how is it a poem.)

I’d been experiencing quiet misgivings about how I’ve chosen for the fourth book to go down. But that’s all kind of dumb to be worrying about micro-pressing locally, with exactly who I want to be working with. I should say though, that this nebulous thing called “prestige,” nags at me sometimes, this “what are people saying” when I don’t know (or care) who constitutes “people,” this “keeping up with the Joneses,” when I really don’t (or shouldn’t) care who the Joneses are.

I remind myself about “prestige”:

1650-60 for an earlier sense; < French (orig. plural): deceits, delusions, juggler’s tricks < Latin praestīgiae juggler’s tricks, variant of praestrīgiae, derivative from base of praestringere to blunt (sight or mind), literally, to tie up so as to constrict, equivalent to prae- pre- + stringere to bind fast; see stringent.

Recognition is a different thing, and it comes in many forms. And shit. If we are writing for either prestige or for recognition in the first place, then we are not writing what we want to write for ourselves. We are worrying what others think before we’ve even committed the pen to the page, we are passive to what is faddish/trendy and “publishable,” but determined by whom, using what/whose criteria?

How to keep writing, how to sustain our writing, how to sort through all the bullshit of the publishing industry, how to maintain our integrity in this bullshit industry, how to still be ambitious — and ambition is not a bad thing — on our own terms. I keep thinking, Carlos Bulosan was ambitious. Jose Garcia Villa was ambitious.

And how to be Literary and Poetic (yes, upper-case Literary and Poetic), and simultaneously honor our ancestors.

I think our community has willingly (and willfully) allowed itself to exist in a prolonged state of selective amnesia about our ancestors’ literary work and aspirations. I keep thinking of the apparently unabashed difficulty of Wilfrido D. Nolledo’s novel, But for the Lovers, not necessarily something which I aspire to accomplish, but definitely to approach understanding. Why so difficult? The writer had his reasons; they were not arbitrary or undeliberate.

“Why don’t you just say what you mean…”

I think of that criticism often deployed at so-called “difficult” writers in our community, and I have to ask, “difficult,” by whose standards?

Who told us that our kind were not capable of creating or comprehending sophisticated bodies of literary work in the first place? And what happens when we come to believe this about ourselves and our own?

So I have to respond to that question, “Why don’t you just say what you mean…”

I read painstakingly crafted and constructed literary work as doing just that, as saying what is meant to be said, with a precision of language working double-time/overtime, in narrative both literal and figurative, in thoughtful use of form. Right? Hella meaning crammed into tight, concise spaces. More bang for your buck. No pandering, especially when pandering means internalizing that absence of capability.

So maybe you are reading this, and thinking that I am contradicting myself all over the place. I will say that my ambivalence runs deep. I am still trying to figure out “my place” in all of this. I am continuing to question so many of the givens I was told to believe, not just by those invested in the MFA and Publishing Industrial Complex, but also by those who stand in absolute opposition to it.

To Love as Aswang: Table of Contents

As a progress report on my manuscript “tinkering,” I offer this here Table of Contents. (In the meantime, various folks will be recording themselves reading these poems, and then posting those on YouTube, so I will have a “playlist” at some point soon.)

04 To Pierce the Heart
05 To Fork the Tongue
06 To Wait
07 To Proceed, You Must First Understand
08 To Witness like Shahid
09 To Read the Newspapers
10 To Sell Sweetie
11 To Conceive Sweetie (10 F Philippines)
16 To Go Along With Others
19 To Remember Something from Long Ago
20 To Sing a Little Ditty
21 To Answer
23 To Answer 2
25 To Sing Praisesong
28 To Violate Convention
30 To Fear the Self
31 To Understand the Current State of Things
32 To Fear Losing Oneself
33 To Love as Aswang
34 To Sing Surrender
35 To Love as Prey
36 To Sing the Battered Body
37 To Slaver
38 To Bless the Meek
39 To Give It to God
40 To Make a Sound from Inside a Box
41 To Write a Poem
42 To Have Come Here
43 To Remember
44 To Have a Home
45 To Be Walang Hiya
46 To Be a Runaway Daughter, Not the Much-Desired Son
47 To Be Disaster Inventory
48 To Be Blunt
49 To Go to Pieces
50 To Be Bound
51 To Call the Ancestors
54 To Scale
55 To Know
56 To Spend and Be Spent
57 To Emigrate (Patriarch Parable)
58 To Remember One Who Escaped
59 To Remember the Tita They Called a Bruja
60 To Recite Tita Bruja’s Credo
61 To Pray to the Goddess of Lost Things
63 To Be Present
64 To Be Babaylan
65 To Locate Our Mothers
66 To Be Interrogated
68 To Sanctify the Body
69 To Break
70 To Survive an Apocalypse, a Girl Needs Light and Power
71 To Love as Mother and Aswang
72 To Spit Fire
73 To Return a Heroine

Having Taught Bulosan and Hagedorn, I Taught Bulosan and Hagedorn Again

dogeaters 1st edition

I want to say, you get tired of the same old thing, and that you want to do something else. It’s true; you do. The fact that these texts, Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, are requisite texts in Filipino Literature courses, gets redundant for me, but it can’t continue to irk me.

I have complained in social media, about how teaching these two books takes nearly half of the semester, leaving us another eight weeks to cover “everything else.” What is that “everything else,” and will any other text ever replace one of these two requisite texts? What are the politics of inclusion and exclusion? I keep asking who determines the criteria.

Shee-it. I am determining the criteria, and there’s no being coy or passive-aggressive about that.

Last week, I was talking to a Philippine Studies colleague, of different discipline. She was telling me that a while back, she referenced America is in the Heart in one of the classes she teaches, and was dismayed that students hadn’t read the book. I don’t know that it gave my colleague a ton of extra work, to try to bring the students up to speed on why that book is important to know, when moving into other courses — sociology, history — within our interdisciplinary program.

But that’s one thing. We are interdisciplinary, I teach the literature courses, and the content of our program as a whole should have some continuity through and between them.

Related: I was talking to another colleague in our program, about starting off every semester with Renato Constantino’s “The Mis-Education of the Filipino,” because in order to understand and critically discuss the art and literature produced in Filipino and Filipino American communities, it’s important that the students have a basic understanding of the colonial elements and impetus in our communities’ works. But the discussion of colonialism takes a damn long time before we can even get into the core content of our courses.

In my Filipino Literature course, Bulosan and Hagedorn have to be required. I won’t and can’t be mad about this anymore. You can’t discuss the “Flips” — Robles, Tagami, et al — without first getting a deep understanding of the “Manongs.” Hence, America is in the Heart. I suppose you could teach Bienvenido Santos’s short stories in Scent of Apples, but why read something written by a pensionado, an outsider looking into or imagining or transcribing the lives of the labor class Pinoys, when you have this novel written by someone who is of the labor class, whose roots are of the Philippine peasantry. Is this about “authenticity,” or “representation” for sake of itself? I’ll go ahead and say no, that it’s about introducing critical discussions about class struggle, proletariat literature (and language, and aesthetic), the literal exhaustion and frustration of pursuing the “American Dream.”

I am thinking of the narrator Carlos’s concern that his brother Macario’s political concerns seem more intellectual than actual.

I will also say that I hate it when discussions about America is in the Heart are firmly couched in sentimentality and ethnic identity politics — ethnic pride, ethnic authenticity.

On Dogeaters. You can’t read any hallucinatory balikbayan narratives or Manila narratives written by expatriate authors without referencing Dogeaters. You could teach Marianne Villanueva’s short stories in Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila to demonstrate the social changes before and during Martial Law. But there’s something about the form of novel itself, though there’s Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter. But particular to Dogeaters, there’s something about the socially diverse and then the marginalized/invisible (it’s important to me that we talk A LOT about Joey Sands, and then to a bit lesser degree, Orlando/Romeo and poor Trinidad, and how their stories fit in this cacophony with Daisy/Aurora, Lolita Luna, Baby Alacran, Leonora Ledesma, et al.), and unintentionally unreliable narrators (Except Pucha? When she finally speaks for herself, do we have any reason to believe her?), and their selective and fallible memories.

Some things.

Is Dogeaters still considered a “difficult,” “experimental” text? Is it really a “postmodern” text? In what ways are we now more popularly accustomed to collaged, non-linear narratives and shifting, multiple narrators challenging/refuting Master Narrative, than we were when this book first debuted in 1990.

Is it redundant, or logical, to also teach R. Zamora Linmark’s novel, Leche, after teaching Dogeaters. I am going with logical.

Is it fair, is it enough to have one Filipino Literature course offering, given that we have one century of Filipino writing in English under our belt, given that works in translation have been around much longer and should also be included in Filipino Literature (I teach Elynia S. Mabanglo’s Invitation of the Imperialist in translation), and given that Ethnic Studies and area studies are now becoming increasingly diasporic.

Shee-it (again). In Filipino Literature, I could teach a whole semester of Carlos Bulosan. Or a whole semester on lyric poetry. Or short story. Or graphic novel. Or YA Lit.

Or Pinay Lit …!

POEM: And the Word was a Woman

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Woman, and the Word was Woman

And the word was a woman a damn rib an absence malfeasance a (mis)played piece a parcel of speech

And the word was a woman a damned dame a bane to blame to set aflame

And the word was a woman an abscessed peace to please to preen to plea beseeched deity

And the word was a woman a besmirched virtue tidal surging pride purging upskirt urging chiding pervert searching

And the word was a woman a stutter a daughter a dutiful other a beauty to utter and smother

And the word was a woman a bridled bride an invite inside

And the word was a woman just an old bag an old nag a fag hag a chick to snag and shag

And the word was a woman raven ravished a maven brandishing rivers of symbol sinful simple skinfolk

And the word was a woman mnemonic she mimic and cry signing ape she make shit up on the fly

And the world was a woman nuestra señora ave maria salve regina

And the word was a woman maiden made of heaving blade bleeding brave breathing keening unseemly ably she wield her steel

And the word was a woman so loving she salving fevering she birthing grieving she giving forgiving forgoing

And the world was a woman walang nakakilala ngiti-ngiting dalaga mahinhin dalagita magiging manggahasa

And the word was a woman she slang soul searing swagger straying straining not abstaining

And the word was a woman thorny crone on the approach crouching unbound slow honing horns growing

And the word was a woman a handsome missus sandwich fixin’ hands for dishes washing rinsing hands delicious banishing our angst our ash axé aché to her we pray

And the word was a woman a kitchen kitten whisking fixture

And the word was a woman’s lady parts parted lady parsed farce

And the word was a woman eyes her straight razor gaze gotta turn away she burn you son

And the world was a woman puta que bruta siya ay bruja kontrabida y demonia wala siyang hiya ay que bárbara

And the word was a woman lowing lowly of homethings sewing hopes stings bowstrings consoling

And the word was a woman a mother a weathered withered other cursed and mercy thirsting

And the word was a woman chanting incanting her spell she can’t recall it all

And the world was a womb a wound a ruin a ruby entombed

And the world was a woman third world baby throw you shade she crazy ain’t no lady

And the word was a woman riot rhyming stylin’ in the night high as the almighty smiling wired diving wild dying child

And the word was a woman speaking womanspeak singing womansong sirensong succorsong singalong

And the word was a woman not a beautiful thing not the way you think of beauty a caged thing a waged thing a thing to be tamed and blamed and hewn in two

And the word was a woman a bitch spitting witch splitting the hissing hussy tongue fussy

And the world was a woman well warned well worn will torn spurned scorned

And the world was a woman wheel-turning water-bearing barely breathing

And the word was a woman working weaving webbing wellspring waxing

And the word was a woman an unmapped space a basketcase

And the word was a woman laden ladylike diminutive as advertised she came when he culled

And the word was a woman spitting guttural strange on the tongue caught in the throat a fishbone a needle a spine an impolite whine

And the word was woo and woe manhandled wholly man-made unholy man-entered hole

And the word was a woman trope token tokin’ blowin’ up this joint smokin’

And the word was a woman a brassy broad a bitch a boss

And the word was a woman tsismosa she loca y loba disgracia borracha usap-usap bunganga

And the word was a woman a whore a chore a deity of need

And the word was a woman nothing but a thing nobody but an owned body of everybody a no one of everyone

And the word was a woman rendered illegal tender beat her spend her meek girl bend her

And the word was a woman splayed a mislaid doll a little star a mauled thrall mewling muling she a musing she a monstrous bejeweled thing

And the world was a woman pearl serving girl whirled and hurled slurred and hurt herded dirtied blurring

And the word was a woman say hey baby she taint your taste unchaste wasteland

And the word was a woman she cupcake fuck bait funk fake hunt take cunt snake truncate drunk hate run straight she luster and flush she funk fake blood plait booty shake

And the word was a woman a venus a phoenix a fox a polygot remix

And the world was a womb’s warm walls

 

On being foreign and female while manuscripting and publishing

Naguisnan ni Adan sa Paraiso ay maraming hayóp na ang lahat may mang̃a caparis. Bucod lamang siya, na namumugtong na ualang casama,t, catulong sa lugar na iyon na caayaaya. Caya pinatulog nang Dios si Adan, at nang macatulog, ay hinugot ang isang tadyang ay guinauang babaye na ibinigay cay Adan. Sa pag laláng na ito, ay may isang misterio na naaninao si San Agustin.Hindi quinuha nang Dios ang babaye sa ulo nang lalaqui; sapagca,t di itinalagá na gauing pang̃inoon mag uutos sa lalaqui; hindi quinuha sa paa at nang di iring̃in at ariing hamac na parang alipin. Quinuha sa tadyang sa tapat nang pusó, nang pacamahalin at nang ariing isang casama, na cacatulung̃in sa pagtitiis nang hirap sa buháy na ito.

The above is an excerpt of Modesto de Castro, Urbana at Feliza, which I wish I had come to a long time ago. It’s OK because I have it now, and I can read it as slowly as I am able to. I’ve included this excerpt above to demonstrate some of the “foreign” elements that become necessary for and in my work. The excerpt is a retelling of the fashioning of Eve from Adam’s rib. The language is Tagalog, though not the modern Tagalog which I am accustomed to reading. So it’s old, and utilizes Spanish “rules.” And anyway, I’m not even close to the level of sophistication I would like to be in modern Tagalog.

But I’m fascinated by this book and its language, especially because it’s all about proper female behavior, as dictated by an elder sister toward her advice seeking younger sister.

Women regulating women. Women enforcing patriarchy.

The center of my work is the broken woman — in body and spirit, and the many ways in which she works to repair, reassemble. She is literally broken into pieces. In one case, she can only be identified by the serial number on her silicone breast implants. In one case, her pieces are thrown unceremoniously out of a speeding, moving vehicle and into the roadways. I have mediated and mitigated  a lot of the violence, but realize in my rereadings that the hints towards dismemberment are just as troubling. Despite these dismemberments, she still moves towards wholeness and against silence, only to encounter more brokenness and more silencing, inflicted upon her by patriarchal forces.

The conditions of the patriarchy are reliant upon that silence, and so the manifold acts of violence upon the woman are sanctioned. Mechanisms for silencing and breaking are institutionalized. And engulfed by these mechanisms, every little thing can muster must be an act of resistance. She prays, a hell of a lot. Can you blame her. This is where I really relied upon the many different Pinays who sent me responses to my ~20 questions. This chorus and core of Pinays who spoke so truthfully about what was most important and sacred and painful to them.

All this said, I’ve really been feeling so much that my subject matter, no matter how important it is to me, no matter how much care and effort I invest in the process of this writing — no matter all this, many will simply never care, never consider its relevance or importance, never come near it, never think of reading it. And this is all hella Debbie Downer, but I am also being real. Because the broken woman is a foreign woman, who keeps having her life opportunities violently taken from her, and she ends up having to compromise her own dignity. Because the languages of her oppression and resistance are not just English, but also these foreign languages, in which foreign means not American, not English, not in the Latin alphabet.

She is ubiquitous, transnational, diasporic. One of her many places of residence and oppression is the internet, which is predatory and misogynist. Just like our culture, in which “our culture,” is this Western popular culture that is a global popular culture of inflicting violences upon women’s bodies, feasting on them, throwing away their remains. This is global ritual, constantly being repeated.

All this said, the work is, in my opinion, still quite poetic. And that it is poetic is also troubling.

I have gone through many iterations of this manuscript, I have thrown a lot out, stripped it of any potentially gimmicky bits, and I have given it more (white) space. These (white) spaces are also troubling.

Nailing down a publisher for this was hard. I received a couple of painful rejections, and a lot more silence. So I kept working on the manuscript, improving it, making it clean.

Well, PAWA is publishing it, and I think that’s for the best. I love that PAWA believes that publishing this work would be an honor. I am honored by that. An added hope is that Pin@y readers will actually want to read this book, maybe even teach this book, rather than run in the opposite direction and put as much distance between it and them. Or worse: act as if it is an invisible thing, as if it does not exist.