Maybe it’s a strange thing for me to say, but I’m back at a place of ambivalence about identity politics. I know, I teach in Philippine Studies and Asian American Studies Departments, and I am active with PAWA, and maybe this time spent grinding and fielding material is what is contributing to my current (ongoing?) bout with ambivalence.
(Maybe ambivalence isn’t the word.)
I’ve written about this before, the opening of Filipino American literature and poetics, the inclusion of Filipino American poets within other literatures and poetics, a more critical look at our alignments, whether single-ethnicity based alignments are even necessary.
Fact is I am a Filipino American author. This is just a given, based upon my parentage. I write about stuff important to me and my world, though not only as a Filipino American, but as a woman of color, as a feminist, as a member of a multilingual immigrant family, as an American (really), as a human being in this world.
To Love as Aswang
With razorblade eyes The Filipina is most sincere
With too much water And will make a very good wife.
With animal teeth The Filipina is a loyal partner,
We sometimes kill Deserving of all your love.
With splintered hands The Filipina is the total package,
With too much life Much more than meets the eye.
With ribcage unlocked The Filipina is not for you,
We wither your roots If you cannot handle her claws.
To Be Prey
With sway, sashay Blame the Filipina
The prancing paloma, For being so attractive.
With hips and heart Blame the Filipina
Cooing coquette. Materialistic migrant woman.
With lips and lilt Blame the Filipina
He sets his snares, If he cannot help himself.
With swish and spunk Blame the Filipina
He plucks his prey. Surely, she asks him for it.
Some things I am building on, for now. Of course, the multivocal aspect of the manuscript. I can’t embed here the poems which contain baybayin text, but that’s also a growing part of the manuscript.
I’ve been tightening up on the lines to be little and taut, to appear simple, straightforward, to utilize (generally) simple, common words (“materialistic,” while common, is the exception to simple).
Text in the right column come from Google searches for “The Filipina is,” and “Blame the Filipina.” Rereading James Fallows’s “A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines?” in The Atlantic has something to do with it. Blaming, essentializing, quick to judgment.
I ask this as a question, because I am finding it harder and harder to answer. I’ve come across a few editorial pieces and writerly blog posts about whether or not readers owe writers anything. I’ll extend the parameters of the question and ask whether specific communities owe “their” or “our” writers anything.
Recently, a Fil Am author said that he had a specific audience and reader in mind when writing his novel. That audience he envisioned did not buy the book. The author decided, if that’s the way it was going to be, then to stop writing with a specific reader in mind.
A couple of things. This is already too complicated. As authors, we write. We write what we need to write. We do not hold focus groups to gather consensus from which we then create manuscripts.
So as my students kind of peter out this semester, I am starting to syllabize for next semester. The news is that Mills College has canceled my MFA workshop for the Fall, though I will be back in the Spring to teach the Poets of Color course. So poor me, this means I will only be teaching a whopping two classes at USF while maintaining my 0.8 FTE at the J-O-B job.
Anyway. In addition to teaching Pinay Lit freshman seminar, I will be teaching a two-unit Fil Am Lit course. Two-unit classes are tricky, in terms of student engagement. Usually, these are students who need these two units to bring their unit count up to qualify for their financial aid, etc. Still, of course, one must find a way to engage them.
[Of course, the conversation on this manuscript, and on breaking open the manuscript -- this is continued or extended in FB, though honestly, I wish, folks, that it was in an open space, that actually has space. Curse you, FB.]
Some great questions have come up. First, about writing, approximating that horror of which humans are capable, not descending into the gratuitous and pornographic, but really plumbing these dark territories. What are we capable of thinking and enacting upon one another.
As a Pinay, this should concern me precisely because these things can happen to the Pinay body in the world, where “the world” is not just “out there,” in foreign spaces torn apart by war and poverty and hunger, but right here, in our homes and quiet neighborhoods. I am potentially one of those bodies, and this is a tension that I believe has happened in my work for a long time now.
I understand why Suheir Hammad would write an entire volume of poetry on breaking, a necessary thing to do or have done when writing the book. After I blogged last time about breaking my manuscript open, I had some time to read it and sit with it. I had some time to think about what aspects of it I was disliking in a big way. Breaking is also a big theme in my manuscript. How do bodies break. How do Pinay bodies break. This breaking was not originally one of my concerns when I started outlining the questions I would ask other Pinays to answer.
It’s been a while since I’ve actually looked at the manuscript, and I am ambivalent about what I’ve been doing (and not doing) about it. Indeed, I’ve been busy with teaching, with all kinds of community work, stuff that end up taking precedence whether I want them to or not.
Even though it’s better not to rush a body of work, I am still disappointed with myself, generally, that I haven’t moved it forward, if even in my own mind, with a list of next steps.
I had a moment yesterday morning, while I was on the Mills College campus discussing MFA theses. For me, this is a concrete and empirical place to talk about growing a body of work from scratch to some semblance of completion. Whatever y’all out there think of the Poetry MFA phenomenon, I still believe that the fact of producing a cohesive body of poetic work in a professional environment is indeed that. Not the only fact, but a fact indeed.
For sure I am glad that Bino Realuyo’s recent blog post at the Huffington Post is making the rounds, and re-creating the space for the ongoing conversation re: reading Filipino American Literature.
(Note: This here Blogspot blast from the past is what I wrote back on November 28, 2007, which is still stuff we’re talking about today. I was definitely grumpy back then, perhaps as much as I still am now.)
Again, I’ve been having e-conversations with various folk regarding teaching the work of Filipino American authors in literature, creative writing, and presumably Ethnic Studies courses of various educational and community institutions — how to go about doing so, what texts are selected and why. One educator’s assumption was that text selection is based upon the Filipino American writer and/or his/her work being “nationally recognized,” “nationally distributed,” and “nationally awarded.”
I gave my For the City That Nearly Broke Me talk in Filipino Lit class yesterday evening. I’d realized, as I was preparing my presentation, that not only was I (and the collection) asking the more obvious question of “where is home,” for the immigrant woman of color poet, and even, where is home for the exile and/or the expatriate, which I have been asking in my work for a long time now.