[Continuing thoughts as I compose my literary address for this month’s Filipino Literature Symposium at the Asian Art Museum.]
Oftentimes, and frequently, it’s said we’re not “doing it right.” As a creative writer, I am thick in a discipline and an industry with certain sets of “rules.” Here, people will say, “discipline” is already the wrong word; it is an academic, institutional term. The logic goes like this: One just writes. Anyone can write. Everyone has a story in them that is worth telling. If you restrict this, then you are a gatekeeper, and a gatekeeper is an enemy to free expression.
Here, people often like to say, “rules are made to be broken,” hence this disregard and derision for poetic form, for literary device and literary technique, for editors and editorial process, for publishing. We are told, those are white people’s things. I was told that my MFA in writing was an MFA in whiting.
At the opening of the Pilipinx American Library event, Catalina Cariaga voiced her experience as an MFA candidate at SFSU, which she attended a few years before I did, as one in which she wanted to learn to express, though her mostly white colleagues expected her to explain. This is the rub, what so many of us experience as the few POC or WOC in so many different graduate programs.
There’s another set of expectations though, those coming from our own communities. We have to get the story “right.” We have to do “right” by our communities. We are so used to others telling us who we are and what we are supposed to think and be, that we are rightfully guarded about our stories. We need to define an authentic self. Hence, this insistence upon what is the “right” version.
Another way of saying it: As centuries-long colonial subjects, we were told we couldn’t create these things for ourselves, that we weren’t capable, and the only “capable” ones are the colonizers’ appointed ones, furthering colonial agendas. And so we have developed a distrust for those among us, who walk in perceived as elite, bourgeois worlds of editors, publishers, professors — gatekeepers. We castigate those who speak elite, bourgeois language, who hold credentials from those worlds. We do these things, and yet, we uphold the colonially fluent José Rizal.
I say all of these things as a creative writer, as a poet, working with line, lyric, and language — my concerns and values are conveyed and contained in these. I am not a scholar, historian, anthropologist, philosopher, or political scientist — and they would tell you what concerns them, what they know and believe from their own formal training, from their own disciplines.
Something I have been learning throughout the course of my formal and informal education as a writer, is that we have to insist upon many stories, many voices, reflections of many experiences, coming out of our own very diverse communities. We can make spaces tell our stories in so many different ways.