fpac 2006: Ernie Peña
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Yesterday when I wrote, I needed to express my anger and my feelings of disappointment in my local leaders, in you. I stand behind those words, as anger is a natural response to injustice, and I will not sugarcoat that.
But I also believe that true change comes from a place of love and empathy.
I have been trying to understand my place, my positionality, in a city that has so much and yet is also so barren. I am often shocked by the pervasive lack of empathy that I observe and witness. After the murder of Mario Woods, yet another unarmed person of color killed by police, I felt enraged, hopeless, helpless, and yet also pushed to action: I couldn't see an end to the violence that has been happening nationally and in our own city. The Frisco Five and the movement that they and their team created helped me to access my voice in a more directed way. I am in the process of learning and trying to understand where my privileges and my oppressions intersect: I have a home, a job, higher education, a loving partner, and supportive family. How do these privileges allow me to act against the injustices that I see as a young pinay woman of color? How do these privileges allow me to use my voice, to use the platforms I have access to, to bring attention to issues I care about? How do I move from talking and sharing on social media to real-life support and action?
I first discovered Ian Penn's music when I was searching the Internet for country music from the homeland. I came across the independent Philippine music label, LILYSTARS RECORDS, which is based in Manila, and once I played Penn's single, 'Headback Home,' immediately, I fell in love.
My nephew is obsessed with country music. He's ten years old, lives in Palmdale, CA, and when he told me he was madly in love with musicians like Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Bob Dylan (I actually love Bob Dylan), I wanted to find something that spoke a little deeper to his Philippine soul, his Filipino American identity, music that dug into the untapped, disaporic self we both hold which constantly tries to find a home. Then, I came across Ian Penn's melodic sounds, his rendition of "heading back home," of trying to find your way in a fractured, disparate world.
I was thankful that Ian Penn was ecstatic to do an interview with us. Our Managing Editor, Bel Poblador, was gracious enough to perform the interview.
We hope you enjoy our conversation with singer-songwriter Ian Penn!
I was born of two countries—one with a heavy, tormenting sun and dry weather that cracked my skin, claimed that I was of the other, which questioned my brownness and the accent in my voice. One where I called “small” repeatedly, critically, and where I attended school with a sea of other brown faces who spoke languages beyond English, a mix of Spanish, Tagalog, and Samoan, and we learned only about the American civil war and white-wigged presidents, memorizing and singing their names. A country where I perfected my English with Hooked-On-Phonics as my father stood above me—hands on hips, eyebrows furrowed—practicing the strange words I couldn’t sound out, words that didn’t even fit his own mouth. It was here where my father, worried of his daughter’s failures, silenced his Tagalog and stopped speaking to me in his mother tongue because I was taken aside in the first grade and placed in an ESL class—despite the fact I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, or even Tagalog. It was here where the slur and silences that imbued my speech were deemed “problematic;” they embodied my loss of language, and in turn, my loss of culture. The loss of self.
In this one country where I was born, I was taught to forget.
Whether it was about my mother, who left my family when I was two, or about the hills in a faraway land she had once roamed when she was a child, I was taught not to remember. I was taught silence. My father and lola, who both raised me with iron fists, rarely mentioned their homeland, their fractured memories of Marcos or addictions to gambling. There were no stories about their broken childhoods or the land they still loved—only the want, the need, to return. They would still speak of the Philippines like it were “home.” They would fill balikbayan boxes with cans of packaged meats, snacks, sweets, or my outgrown clothes, and “Send it home.”
Growing up, this loss of “home” spilled into my lola’s or father’s anger. Whenever they were angry with me—whether I was home late, talked back, or acted like a know-it-all “Americana”—they would switch to Tagalog, and I knew the level of their rage from the shrill or twitch of their eyebrows. A cascading wall of sound. I had to distill meaning from the movement in their mouths, the crooked smiles, or the narrowed eyes.
Tagalog, to me, has always been emotive, like images replaying on a screen. It was the one tangible thing I could hold onto in my head and mouth, the vehicle I used to imagine that land my family had once walked.
A couple of weeks ago, my editor girls Melissa Sipin, Bel Poblador and I plunged into what would be the final round of copyediting, line editing, and combing through Issue 5 of TAYO Literary Magazine. I must have spent most of what were three days editing – you know, reading and re-reading stories written by our contributors. I usually read very critically and analytically, but this time, I was reading in a different way. I was looking for errors, typos, and other little things that most folks might skip over or acknowledge once or judge a tiny bit before they moved on – that kind of editing. I was tasked with trying to minimize those moments so that our readers’ reading experiences would be unclouded with the disdain of trying to make sense of what might not have made sense. That is, I don’t think that any story or poem I’d edited needed to be re-drafted (and also, this was not the purpose of the final round) or revised, but I wanted to ensure that the writers in Issue 5 of TAYO would be so happy and joyful and proud to have their work in our publication. I think this is the case. I think this will happen for them.
With all this considered, I knew that I just had to write about what it means to be not just an editor, but a critical editor. I am thinking about what it means to edit beyond just editing. What is beyond grammar? What is beyond punctuation and proofreading? As an English Instructor, I come across this issue all of the time and advocate for ‘correction’ in addition to process. As a writer and poet, I write against these rules all of the time, too. And now, as an Associate Editor, I am… the gatekeeper of Standard American English? Who the hell am I to gatekeep this way? What are the implications of enforcing or upholding linguistic rules? To what set of rules or cultural values are we held accountable, anyway?
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