Many thanks to Maiana Minahal and her students at Kapiʻolani Community College, for reading Diwata. Here are my responses to their questions!
Are you a feminist? If so, what experiences, challenges and/or events led you to joining the feminist movement?
I am a feminist. I don’t really consider myself a part of the “feminist movement,” but I have been, as an author, educator, and mentor, focusing my work on writing and teaching Pinay-centric texts, centering discussions on woman-centric and Pinay-centric concerns: What are the social expectations placed upon us as women, as women of color, as Pinays, and why do those expectations exist, where did they come from, and how do we resist/fight against them. How do we take back control of our own bodies and exercise self-determination. How do we normalize speaking on our own behalf. How do we create other ways of being and living, as an alternative to patriarchal standards.
Many of what people consider the “original” first generation that came to America when they were at the ages ranging from 2 to 16, are now in their 30’s to 50’s. Many of whom share their stories through books, poems, etc. just as you and Prof. Minahal have. The struggles that the first generation had to endure was far more difficult than it was/is for the second. The magnitude of struggles may be categorized differently but somehow they both still have many similarities. Do you think that there is a possible platform for the second generation’s viewpoints? Are we entitled to share the importance, experiences and upbringing of our Philippine culture too?
I think any platform can be a platform for the second generation to discuss their own concerns. Despite any pressure you may feel from the previous generation (and this pressure is very real), your generation is entitled to discuss whatever is of importance to you, how you experience being Filipino. Here, I believe we are talking about authenticity. Within our own multi-generational communities, and definitely within our own families, we disagree on definitions of “authenticity.” I would go one step further and say we don’t openly and in an organized way discuss what “authenticity” is. That said, your generation’s disconnection from the culture and practices of your elders’ generations, is a real thing. You are practicing a different culture, in a different time, and in a different place. Your difficulties are different than that of your elders. If you want to write about that, then you are entitled to have literature be your platform.
Have you always thought of becoming a writer/educator? If so, what made you chose your career? When you are not busy writing or teaching, how do you spend your free time? If you weren’t a poet, what do you think you’d focus on?
I have always been a storyteller, and I had always wanted to become a writer. For all of my life, I kept private notebooks full of stories and lyric. I read a lot. Even when I spent many years away from college, I spent that time reading so many books, and writing. My writing from that time really wasn’t very good; I needed a teacher, and I needed a writing community to push and challenge me to make my writing grow. For me, there was no becoming anything other than a poet.
How do you come up with the subjects of your poems? Why did you name one of your book Diwata? I noticed on this book that you wrote a lot about Filipino myths, histories, and old tales. What inspired you to write this book and how long did it take you to compose it? Was there some turning point or important life event that led you to writing poetry? In what ways has your past influenced your writing? What are your favorite topics to write about? How would you describe your style of writing?
Diwata is a spirit that resides in the natural world. For me, wrapping my head around this pre-colonial concept of the natural world’s divinity, the spiritual and social power of women in these systems of belief, and the people’s narratives that arise from these systems of belief and ways of living and being is why I wrote the book. Because I grew up in a different time and place (1970s-1980s, Fremont, California), and as an immigrant child in a patriarchal Catholic community and household, I wanted to know more. I didn’t know where to turn; I turned to my own memory and imagination. I remembered the old stories my grandmother used to tell me, stories that came from pre-colonial Philippine mythologies. I remembered all the visits to my grandfather’s home, my mother’s childhood home in Gattaran, Cagayan, and how, as an American child in an old and faraway place, I was overwhelmed by its ghostly unfamiliarity, to the point that the unfamiliarity became a breeding ground for my own storytelling. I went back to my family’s old photos, and my grandparents’ stories of war, which felt so far away, these stories were like mythology.
Poems became the containers for the stories I wanted to tell, because in poetry, you accomplish a lot in very little space. You take it with you, in manageable units, small, pocket-size volumes, in lines and music you keep in memory. With poetry, specific images, lines or fragments or lyric stay with you for a long time. This is why I love writing poetry — music, repetitions, concentrated or distilled and special use of language.