The purpose of these reading recommendations is to assert our Pinay presence, and our important role as Pinays in documenting our history. Literature and the arts are places where our narratives are humanized and personalized. As a teacher of Pinay Literature, as a teacher of Filipino American and Asian American Literatures, I am always amazed at how affected readers are, by a story written in the first person POV, when that first person is a Pinay. They are similarly affected by Pinay lyricism, the ability of a Pinay poet to lay bare her deepest and most complex thoughts and beliefs.
I have made it a point to teach literary device — element and technique — to my students. I have always feared that doing so would bring resistance; it’s like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, so that you see it isn’t magic after all. But I am pleased to say that students have been into it; they write back to me that it’s helpful, breaking down stories’ components, or characters’ roles by archetype. Or by thinking more deeply about figurative language. I tell them, think of literary technique as ways in which the author tries to help you deepen or heighten or make greater your understanding. They wonder how much they’ve missed in their previous readings, not taking this into account before. We get way beyond the idea of literary device as “tricks,” or surface decisions.
That said, here are more reading recommendations!
In this collection of poems, the speaker gives us a Filipina immersed in Americana. Think Pinay in Middle America, cowboy boots, Madonna, middle school sleepovers. As Filipino immigrants, didn’t we kind of anticipate we’d be fully steeped in these quintessential American images, and ways of life, where “real” Americans aren’t sure where we’re from. They suspect we’re kind of like them, but they also know we’re not. And there’s more. What about the images of other “Others,” in America. And here is where we get to the dark and obscured American history of turn of the century zoo-keeping POC, Bontoc Igorots and other indigenous, “tribal” folks, for the purposes of what? Americans see their “dark other,” and are repulsed by what they see; surely, modern Americans are nothing like these “primitives.” Surely, Americans are more evolved, more civilized. So what does that mean for our modern day Pinay in middle America?
I’m allowed to recommend my own work, no? I choose this chapbook, published by San Antonio based Aztlán Libre Press, because of its Manila/There, Oakland/Here theme. The collection is split down the middle, and the speaker negotiates that same split in herself. Witnessing the violence of the American inner city, is this what our immigrant forebears ever imagined would be awaiting them here? And then returning to the city of her birth, she becomes a tourist, and outsider, also fighting her own fear of the Third World whose myths are perpetuated by her own immigrant parents, and a fear of a culture she no longer feels strongly connected to.
It’s been a while since I read this, so bear with me as I try to recall. Cariaga does some super effective things with the page. Poems here are visually spare, and you come to realize your feeling of unease is both due to subject matter (dog meat, OFWs, et al), and very much due to how much white space these poems employ. You’re stuck there, wondering why all of this “blank” or “empty” space is messing with you emotionally — silencing, erasing, being described by others from afar, clinically, “objectively,” anthropologically. You also have to sort through a lot of “noise,” sound bytes, advertising, to find the Pinay OFW lost in the static.
A graphic novel! What I love most about this work is how remarkably “normal” our narrator/heroine is. American life for Filipinos can truly be “normal,” no? We grow up as the American children of immigrants, we go to school, we love our big and crazy families, we struggle to learn “where we came from,” and we fill our everyday lives with minutiae, purchases, schedules, commute, emails. We watch football. We struggle with identity. And that’s our American lives.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!