Teaching Pinay Lit: Narrative Strategy, Epistemology #AllPinayEverything

Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, image from Ninotchka Rosca's Sugar & Salt

Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, image from Ninotchka Rosca’s Sugar & Salt

I was recently informed by a fellow UC Berkeley Pinay alum, that she will be teaching a Filipino Women Writers course next semester. This, of course, makes me very happy, and it makes me even happier that she is interested in including my work in her course.

The question arises: How does one teach Filipina Literature?

There are so many things, and perhaps this is because I’ve been ambitious.

First thing is Narrative. Where have Filipinas’ narratives existed, especially prior to widespread literacy and writing? I start with oral tradition, oral transmission of wisdom from babaylans to their communities, and to subsequent generations of women and girls.

Narrative and wisdom, as transmitted by women, has come to include prayer, song, tattooing, weaving, foodways, healing arts. Chants, invocations, symbols/icons, patterns.

Discussing babaylans requires a critical look at binary constructions of gender, for babaylans were women and then also men who “dressed as women,” so the literatures say. I interpret “dressed as women,” as somehow addressing transgender and third gender. Bayog, asog.

Discussing babaylans also requires a critical look at Spanish patriarchal disruption and persecution of women: Sacred and respected leaders, these holders of narrative, transformed in the community’s imagination into “witches” and “monsters.” Aswang. Women with rights, responsibilities and civic duties equal to men, transformed into docile, domestic animals. Virgins, wives, mothers whose bodies are the domains of their fathers and then their husbands, whose sole purpose or duty is to be a vessel of man’s progeny.

Here, we are already discussing Master Narrative, which is not truth but construction. If Power is associated with authority and authorship, then we should now have an idea of how important it is for our own, for Pinays to wield authorship.

Within patriarchy, including literary patriarchy, where do Pinay narratives even exist in writing? We examine private forms of communication: letters, diaries. We examine “non-literary” modes such as Op-Eds and magazine columns, rock and roll lyrics, recipes.

Within literary patriarchy, we have to look hard at any existing literary narratives which conform to sanctioned/canonical forms, to find any glimpses of resistance and subversion. Women’s narratives set in domestic spaces, female protagonists who are maids and housewives. Tales, fables, allegories.

Given international mass media and popular culture, in which Pinays are expected to be virtuous but also sexual objects, pretty, fragile, vulnerable, we have to find narratives with strong first person perspectives. Pinays writing about themselves, their life experiences, their reflections on their lives and the world they live in — both narrative and lyric.

Given diaspora, the Pinay in the international labor force, we have to look at where Pinay narratives can even exist without censure. We return to the letter, which now accompanies the foreign remittance. We examine not just the language, but the tone. We look at testimony, the weight of words you have sworn to your god(s) is the Truth, as you have experienced it, as you have witnessed it with your own eyes. Epistolary, testimony.

Whew.

Now that we have reached the present day, in which lots of Pinay writers are American-born, and may not speak Filipino languages, in which many Pinays come from multi-ethnic families, in which many Pinay writers and artists learn their art in graduate programs and learn about all things Filipino in college classrooms, given our access to source materials, given WOC feminism, Pinayism, and gender studies, given various hybridities (linguistic, cultural, artistic, literary), given the internet, what is Pinay Lit looking like now?

All of this discussion must incorporate discussion of narrative strategy and literary device.

This is where I’m at with my Pinay Lit class now. Five more weeks and much more to cover. Graphic novel, monomyth and bildungsroman, ekphrasis, Hip-Hop, binary code poetics (how else to discuss Silicon Valley).

Life. Is. Good.

 

Teaching Pinay Lit: Master Narrative and Counter Narrative

McKinley_Prosperity resize

Indeed, I think I had a pretty intense lecture yesterday evening in Pinay Lit, while discussing two stories, Marianne Villanueva’s “Special Research Project,” and “Memorial,” which I think of as companion stories, handling Master Narrative and Counter Narrative, respectively.

Master Narrative ≠ Truth. Master Narrative is construction, manufactured by those in power (or those representing those in power) in order to maintain and further that power. When managing and controlling the Master Marrative, you may simply omit others from that narrative, and they will cease to exist. This Master Narrative is proliferated via mass media, and via academic canon (and I am sure there are other means; these days we can add social media to the list too).

I gave them the example of the Philippine American War in American History textbooks.

(Crickets.)

Exactly.

So, we reviewed very quickly what we did learn in American History in high school, as pertains to the Spanish American War — America portraying itself as liberating us from the Spanish Empire, and then the signing of the Treaty of Paris. OK. Then I added some items not included in the American History textbooks. The Philippines had already won and declared its independence from Spain. The Philippines had formed its own Republic. Did we learn that in American History? Did we learn that America was creating an Empire by invading a sovereign nation in the Pacific?

I discussed how that narrative about America liberating us from Spain is what justified the American military, its flagship, the USS Olympia commanded by Commodore George Dewey, entering Manila Bay. Does this sound familiar, thinking of the justifications we hear, for why the American military must enter (insert country name here) in order to liberate them from (insert country name here).

Back to Marianne Villanueva’s “Special Research Project.” It’s very tricky and exhausting, managing the Truth, especially when it is always in the process of being revised and revised again, and you need to keep track of all the versions of “truth,” and “former truth.” Do you even know anymore what is really true, and what is not? The president in this story seems to have lost track. The people, who used to question the authorship of all of the books the president had allegedly written to bolster his patriotism and masculine vigor, but then eventually came to a point where they stopped questioning. Either they came to accept these as Truth, or they came to a point of exhaustion and acceptance that there was no use questioning what was true. Here, we have a populace fallen into cynicism and complacency. The president himself loses interest in himself and his nation. The ghostwriter of these Master Narratives is forgotten. The National Archives, repository of the nation’s intellectual history falls into ruins and reduced to rubble. Foreign capital comes in and builds a Japanese hotel on top of the ruins of the nation’s intellectual history.

Love. This. Story.

I then discussed Counter Narrative. Given the above, we can already understand the importance of Counter Narrative. The memorialist in Villanueva’s story, Fajardo, was once an artist of national gallery caliber, “the next Amorsolo,” and so forth. But in the dictatorship, where people are censored, disappeared, written out of the Master Narrative, something else becomes priority to the artist/memorialist. Who will remember the disappeared, especially if their bodies are simply decaying in the streets? No one gives them a proper burial, and so in addition to being written out of history, they don’t even have proper resting places with headstones where anyone can at least read their names.

The memorialist now works with chalk and building walls. This is graffiti. We discussed graffiti as “vandalism,” “defacing private property,” hence illegal. But we also discussed graffiti as political, for various reasons. Art in the streets is accessible to all. Art in museums and fine galleries is not. Graffiti exists in palimpsest; other artists (if they are brave enough) also contribute to the piece, and soon we have a community of artists in practice. This is political too, no? We discussed the importance of symbols, creative ways of conveying political messages, when overt statements are punishable by execution. The symbols and words must mean something, not just to the artist, but also to the viewer, so that the message will be received. The art must also be concise, so that the memorialist can blast in and out of there and not be apprehended. The art must still be complex, so that it lingers at the thresholds of people’s consciousness.

In “Memorial,” the act of remembering becomes punishable by execution; when Fajardo tells a taho vendor in passing, that he remembers when there used to be fish in the river, this is the piece of information the taho vendor provides to the police. An artist remembers when the river was clean and not destroyed by industry; an artist remembers when the people had freedom from hunger, and freedom of movement, and freedom from fear.

Now, the taho vendor has become an agent of the state, because times are so desperate, he could use that money to feed his large family. Poverty becomes a tool of the state, just as fear is a tool of the state.

In this story, word of mouth, oral tradition, the story circle, is also important to Counter Narrative. The conversations had in the scholars’ private residences become venues for proliferating news of the resistance. With each retelling, fantastic elements enter the tales, and these resistance leaders grow more and more legendary. And with each retelling, farther away from the source, perhaps the teller has some amount of safety; “this is what I’ve heard,” “this is what people say,” are phrases denying firsthand knowledge and association. Perhaps the fantastic elements are also a means of protection; “those are just stories,” “no real human being can do the things this rebel leader is said to do,” “that’s just gossip.”

It is the artist’s job and responsibility to remember, to call Master Narrative into question, to think critically about his or her art becoming a tool of the state, and to resist that, to create art that is itself resistance. When Fajardo himself disappears, others do indeed talk about him and what he did — “remember that old artist who….” How does that memory inspire others? We hope it does. Perhaps also, we hope, those others will be emboldened to take on the duty of remembering.

Poem Draft: Goddess of Lost Things

lost things

Image source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/

Goddess of Lost Things

Help me to find my innocence. I may have dropped it on the bus last week. I also lost my iPod, and a notebook full of poems. I keep dropping things. I can’t hold it together.

Help me to find my voice. Everytime I speak, some guy always cuts me off, and every time I raise my voice, he raises his too. If it isn’t some guy, then it’s some white woman. She insists she is speaking on my behalf. Do not believe her. She’s not.

Help me to find my pride. Some punk ass bitch stole it from me, I’m sure, when I was at the mall. I just turned around for a second, I was blindsided, and it was gone. I looked through all my jacket pockets, skinny jeans in the laundry, all my shopping bags, and it just wasn’t there.

Where is my dignity, where is my credit card, where did I leave my self-esteem.

Where are my manners? I seem to have lost those too. My mother taught me to say please and thank you.

Please help me to find a good map. Please tell me to stop looking. Please tell me I’m not lost.

Spring 2015: All Filipino Lit All the Time

 

YPSP 260

 

Friends, I am a Filipino Literature teaching machine!

Seriously though. I am so happy to have been offered and scheduled two iterations of Filipino Literature courses next semester for Philippine Studies at USF, who have been treating me quite well. Of course, in the throes of adjunctivitis, pushing for enrollment numbers, I don’t appear to be so happy, but honestly, I’m feeling pretty empowered these days.

The two classes are as follows:

1. Filipin@ Diaspora Literature. The Seminar for Incoming Transfer Students course, fulfilling the Literature Breadth Requirement. Here, I get hella literary, conscientiously covering different genres, aesthetics, and forms. We discuss monomyth, bildungsroman, postmodernism, hyperrealism, poetics, memoir. I try my best as well, to find writers and authors living in various places in the world; when I do not go heavy on anthology, this one is a little challenging to fulfill, in terms of what titles are available widely enough for course adoption.

What I do like about this class is that it is heavy, rigorous, and academic, and we do read major works such as Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, R. Zamora Linmark’s Leche.  I am also introducing three novellas into my curriculum as well. The focus of the class is colonial displacements, migrations, transnationalism. Part of covering colonial displacements, in my opinion, is to discuss/address literacy and what is considered literature. Hence, baybayin, oral traditions and orality, performative works such as balagtasan, slam, and hip-hop.

2. Filipino American and Philippine Literature. This is the two unit course which is a lot more open and laid back. Some of you have asked me about the titling of my classes, and really, I just have to have two different titles so that we can differentiate, administratively at least. I used to think this class was “filler” material, given its two-unit status, but then I figured, enough with the victim mentality, and embrace what can be done in a two-unit space. Hence, the focus on short forms. This is freeing for me, not to have to slog through four or five 300-400 page novels. I love how enthusiastic the students can get, given how apparently manageable is the short story, the personal essay, the epistle/correspondence, the poem.

It’s in this course that I first taught Manila Noir, and I admit I was apprehensive introducing this dark and gritty text in this Jesuit institution. But then came the realization that social justice and ethics could be incorporated into discussions on the noir genre. Here, we also talk a lot about characterization, motive, and plot.

OK, here are my tentative required reading lists for each class:

Class #1:

  1. Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart.
  2. Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters.
  3. Pati Navalta Poblete, The Oracles (e-book).
  4. M. Evelina Galang, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery.
  5. R. Zamora Linmark, Leche.
  6. Barbara Jane Reyes, Poeta en San Francisco.
  7. Jason Bayani, Amulet.
  8. Marianne Villanueva, Jenalyn (e-book) (novella).
  9. Linda Ty-Casper, A Small Party in a Garden (e-book) (novella).
  10. Eliza Victoria, Lower Myths (e-book) (novellas).
  11. Merlinda Bobis, [not sure yet which title; if only Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon were available, I would hella be set. It’ll most likely be Fish Hair Woman].

In addition to the above, here are (most of) the e-reader items:

  1. Carlos Bulosan, selections from The Laughter of My Father and On Becoming Filipino.
  2. Nick Joaquin, “A Heritage of Smallness.”
  3. Renato Constantino, “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” 
  4. Serafin Malay Syquia, “Politics and Poetry.”
  5. Al Robles, “Hanging on to the Carabao’s Tail.”
  6. NVM Gonzalez, “Kalutang: A Filipino in the World.”
  7. Marjorie Evasco, “The Writer and Her Roots.”

There are other readings I am mulling over, but so far, I believe this is nearly complete.

Class #2 (the short forms class):

  1. Lysley Tenorio, Monstress.
  2. Marianne Villanueva, Ginseng.
  3. Jessica Hagedorn, Manila Noir.
  4. Barbara Jane Reyes, Diwata.
  5. Dean Francis Alfar, The Kite of Stars (e-book).
  6. Oliver de la Paz, Names Above Houses.
  7. Merlinda Bobis, The Kissing.
  8. [Still thinking about this one, perhaps something that involves either plays, or comics, komiks, and/or comix that is not Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons, which I teach in Pinay Lit.]

I am trying my best, as well, to minimize overlap between all my classes. So far, it’s just Marianne Villanueva’s Ginseng which I have on two of my syllabi (short forms, and Pinay Lit classes).

Anyway, I love that we can have multiple iterations of Filipino Literature class, and I am also grateful for these opportunities to develop curricula.

The next class I create will be Filipin@ and Latin@ Literatures. My tentative book list is ~25 titles deep, and desperately needs cutting.

Pinay Poetics, Patriarchy Parables, & Pre and Postcolonial Poetry

[Image source: http://wolfberrystudio.blogspot.com]

[Image source: http://wolfberrystudio.blogspot.com]

Who was it that got me on alliteration?

Anyway. Some things I’ve been thinking, as we’ve spent this week talking about Jessica Hagedorn’s poetry in Danger and Beauty in USF Pinay Lit class. I have decided, as I’ve happily revisited Hagedorn’s poetry, that as a young one reading her poetry, I missed a lot. Surely, a lot of why I missed a lot was because I did not know then, how to read poetry. To clarify: I was taught to read English canonical poetry, but then experienced what many of us students of color experience in the process — a cultural alienation from much of the material, and teachers who never attempted to bridge. Rather, the message I received from the absence of that discussion on cultural specificity, was that if I did not know those specific cultural references, passed off as universals, I was culturally deficient. That was almost enough to steer me away from serious poetic study.

Immersing myself in Ethnic Studies, I took a lot of fantastic literature courses, though they were heavily skewed towards prose narrative. We did read hybrid genre works such as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller, and Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, and given how much rich content there was to process, poetry itself was not so much of a priority. And anyway, before beginning to understand why hybrid genre work is important to postcolonial literature, shouldn’t we first get a handle on literary genre? That said, I do not remember being taught how to read postcolonial poetry in a way that still prioritized poetic device, poetic form, and perhaps even poetics more broadly. And so while I was connecting meaningfully with the content, “capital P” Poetry was becoming more and more distant and elitist, for and about privileged white people, less and less relevant in my world. That was almost enough to steer me away from serious poetic study.

So there’s the first thing — an unfortunate cleaving of Poetry, poetics, and postcolonialism.

In class yesterday, we talked about how we read a poem, and how we read poetry. What do we do when we encounter the page? What do we do with those words formed in certain specific ways on the page. My students were really thoughtful, in discussing how they read it aloud, how they read it aloud slowly, how they read it as it’s laid out on the page, abiding by the line breaks and stanza breaks, how they read and reread and reread again, how they read it silently in their heads with pencils in hand, honing on on specific words that appeared to be significant, for the words’ uniqueness, or for their recurrence.

See, already I love this thoughtfulness. We are describing an experience which I think is distinct from how we encounter and engage prose. We identify that what we have in front of us on the page is a poem, and then we decide upon a set of actions in order to enter it.

We discussed poetry as a concentrated, intense use of language that exists both on the page and via performance/oral transmission. We discussed what traditional poems do, how they abide by regular, metric, and rhyming forms, or other such rules, specifically constructed containers containing narrative or lyric. We discussed the basic unit of the poetic line, and how those are worked — formed and broken — to create impact and effect.

We then discussed what a postcolonial poem (and work of art) attempts to do, in response to, or confronting or addressing colonial images of their subjects. Here, I used the example of Jose Rizal’s ‘The Indolence of the Filipino,” as a very detailed examination of the so-called “lazy native.” There are many reasons why a dispossessed peasant, who benefits from none of his/her labor, would be motivated not to work as hard as s/he is expected to work. We then talked about stereotypes of women, and women of color, which Hagedorn’s work rejects, or explodes. Her very rawness and what can be said to be “impolite” language and subject matter, are already rejections of what is socially acceptable for young women and young Pinays to voice publicly — sexual desire, drugs, rock and roll — when we are all supposed to be virtuous, silent, and self-denying as Maria Clara.

Postcolonial art also addresses or confronts colonial forms, conventions, and languages. Rejecting colonial poetic forms does not mean rejecting form, as much as it means upsetting colonial forms and conventions, and creating/constructing/synthesizing alternative forms and conventions more in tune with our own rhythms and movements.

The classical (Greek, Roman) allusions of traditional poetry are also replaced, favoring non-Western, indigenous/precolonial, popular/mainstream, counter cultural references. In Hagedorn’s case, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Smokey Robinson and Motown, Tito Puente, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Etta James. And outside of these references to famous people, Hagedorn’s multi-ethnic poetic subjects are Cuban drummers, Ainu, Zulu, T’boli, worshipers of Yemaya and followers of Ifa. She describes modern day Filipinos as wearing both anting-anting (“voodoo amulets”) and crucifixes, as dancers of the mambo and the cha-cha. Her speaker is mistaken for a Puerto Rican from Queens. This mistaken identity becomes a clue that she can also find home in New York City.

While discussing reworking colonial art forms, I mentioned Kehinda Wiley’s work. Talk about O.G. Original Gangster.

1356115-kehinde_wiley_ice_t

I think the above image is self-explanatory.

The high diction of traditional poetry is also addressed or replaced. Postcolonial poetry appropriates that “proper” language. Why is this important? It’s a demonstration that we are not second class poets. (In visual art, in addition to the above image, I think of that quote from Jean Michel Basquiat: “Believe it or not, I can actually draw.”)

Some poets of color also abrogate the colonizer’s language, bastardizing it into new languages — patois, pidgin. Here, I got to tell a few Filipino jokes. Use deduct, defense, defeat, and detail in a sentence…. Are these jokes self-deprecating (we so foreign, we can’t get our use of English right)? Can these jokes be acts of resistance, taking “proper” English down a few notches (we so foreign and multilingual, we don’t hold your “proper” English sacred)?

As for myself, with the current works in progress, I’ve been thinking about writing more parables, speaking of traditional forms. I have since revisited Kafka’s “Before the Law,” and I continue to teach Ninotchka Rosca’s “Sugar & Salt.” There is something really gratifying about writing parables, and I don’t know (though it’s entirely possible) that I’ve arrived at this place precisely because of my teaching.

If this all sounds hella intense, especially for college freshmen, let me just say that any misconceptions anyone entering my classrooms may possibly have about poetry composed by folks of color being undisciplined, lacking in rigor, and second class — I end these misconceptions in my classrooms.

 

Patriarch Parable, Fable, Story? What is This?

parables

in the old century, a patriarch proclaims, una doctora, no daughter of mine. ambition is for the men to wrangle, viscera of others out of bounds. blood is men’s work, little one. fixing of bodies too big for such small hands.

in the old century, a matriarch breathes, big bodied. storied vessel. still. she does not waste a single word.

in the old century, a daughter, taken. wedlocked young mother, smarts. settles. births and births again.

in the old century, a patriarch loosens his hands. his eyes see many things, but he holds his tongue. this is how it is done.

in the new country, a young mother builds walls with her daughters. no time to weep. she knows alone. she knows work. she scrapes. she waits. she cowers. maybe there is mercy, and so perhaps she still prays. one by one, her girls learn to stand up.

in the new country, a young father rules though he knows little. he collects bodies. he takes. outside these four walls, the white world out of bounds. he shouts many things. this is empty work, this drywall punching and patching, womb claiming, girl keeping, lifeline cutting, word killing. veiling and dimming. his girls smart, scar, and scheme. his girls outfox him.

in the new country, he dreams of obedience. his girls spit and curse.

in the new country, his girls leave one by one. they build fortresses to keep him out.

in the new country, time passes.

in the new country, an old father is emptied. body does not abide. tongue and brain adrift. this is disease.

Pinays and Patriarchy: Teaching and Writing

history of medicine

Carlos V. Francisco, detail of the mural, “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines.”

This semester of teaching Pinay Lit is really affecting me.

I believe this has everything to do with the fact that as I am teaching first year (first semester) college students, I am also conducting the much more independent online PAWA Pinay Lit and Writing class, in which the participants are more experienced in life, art, and writing. I am exposed to a very vast and diverse field of wisdom, exposure, and experience, and equally diverse levels of discourse.

At all levels, I am witnessing the neurons firing. It’s amazing, and it’s intense.

For myself, having been a student for a long time, having gone through the process of becoming an author, and now having teaching become something I am so much more confident about — pieces of what I’ve been learning over the decades are all making themselves very, very clear.

My approach to teaching Pinay Lit is becoming more holistic; the balance between “literary,” and “academic,” and “experiential,” is so much less tenuous, much more like the meticulous spiderweb whose structure informs my own poem, manuscript, and myth making.

I think I have also done my best to incorporate my teachings and writings into my own daily practice. What this means: practicing generosity in the community, especially among other Pinays and women of color is something I have done my best to prioritize, even as I’ve tried my best to continue working on my own projects, even as I’m trying to get my current manuscript into the world. All of this community work and professional work is taxing. There is also work on the self, the personal relationships, the familial relationships.

How to be mindful of reciprocity, of gender dynamics, given “tradition,” and “institution,” and the extents to which those around me either adhere or break from these.

How do we negotiate our relationships to “tradition” and “institution,” given the contradiction of our being here? How to enlarge the contradictory spaces within “tradition” and “institution,” which we inhabit?

How do we do this in everyday practice, given how much we think and write and speak publicly on the matter?

How do we negotiate “the body,” “the Pinay body,” “the Pinay,” within our traditional, institutional, patriarchal spaces?

How not to assume? How to respect where others are at in their own liberation. What if others do not appear to prioritize their own liberation? And who am I — what gives any of us the right — to judge this? So then, how not to judge others, and how to call out others for their tendency or need to level judgment upon others? How to eliminate dismissiveness and condescension from this picture?

One of my former grad students recently asked the internet hivemind, what is the term for “meeting people where they’re at,” and this is something I’ve been thinking and thinking a lot about. We must be multilingual, multi-headed, multi-limbed monstrosities!

How to do all of this, and not dumb it down, water it down, oversimplify. How to encourage and push and challenge from that place where they’re at?

And still. I am trying my best not to be esoteric or cosmic or abstract or capricious or flighty. I say this because I don’t know how helpful or practical that would be for me or my students, or for those in my circles.

Ultimately, how to do all of the above, how to maintain the level of work and discourse, when the material I am teaching, reading, and writing is hitting home hard? How do we live with ourselves?

This work continues to challenge me.

Questions: Young Fil Ams and Fil Am Literature

dangerousmusic

Hey, so I have some questions. I feel I am taking a lot for granted right now; it’s been a couple of decades since first encountering Filipino American Literature and Filipino American authors, and there’s so much baggage I’ve worked out in these past two decades.

I remember first reading Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters when I was 19 or 20. I have had to read the novel three or four times until I was confident that I understood many things about it. I then remember finding her poetry book, Dangerous Music (San Francisco: Momo’s Press, 1975). That set me on this path towards and into authordom. What I told my Pinay Lit students last week was that having Jessica Hagedorn’s books introduced to me made me realize it was possible for me to become an author. It confirmed for me that there were not just Filipino Americans, but Pinays in this country getting published, writing books, and then I knew I could be one of them.

True story.

I say all this now because, prior to becoming an “emerging” writer, and even before that, prior to becoming an “aspiring writer,” I always suspected that writing was something I was pretty good at. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. I know now that what I needed to do was read a hell of a lot, read outside of my own comfortable place, get myself educated, not just academically, but as a writer, cultivate, sharpen, challenge, build, refine. Become brave, thicken the skin, work on that bullshit meter. I learned that I had to claim the title and never make excuses or apologies.

Now that I am teaching young Filipino Americans, most of whom are likely not going to pursue writing as a vocation or career — which is totally fine — I am asking myself again, what are young Filipino Americans — not necessarily writers or artists themselves — generally looking for, when they decide to enroll in a Filipino American Literature course?

And then even more pointedly, what are they looking for when deciding to enroll in a Pinay Lit course? My students typically say that they grew up not learning anything about Filipino culture, much less, about Filipino literature (I still meet grown-up Fil Ams who have no idea that Fil Ams even write). My class becomes an entryway. The first few weeks of class, everyone is so wide-eyed. If you were to ask me to define “amazement,” it would be that look I see in my students’ faces as I’m standing in front of the classroom delivering a lecture.

It’s such a specific thing, Pinay Lit. It’s so specific that no one that I know teaches it in this country. I told my students that I took a Filipino Women’s Literature course at U.P. Diliman, back in the mid-1990s. Professor Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo was teaching a class titled, “Filipino Women Writing in English, in Love, War, and Exile,” in the Comparative Literature Department.

I thought, well, of course I would have to leave home, and fly across the ocean to another continent, in order to take a class this specific and special. It is one of the best classes I have ever taken; one of the best things about it was the fact that it was a Comparative Literature course, in which we actually engaged in literary discussion. Ah, a “pure” literature class, if there were ever such a thing, in which the literature in question happened to have all been written by Filipino women.

I loved exactly how normalized it was, Filipino women writing. Filipino women writers published. This was also quite liberating for me as an aspiring writer.

Clearly, Professor Hidalgo’s class has very much informed my own curriculum development, except that in this country, I am compelled to discuss this: that it should be a normal thing, Filipina Americans writing. Every culture, every community has its own literary traditions; Filipino/as are no exception. But for various reasons of imperialism, misogyny, white supremacy, institutional racism, language and cultural chauvinism, it’s a constant struggle to be recognized as legitimate creators of capital-L Literature.

I extend discussions of literature to include “narrative,” in which we discuss women storytellers and keepers of narrative, who fall outside of not just literature, but literacy. So then I am discussing privilege and disenfranchisement. I am encouraging pushing the boundaries on this thing called “knowledge.” And then I am discussing this thing called “authorship,” and its power.

How to cover all of those things substantially, while still teaching literature substantially.

I think, this is so much more complicated than we ever expected, when we Pinay writers decided to become writers; this is so much more complicated than my students ever expected, when they decided to enroll in Pinay Lit.

Thoughts on My Adjunctivitis

adjunctivitis-bumpersticker

So, it’s been another exhausting beginning of the semester, stressing out about whether or not my First Year Student Seminar (FYS), Pinay Lit, at USF was going to be canceled due to low enrollment numbers. The good news is that I was pretty aggressive about promoting this class, and that a couple of administrators were quite helpful with promoting this class.

Some things I have been thinking, regarding opportunities and missed opportunities:

  • Given that I teach seminar courses set aside for specific student populations, in this case, first year students, completely brand new to college, I am wondering if it would make more sense to have this class offered during the spring. In the fall, there are a large number of FYS courses offered, and maybe my class, with its obscure title, could get lost in the fray.
  • If we were to offer Pinay Lit in the spring instead, outreach would be a little bit less challenging; I have been at a loss for promoting the class because I do not have a direct link to a pipeline of high school to college students to whom I can outreach. If Pinay Lit were a spring course, then outreach would be through existing student organizations, possible on campus events that get the word out (via demonstrating the presence and visibility of this thing called Pinay Lit), visits and announcements in others’ classes, catchy fliers posted throughout campus, visible to students already present on the campus, versus not yet even moved into their dorms, et al. Moreover, young students’ political consciousness or awakening is still in process, such that a course dedicated entirely to Pinay narratives, an indisputable rarity in this country, would perhaps register more quickly as something more appealing in which to enroll, if presented later on in the school year.
  • If incoming, first year students have not yet decided to major or minor in Philippine Studies or Asian Studies, the fact that the course counts towards both programs does not mean anything to them yet. Even then, this information is not even available on either department’s non-updated website. So I would have to push for even that.
  • In the past, the classes I’ve taught were cross-listed as Asian Studies courses as well, and in fact, most of the students that registered in my classes did so via the Asian Studies department; this semester, due to who knows whose oversight, cross-listing did not happen. I have to ask for it to happen again; for some reason, cross-listed courses have a better chance of getting enrollment. Cross-listing of my courses could and should happen for various other departments as well. APA Studies, for example. I have to push for that.
  • I have also thought about the possibility of switching the course numbers of the two courses I teach. As it is, Pinay Lit is the FYS. I also teach seminar for transfer students (SIT), Filipino Literature in Diaspora. These students are juniors, and have just transferred in from various community colleges. Would Pinay Lit be more immediately appealing to a slightly older population of students with more life experience and exposure?

All of this serves to demonstrate the aggressiveness required in order to get minimum required enrollment. I wonder what happens to adjuncts who aren’t as aggressive, or who aren’t as confident to be aggressive, or who haven’t yet learned that they must be aggressive?

Continuing with this theme of aggressiveness, I should add that those two courses are now on the books because I took the initiative to propose and develop curricula for them. I’d pulled back from proposing more courses, but have recently been reminded by a friend and colleague that I should continue doing so. I was going to do this at SFSU, but was given a very sincere caveat by the department chair at the time that my lecturer status would not guarantee that I could even teach a class I proposed, and I appreciated hearing it; I then decided, screw that. I will propose courses where I have the best chance of teaching them myself. Those places, coincidentally, have smaller class sizes and better pay.

This is a declaration of my work ethic, and the necessity of it, given my status. Have I thought of applying for tenure track positions? Yes, and I have done so. I also decided over one year ago, that I will not be doing that any longer. I want to be in the working world. I don’t want your pity; I have gainful 80% fulltime equivalent (0.8 FTE) employment elsewhere in the community, and so what you are getting when you hire me is someone with experience in the field — not just the literary and arts fields where I hustle my work for publication and serve on the board of directors for the non-profit org PAWA, but also in the working world. My gainful employment entitles me to healthcare and dental benefits (came in handy when I recently broke a tooth down to the nerve in the back of my mouth), 401(K), paid vacation and sick days, and transportation benefits.

I am not the cause of the problem.

I am pro-union. I am a union member.

And still. To be an adjunct is to be a ronin. Your loyalty is your own.