Here’s a fantastic picture, one of many, from this weekend’s literary festivities. L to R: Angela Narciso Torres, Aimee Suzara, Evelina Galang, Melissa Sipin, Janice Sapigao, me, Grace Burns, and Trinidad Escobar.
First, yes, the Bay Area is really like none other. Evelina has just flown back to Miami, and has written this lovely blog post. Never to be taken for granted is the fact that in the Bay Area, Filipino American Studies exists, housed in most of our colleges and universities. I came from UC Berkeley, where so much of what I was about Filipino American history, language, and culture came from a combination of courses in Asian American Studies, Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Ethnic Studies. AND an amazing English class, Post-Colonial Literatures, focusing on Filipino Lit. My professors have been diverse and amazing. As a graduate student at SFSU, there was always opportunity to escape from the social weirdness of Creative Writing into Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies, where now, I have the opportunity to teach. As an educator, I have the privilege of teaching Filipino Lit classes, and developing Filipino/a Lit curricula in USF’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program. Yes, an endowed program, which we are lucky and privileged to have, and not to squander.
This is all very precious to me. And you may be thinking of other applications and connotations of “precious,” as you read this. As I’ve said, these are opportunities not to squander, and never to take for granted. I will not romanticize my position as one peripheral to institution, martyr to institution. Yes, I work full time. Sometimes I work three jobs. Next semester, four. I do this because I love it and because I can. I love the opportunities to teach what I love most, to interact and dialogue with, to guide students of color into all kinds of wonderful and profound realizations, to witness the growth/widening of their creative, critical, and intellectual selves. And I continue to learn. I have been learning how to pare down on my curricula, to focus, deepen a conversation, to give this more rigor rather than conduct too many conversations at once, to return to a text again and again, and really continue to open each text and myself. I get to do this with Filipino authored texts.
I also get to do this as an author myself, an artist in the hustle. I will not romanticize any kind of class struggle or class division, no creative underclass. There is no suffering here. Just a lot of work, a lot of joy. Let this always be concrete, and steeped in praxis — doing and making. Thoughtful, reflective, calculated doing and making. Always with conviction, always with smarts. Make mistakes as we all do, revise the plan when necessary, and then move on. In the process, making and widening the creative and community space.
Noteworthy from this weekend’s book festival was the Meritage Press panel featuring Michelle Bautista, Jean Vengua, Gayle Romasanta, Aileen Ibardaloza, and Karen Llagas, on women authors and work. What I loved about that discussion was that work was necessary. Bottom line, You live, you and your family live. You hustle, you multitask, you prioritize, you negotiate. You make the space wherever you can, for a creative life and a creative self. You let your life be all of these things, and you find the communities and work that concretely enable you, that support you and your manifold possibilities. Also noteworthy from this weekend’s book festival was Melissa Sipin’s panel of emerging writers, which included Grace Burns, Janice Sapigao, Maria Vallarta, Trinidad Escobar, and others. It was great to see and hear various emergences, all very thoughtful and brave.
I joke about how in my family, a family of all sisters, my sisters and I never called one another Ate and Ading, etc. But in the Filipina American literary community, I’ve found Ates, and many younger Pinays have made me their Ate. This literary and community sisterhood is challenging; I come into it the way I live as a sister to some strong and strong-minded, independent biological sisters. We give one another a lot of space to make decisions, to live and work and do. We do this without a lot of verbiage. Filipina American literary sisterhood is a little bit different; as wordsmiths, more dialogue and more face time seem to be a requirement. So then I value these community spaces, and classrooms where the dialogue and face time happen.
So then, my takeaway from the weekend — and I haven’t event talked about Litquake, or the million amazing conversations had with various good people — was about making space and time, prioritizing, and never asking for permission to do so.