Fil Am Fiction: Reading and Rereading Hagedorn et al

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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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Ongoing Process Notes: Morejón, Hagedorn, Evasco


A couple of things, as I continue to plug away at the manuscript.

We were fortunate to see Nancy Morejón at La Peña a couple of days ago, and I’m glad we did. There is something about language I’m still working through in my head, something about communicating via translation, and also something about communicating in a language not your Mother Tongue. Mother Tongue has always been a complex thing for me, coming from a family that is fluent in three languages. What is Mother Tongue when you operate in a mixed system of language, what do these things — understanding, speaking, code switching/mixing, fluency, purity — even mean? And what is native?

“As a people, we do not go back,” Morejón said in response to an audience member who wanted to know what her people would do once the Castro brothers eventually pass on. First though, she said, we will bury the dead, because we respect them, something she meant literally, I believe. You literally bury the dead. But it also seemed to relate to “as a people, we do not go back,” and also related to how she described herself, her people, her culture, her language as creole, criollo, hybrid, mixed. This is a fact, not to be despised as deficiency; you take it on and you move on.

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I Write To Stand My Ground: What Makes This Possible


I write to stand my ground. (That’s from yesterday’s blog post.)

As tellers of story, use your creativity, perform generative and imaginative acts of storytelling, to counter the destructiveness, silencing, and invisibility ongoing in this world. Deploy your words, your voices, your talents and honor our stories — however difficult and painful, they are beautiful and necessary; craft stories that are brave, empathetic, compassionate, and true. (That’s from my commencement address.)

The image above is Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn’s first book, Dangerous Music, published by Momo’s Press in 1975. I’ve got a first edition at home. It’s one of my treasures. I am able to be a writer and author because of its existence, and what must have gone into creating it and getting it into the world.

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Filipino American, Filipino, Philippine Literature, Continued

It was helpful to have a brain dump (as per my previous blog post) about Filipino American Literature and whether it has a “place” within Philippine Literature. I think this discussion takes place above and beyond literature and the arts — is Filipino American really Filipino or Philippine? These discussions tend to get quite personal and emotional. Determining someone else’s identity (presumably with little empathy and one’s own agenda) can become a mean-spirited exercise in authenticity and exclusion.

This is something I’ve written about before — in Professor Hidalgo’s Filipina Lit class at UP Diliman back in the 90’s, we read Jessica Hagedorn’s “Papologia,” and “Homesick” in her collection, Danger and Beauty. These were personal creative essays to which I strongly related and which I badly needed in my personal and literary life. Still, the Philippine students expressed a certain impatience, even intolerance about Hagedorn’s work. “What are you complaining about? You’re in America na.” So that was interesting, though never fully explained. My own takeaway from these essays were about clarifying the kind of confusion a young immigrant of color may have, finding a community of like-minded progressives and artists of color. More importantly, Hagedorn’s essays clarified for me that “home” is neither singular, static, nor solely geographic. Hence, “belonging” should also not be singular, static, nor solely geographic. Hence, “identity” should also not be singular, static, nor solely geographic (origin/birthplace, current location).

I’ve gradually become more comfortable with being and belonging to all of the above.

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APIA Literature that Influenced Me

Seattle-based International Examiner has recently posted lists authored by APIA writers, editors, and academics, five titles of APIA literature that have influenced them. Fellow APIA writer Claire Light has meme’ed a bunch of us on Facebook, asking us the same question. I’ve left my five items as a comment on her wall, but would like to expand my list here, and talk a bit about “influence.” Sometimes for me, it isn’t about “influence,” as much as it is about resonance. These days, in the thick of reading and teaching, I find in the post-writing and publishing process that work’s out there, and my own work has connected with it. But back to the beginning, it looks something like this:

Jessica Hagedorn, Dangerous Music (Momo’s Press, 1975), and Danger and Beauty (Penguin, 1993). Jessica is THE O.G. Pinay poet, the one we Pinays all purportedly want to be. I wanted to be Jessica Hagedorn when I was 19, 20. I’m 40 now, and while I’ve long ago shed the desire to be someone else, I admit Jessica was the first Pinay I encountered in print, and in gangsta performance. In other words, she showed me what we all could be capable of as Pinay artists. And that is some powerful juju. Her poems were funky, raw, sharp, fearless, the opposite of Maria Clara acquiescence.

I realize now though, that the pieces from Danger and Beauty which have remained with me are her essays, “Papologia,” (which serves as the collection’s intro) and “Homesick.” “Papologia” is a little burst of memories/flashback, ecstatic with belonging, carving out multicultural, multidisciplinary artist communities in the hard and contested spaces that are our Bay Area urban centers. “Homesick” is perhaps its opposite, making problematic our nostalgia for the homeland to which we can never truly return, or can we? Or returning with a different set of eyes, what then of belonging?

At UP Diliman in the early 1990’s, in my comparative lit class, Filipino Women Writing in English: Love, War, and Exile, taught by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, so many of the women (all Philippines-based) were so resistant to Hagedorn’s “Homesick,” and the general sentiment among them was, “You’re in America now, what do you have to complain about?” I remember defending the piece, and defending the position of the balikbayan, returning to a place (as I had just done) that bore no resemblance to our memories, that we now knew more from international news reports, and from our (in)formal post-colonial political and arts education — the irony of learning about Filipino colonial mentality in our First World cultural and arts spaces, and for me, in American university classrooms.

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Lit, Poetry, Events, Syllabus Updates, and Becoming a Dona Gangsta

Whew! Lots has just happened, and Oscar and I have found ourselves in many lit spaces over the last few days, while also managing a couple of birthday feasts.

I need three more students to enroll in my Philippine/Filipino American Literature course, and it’s a go. Good news is that incoming freshmen have not yet enrolled, and I’ve also just spread the word to fellow USF faculty in Asian Studies and Asian American Studies, folks with whom I’ve recently reconnected at the 04/26 USF Growing Up Filipino American author panel, featuring Peter Jamero, Pati Navalta Poblete, and Janet Mendoza Stickmon. As I’d previously mentioned, I’d never met or heard Jamero and Poblete, so I wanted to say a few words about them, as I came away impressed with their presentations.
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Not So Quick Question

(I’ll generally be offline for the next week or so, as I will be traveling; I’m reading with J. Michael Martinez at the Fall for the Book Festival at GMU in Fairfax, VA tomorrow, and then seeing family and friends in NY.)

So, just one (not so) quick question:

Remember back in the day, when everyone wanted to be THE BOMB-ASS PINAY POET? Remember that “Everyone wants to be the next Jessica Hagedorn” attitude that stifled Pinay artist and academic relationships and support systems? Here, I’m alluding to Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales’s work on Pinayism (which has obviously stuck with me in a good and critical way), and thinking on the fact that Jessica, Allyson, and I all very happily spoke at the same event yesterday evening to honor Al Robles, and that each of us shared something particular and distinct.

It was a wonderful event with wonderful energy, with many meaningful things said, and with community folk/extended family in attendance. The house was packed. No one flexed ego on anyone. If folks had baggage, they left it at home or elsewhere. Local college students (and recent grads) were walking around the place afterward, just effervescent, articulating how uplifted they were made to feel. Yesterday evening, something important crystallized for me belatedly — the fact that as Pinays and professionals, we have all worked to become experts or even masters in our own respective fields, that there are indeed many places in which a Pinay can be ambitious, can excel, gain recognition, and we can do so without disenfranchising other Pinays. Therefore, it should no longer be relevant, that impulse to be the singular publicly recognized Pinay. I am hoping that younger generations of Pinay artists, academics, and activists have and will continue to come up more community-minded and simultaneously ambitious.

More Poetry Thoughts for the Day

Patrick Rosal has a wonderful post on joy and poetry, specifically the joy which poets bring to audiences at readings and/or performances, and the joy which poets feel to connect with audiences, that this connection is most apparent in an audience’s visceral responses to a poet’s words or combination of words, to interesting, unexpected lines or images.

I tend to think it’s a very fortunate thing I did not come up in the poetry world in an institution whose constituents are bled of their joy as they are trained to exhibit a “cool” pretentious intellectual distance as a poet from an audience, or as an audience member from the poet sharing her words with a room full of interested or even just curious audience members.

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OCHO 16 is now available!

OCHO 16: MiPOesias Magazine Print Companion

Guest Edited by Barbara Jane Reyes

Featuring: Tara Betts, Brian Dean Bollman, Ching-In Chen, Sasha Pimentel Chacón, Linh Dinh, Sarah Gambito, Jessica Hagedorn, Jaime Jacinto, Nathaniel Mackey, Craig Santos Perez, Matthew Shenoda, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Truong Tran, Dillon Westbrook, Debbie Yee

Cover Art: “Imperialism, 24″ by Juan Carlos Quintana.

Buy your copy here.


Sprawling thoughts on literary community while reading Juan Felipe Herrera

I am currently reading Juan Felipe Herrera’s 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007, and it’s making the little hamster wheel in my head turn. As I blogged yesterday, I am thinking/revisiting this local scene, this grassroots, DIY Filipino American scene, and I am thinking on what can be said about our literary traditions as San Francisco Bay Area Filipino American writers/artists.

Herrera discusses the Floricanto tradition, and its influence on his generation of Xicano/Chicano writers/artists. Without getting too deep into what Floricanto is, I can say I had previously encountered the term at SFSU’s Poetry Center where Alejandro Murguía was hosting a Floricanto Festival which sprawled SF’s Mission District, and which featured so many younger poets. That’s where I first heard Tomás Riley read/perform from his book, Mahcic.

My point here is the active work of ensuring continuity of literary tradition.

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