I wanted to start by sharing this lovely Instagram post from Maganda Bookshelf. Just look at this abundance.
I love seeing what today’s Filipina/o/x readers of Filipina/o/x authored books are interested in, excited about – basically, what are they Stans for (or what do they Stan).
Years ago, being a Filipina American writer, and then becoming an author, was always fraught, all of the time, with elder Filipinas chiding me for being bluntly angry, for writing about sex, or domestic violence, or sexual violence, for basically being improper and traditionally, colonially, socially out of line. In other words, proper dalagas did not speak about such things publicly, and loudly. Then in the national prestigious ethnic literary scenes, I was marginalized for being too rough, too vocally “anti-white and anti-male,” which was really anti-colonial and anti-patriarchal. Then in grassroots local scenes in which activism and art are inextricable, I was called bourgie and whitewashed because of my writing styles, languages/registers, rigor and experimentations, and because of my accolades.
I have distanced myself from the lanyard gazers and oneupmanship at national writers’ conferences, as well as community folks literally shoving their unpublished manuscripts into my face demanding free labor from me, and their online bullying equivalents.
I have always prided myself on trying my best to stay close to ground level, and to write with the most openness and truthfulness I could muster. And I have always prided myself on learning, and pushing myself out of my comfort zones. I continue to turn away from, to exorcise, to detox from that scene which was all about acceptance into patriarchal, colonial, white supremacist, classist institutions – and I continue to work towards centering the storytelling and versifying for and about scrappy and rough brown girls like me. In the process of this work, I see so many Filipina/o/x readers and writers finding their ways to my works, finding community in our works. Many emerging writers – Filipina/o/x and Latina/o/x – younger than I am, tell me my presence and works have inspired and moved them, gave them permission to envision themselves as authors, and to work their way toward that authordom.
I see in Filipina/o/x Bookstagram, how they lay out their prized books to share with exuberance, how they love verse, mythology, folklore, writings for young readers who are young versions of themselves, stories about home and however large or messy or complicated home is, however we and they are able to define it. I wrote in one of my essays that my APIA and Filipina/o/x students do not care who has gained what prestigious credential or award from what institutional body. They want resonance, they want complexity, they want language, they want spaces where they can grapple with historical difficulty and joy – basically, to be written to and for, with depth and humanity. They don’t just want to be written about (for whom, and why). It is easy to dismiss this as “Representation Matters,” sloganeering, if you are cynical or snobby, so I want to focus on the challenges of moving through our lives in this place with no role models, with an educational system that has groomed us to become sellers of our labor in our corporatized world, with parents and elders who have internalized a singular, colonial definition of “success,” with “productivity” in this context as the highest priority, and displays of purchased status items as our only reward. This is soulless, sad, and depleting. How can we reexamine our value systems and realign with something more holistic and fulfilling.
What is my role within this context, as an author, as an educator, and yes, as an elder and mentor, Ate, Tita, but to foster an envisioning of possibility. I no longer think any of this is asking “too much” of an author and artist.