Questions About Spectacle, Entertainment, and Readers

rizals library

Is it really possible to “get” the Filipino American community out to a book event without the event itself becoming a full-blown spectacle?

I ask this, obviously because the Filipino American International Book Festival has just passed. I dropped out of the planning, both because I wanted to dedicate my time and effort towards my own work of teaching prep and finishing up my manuscript.

There are questions I have had for a very long time, about the community and about readers in the community.

Now, I know that people do not go out of their way to spend their precious weekends being “lectured” by academics, in an academese that may not be their preferred language. I also believe that people do not want to spend their precious free time being cajoled and condescended, emotionally or sentimentally manipulated or otherwise guilted.

So those are two extremes. We are always somewhere in between.

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Fil Am Fiction: Reading and Rereading Hagedorn et al

gangster of love 0603-ManilaNoir-2 monstress

I did say once or twice that teaching Filipino Lit class would start to get repetitive in terms of what I’m reading, though I have to say I have been enjoying all of this reading and rereading. There is something about returning to a text 20 or so years later, and reading it not necessarily with new eyes, but with more emotional and intellectual maturity. Knowing or understanding more, not just about the field of Filipino and Fil Am Lit, but about the world.

Last semester I revisited Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, and happily found that “postmodern” texts were no longer an immovable block, which students would resist or be unable to access. I thought about and experienced how young readers have become much more sophisticated in their readings of non-linear, multi-vocal, multilingual texts, that popular culture — in part, through science fiction, graphic novels, and comics — have opened up young readers to these non-linear and even quarreling/self-contradicting narratives. Also, these students have had much more access to multicultural literature that I ever did when I was their age. Also, teaching in Bay Area urban centers’ universities brings me into diverse classrooms full of students who are open or willing to be opened. I have also rediscovered that discussing the morally questionable (or morally compromised, or morally challenged) is great! Without judging, trying to avoid imposing our sets of values on different characters, we try our best to understand why they do what they do to themselves and to one another.

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More On Lit and Community


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.



Fil Am Lit and Genre: More Notes on Teaching Marianne Villanueva and Manila Noir

Image from "Trese," by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo.

Image from “Trese,” by Budjette Tan Kajo Baldisimo

We are finishing up on Growing Up Filipino II this evening in Fil Am Lit. Last time, we talked about the genre, “YA Lit,” specifically YA narrators and POVs. For example, rough as the subject matter is, I would think of Marianne Villanueva’s story, “Overseas,” from her collection Ginsengas YA Lit. Yes, the subject matter is tough to stomach, but it is real. And we have to know that young people are not children, and many (most?) are not sheltered bodies. They are in that awful in-between space which we love to call liminal space. When we talk about liminal space, we usually do so with such optimism. But. The real world happens, shit in the real world happens, shit in the real world happens to them, and they have to deal with it with the tools they’ve been given. In “Overseas,” poor Sepa has no tools. She is 12, has a body that can be and is impregnated, no one to protect her, no education, no work.

What’s great about Marianne’s story is that it is Sepa’s POV, and she does not get all the huge global, economic phenomena that have shaped her life and her family. She barely gets what is happening to her own body. Things are just happening to her. I believe that the only time she truly speaks her mind is when she pleads with her older brother not to leave her to work in Saudi Arabia; she will be all alone. That is the one thing she knows with absolute certainty, and she’s right. I keep thinking of that Charlie character in the TV show, Revolution, which I stopped watching, but whenever I do glimpse a snippet of it, it’s Charlie mid-whine, “everybody leeeaves meeeee.” This is not just a human concern, the need for companionship and community, but also a very adolescent concern. To be isolated is akin to some kind of death.

Other thoughts on genre.

OK, so we are going from Villanueva’s excellent Ginseng, to Growing Up Filipino II (tonight I want to talk about Edgar Poma and Geronimo Tagatac, who has the best name ever), and then next time, to Manila Noir. How to teach noir, given that I teach in a Jesuit institution. Not that I am in any way subject to censorship, so do not misunderstand. I really love the opportunity to teach my classes with strong consideration for the Jesuit value of social justice. This really helps me contextualize, and this helps me with my own sense of responsibility as an educator and author.

So then, Manila Noirwhose central theme is darkness, and what can be associated with darkness — motive, character, and also those human conditions and communities rendered invisible, those who are constantly facing erasure. Really, how does that affect motive, to be flying under the radar, overlooked, omitted, to be desperate, to have nothing to lose. I do love having these kinds of conversations with my students, about characters’ morals, ethics, value systems, especially when these are compromised.

Jessica Hagedorn has a wonderful intro to this collection, regarding Manila itself, this extreme and identity-crisis cosmopolitan setting full of the kinds of contradictions Hagedorn is so great at exposing. How then is noir totally apt for Manila narratives, and the lives of Manila denizens, especially as Otto Penzler writes, “noir fiction is about losers.” Who are our losers? Why are they losers? Does it matter to us how they became losers? Perhaps it’s much more important to think about what they do as losers.

I posted this Penzler article on FB and got a really good response from a local editor and educator currently teaching sci fi/spec fic. Genre, my FB friend says, “is shaped by the communities who read it, and different communities set different boundaries around their genres.” I like this a lot, as it allows us to think about how/whether noir can be specific to Filipino/Fil Am Lit. The Jesuit private eye, the hunter of aswang and other supernatural creatures, for example, who would be a no-no in noir, given Penzler’s definition. Then the perpetrators of violence and their moral codes. The recipients of violence, what specifically about them makes them the recipients. The characters with vendettas, hell bent on revenge — for what kinds of wrongs, individual and especially social.

I am already (maybe too) excited about teaching Manila Noir. And as a result, have also added it to at least one of my syllabi for next semester too.

List! Another List! And Other Notes on Teaching


Always making lists. We’ve made it on to another list. This one is important to me, as it is the SF Bay Area Literary Map, as per the San Francisco Chronicle. You can check it out here. I am grateful for this, and also am hyper-aware that there are always inner workings; I was thinking of Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics anthology, and the criticisms I heard upon its release. So-and-so was not included, this was a coterie of poets, et al. I thought this again, in fact, I’ve been bracing myself for others’ responses to this Bay Area Literary Map.

Speaking of list. I’ve added Lysley Tenorio’s Monstress to my Fil Am Lit syllabi for next semester. Anyway. Something I have been thinking, as I’ve been reading friends’ FB posts re: teaching. What happens when something is really important to you, but WTH, it’s so not important to your students. This came up when I was attempting to teach Hip-hop last semester, and it struck me how uninteresting it must have seemed, my talking about found materials, remix, public versus private property, public art, collaborative art, palimpsest. Mind you, as a working artist, these things are always important to me in both active creative process and in principle. And for sure, I begin every semester telling students where I come from, what I bring to the classroom — the POV of a working artist, who finds so much value in handling creative process, aesthetic, linguistic, tonal choices, and what we learn from these.

So then what happens when what’s important to you does not register with your students. I thought about nixing the whole Hip-hop unit, but I am encouraged to try again. I have found that when there’s something I believe should be important to my students, but that it’s barely registering or that I am encountering resistance, it’s become very fruitful to phrase everything in the form of airtight/non-open questions (i.e. you can’t just say yes/no and because I think so because that’s my own gut feeling and uncritically unexamined experience), and ask them to cite from the texts etc. when trying to refute me and my claims. This takes away the imperative to be pushy. I ask, “why do these artists think such-and-such is important,” as evidenced by what we see in their work.

Anyway. That’s my dos centavos for this morning. Off to work.

Spring Semester 2014: Required Reading for Three Classes


Yes yes y’all. I am scheduled to teach three classes at three different universities, all while keeping the full time gig. I’m looking forward to it, as divine intervention granted me an opportunity at rejuvenation, in the form of the chillest Fall 2013 semester with a small group of bright and thoughtful students. Today, we are finishing up on our first Filipino Poetry unit, having spent some good time last week on Alfred Yuson’s “Andy Warhol Speaks to His two Filipino Maids,” and Nick Carbó’s “I Saw Orpheus Levitating.” Such interesting conversation! Today, we’ll talk about balagtasan, orality, community, and we’ll talk about Regie Cabico.

That said, here are my required reading lists for next semester. A little ambitious, but you know.  Continue Reading

Notes on Anthologies Proposals

Pacita Abad, Filipina: A racial identity crisis (1991)

Pacita Abad, Filipina: A racial identity crisis (1991)

Yeah, I am putting this out there now, as a way to keep myself accountable.

I know that anthology editors I know, have advised me that editing anthologies is a lot of politics and hurt feelings.

I know also, that anthology is a loaded conversation, about inclusion and community. Two things about which  I am not eager, and perhaps even loathe to be pulled into conversation. See above, regarding politics and hurt feelings.

Still, I am thinking there is still good reason to think about editing new anthologies, especially of Filipino and/or Filipino American, and/or Pinay writing. Perhaps all poetry. Perhaps not. Perhaps specifically as a course reader for teaching Pinay Lit: how else to find in a single publication the following: Marjorie Evasco’s “The Writer and Her Roots,” and “The Other Voice: Reply to Anzaldua.” Estrella Alfon’s “Magnificence,” Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s “The Dust Monster,” Yay (Panlilio) Marking’s “My Filipino Mother,” Helen Rillera’s “The Filipina in Filipino Society,” Rashaan Alexis Meneses’s “Barbie’s Gotta Work,” Melissa Chadburn’s “Here We Are Becoming Champs,” and “The Throwaways,” Nice Rodriguez’s “G.I. Jane,” Catalina Cariaga’s “Excerpts from Bahala Na!” M. Evelina Galang’s “Deflowering the Sampaguita.” Marianne Villanueva’s “Overseas,” and “Opportunity.” Ninotchka Rosca’s “Sugar & Salt.” Melissa Sipin’s “Walang Hiya.” Selections of poems by Fatima Lim-Wilson, Joi Barrios, Elynia S. Mabanglo, Rachelle Cruz, Yael Villafranca, Gizelle Gajelonia, Aimee Suzara. Graphic narratives by Niki Escobar and Rina Ayuyang. Speculative fiction by Nikki Alfar, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. And so on, so many others I have yet to read, be confounded by, to adore.

Outside of my Pinay Lit course, other anthology thoughts: I was talking to a fellow WOC poet this past weekend; I told her that through no fault of the previous editors of Fil Am Lit anthologies, I feel previous anthologies not quite “doing the job,” specific to my teaching. Let me restate and be perfectly clear. No fault of previous editors. Some time has passed since the last round of anthologies, and new voices have emerged (as I’ve partially enumerated above).

Also, as a poet, I am deeply interested in poetry with an acute sense of line and form, both very thoughtfully deployed. I am deeply interested in deliberate, distilled language — however the poet decides to handle line and form, whatever specific set of rules the poet has created, whatever register the poet has decided to use. Verbal, artful, “heightened” in “means” and “ends,” as the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics says. Or as Luis J. Rodriguez has said, that poetry is meant to be read and heard many times, that it is a special intense language, a very important way of using language.

So this is the harder part, the part clouded by inclusion and community and politics. And then, of course, is the question of publishers and distribution. So that’s many things, much potential crap, lots to think about. And I have to remember to be undeterred. But I am putting it out there because it is on my To Do List. And it needs to get done.

Community Engaged Poetics: Thoughts Before Skype-ing


I’m scheduled to “visit” Craig Santos Perez’s Community Engaged Poetics class this afternoon, via Skype. Craig had mentioned my work with PAWA as a focus of this conversation, and I’m looking forward to it. There are some things I need to sort through first though. “Community,” and “practicing community,” are a couple of terms that come to mind. To me, these terms are fraught. Just fraught.

“Community” is an abstract to me, or is fast becoming more and more abstract to me; it must entail some kind action. Or must it? I suppose there are folks who think of “community” as something inherent (or innate) — because we are all Filipino American, we are a community, regardless of how different our upbringings, social classes, immigration histories, languages spoken, education, political beliefs, religious beliefs. I have misgivings, and despite/because of my misgivings, I actively involve myself with so much Filipino stuff. So PAWA then, this community group into which I’ve invested much time and energy, in an effort to dispel the abstraction.

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Fall 2013: Week 4 and Preparing for Spring 2014

me and nina

It’s week four! I have the chillest semester schedule ever, and a very small class. I love it. The questions, conversations, and insights are wonderful, genuine, critical. This chill schedule is a stark contrast to my last few semesters, and what I am anticipating for next semester. I was worried about not earning enough money, but that’s not even an issue. This is why I work elsewhere. And. It’s so great to have this mental space.

That said, as next semester will most likely be an alarming, hectic, crazy rush, I’m already getting ready, precisely because now I have time to read. Here’s what I am thinking for next semester’s Poets of Color course at Mills College:

  1. Bob Kaufman, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness
  2. Juan Felipe Herrera, Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler
  3. Frances Chung, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple
  4. Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia
  5. Monica A. Hand, me and Nina
  6. Barbara Jane Reyes, Diwata (or Poeta en San Francisco)
  7. Allison Adelle Hedge Coke (ed.), Effigies
  8. Philip Metres, Abu Ghraib Arias
  9. Sarith Peou, Corpse Watching
  10. Margaret Rhee, Yellow
  11. Dan Taulapapa McMullin, A Drag Queen Named Pipi

The last five titles are chapbooks (Effigies is a collection of four poets’ chapbook length projects). Rhee, McMullin, and Peou are downloadable at the Tinfish Press website. What I have in mind I’m not exactly sure yet, except to say that it is something about paying tribute to and troubling “ancestries,” “roots,” lineages, bodies, and even indigeneity.

I am thinking about how a Poets of Color course may be conducted, without having to speak on identity politics, or in reaction against identity politics.

Now as for my next semester’s Filipino Lit classes (USF and SFSU), I want to focus on books! I know, duh. But really, rather than focusing on “issues,” or historical trajectories into which I feel obligated to squeeze in texts and some literary device and terminology accordingly, or teaching Filipino American history and culture using creative writing and art, I want instead for the creative works themselves to be the center of the discussion — how we read and understand the texts, given what the authors have given us, how we bring those into our own worlds. That’s all.

My First Book is Ten Years Old and a Hat Tip to Henry Rollins

gravities of center

“A snake is crawling along a desert trail that parallels a straight, black paved road. Over the horizon walking down the road in the opposite direction is a woman. The two get closer and almost pass each other, but each stops in time. They both step into the area that runs between the trail and the road. The wind gusts suddenly, and the snake is instantly transformed into a man. He has dark hair. He is marked with scars and symbols, patterns of his tribe. The two walk toward each other and embrace. Another gust of wind comes and blows all vestiges of clothing off them both. The sun holds still for a moment and starts to slowly rise, and as it rises it turns a deep crimson and gives off a low, metallic whine. The couple are fully embraced and perfectly still. Their bodies fit together like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Another gust of wind comes and blows the flesh and organs off the man and woman so all that’s left are two skeletons locked in embrace.”

– Henry Rollins, from Pissing in the Gene Pool & Art to Choke Hearts

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