First, this: I’m disliking FB communications more and more. It’s the quick impulsive reactiveness versus the ways in which we, as thoughtful human beings, need time to process complex ideas and concepts, to think about work’s specificities and strategies.
In case you did not already know this about me, I tend towards misanthrope and skeptic, and am biased against spectacle, clusterfuck, and flamewar.
I also very much dislike the collector and marketer, those who collect, market, and spam, with apparent shallow understanding of you, your work, your concerns; who exhibit a sad disregard for the quality of the work in question; who jump on bandwagons because there are bandwagons upon which to jump; who habitually request social network connection with no intention of interacting with you in discerning, thoughtful, human ways.
That said, I have been appreciating “old school” means of connecting. I’ve received telephone calls from friends, colleagues, and collaborators, and for the quality of the conversations, I am very grateful. I’ve been sitting down and having face to face conversations with people, with tea, with meals, and this has been fantastic.
Now. One thing a fellow Pinay educator and I were talking about the other day is this: the act of asking. We frequently find ourselves in these authoritative positions, where we tell the community what its issues are. We do the diagnosing and prescribing. Surely, finding ourselves in these authoritative positions comes from years, decades of producing work. Folks in the community have confidence in our works and our ability to speak.
But there is also push back. And this is healthy, because each one of us is a specific subjectivity. I cringe when someone responds to my work by saying, writing, expecting that I represent them, their voice, their concerns. To me, this takes away a person’s agency and responsibility. To me, this person has consented to letting go of his/her agency and responsibility. So then I understand the push back; when a Pin@y reacts adversely to my work as not representing them, this can only be good.
I can only hope this is both an opportunity for dialogue, and an opportunity for others to write thoughtfully and produce work better representing themselves and their concerns.
As an aspiring writer, I came to writing to represent my own experiences. I was encouraged, emboldened to do so because I was able to see other Pin@ys writing, publishing, and teaching. I learned that Pin@ys, Filipin@s in America were not content to remain voiceless. This is where I came to learn learn about activism, in which our communities collectively empowered themselves to act upon their concerns.
I am troubled when hear folks claim to be “a voice for the voiceless,” because I know now that doing so is not really activism, if you are with me on my interpretation of activism as collective self-empowerment towards action. Claiming to be a “voice for the voiceless,” silences those others’ voices, and it feeds into essentialism and constructed binaries. As we indict the mainstream in its treatment of Pin@ys as a homogeneous, and even monolithic body, we need to look at how we do this to frequently ourselves, for sake of ease and simplicity.
Interviewers have asked me many times, about writing The Pinay Experience, an essentialist question. I tell them I am writing the things I know and want/need to know/find out. The work of reading, asking, researching, then drafting is an active exploration of a variety of Pinay experiences; I then write the pieces of it that resonate most, that trouble me the most, that I understand the least. My most recent manuscript was that kind of exercise in asking. similarly, my anthology project is an exercise in asking. In receiving responses from brave and willing souls, I hear in very substantial ways, concerns that I did not previously consider, lived experiences I do not share.
So where am I at now. Needing to really talk with people, needing to get better at hearing and listening. I am continually frustrated by disconnect and by assumption and defensiveness. I’m saddened that I am mansplained when I try to voice my frustrations about where and why I think disconnects are happening. I am also trying to be very clear about my subjectivity and epistemology, very clear about outlining my place, upbringing, political and artistic origins, (formal and informal) education, and intentions. I think about Harryette Mullen discussing problematizing black female subjectivity. I am surely interested in doing the same with Pin@y subjectivities. As an author, as an educator, as a community member, this is everything to me.
So then: Epistemology is very important to me. As I have been discussing with my students in Fil Am Lit at SFSU’s AAS Dept., we must examine the institutions and structures of power, which represent systems of knowledge in operation, in the works we are handling this semester. We must examine, make sense of the complex relationships our characters, narrators, speakers, and artists have with institutions and structures of power, which represent systems of knowledge.
These self-examinations bring to the surface all kinds of uncomfortable contradiction, and really, contradictions are a part of our daily lives. As I was discussing with one of my grad students yesterday evening, this is not something that should paralyze us with guilt, resentment, defensiveness, rage, blaming. If anything, knowledge of our embodying and living contradiction should really enable us to be more thoughtful, more mindful of the decisions and negotiations we make on a daily basis. Yes, this is rigorous, but I think it’s important to become accustomed to the rigor.