Publishing Roundtable: Debut Poetry Books — Kenji Liu, Angela Peñaredondo, Janice Lobo Sapigao

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Publishing Roundtable: Debut Poetry Books — Kenji Liu, Angela Peñaredondo, Janice Lobo Sapigao

ASWANG NO. 2: RACHEL SIPIN ESPANOLA


A PUBLISHING ROUNDTABLE:
DEBUT POETRY BOOKS

A literary roundtable discussion
with Kenji Liu, Angela Peñaredondo, and Janice Lobo Sapigao

MODERATED BY
TAYO LITERARY MAGAZINE


WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT EQUITY

There is a roundtable discussion on  “Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors be Doing?” by PEN America that everyone should read. The results are scathing: 89 percent of the publishing industry is (still) white. When we talk about equity in publishing, what are actually talking about? Does this really mean just diverse books? (Answer is: of course not.) Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Gregory Pardlo, probes even further:

Why are there so few people of color in influential gatekeeping positions in the publishing industry? Well, why do we ask? [...] If we want aesthetic diversity in the books that come to define our culture, then I don’t buy the argument that diversifying the shape, configuration, and hue of the faces of editors and agents will get the job done. There is no reason to expect people with different phenotypes to have different cultural tastes and allegiances if they all have similar educational backgrounds. My sense is the problem is in the education.

We at TAYO Literary Magazine agree full-heartedly with Gregory Pardlo: in our minds, we must talk about decolonizing our literature before we can even begin to talk about equity in publishing. Like many have said after Publisher Weekly's salary surveys came out: of course the industry is still white; this problem isn't new. From the PEN America roundtable introduction: "Roxane Gay wrote about Janet Maslin’s New York Times summer reading list that contained zero titles by non-white writers, a moment that Jason Parham summed up as having achieved “peak caucasity.” Or when Christopher Myers wrote about the dismal number of children’s books written by writers of color (7 percent in 2014). Or more recently when Mira Jacob wrote about her experience trying to engage with an uninterested and deaf publishing industry. Taiye SelasiJenny Zhang, Cathy Park Hong—writers of color are writing about inequity, as they’ve been doing for decades. They are shouting it from the rooftops."

TAYO has always dedicated itself to the voices that have been marginalized and oppressed for decades. When PEN America listed our journal as one of the resources and publications to check out, we were honored. But it wasn't enough for us—we felt that we needed to do more, and at times, doing this kind of emotional labor—as writers who are also editors who are also volunteering their free time to this kind of social justice work—it can be tiring, exhausting, often overwhelming.

So when one of us—a writer-of-color—publishes their first book, second book, third book, and so onwe celebrate. We know how great a feat this is, how much sacrifice and love is put into that debut book, the second one, the third one, and the very next ones. 

In this publishing roundtable, TAYO talks with three poets who were once published in our pages and are now coming out with their very first books. The following panel took place via a live Google Document—it was at once: an experimental and viral discussion, but also: a conversation that is ongoing and will continue to be had by so many writers who identify as a person-of-color.

Maraming salamat for listening/reading/stopping by, and we look forward to your additional thoughts in the comment section below.


ABOUT THE PANELISTS & Their Debut Books

Kenji Liu's Map of an Onion is an altar to my family, and a poetry collection about ephemeral spaces that have real physical and psychic effects on individuals. Most evident in the book are national, postcolonial, and corporeal spaces, their intersections, and our migrations between them. The intertwined histories of Taiwan, Japan, and the United States are present throughout, not to mention references to new wave, disco, and science fiction. Map of an Onion is also a visual and physical object. This might be obvious, but the size, design, and layout from cover to cover is very important to the experience of this collection.

Angela Peñaredondo's All Things Lose Thousands of Times is a collection of body/migratory/incantatory poems, exploring the alchemy and ritual of poetics that stem from the space of in-between or realm of intersections. These are grey zones where energies that lie opposite of the same spectrum finally collide and intermingle: the intellect and the sensual, the profane and the holy, love and violence, memory and erasure. Here, there are no chosen sides, no geographical or cultural boundaries marked, no preferred first over third world, only a maneuvering through, a queering of, and a resisting to. All Things Lose Thousands of Times are feminist-oriented poems investigating the body’s fragmented memory of sexuality, gender, culture and desire gather, then finally piece themselves together to form into new shapes: a hybrid woman, a female assemblage, a history palimpsest, a transnational body.

Janice Lobo Sapigao's microchips for millions, a documentary and exploratory poetry collection, is about the exploitation of immigrant women in the Silicon Valley and those who built it all — those like the author’s mother. Through the use of binary code, the Filipino language, Ilokano; personal observation, and scholarship, microchips for millions draws out the social layers of the microchip, which are central to the global economy. The book interrogates Silicon Valley as an ideal place of innovation, technological advancement, and a highly populated concentration of computer-based startups. What is not popularly known is that the Silicon Valley is also home to flagrant and covert injustice where toxic chemicals and “clean” energy risk the lives of workers.


Janice told US Y'all had a bar conversation last year about the struggles and possibilities of publishing your first book… And now, look at all of you! Each of you are coming out with a powerful book whose themes, nuances, and complexities grapple with the intricacies of being migrant / in-between / marginalized, embody the imaginations and the realities of being a body (or bodies) who are migrant / in-between / marginalized. Brava/o. TAYO is really honored to be a part of this conversation.

Before we begin, would one of you like to tell us about that bar conversation you all had? It doesn’t quite matter who goes first on this question, but we would love to hear how it went down from each of you!

JANICE LOBO SAPIGAO (JS): We met at Sarita See’s house in Los Angeles. Sarita is the Executive Director of the Center for Art and Thought in addition to being an Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside, and she was hosting a fundraising event for families in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines whose homes were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda a year before. I read my poems from the anthology Verses Typhoon Yolanda: A Storm of Filipino Poets, and after that, I think that all of the poets and creative writers gravitated towards each other. The group started to split — and I ended up talking with Angela and Kenji. We talked books, asked each other questions about writing, and even gave each other advice about how to go about publishing. There must have been magic that night — look at us now! We still talk. Haha.

ANGELA PEÑAREDONDO (AP): I remember the hefty bookshelves in Sarita’s home, and in between was were Kenji and I came together over lumpia and that was when we met Janice. It felt pretty organic. I shared with Janice that I did some disaster relief work in Tacloban, Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan not too long after she read her own poem about the typhoon. Fred Moten came later on and I was happy to see him there, sitting next to Sarita’s piano.

KENJI LIU (KL): I remember two other things. One, the poets Fred Moten and Kimberly Alidio were also there. The second thing is that there was really tasty dessert in the kitchen.

JS: Wait, what?! Fred Moten was there?! And yes, Kimberly Alidio is a bad-ass.

[LAUGHs virtually] That's amazing, seriously. How organic this meeting was, and how star-aligning that the three of you are now coming out with your Debut books!

Now let's get to the "serious" publishing panel questions. First one: What compelled you to write?

KL: This isn’t something that has a straightforward answer for me, and my story will probably change all the time. What I feel is important to mention though is that I was writing letters in English for my parents at an early age. They would rely on me to fix sentences and grammar on official letters to bosses and other important people. It was something I disliked doing at the time, but I’m glad now that I was able to help. I was translating—discerning what they meant to say and then saying it in a way that would be understood and taken seriously. If there’s some kind of “origin story” for me and writing, right now it’s this. That writing and communicating is a serious act with a lot of responsibility attached.

AP: I don’t know why but this is one of my least favorite questions. It’s not that I don’t think it’s an important one but whenever I am asked this question a small part of me goes pack to a significantly dark, alienated and obscure place of my youth. Yes, I know those years are difficult and sensitive for everyone, however, I can’t speak for everyone, I’m speaking for myself. I’m not a huge fan of Cat Stevens but I’m thinking of his song, “The First Cut is the Deepest,” and I relate that song to that time. Poetry was therapy and survival as well as an emotional and mental weapon. Poetry was extremely personal and because I was disconnected from a literary community for awhile, I never felt my writing would enter into a public sphere. When I learned more about poetry (such as in colleges, in community writing spaces, in my own private time), I felt it nourishing my hunger for a creative language. It probably wasn’t until 8 or more years after undergrad, after the slew of 9-to-5 jobs, and all the travel, did I come to acknowledge the burn inside was something to stop neglecting (even if I thought it would fail me).

I guess it makes sense to mention that I studied visual arts too. I dig the arts. I like what it does to me and does to people around me. One of my favorite visual artists, Julie Mehretu said (on the markings in her paintings), “these marks could not exist with just rational thinking.” Mehretu makes me feel comfortable about my poet self and about my creative process. In his 1961 interview with Studs Terkel, James Baldwin said his famous line, “artists are here to disturb the peace.” So true... even within ourselves.

JS: I’ve had a diary since I was six years old (the story behind this is my second book). I’ve always loved writing, yet I didn’t know how to do it, much less how to make a career out of it (I’m still trying to figure that out). I’ve kept a blog since high school, and I didn’t take my writing seriously until after I co-wrote the script for a Pilipina/o Cultural Night celebration when I was an undergrad at UC San Diego with my friends Edward Delos Reyes and Jet Antonio. After writing that script, seeing it come to life, and realizing the possibilities that could come with creative writing, I decided that I wanted to get an M.F.A. in Writing, since I had majored and minored in Ethnic Studies and Urban Studies & Planning. My writing now combines those two loves and areas of study: 1) understanding power through people and place while 2) documenting the everyday moments of witness, understanding how injustice operates, while pushing back by writing. Also, I’m currently on this tip with my writing right now: celebrating and recognizing difference while also reimagining its manifestation in our world. Yes. This is, to me, the work of a good writer. I want to write this way.

What's your relationship with publishing, and what was the process in publishing your debut book?

JS: I didn’t really know how to publish at first, but I had friends who encouraged me to do it. Folks would send me calls for submissions once they’d learned that I wrote and was, like, good or okay at it. Publishing wasn’t so much my entrance into wanting to write books more than it was my wanting to perform poetry. When I listened to spoken word artists’ poetry, I always wanted to support them by going to shows or readings, buying chapbooks, CDs, or books. I realized then that publishing was one way to let the poetry live longer than three minutes of performance, but we poets have always existed with or without publishing, especially traditional, exclusive forms of publishing. I also wanted to write poetry as vulnerable, urgent, and political as what I saw from other artists. Published writing was one way for me to ‘see’ them again.

AP: My experience with publishing is very similar to Janice, in terms of it not being an entry point into poetry. It wasn’t until I was in an MFA program at UC Riverside that I started to submit work like a madwoman. Previous to my MFA experience, I never planned on going back to school, so when I surprisingly did, I thought better make it count before I’m back in the daily-work-grind again.

Sometimes I’m still on the fence about publishing. I guess it was Chris Abani who taught me that poems are not these highly precious objects waiting for that big publisher or contest to discover them. It can’t always be strategic. Yes, it’s necessary to publish so you jump into that ring but you also move on to that next story, that next project, whatever.

Juan Felipe Herrera also influenced me a great deal when it came to a kind of organic navigating. This concept inspired me to separate my earlier work into a smaller manuscript, which eventually became my chapbook, Maroon (Jamii Publishing 2016). Allison Hedge Coke was pivotal during that particular development. All Things Lose Thousands of Times is a compilation of new work, which I delved into voraciously and curiously for about a year and half after Maroon was finished.

KL: Though I do have a graduate degree, I don’t have an MFA and the networks/resources that come with it. I came to creative writing through activism and my graduate studies in postcolonial anthropology. So I started tentatively, sending work out in dribbles to places I found by accident. But once I got my first couple of acceptances, I learned how to research potential places to publish. Some time after being published by Kartika Review, managing editor Sunny Woan invited me to join the editorial board. After that my education accelerated, and my networks grew—especially after joining the VONA/Voices summer workshops for writers of color. It was the poet Suheir Hammad who told me I was ready to publish a book, and I began to believe her. I started with a chapbook, You Left Without Your Shoes. And now, almost a decade and a good chunk of money later, my full-length poetry collection Map of an Onion is finally in the world.

What is the genesis of your first book? Where did it come from?

AP: Juan Felipe Herrera’s presence as a guide was vital to the genesis of All Things Lose Thousands of Times. He wholeheartedly supported my transnational tendencies, artistic interests, vivid imaginations and nonlinear, sort of divination creative process I took on when writing it. He allowed me to be lost in all of it. He told to remove my “chemical headband.”

I was very much inspired by the works of Eduardo Corral, Dawn Lundy Martin, Sophie Cabot Black and Carmen Gimếnez Smith (who later blurbed my book. So honored). I engrossed myself in a lot film and music that I intuitively felt informed the book’s material. All Things Lose examines what I like to call “multiple points of contact.” It’s the layers of identity, culture, feminism, womanism, gender, desire (both physical and spiritual) through the scope of a transnational, queer, immigrant, brown, Filipinx, human-animal. What a mouthful! I would not have been able to infiltrate these personal subject matters in a horizontal, unswerving or unbroken way.

JS: I don’t think that I’d have my first book without two things: 1) getting love and 2) giving it right back (Blue Scholars, anyone?). I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the Filipina/o American literary scene in the Bay Area if it weren’t for my friend Maia Almendral and her mother Gemma Nemenzo — who is a writer, journalist, and the organizer of the first Filipina/o American International Book Festival. I was one of the first FilBookFest interns, and I met so many Filipina/o writers whose books I’d read in college. FilBookFest introduced me to Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA, Inc.), and that’s where I met poet Barbara Jane Reyes and writer Edwin Lozada. Because of PAWA workshops, I decided to go to VONA, and because of VONA, I was prepared for my MFA program. After my MFA, I attended the Summer Writing Program at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics because I saw that there was a communal exchange between the programs. I believe this process, especially considering my week at Naropa, is how I got to publish microchips for millions. I got hella love from these people and spaces, and now that I teach and write and am finding success, I believe it is my responsibility to give it right back.

KL: That’s another question with multiple answers. I definitely have to thank Suheir Hammad as I mentioned earlier. But I also have to thank my graduate education in postcolonial anthropology, in particular two of my professors, Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro. It was through them that I was introduced to exciting scholars from the Global South and North whose influence is threaded throughout the book. It took multiple iterations to come up with the book’s final form, but for me, what ties it all together is a deconstructive exploration of my family history(ies) and identity(ies). It intersects “social construction” theory with Buddhist no-self theory all while examining race, gender, culture, class, colonization, and more. But in a simpler way I can say that the collection came out of my 2009 chapbook, You Left Without Your Shoes. I continued on the thematic paths started there, and this is the result.

How has growing up as a person of color influenced the way you write?

JS: I identify as a Pinay — which is an intersectional way of identifying. This is my lens, and I am acutely aware of how my social identity impacts my writing. Because of this constant work to figure out who I am — an endeavor I’ve done as a student and community organizer and teacher — I want to see this in my writing. I believe that writing is like looking at a mirror: the page reflects back to us our whole selves, including what we know, what we don’t know, our shortcomings, and what we want or have yet to learn. Growing up without these mirrors, or books, not only influences but necessitates writing as a political act to influence others who do not have these mirrors, or cannot see me in theirs. These books, writings, and mirrors will say: I am here. And, shit, I see you, so do you see me back?

KL: Being bi-ethnic, Asian American, and a cis-gendered man are important aspects of where I write from. Race, ethnicity, and culture are practically no-brainers for me, but staying aware of gender and male privilege is more of a practice—I have to constantly work at excavating them, read feminist scholars and poets, etc. So where my writing delves more explicitly into gender, it’s because I’ve made a conscious effort to dig. I didn’t think about being a person of color or even being “Asian American” while growing up—that was a political choice and act of alliance-building I took on later—in childhood I was just “Asian” or “Taiwanese” or “Japanese.” But all of these different positions are part of my writing now in some way, even if implicitly.

AP: Gosh, I’ve always felt I’ve had a kind of disobedient and non-committal relationship to gender and race, but it doesn’t mean they were not important or vital to me. They were highly personal (just like poetry and art) but they also elluded me and I did the same. Now they take on different personas, more public and necessary. I agree with Kenji in what he calls a “political choice and act of alliance building.” I could not have said it more clearly. Yet, I’m also invested in what Tisa Bryant so eloquently expresses in an afterword she wrote for Body Forms: Queerness & the Essay. She says, “To be everything, in solitude and in exuberance with others, to find parts of yourself through writing, within the writings of others… Let us be the medium in the medium. Let us write writing. Let us have vibrancy, and exuberance and excess. Let us be everything.” Secretly, I’ve always wanted that kind of fluidity, accessibility and hybridity but poetry implodes that secret. All of it becomes necessity... thankfully.

We (TAYO) were inspired to have this discussion with you all after reading PEN America’s “Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors be Doing?” (linked above). Hafizah Geter brought up points that struck us deeply: “And I’ve heard white editors/curators discuss the problem of “finding” writers of color, which begs the question, what does it take to be “found?” Moreover, as a writer of color, what does it take to be found when the “seeing” eye is whiteness?”

We still think of Gregory Pardlo’s hard-hitting question in The Guardian: “I won the Pulitzer: why am I invisible?” What are your thoughts on these concerns? We have movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks that push toward equity in publishing, which is great and a needed step forward, but what, in your opinion, needs to be done? What are your experiences sifting through the publishing world clouded with these systemic issues?

KL: The idea of writers of color being “found” by white editors is somewhat colonial. It implies that they are in the center/metropole and we are lost in the periphery/colony. We’ve been here the whole time making great, innovative art, even before they thought it might be important to “find” us. Yes, our voices need to be heard everywhere, but on our own terms. I think of Viet Nguyen’s recent Pulitzer win and how he, like Toni Morrison, purposefully did not write for a white audience. I don’t need more diverse books, though that’s important too. What I really need is a decolonized publishing industry (and everything else). I don’t need equity within an imbalanced system, I need reallocated power and resources.

AP: Writers of color being “found” or “discovered” by white editors and curators is highly colonial indeed. I agree. The gatekeepers, the audience members, the space of neutrality, the dictation of what’s en vogue is all centered and passes through the zone of whiteness. Invisibility, erasure, generalization, fetishization, tokenization of artists and writers-of-color; the resentment that can fester among writers of color (Jenny Zhang) because of these elements. How can I put it? It sucks. All schools and educational programs need to make it a mandatory requirement to read and study more diverse books and art, written and made by past and most especially by living people of color that challenge and present racial and identity politics as nonbinary and decolonized. In “Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors be Doing?”, Alexander Chee says diverse reading is a lifelong commitment. I’m all for inspiring and implanting that kind of commitment very young. I think this is somehow linked to what Kenj expressed as a reallocation of power and resources.

JS: We need to read more. We need to listen more. We need to enact, embody, and be critical. However, I don’t know what we could do within this system. We need a different system. I’m also thinking of lyrics by one of my favorite rappers, Rocky Rivera, who so definitively raps, “Fuck you” and “pay me.” That’s kind of how I feel about current publishing systems right now.

Last question! If you could give advice to an emerging writer, what advice would you give? What has writing given to you?

JS: Keep going.

AP: This is the part that sounds like something written in the back of a high school yearbook. I love it! I would say it’s key to stay curious and open. During one of her workshops, I asked Allison Hedge Coke if she knew or could recommend an up-and-coming writer who she felt had “award winning” potential. She told me if there was one, that writer is not published or “discovered” or enrolled in any graduate program. I like that.

KL: Seek out your peers, develop a support network, read widely.


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GUEST INTERVIEW: CRUSHED BY TRINIDAD ESCOBAR

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GUEST INTERVIEW: CRUSHED BY TRINIDAD ESCOBAR

CRUSHED (COVER PAGE): TRINIDAD ESCOBAR


CRUSHED

graphic memoir excerpt & other visual work

Trinidad Escobar


 

 

Trinidad Escobar is a mother, poet, cartoonist, and educator from the Bay Area, California. Her writing and visual art have been featured in various publications such as Rust & Moth, The Brooklyn Review, The Womanist, Red Wheelbarrow, Solo Cafe, Mythium, Tayo, and the anthologies Walang Hiya, Over the Line, Kuwento, and more. Trinidad has been a guest artist and speaker at the San Jose Museum of Art, Pilipino Komix Expo, LitQuake, and The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Trinidad teaches Comics & Race at California College of the Arts in Oakland, California.

Social media handles: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr


TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOURSELF.

This will sound trite, but, like many artists, I started drawing and writing when I was very young. I was about four when I started drawing portraits and six years old when I began writing short stories in a journal. One of my most vivid memories involves a small me sitting at my small desk— a desk covered in art that I painted that same year— conjuring up a story about a young Hawaiian woman who saves an entire village from an erupting volcano. 

I was transported to this world that I had created. I felt the heat against my face, inhaled sulfur and ash, and listened as families scrambled from their homes carrying their children and caged birds. In reality, I was not a creative genius. I was not academically smart at that age, either. My only gift at that age was that my imagination ran wild, and I let it. I taught myself that making art— even if the end result is shitty or unrefined— is magick. What made this possible was a ton of alone time. I was painfully shy, and tugged around a boatload of anxious thoughts and behaviors. Writing stories brought much relief to my life. 

I went to San Francisco State University to study creative writing. Then, I went to Naropa University to study creative writing in graduate school. I wanted to combine writing with my love for painting and illustration; and comics was the natural route to take. I read tons of comics as a kid, so I couldn’t understand why it took me so long to get to this point. I’m here now, and I’m so freakin' juiced. 

Please tell us more about your forthcoming graphic memoir! What was your journey in publishing your first book? Any thoughts or insights?

I’m currently working on a graphic memoir entitled CRUSHED. It’s a biomythography about my reunification with my birth family. As an adoptee politicized at a young age and raised with artists who were simultaneously activists, I wanted to initially write an essay about adoption. The project evolved and retreated into itself. It morphed into a much more intimate and vulnerable memoir that draws from Philippine politics and history, but also memories, dreams, and my family’s storytelling. 

It has taken about two years to create this book, but about 2 years of prep to get started. I thought I knew how to draw, but went to California College of the Arts and learned that I had an assload to learn. I started from scratch and worked my way up to the book. I don’t know how good this book will be, but it is most definitely honest in terms of my current artistic ability and my adoptee story. 

WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST?

My favorite artist, hands down, is Frida Kahlo. I mean Frida the woman, the artist, the visionary; not Frida the saint or martyr. She was an artist who painted out of necessity— from the heart and soul. In the words of a dear friend of mine, “Frida shows her pussy” in each of her paintings. I love that phrase. To me that means she shows her femininity and feminine power right there on canvas, for all to see, using technique that blew away the men of her time. In a world that hates femme, I can’t see Frida as anything less than courageous and skillful as fuck. 

Lynda Barry, Kate Beaton, Emily Carroll, Marjan Satrapi, Isabelle Arsenault, Marguerite Abouet, and Jillian Tamaki, Brian K. Vaughan, and Tim Burton have heavily influenced my comics and illustration. Stephen King, Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, Marianne Villanueva, M. Evelina Galang, Mariko Tamaki, Wally Lamb, Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, and Louise Erdrich have profound influence on my storytelling. 

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger is, hands down, my favorite book right now. I’m late jumping on this train, but at least I’m finally on it, no?? I’m finishing book #2 now.  It’s fucking with my dreams and I can’t get enough. The best comic I’m reading right now is Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda— an all Asian women team telling an Asian fantasy epic depicting the cruelty and power of women? Hell to the yes. 

What's your relationship to process? To form?

My relationship to process is presence. Presence is preservation and sustenance.  Some days sitting at the desk pencilling the same faces over and over, or figuring out perspective (and getting it wrong) is so fucking laborious thatI want to stab my eyeballs straight through the centers. Other days, I remember that there are two goals that I have for CRUSHED: 1) create something effective enough for just one reader to walk away from a spiritual adventure, and 2) conjure healing for myself by spending time with these characters every day. Discovering magick as a kid is special because the world will conspire to prove magick childish and illusory. Experience will try to snub out that light. Therefore, that kid has a giant responsibility to keep it breathing like a real, living thing. Sitting at my desk from 10pm to 4am nearly every night staring at these faces and moving my character through part of her healing journey is absolutely a kind of magick for me. Complete presence during these late hours is what it takes, and I am 100% down to put in that work if healing is the reward.

Everything about comics is form and breaking form. Comics is inundated with form. Each panel is a complete illustration, planned and plotted, packed with visual information, guiding the reader from left to right. Each sequence is meaningful. Each border and gutter is meaningful, thus leading to the entire composition of the page. The black and white balance of the page. The text to image dance of the page. Something so difficult to do is a welcomed challenge to me, and also, dialectically, I hate you comics. Making comics is hard. 

If you could name a song that describes your artwork, what song would it be? What film?

"Your Way Home" by Lamb’s Ear. It’s a song I play when I’m on a road trip, alone and free on Highway 1, down the central coast. To me, it’s about honoring each fractured piece of yourself, and bringing them together to build a temple for your life. 

A film that describes my artwork might be The Conjuring or The Babadook. These horror films are about families, strong women, witches and demons, depression, triumph and healing. I wouldn’t consider CRUSHED a horror story, but it has plenty of psychological horror and supernatural elements. 

Last but not least: how does your familial history influence your artwork? Anything you'd like to add or say?

My familial history influences almost every piece of CRUSHED. For one, my adoptive family have their own long history. My adoptive father, Ephraim Escobar, inspired the honesty and labor imbued in this project. My dad has stuck by my side ever since I met my birth family. He has supported me, helped send remittances, and translated countless letters. He’s a saint to me. His stories will make up another book in the future. 

Adoption is an inextricable part of my familial history. With the help of my father and husband I learned a textbook’s worth of information in a short amount of time (for an adoptee). Finding out Filipino family history requires digging and getting my hands dirty. There’s so much tucked away and hidden. This project is the end result of what I could find out about my birth family. It’s not my goal to “out” my families or air dirty laundry in public. My goal is to speak about what suffering people are told to keep hidden, and to heal through speaking. To heal through making. 

I am rather lucky to learn this much. Many adoptees do not know other adoptees. Many are alone in their experiences. Those who want to learn about their families often can’t because of stupid adoption laws, or because someone close to them is withholding information. I am making this book to honor my experiences and my families’, but I also wish for at least one person out there who has known the true face of suffering to be hopeful after reading CRUSHED


Graphic memoir excerpt.


Other visual work: (Left to right) River Goddess, Ylang, and Self-Portrait.


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#dearmayoredlee Blog Series: Never Too Late

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#dearmayoredlee Blog Series: Never Too Late

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. 

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#dearmayoredlee Blog Series: Hunger for San Francisco

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#dearmayoredlee Blog Series: Hunger for San Francisco

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? 

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GUEST INTERVIEW: ART SERIES BY SAI LI

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GUEST INTERVIEW: ART SERIES BY SAI LI


ART SERIES

A collection of dreams

Sai Li


Sai Li,

San Francisco based painter, animator, illustrator and comic artist.

Born and raised in China.

Graduated from Tsinghua University (Beijing, China) with a BA in animation, 2012.

Currently enrolled in San Francisco Art Institute MFA program (2014-2016).

Find out more: Website | Blog | Instagram


TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOURSELF.

I fell in love with drawing when I was around 7-8 years old. I got a manga from my friend and was shocked by what beautiful things people could create with pen and paper. It showed me a whole new dimension to explore. That is where I started and when I decided this was the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was making my own manga when I was like 9 then expanded it to illustration, animation and eventually fine art. 

Your art toggles between the aesthetics of realism and intimacy—they can be intense and yet you capture something so close and whimsical and surreal. What inspires you to create art in such a way?

I would say I am inspired by my daily life. I always pay a great amount of attentions to details. Emotions, memories, dreams (the ones I have every night) and people around me are all my fuels. I tend to be as open, honest and vulnerable as possible in my art for I feel this is the only territory that I am allowed to do so.

WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST?

It is pretty difficult to pick ONE. Satoshi Kon, Robert Morris, Edvard Munch are my top three favorites.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK?

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. It definite connects with my art. The extremely beautiful romanticism and nihilism embedded in this book have a tremendous influence on how I see the world, and therefore, make art. Also, his sensitive observation of details and sharp (even harsh) analysis of people, life, and social system are important inspirations for me as well.

WHAT'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO PROCESS? TO FORM?

I always see the process of art making as a conversation between my work and I. It is rare for me to do a draft or set a specific “plan” for a piece. I normally follow the feelings and start the work, then “talk” with it, feel it and move along with it. When the feelings are gone, the piece is finished. I see more value in the process of art making than the actual finished piece, at least for my own work.

As for form, I try not to get limited by it. I always seek for the form that fits what I want to express at that moment the most. Kind of all over the place…

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY THINK OF YOUR ART? WHAT'S THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO IT?

I am the only artist in my whole family but they definitely influenced my art practice. As I mentioned, my art deals with memories and comes from the way I observe/perceive the world around me. My families—the relationship I have with them, the way I was raised, the geographical distance between us, etc.—give huge impact on (if not shape) both of them.



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GUEST BLOG: "On Grit and the Burden of Representation"

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GUEST BLOG: "On Grit and the Burden of Representation"

ARTWORK: SAI LI


 

On Grit and the Burden
of Representation

Guest Blog

Barbara Jane Reyes


Is my work really brutal? And if it is brutal, what specifically is so brutal about/in it? And then, is that a bad thing? So those are some questions. I continually ask these questions, as I ask myself whether I want my poetry to “do” anything, to serve some kind of purpose, and what kind of purpose.

I’ve been reading essays about this burden of representation that is thrust upon the work of POC writers. I think this is a problem. Who wants us to represent, and what do they want us to represent, and why do they want us to represent in the ways that they want us to represent. Within our own communities, this preference for the positive, uplifting, and beautiful portraits and narratives of us. How we look when we are well dressed. How we look when we are acting right, when things go our way, which I think of as a reaction against the centuries of negative portrayals of us. But then we have to think about whose value systems determine “negative,” “positive,” “beautiful.” I question though, whether the beautiful and uplifting portraits and narratives are honest and realistic ones.

This is nothing new I am saying here. I think of the well-dressed Filipino villagers in John Sayles’s film, Amigo. I think also of all the well-dressed Mexican villagers in The Magnificent Seven. In the case of the latter film, I learned there were consultants on the set who saw to it that no Mexican character appeared dirty or poor. I don’t know whether any consultants were on hand for Sayles. Artifice. I think also of Imelda Marcos’s comments on beauty and ugliness. How the standards for these are social and economic.

This thing about beauty and positivity is something we talk about in my classes especially when we read Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters. How do we as readers respond to these ugly people doing atrocious things to one another. How do we feel that these ugly people are Filipino, and that they are each ugly in various/multiple ways. Why write about these people and this society and centralize their ugliness? These days, my students are so young, mostly second and third generation Americans. They have a lot of distance from Philippine society, from the original publication and original brouhahas, that they generally don’t take it personally that her characters are so ugly and that Philippine society is portrayed as this ugly thing. So then we can talk about how it became that way. Also, by the time we get to the Dogeaters portion of the syllabus, we’ve already been talking intensely about colonial mentality, and class and privilege, about the violence and criminalization of poverty of Filipinos in both the Philippines and the US west coast in Bulosan’s The Laughter of My Father and America is in the Heart. So we already know it’s not all pretty.

Anyway, I bring these things up because I feel like we have selective amnesia as a community. We are still trying so hard to pretend no one writes about the terrible things that have befallen us in the world. We forgot all about the desperation, hunger, assault, and institutional violence in Bulosan. We forget or deny that a novel that takes place during wartime such as Tess Uriza Holthe’s When the Elephants Dance takes place when the country was getting the bejesus bombed out of it, when women and girls were being abducted and forced into sex slavery, when people were starving, and their homes were destroyed. We forget when we are reading Mia Alvar’s In the Country, that Filipino domestic workers in the Middle East are being violated of their human rights on the regular, and abused as property/replaceable objects. Our literature is about how we suffer, work, cope, survive, get gritty and fight, and celebrate. Then get back to work again. And so this is cyclical and ongoing, because this literature exists in the real world, written by real working, mostly gritty people who live in the real gritty, brutal world.

What if we — the writer and the reader — fundamentally disagree on what literature is supposed to do. And we also have to understand that not all writers agree on what our work is supposed to do, if it’s supposed to do anything at all. For myself, I have been a writer my whole life (generally speaking), and as an author, as a teacher of writing and literature, I think of writing and literature as mirror and microscope, and as an archeological dig. And then I also think of it as spell casting, committing to the page the words what you would like to manifest. But before we get to that, as we are digging, we don’t know what exactly we are going to unearth, and so what happens when the “problem” and/or premise gets bigger and more complicated, monstrous, micro and macro, personal and social, historical and contemporary. The process itself becomes complicated. The spell casting becomes complicated too. What do I really want to make manifest? How should I know? There are no easy remedies, no band-aids, no neatly tied up packages. Rewards are hard to come by, and can be fleeting. My idea of reward may not be your idea of reward. What comes next? Are we done? Everything is all good now? We’ve made it? I don’t think so. So then I write the next thing, dig through the next heap of shit towards hopefully something awesome. Sometimes I just keep on unearthing shit, and then it’s a challenge what to do with it all. I can’t simply ignore it.

That is my experience as a writer. What if the reader, what if the community wants something else, what if they want remedies and band-aids and neatly tied up packages? Life is hard. Is there any reprieve? Can you please give it a rest and give me my escapism? And/or: Filipinos always get a bad rap. Can you please use your power for good? No more maids, mail order brides, drug mules, gang members, wife beaters, and swindlers. Can you please write something that will give our youth pride and self-esteem? Something that tells the world how beautiful we are?

Or worse. Your version of Filipino is not my version of Filipino (you’re really more American anyway, so what do you know). Yours is inauthentic because it does not mirror mine. Therefore, you are a fake Filipino. You write in proper English, you publish with white publishers, therefore, you are writing for white people, and you are not down with your own community. You are a whitewashed, colonized Filipino who doesn’t know and doesn’t care about what it’s really like to be Filipino.

And what about the burden of representation that comes from outside our communities. Tell us what a real, genuine, authentic Filipino is. Tell us all about your trauma as an oppressed and colonized people. Give us all the details of your patriarchal suffering. Leave none of the pain out. You have to make us understand everything so you must translate all your foreign words and you must explain everything ethnic and cultural.

So that’s where I’m currently at. Somewhere in the muck of it all, just wanting to write good meaningful poetry (whatever that might mean). I would like to think I am writing about important things. But to be a writer who is a woman and a Filipino in this country can be strange and awful sometimes. For now, all I can say is that I choose to stay gritty and not be bullied by any demographic so much that their demands take precedence over what and how I mean to write, as I continually work to figure out what and how that is.


BarbaraJane03.jpg

ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER:

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of To Love as Aswang (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2015). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of three previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003), Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, and Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), which received the Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry. She is also the author of the chapbooks Easter Sunday (Ypolita Press, 2008), Cherry (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2008), and For the City that Nearly Broke Me (Aztlan Libre Press, 2012).

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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: Discipline, Revisited"

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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: Discipline, Revisited"

PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA SY


SWEAT THE TECHNIQUE:
DISCIPLINE, REVISITED

Guest Blog Series on Craft (3)

JASON MAGABO PEREZ


I.

I'm getting quite comfortable with numbered sections, which is to say, I've found an opening in form, a set of permissions perhaps, to let me do what I need to do without apology. Numbered sections, I think, signal that the text as a w/hole might be building toward something. Upward, sideways, into a future, into an end, a death. I'm not so sure. Numbered sections, I think, explicitly announce fragility, a mechanism for control, discipline, fragmentation, units of thinking, contingencies.   

II.

"The text," writes Barthes, "needs its own shadow: this shadow is a bit of ideology, a bit of representation, a bit of subject: ghosts, pockets, traces, necessary clouds: subversion must produce its own chiaroscuro."

III.

I'd like to revisit the notion of discipline. I can't help but wonder if I'm reading Foucault correctly. Discipline, as I mentioned in the previous post months ago, is a technology of power. Discipline = regulation, regulatory power. In the recent film Straight Outta Compton (2015), we get to see both the threat & enactment of disciplinary power, of police power. When NWA decides to defy the Detroit Police Chief's warning & goes on to perform the hell out of "Fuck tha Police," we see discipline operate beyond its initial threat. NWA could've chumped out & not performed "Fuck tha Police," but they resisted the Detroit PD's tactics of control & performed the fuck out of "Fuck tha Police." NWA begins the song. Then: Gunshot sounds, which were, according to some reports, firecrackers set off by the police themselves. The crowd scatters. In the film, NWA is arrested in front of a crowd in some sort of loading dock. In other accounts, NWA is eventually met by the police at their hotel room. Whether we read this as radical or not is beside the point. Regardless, NWA pushes the limits of discipline here. But that push itself has its own limitations, which are set by discipline.

IV.

Fuck.

V.

I'm in eighth grade & today we've been invited to wear our histories. Proudly. My mestizo homie says he's wearing cut-off jeans & slippers "like they do in the province." No offense, but this fool passes so he just looks like one of them privileged white kids who choose to run away, be anti-establishment & not comb their ratty hair. Others claim that their history is right here, right now. So, they wear baggy sweatpants with their poorly conceptualized tag names scribbled down one pant leg. I wear a T-shirt with a monkey-eating eagle on it. I bought it at the Filipino supermarket. I drape a folded Philippine flag over my shoulder. Toward the end of lunchtime, I lend my other homie, Gabriel, who is half Black & Filipino, my flag. Gabriel folds the flag as much as he can & hangs it from his back pocket. The principal, who is a Black woman, snatches the flag from Black & Filipino Gabriel. I cry. I try to retrieve my flag. The principal tells me that I let Gabriel display my history in such a disrespectful manner. Who & what is disciplining who & what here? Principal & student? Blackness & Filipino-ness? Patriotism & gangster swagger? Whiteness/colonialism & non-normative expression? It's not like I am staking my flag into someone else's soil & skull, or forcing people to make my language their own.    

VI.

During one semester of ninth grade, I learn how to type on an electric typewriter—perhaps one of the most exhilarating moments of my academic career! No longer would I attempt to type with solely my two index fingers my 12-page discourse on indigenous Black people in the Philippines → sixth grade. Nor would I need to beg my mother to type out my scientific inquiries into stingrays or the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease called 'asthma' → fifth grade. I can finally type without taking my eyes off the paper. I feel I will go far in life. O, the music! One afternoon, Mr. Matt, the teacher, calls me back into class. He leads me to my workstation & says, "What's this?" Someone has punched the typewriter in the mouth & its little white keys are all over the floor. "Did you do this? Did you? Tell me. This is unacceptable." What kind of monster does Mr. Matt think I am? "No," I say. "Well," he says, "you were the last one on this machine. So, I'm sending you to detention. This is unacceptable. I expected better from you." This is the first & only time I am ever sent to detention.    

VII.

These are not stories of oppression. I’m trying to distinguish between discipline & oppression, between crying about it & dying because of it.  

VIII.

I’ve come to a semi-conclusion: My foray into discipline has to do with my anxiety of knowing how to use English, grasping it, standing outside of its capacity to call me names, to call my mama names, its capacity to call you & me its own, its capacity to kill & let die.

IX.

“This is the oppressor’s language,” writes Adrienne Rich, “yet I need it to talk to you.”

X.

From text to body, discipline facilitates an impossibility of forms & practices. So, then, again, what, I ask, of interdisciplinarity?

XI.

As I stated in the previous post, even interdisciplinarity might be violent & violating. Commenting on the notion of interdisciplinarity, filmmaker, writer & composer Trinh T. Minh-ha writes: "it is rare to see [interdisciplinarity] stretched to the limits, so that the fences between disciplines are pulled down." Should we bend or pull or stretch or completely dismantle & eat the fences of discipline? If we dismantle the fences of discipline, what does this enable us to do? Do we re-configure & recycle & reify those fences? Do we live more or die less?

XII.

Barthes mentions the ‘new object’ that emerges from interdisciplinary thinking & critique. A new object does not necessarily signify a new subject, a new us, a new you & I.

XIII.

In the most abstract metaphorical terms, I keep banging my head against the limits of discipline. I live in the Matrix. I’m fearful that we can’t live outside of the matrices of ongoing colonial domination. I say this as it carries with it all kinds of contradictions, i.e. my position as first-world writer with health benefits & a near-empty checking account. In concrete terms: I’m seeking permissions, explanations for writing & making what I write & make. What keeps me from doing so comfortably & confidently?    

XIV.

Form & content, yes, are inseparable. Form & epistemology, too, are dialectical. Conventions of genre & form dictate how we read & our parameters of attention/intention.

XV.

I’ve been working on two separate manuscripts, one of ‘poetry,’ & one of ‘performance.’ They, in fact, do & want to be similar things/objects. I’ve happened again upon the work of Wayne Koestenbaum & have been introduced to the work of Maggie Nelson. Their numbered sections somehow have given me an opening, something to mimic. I ask, though, how is my adoration for these writers & their literary forms a symptom of racialized self-inferiority, a symptom of how white my bibliographies have always been. I read my first numbered-section story over a decade ago: Jose Garcia Villa’s “Untitled Story.” Perhaps I need to spend time inside of that story, that genealogy of story/English.   

XVI.

During an MFA workshop, a wonderfully talented white fiction writer professor characterized my stories as ‘herky-jerky.’ My ideas kept jumping & there wasn’t a flow from scene to scene. Today, here, recently, I use the numbered section to show the seams of my thinking. One day, I imagine I’ll have the courage to write my ‘herky-jerky’ paragraphs, sentence to sentence, breath to breath, in all of their paratactical impracticality. Today is not that day.   

XVII.

I recently taught an exercise to a summer seminar I led on the cultural politics of hip hop. I asked students to (dis-)articulate (i.e. to think about the connections & disconnections) between hip hop & some other theoretical domain, like space, race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, etc. I would like to leave you with an invitation to dialogue, an opportunity to consider your own practices:

How would you fill the space between these two concepts/ideas/things?

FORM                                                                                                                                                                      CONTENT

I’ll go first:

FORM                          epistemology: epistemic violence,  freedom, unfreedom                                                      CONTENT

& you:


NOTES:

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), 32.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Framer Framed: Film Scripts and Interviews (New York: Routledge, 1992), 165. 


ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER:

Jason Magabo Perez is a writer and performance artist. His writings have appeared in TAYOWitness, and Mission at Tenth. Perez has been commissioned by Kularts and funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant, and he has performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Asian American Theater Festival, and the International Conference of the Philippines. Currently, he lives in San Diego. www.jasonmagaboperez.com

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"Becoming a Writer: The Silences We Write Against" by Monica Macansantos

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"Becoming a Writer: The Silences We Write Against" by Monica Macansantos

Fragmented World (1991): Eliseo Art Silva


Becoming a WriteR:

The Silences We Write Against

Monica Macansantos


DISCLAIMER: Please note that any views or opinions presented in this nonfiction piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of TAYO Literary Magazine.

 

 

1.

There were many things that my father was when I was growing up in America, but I had to be told, before I was aware of it, that he was also a writer. A child only knows the obvious: that her father cooks all her meals, walks her to the bus stop on a school day, takes her to the library when she wants to check out a new book, reads her to sleep, watches Sesame Street with her, and works at a high school cafeteria. While I lay on my stomach in our apartment’s living room, watching TV, I sometimes noticed that he sat at the kitchen table, scribbling sentences in battered spiral notebooks. But I knew too little to assign meaning to this. Like much of my father’s life, the hours he spent with his notebooks went unexplained.

He undid the ribbon that held the first one, and said, ‘Back in our home country, I was recognized as a writer. Here is the highest award a writer can win in the Philippines.’

I may have said something about my father, a simplistic generalization of the roles he played in my life, because one day he took me to my parents’ bedroom and pulled out a briefcase from his desk drawer. I remember staring at the handle as he opened the briefcase, for it had been gnawed at, exposing the sticky rubber underneath its plastic coating. (We purchased almost everything we owned from yard sales, and this was probably one of my father’s new acquisitions.) Inside the briefcase were two rolled certificates. He undid the ribbon that held the first one, and said, “Back in our home country, I was recognized as a writer. Here is the highest award a writer can win in the Philippines.” It was a Palanca Award he had won for a collection of poetry in English in 1989, two years after I was born and a year before we left for America. He unrolled another certificate, on which his name was printed; it was another Palanca Award, a second prize for a collection of poems. “It’s been a struggle for me to make a name for myself here, but I just wanted you to know that I was able to do that back home,” he said, allowing me to spread the certificates on my lap. As I handed them back to him, I asked myself why we had to come to America, why my father had to leave behind all those people who knew who he really was, who gave him prizes for all those hours spent laboring quietly over words.

 

2.

I had vague memories of the Philippines, having been brought to America at the age of three. But my parents constantly reminded me, as I grew up, that the Philippines was our home, and that we’d someday return. You had playmates there, my father said, and if you meet them again they’ll speak to you in Tagalog, a language you were beginning to learn before we moved away. In the Philippines, we have a female President, a kind and brave woman who helped us win back our freedoms from an evil man named Marcos. It’s a better place now, unlike before, and we’ll be back, soon as your mother finishes what she has to do. The more my father spoke about the Philippines, the more it represented the promised land, a place where I could escape from the cruelties of grownups in America. In the Philippines, I wouldn’t be placed in detention by my teachers without a proper explanation, and I wouldn’t be a primary suspect when a desk was vandalized or a ruler was snapped in two. I saw myself playing the lead part in a school play in the Philippines, not just a supporting role like a villain’s minion or a tree. If the Philippines were a place where my father won prizes for his poems, surely it was also a place where I wouldn’t be treated as if I didn’t belong.

Our time to return finally arrived when my mother defended her dissertation and earned her PhD in Mathematics from the University of Delaware. My optimism nearly matched my father’s sense of relief as we sold our belongings, packed the possessions we wouldn’t part with in balikbayan boxes to send home, and bade farewell to my parents’ friends, many of whom were Filipino. At farewell parties, I’d hear them ask my parents, in worried tones, if they thought I’d be able to adjust once we returned. Did one ever have to adjust to one’s home, I asked myself. But my father was insistent. This isn’t our home. We don’t belong here.

 

3.

We landed in Manila in November 1995, three days before Super Typhoon Rosing made landfall in Manila Bay and nearly blew away the bay window in my aunt’s living room.  The air was as thick as water when we landed, and my head swam in the heat we walked down the tarmac. The ground I walked on, as I held onto my mother’s hand, didn’t feel solid enough; we had flown over the waters of the Pacific for what felt like eternity, and even if I was now walking on solid ground, it didn’t quite seem like we had landed. The inside of the airport was dingy and run-down, and brown men with dark hair like mine barked orders at each other in a harsh, alien tongue as they hauled luggage onto wooden platforms for us to claim. My aunt and cousin met us outside the airport, and everything seemed damp: the hot, thick air, my cousin’s sweat-stained T-shirt, the palm trees that dotted the center islands of streets gleaming with wetness. A man with a soothing American drawl spoke on the radio when we arrived at my aunt’s apartment in Malate, and I learned from my aunt that the voice on the radio belonged to my uncle. As another cousin of mine handed me a Hershey’s candy bar, my uncle announced on-air that his wife’s sister and husband, as well as their daughter Monica, had just landed in the country. He then put on the song, “Welcome Back”. When my uncle later returned from his shift at the radio station, I couldn’t believe that this small, brown, gray-haired man was the same person who spoke in a perfect American accent on the airwaves. But when he opened his mouth, the familiar sounds of America tumbled forth from his lips, reassuring me that America wasn’t too far away, and that this wasn’t such a dangerous, unfamiliar place. I immediately warmed up to him because he spoke like me and told jokes that I could understand. I learned later on that he had received elocution lessons from the Maryknoll nuns who taught at the exclusive Catholic school he attended as a boy in Baguio. The more I think about him these days, the more I see him as a person who reminded me of America, the land where I spent my formative years, and whose company allowed me somehow to acknowledge the uneasiness I felt in the land my parents called home.

My parents did not warn me about the poverty I’d see on the streets of Manila when we departed, four days later, for the city of Baguio. Instead of apologizing for the frantic crowds fighting for space in rickety jeeps and buses, my father chose to point out the rice paddies that surrounded us as soon as we escaped the capital in a van our aunt rented for us. I was told that our hometown was in the mountains, and as we drove up the two-lane highway that snaked its way through the Cordillera mountain range, the air in our van grew thinner, and a comfortable chill set in. Pine trees with scraggly branches replaced the squat leafy trees of the lowlands. In the days that followed our arrival, I accompanied my parents as they revisited to their familiar haunts. We weren’t on the move anymore, and they couldn’t afford to reject what they saw. Like them, I had to take the Philippines for what it was. If someone blocked the sidewalk with their potted plants or sari-sari store, we had to walk on the narrow street and risk being sideswiped by a car; there was nothing we could do, for this was our country.

 

4.

Things only got worse when I started going to school. It was hard enough that my classmates bullied me in a language I couldn’t understand. Nothing was explained to us; lessons were meant to be memorized, not understood. Our teachers tested us for our ability to remember certain terms they chose from chapters in textbooks, and didn’t seem to care whether we understood the chapter or not. I struggled academically and my grades plummeted. My grades only began to rise again in fourth grade when I taught myself to learn by rote. It didn’t matter whether I understood Charlotte’s Web or not, and it was better if I didn’t waste my time trying to dwell on what the book was saying to me. As long as I remembered exactly what the gander told Wilbur the pig when Wilbur tried to spin a web with a piece of string, I’d pass the course. My teacher wasn’t interested in what I thought about the scene, and she never asked.

Although I did make it back into the honor roll, I remained unhappy in school. My teachers considered me smart, but only because I muted my thoughts and repeated everything they said. I retreated to literature because books encouraged me to think, to respond to scenes described to me on the page with my own emotions, my own thoughts, my own passions. Books asked me questions, solicited my opinions, and surrounded me with sensory details that encouraged me to touch, to feel, to explore. I felt invisible in school, but when I retreated into the pages of a book, I could reclaim my selfhood.

I started writing poetry the summer after third grade, a few months after we resettled in the Philippines. That summer, writers from Manila traveled to Baguio in groups to conduct their yearly Writers’ Workshops for emerging writers. It was a yearly tradition among writers from Manila, many of whom taught at major universities, to flee the humid, mind-numbing heat of the lowlands, hiding away in the resort town of Baguio for a week or two to talk about craft with young, aspiring writers. Many of these writers were my father’s friends, and he often took me with him when visiting them at hotels overlooking pine tree reserves envisioned by the American colonial government nearly a century before. What initially struck me, when I met these writers, was the freedom of their movements: the women dressed differently, the men made inappropriate jokes about literary titles, and they never seemed to withhold their own opinions about books, writing, and life. When my father met a good friend from long ago, there would be an easy, forgiving comradeship in their banter. This was the freedom I craved, especially when I returned to school after the summer break and grudgingly succumbed to its rules from which I had briefly escaped.

My father showed a poem I wrote about a cat to the poet and novelist Krip Yuson, who at that time was editor of the literary section of The Evening Paper, and he soon published the poem in a special section featuring child poets. My father showed a copy of my published poem to all his friends, and although his enthusiasm embarrassed me a little, it also helped restore my self-esteem. I had the capacity to leave my own imprint on the page, and even if my teachers would never know about my published poem, it was out there, which meant, somehow, that my voice mattered.

 

5.

Every summer, my father and I would make the annual pilgrimage to the Visayan college town of Dumaguete, where he was invited by his former mentor, Edith L. Tiempo, one of the first Filipino graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop, to panel at the Silliman University Writers Workshop. After these trips, my father complained to my mother about the fellows of these workshops, usually students from Manila universities who had professors in the panel, who listened with rapt attention to everything their Manila professors would say in workshop sessions while ignoring the advice of panelists from the regions. He complained about how some fellows chattered away in the session hall while he was talking, and how these fellows would treat panelists from Manila with utmost respect, agreeing with everything they said, laughing at all their jokes. I saw how these writers from the regions worked painstakingly on these students’ manuscripts, some of them even locking themselves up in their hotel rooms to go over a story or poem more than once, while their colleagues from Manila went out at night to grab drinks with their students. Perhaps the opinions of these panelists from the regions would’ve carried more currency in the workshop hall if they spent more time schmoozing with their students and gaining their favor. It could also be that Manila writers didn’t have to work as hard to gain their students’ respect. After all, they were the editors of major anthologies, and some of them had columns in major broadsheets where they could mention the name of a students whose work had impressed them. My father, and many other writers from the regions, could only offer advice, and I was to learn later on, as I embarked on my own literary career, that writing advice can only do so much for you in the Philippine literary scene.

 

6.

I’ve heard many say that one hasn’t made it as a writer in the Philippines until one has won a Palanca Award. It’s easy to put one’s faith in the Carlos Palanca Awards since entries are judged blind, but as I struggled to build my own reputation as a writer in the Philippines, I learned that I’d have an edge over other contestants if I was lucky enough to have a former mentor sitting on the panel of judges whom I hadn’t antagonized, and who liked my work. When my father was invited to sit on the panel of judges for the poetry in English category, one of his fellow judges was able to identify the entry of a former student because he had read the poems in one of his workshops, and became the entry’s strongest advocate when he found that one of the poems in the collection was dedicated to him. Years after this took place, a friend of mine, who was a poet in Filipino, was told by one of the judges after he lost the Palanca, “You should’ve told me that you entered so that I could’ve made sure that you won a prize.”

My father also admitted to me that when he joined the Palanca competition in the 1980s, there those who sat on the panel of judges who believed in his work, and were perhaps instrumental in helping him win some of his awards. These writers weren’t necessarily his mentors, but had seen his work in magazines and believed that his career was worth championing. One of them was a leading literary critic who taught at the University of the Philippines, and edited anthologies that were often referenced by academics across the country. As a writer from Zamboanga in the southern island in Mindanao, my father needed all the help he could get from editors in Manila. So when my father had a falling out with this leading critic and anthologist who had previously championed his work, things began to happen that were beyond my father’s control.  

Strange things started to happen to him: the managing editor of a leading commercial literary press in the Philippines stopped speaking to him for unexplained reasons, which puzzled him because she approached him at a conference just a few months before and told him how much she admired his work. Many of his friends who held positions in publishing houses were giving him the cold shoulder. His name, which used to appear in anthologies, disappeared, and his work wasn’t included at all in textbooks on Philippine Literature released by the University of the Philippines Press. He was slowly and silently being edged out of the writing community, and because the community maintained a code of silence, he didn’t know how to fight back.

 

7.

I somehow knew that it would be difficult for me begin a writing career without having contacts in Manila. Perhaps I felt a nagging sense of inferiority, an awareness that all the good schools were in Manila, that everything was happening in Manila while us hillbillies were being left behind. Throughout my time in Baguio, I had gone to terrible schools where learning by rote was the rule, and as I grew tired of memorizing instead of learning, my grades bombed. I withdrew to myself, waiting for high school to end so that I could leave my hometown and go to college at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, where I heard that professors cared about your ideas, rather than your ability to remember every term mentioned in a textbook. Because my grades in other subjects were terrible, I felt that writing was the only field in which I could actually prove myself. It was a skill I could develop outside the regimentation of school, and it was my key to freedom. Books allowed me to contemplate uncomfortable truths that weren’t dished out to us in our Values Education classes and weren’t easily reduced to simple, easily digestible terms. There was freedom in thinking, in guessing, in getting things wrong, in disagreeing.

The University of the Philippines is a large public university, and when my freshman year barkada dispersed after we moved to different dormitories for our second year, I soon felt lost amidst the sea of faces flowing in and out of campus on a daily basis. I remembered how at home I felt with writers when my father took me to writers’ workshops and conferences as a little girl. There were two student organizations for writers in English at UP: UP Quill, and the UP Writers Club. I was looking for friends who were writers, friends who knew exactly how hard it was to be a writer and sympathized instead of judged.

 

8.

“Do you smoke? Do you drink?” were the first questions I was asked when I approached the bench where UP Quill officially gathered on campus. The girl who asked me these questions had dyed blonde hair and tapped away the ashes of her cigarette as she spoke. She then asked me what my name was, and gave me a bored, nonchalant look when I said my name. She was an official member of UP Quill, and if I wanted to gain entry into the club, I wasn’t allowed to complain about her behavior, or the behavior of other members. As an applicant, I had to tolerate their private jokes, act cool when I asked a question and was ignored, pretend it was fine when I said hello to the group and didn’t get a response, and grin and bear it when they gave me a nickname I didn’t like. I found out from a fellow neophyte who completed the application process that for their final rite, they were blindfolded, driven to Los Baños, and piled with alcohol until they passed out. She laughed as she told me about it and said, “We make newbies do it too.”

The esteemed UP Writers Club, which had been founded a quarter of a century before and had eight National Artists for Literature among its alumni, reopened for applications in my sophomore year. An administrator of the UP Likhaan Institute for Creative Writing told me that anyone who’d been published in a major magazine was considered a full-fledged member. Since some of my poems had been published in The Sunday Inquirer Magazine, I told the president of the UP Writers Club about my publications so that I could gain membership without going through initiation rites. After allowing me to sit as a member for two weeks, he informed me that I couldn’t be considered a full-fledged member unless I went through the regular process of applying for membership, which included a final three-day rite in the province of Batangas. “It isn’t fair if you don’t go through what we went through,” he told me.

Connections are made in these clubs, important alliances are forged, and young writers gain exposure in the literary folios they produce such as The Literary Apprentice. Alumni of these organizations become professors, editors, critics, and cultural workers who possess enough power to make or break one’s career. Perhaps it’s for this reason that members of these clubs imposed demeaning requirements on those who sought membership in their elite circles. They knew they were powerful, and they knew they could enact their childish fantasies and get away with it. Because I was unwilling to go through initiation rites that had nothing to do with writing, I was shut out of the writing community at the University of the Philippines.

 

9.

But I was writing well, and this enabled me to win fellowships at several summer Writers Workshops. I had a few amazing mentors, like Edith Tiempo, Krip Yuson, Marjorie Evasco, and Cesar Aquino of the Silliman Writers Workshop who were thorough readers and dedicated teachers. These were mentors who sought to understand what a writer was trying to do in his or her manuscript, and tried to find solutions to problems. There were those, on the other hand, who had a set idea of what good writing was, and approached a manuscript with their deep-seated prejudices, unwilling to exert the effort to appreciate different aesthetics and approaches to craft. Most of the panelists I encountered at workshops fell under this category, giving out prescriptive advice, or else favoring a work that was poorly written just because it contained Communist Party slogans. One panelist would read a my poem aloud in workshop, and then read his altered version of my poem to the cheers and praises of panelists and fellows alike. Not surprisingly, these were the panelists who, because of the confidence they exuded whenever they proclaimed their beliefs on craft and vehemently condemned what they perceived as failings in a fellow’s manuscript, inspired the most respect. And then there were those in the panel who had students among the fellows, or who had friends who had students among the fellows, and dominated the conversation whenever their student’s manuscripts were being discussed. You’d see the panelist’s name on the covers of anthologies in the months afterward, and the names of his mentees in the table of contents.

Despite becoming more extroverted in college, I remained an introvert, and it was often difficult for me to speak the lingo of my peers at workshops, to understand their private jokes, to penetrate the alliances that were forming. I didn’t smoke, I was a light drinker, I hadn’t gone to private school in Manila and often didn’t know the people or places they spoke about, and I had difficulty keeping up with the fellows’ late night drinking sessions in which many of the panelists took part. At the Silliman Writers Workshop, I made the mistake of criticizing the work of an older fellow, an ex-model who was the editor of a glossy magazine that’s famous for its sex tips. (I was seventeen years old, and didn’t know any better.) Soon afterwards the entire cohort had aligned itself against me, refusing to invite me to their parties, pretending I wasn’t in the room when I was around, shooting down my comments in workshop, saying that a poem I submitted for workshop “wasn’t a poem.” Shut out from the after-hours sessions of the workshop, it became a struggle for me to navigate the workshop itself. I wondered whether the panelists who hung out with the fellows on a regular basis knew what was going on, and why they weren’t doing anything to defend me. A few years later, a panelist confessed to me that he knew what happened, and that “he had taken their side” because I didn’t know how to deal with writers.

But no amount of bullying from fellow writers could ever prepare me for what I was about to experience at the MSU-IIT National Writers Workshop in Iligan City, in the southern island of Mindanao. I had started writing fiction in my junior year, and the piece I turned in for my workshop in Iligan was my third short story. The panelist who was assigned to lead the discussion of my work, a respected academic from the University of the Philippines, was probably the only panelist at the workshop who was based in Manila—it was a workshop that prided itself in championing writing from the regions, and most of its panelists that year were academics from the Visayas and Mindanao (she herself was originally from the Visayas). She prefaced her discussion of my work by telling the entire group that “the writer of this short story will walk away from this workshop weeping,” and that “five years from now, the writer will read her story again and cringe.” Then she began tearing up the entire piece, reading aloud a paragraph before saying that “elegant writing is out of fashion,” declaring that my language was too florid, and that people had stopped writing like Gregorio Brillantes in the 1980s. She then criticized the subject of the story for being “too Filipino-American,” arguing that hyphenated literature was weak in content because it told the same story repeatedly. She spent the rest of the workshop session pointing out every single detail of the piece that was wrong for her, from a line that was “quotable” but “had no meaning” to the section breaks between scenes, which she insisted were “a sign of laziness.” Some panelists who had initially pointed out the strengths of the piece started agreeing with her, while other panelists fell silent as she continued her rant. One of the fellows, who later became a close friend, remembers a hush falling upon the session hall when the panelist got up, walked up to the wooden stage, and waved her arms around and swayed her hips in a strange, awkward dance. I don’t remember this happening, perhaps because I was too overwhelmed by her criticisms to notice what was going on. What I do remember was that she came up to me afterwards, embraced me, and then said, “You have no sense of literary language whatsoever. Face it, you’re sophomoric.”

As the week progressed and more manuscripts were discussed, I wondered why the other panelists weren’t stepping in to censure her for her behavior. She’d bring up my work in the middle of another fellow’s workshop to point out the shortcomings of my work, or else she’d compare the work of another fellow to my work to shed light on my story’s failings. This went on throughout the entire week of the workshop. She also tore apart another fellow’s work, and after the fellow broke down in tears, she told the panelist that she wanted to enroll in one of her classes at U.P. because she had a lot to learn from her. The panelist embraced her, and spoke no further about the fellow’s work in any of the sessions that followed.

 

10.

I returned to U.P. for my senior year a few weeks after the workshop, wanting to put my memories of the summer behind me as I immersed myself in my studies. I had planned to write a collection of poems for my undergraduate thesis, but after my experience at the MSU-IIT Writers Workshop, I knew that if I stopped writing fiction for even just a few months, I would never write fiction again. And so I decided to write a collection of short stories for my thesis, switching over to fiction as my genre of concentration. For my critical introduction, I had to name my influences as a fiction writer, and I struggled with this requirement because I hadn’t been reading fiction with the intent of finding models for my work. But then I loved reading novels even before I started writing stories, and I could sense that what I enjoyed reading influenced the way I wrote stories in subtle ways. Kawabata, James, Brillantes, Joaquin, Akutagawa, Tanizaki: they had been teaching me how to write when I was least aware of it. By drawing connections between works of fiction that appealed to me, and what I wanted my work to be, I was claiming an identity that was rightly mine, and which one woman sought to take away from me. Embracing the identity of a fiction writer gave me power, which perhaps explained why this woman sought to undermine my newfound identity at a national writers’ workshop. As others told me later on, she perceived me as a threat.

 

11.

As I was writing my thesis, I grew disillusioned with my coursework, and with the education I was receiving at U.P. We were trained to depend heavily on literary theory when analyzing literary texts, and I oftentimes felt constricted by the theoretical frameworks I was forced to adopt. Writing literary criticism, in my theory and literature classes, meant finding a theoretical framework, which was either a school of theory or the ideas of a particular theorist, to use in our reading of a literary text. You were basically asking Foucault or Derrida to do your homework for you, and you weren’t supposed to assist them in their work by sharing your ideas with them, because there was no such thing as an original idea, according to my professors: everything was borrowed, they said, even our very thoughts. It was better to be honest about our thoughts, to admit that they originated from somewhere else, and it would be an act of plagiarism to even attempt to think on your own, because that was simply impossible. I was beginning to feel as if I hadn’t really gone too far from the schools in Baguio from which I fled. Our learning methods essentially mirrored the methods of my teachers in my hometown, except that what we were committing to memory weren’t mere terms, but entire chunks of ideas.

Writing is liberating precisely because it is an act of will.

What surprised me was that many writers in the Philippines were quick to embrace these theories that negated the Self and challenged the notion of authorship, claiming that authorship and selfhood were cultural constructs that limited their creative powers. It must be freeing to think beyond the notion of Self, to surrender one’s authorship of a work of art and expect others to do the same, but one worries if the freedom one earns from this is merely a liberation from the responsibilities of authorship, the duty one has to take ownership of what one has written and to stand by its vision. But there is also the freedom that comes with authorship, the liberation one earns when one takes ownership of one’s words. It allows the author to assert her identity in the world through her work, to take a stand against those who seek to reduce her to a compliant follower. Writing is liberating precisely because it is an act of will.

 

12.

The belief that “there is no such thing as an original idea” is widely accepted in academic circles in the Philippines, and I’ve heard it repeated by many of my colleagues at the Los Baños campus of the University of the Philippines, where I taught for a few years after graduating college. It’s a convenient idea to spread around if you’re an academic wanting to dominate one’s students, or an established writer wishing to have a young writer’s absolute loyalty. Once young people have their own ideas, they can assert their own identities. Although this results in innovation and growth, it can also be a dangerous thing. The bar is raised when artists and scholars are allowed to flourish on their own terms, and many do not want this kind of change.

Perhaps it was this desire to dictate the terms of my career that pushed me to apply to MFA programs in the United States. I never really had a patron who championed my work and made sure that my name was mentioned in newspaper columns or was listed in anthologies that featured “the best young writers in the Philippines”. I was tired of putting in the work to enter the good graces of potential patrons—for me, it was all about the writing, and I wanted to focus my energies on that.

I applied to six MFA programs, including one top-tier program, the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Getting into the Michener Center was a long shot because they only offered twelve spots per year, and the year before I applied, they received more than 800 applications for these twelve spots (the year I applied, that number rose to more than 1,100). I remember being rejected by the other five schools I applied to, and giving up on my bid to get into an MFA program in the States when I still hadn’t heard from the Michener Center. I stopped checking my email for three days because I couldn’t bear to receive any more bad news. I planned to quit my teaching job at UP Los Baños, move in with my parents at their home in Baguio for a year, and work my ass off improving my work so that I’d have a stronger application to send to MFA programs the following year.  I was on the bus to Baguio for the Easter break, and was nodding off when I felt my phone vibrating. I took out my phone from my purse; my mother was on the other end. “Someone from the Michener Center called me and asked if I could get in touch with you,” she said. “They’ve been trying to contact you for the past three days but you haven’t been answering their emails. They said they want you in Texas. You got in.”

True enough, when I arrived at my parents’ house at twelve midnight, a note from Elizabeth McCracken was waiting in my inbox. “I know the Michener Center has been trying to get hold of you—and just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people who would love to have you join us in the fall!” her message read. To have a writer whom I had never met tell me that I deserved a place in one the most prestigious MFA programs in the United States, and all for a manuscript that an established writer in the Philippines insisted was evidence that I “had no sense of literary language whatsoever,” and that I was “sophomoric,” was like being told that humans could fly.

I struggled to believe that I was talented enough to be called a James A. Michener Fellow and be allowed to sit at a workshop table, among other Michener Fellows, when I moved to America for graduate school. During Cristina Garcia’s introductory workshop for first year fellows, I couldn’t get a word in during discussions—I had been away from America for such a long time, and I hadn’t grown up to be like these Americans, who were so articulate, so confident about what they were saying, and so well-read. I had been told for years that my thoughts weren’t valid unless they came from a book or were passed down to me from a professor. Even if I didn’t believe this, I was nonetheless paralyzed with self-doubt whenever I opened my mouth to speak.

But my work was received well by my classmates, and that helped me regain my confidence. Writers in the Philippines often told me that we’d never gain acceptance from writers in America because they would never understand where we were coming from unless we exoticized ourselves. At the Michener Center, I learned that this wasn’t true at all. The more culturally grounded my stories were, the more positively they were received. While in America, I was never forced to change my style and subject matter or conform to an aesthetic that wasn’t of my choosing. I was, and still am, a straight-up realist who believes that the quietest of encounters can often be the most earthshaking and revelatory, especially since I have learned in life (and often through my dealings with the Philippine writing community) that silence is a weapon of choice among many. Our workshop leaders, like Elizabeth McCracken, tried to understand what we sought to accomplish in our work, and worked with us so that we could discover, on our own terms, the best ways to surmount obstacles. It was our work, after all, our statement to the world.

This isn’t to say that I never had any difficulty gaining acceptance from my mentors and peers while I was at the Michener Center. When I started writing stories about the immigrant experience, many of my classmates and some of my teachers complained that these stories had no conflict, or that they didn’t see anything wrong in a situation I presented even if they felt that “they were supposed to feel wrong.”At times, I had to depend on my fellow writers of color to recognize and point out the feeling of alienation that pervaded a scene, or the subtle acts of oppression. I guess this only shows that we have a long way to go in giving full visibility to the struggles of our people.

 

13.

Many have said that our writing community is small because the Philippines is a small country to begin with. But our population is nearly twice the population of the United Kingdom and about a third of the population of the United States, which only shows that we aren’t a small country at all. I’m beginning to suspect that our own exclusionary tactics are to blame for making our writing community as small and incestuous as it is. I’m sure that there have been many talented writers who were discouraged from pursuing careers in writing because of the blatant injustices they saw in the writing community—not everyone is born with a stubborn personality, like me. I’ve noticed that there aren’t that many writers from working class backgrounds telling their stories, which makes me suspect that working class writers are easily turned off by the elitism of our writing circles. Perhaps we have made our own community an unwelcome place for many, which could explain why our work doesn’t speak to our own people.

The Philippine writing community isn’t anyone’s property, and I belong to it, as do many other writers whose names we have already forgotten. For almost two decades we were made to believe that the Marcoses owned the Philippines, and if I remember right, we rose up and reclaimed our freedoms, and sent a powerful family fleeing.

I haven’t been able to win a major prize in the Philippines or place a story in a Filipino anthology lately. I’m often tempted to forget about the Philippines because I’ve had more success (though this too has been moderate) as a writer elsewhere. But I also feel that if I gave up on my country, I’d be allowing those who bully many of us into silence to win. The Philippine writing community isn’t anyone’s property, and I belong to it, as do many other writers whose names we have already forgotten. For almost two decades we were made to believe that the Marcoses owned the Philippines, and if I remember right, we rose up and reclaimed our freedoms, and sent a powerful family fleeing. My father insisted on returning to that country, despite having experienced the American Dream, because he was optimistic that things back home were going to change for the better because the dictator was gone, and we were now free to write our lives. When we returned, Filipinos had long gotten rid of the dictatorship, but not its ghost. That doesn’t mean that we can’t fight it, especially if it’s just a ghost, a product of our own fears. I believe that a revolution can take place in the Philippine literary scene if we stopped accepting the terms of a few who have been allowed to dictate the trajectories of our careers merely because they’re good politicians. We are writers, not slaves.

When I returned to the Philippines after earning my MFA, my father recounted a conversation he had with one of my former professors who is considered a leading figure of Philippine Fiction in English. I never thought I could write stories until I took his fiction workshop in college, and in his class I fell in love with the art of storytelling. My father told him that I was working on a novel about the dictatorship. His reply was, “She should be writing about her generation’s concerns instead.”

I write to understand, to discover what I do not yet know, because writing would be a meaningless activity if I were only required to write about what I know. Because why do we write? In my case, I have chosen to write about the past because I want to uncover the reasons why my countrymen behave the way they do, why they accept oppression as a fact of life, and why they often exclude those who choose to reject the terms of an elite few. Or is my former professor afraid of what I may say in my novel? My suspicion is that he is.  


GUEST WRITER:

Monica Macansantos holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow for Fiction. She graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines in 2007. Her work has appeared in The Masters Review, The Fictioneer, Five Quarterly, Your Impossible Voice, TAYO, Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs, and The Philippines Free Press, among others. Her work has been recognized with residencies at Hedgebrook in Washington State and The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska. She is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, New Zealand, where she is working on her first novel. She tweets @missmacansantos.


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"Headback Home" | Interview with Ian Penn: Filipino Folk Musician

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"Headback Home" | Interview with Ian Penn: Filipino Folk Musician

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!

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"Tita, I'm Home: On Hilda Koronel" | Melissa R. Sipin

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"Tita, I'm Home: On Hilda Koronel" | Melissa R. Sipin

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.

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"Beyond Editing" | Associate Editor Janice Sapigao | TAYO Issue Five

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"Beyond Editing" | Associate Editor Janice Sapigao | TAYO Issue Five

A couple of weeks ago, my editor girls Melissa SipinBel 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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"On Feed Sonnets," Poetry & Interview by R.A. Villanueva

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"On Feed Sonnets," Poetry & Interview by R.A. Villanueva

UNTITLED (VHS): Paolo Villanueva


On Feed Sonnets

Poetry & Interview with Award-Winning Poet

R.A. Villanueva



R.A.Villanueva is the author of Reliquariawinner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He is also the winner of the inaugural Ninth Letter Literary Award for poetry.

Reliquaria is available now from University of Nebraska Press, independent bookstores such as McNally JacksonWORD, and Skylight BooksPowell's Books, and Amazon. In the United Kingdom and Europe, Reliquaria can be ordered via Combined Academic Publishers and Waterstones; in London, Reliquaria can be found at The Saison Poetry Library and the London Review Bookshop.

His writing has appeared in AGNI, Gulf Coast, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Bellevue Literary Review, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. A founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art, his honors include fellowships from Kundiman and The Asian American Literary Review and scholarships from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. 

Melissa R. Sipin, TAYO's editor-in-chief, first met Villanueva at the 2014 AWP Conference in Seattle. The two caught up via email after their initial meetingbefore Villanueva's big move to London. Villanueva, whose preferential social media is Twitter, introduced to Sipin what he calls, "feed sonnets." TAYO presents one of his feed sonnets, "Lake View," which was written in response to Bruce Lee's "lost interview." We hope you enjoy Villanueva's evocative and visceral poem, and join in the conversation on form and inspiration in our comments section below.



Lake View
(Full Text)


We save our best views for ghosts, line
the Palisades with candles and
memorial trinkets, crows stuffed
with sawdust and beads. Here is stone.
Here’s a fist’s worth of peonies
laid upon marble. Here is smoothed
granite, milk, passport candids,
rainwater to hold in a glass
etched with psalms. From the overlook
you catch fog giving way to Mt.
Baker, the Cascades like knuckles
into the mouth of the after-
noon. What you hear is the sound of
your lungs filling with wind, with prayer.


Why Twitter?

In Transformers, there’s a kind of team/supergroup robot that has the ability to join together to become a more powerful single-bodied, single-consciousness machine. This species of robot is often referred to as a Combiner, or—for those with a more philosophical bent—a Gestalt.

A roll call, for reference: individual Constructicons combine into Devastator, the Aerialbots become Superion, the Predacons merge to make Predaking, etc.

Voltron—with his individual lions interlocking to form one giant, Blazing Sword-wielding Defender of the Universe—is, of course, another example:



The fundamentals of Twitter’s design make it so that longer kinds of poems can’t fit without bending, inventing; monostich and the epigrammatic and haiku can work, but to try to carry the syllabic values of a whole sonnet into one post on Twitter is a no go. And so if you’re fixated on the sonnet (as I have been), you are compelled to play with a work-around, or a Gestalt approach: seven couplets coming together as a linked feed.

For me, part of Twitter’s unique appeal rests in the surprising flexibility of its margins. I’d like to think that “Lake View” and its sonnet-inspired siblings are a way of riffing off that elasticity.

(While on the subject of Twitter, here are others worth following: Emilia Phillips @gracefulemilia, Dana Tommasino @figmentspot, and Rabih Alameddine @rabihalameddine each curate their own streams of images, art, ephemera; Rigoberto González @mariposaboy and Anthony Brown @timesflow are prolific readers who often highlight excerpts from their ever-growing libraries, offering sharp reflections on new books.  

And absolutely follow Teju Cole, who is, at the moment, on a self-imposed “Twitter break,” but who already has started all manner of interwoven strains of Twitter experiments to explore: a 4,000+ word essay, a “remixed” a running catalog of “all the kills in the Holy Bible,” and ghazals ingeniously derived from strangers’ timelines, to start.)

What is the poet's relationship to form?

One approach to your question is to hear “form” as synonymous with “inherited conventions” or the rigors of a received, long-established tradition (i.e., “sestinas do this” or “sonnets are supposed to look like this” or “villanelles usually move this way” or “ renga are born from this historical context and so you make this move here, that turn there,” and so on).

Taken that way, I think writers understand—consciously or unconsciously—that one’s relationship with “form” is a negotiation with rules, a staking a place between the polarized imperatives of “bow down” and “break free.” At best, those impulses clash and empower each other. (See poems like Patricia Smith’s “Motown Crown” in Rattle, Robert Hayden’s “Frederick Douglass,” and Gerard Manley Hopkins ‘ “God’s Grandeur” for enactments of these tensions.)

There’s a wider discussion of your question in Tupelo Quarterly, in T.J. Jarrett’s “Women in Form” series. It’s a fascinating array of conversations.

In particular, I’d urge everyone to read Nicole Sealey’s two sonnets “Legendary (1)” and “Legendary (2)” and her back-and-forth with Jarrett, where she mentions this thought from Patrick Rosal: “poetry is both tribute and treason.”

You know, now that I think about it, we might need to acknowledge that yours is a big question. It’s tempting to pull back and counter-pose this question in return: what isn’t “form?” After all, syntax and grammar are themselves larger forms driven by traditions, consensus.

Isn’t trying to say what you want to mean—poet or not—reliant on finding the right container for the breath, the fitting shape or body for the thought? What to do with that relationship?

In an interview with The Paris Review, Tarfia Faizullah reflects on how making art helps route us toward an invention of self and a remaking of the world’s forms. Here’s her last exchange with Sean Carman:
 


A poem might find its form in the way a person seeks to find out who she is, how she can be seen.

Right. I once heard the poet Li-Young Lee say, “Syntax is identity.” That’s something I’ve always believed, that everybody has a distinct vocabulary based on experience, upbringing, and geography. For me, form is a way of imprinting yourself. I think of it the way I think of the cave paintings of Lascaux, where there is this sense that somebody wanted to affix something permanent of themselves in a world, or a life, that is impermanent.
 


There’s something beautiful in that line I’ve italicized. It’s an affirmation of how writing can be seen as an act of perpetual form-making and innovation.

How did Twitter's restriction (140 characters) inform or inflect the lines in "Lake View"?

First: Edna St. Vincent Millay has a number of sonnets in tetrameter (I’ve written about three of my favorites here at This Recording) and I’ve always been mesmerized by the relationship of her metrical choices to the sonic effects of her poems and their meaning.

So: when I was thinking about Twitter’s 140 character limit, I had this gut feeling that the ten syllable line wouldn’t display right—or at least the way I wanted—across multiple platforms (mobile/web/desktop) and across the various clients people use. So I pulled back to eight syllables. Which ultimately means that the architecture of “Lake View” is as much under the influence of Millay’s urgency and pulse as it is born of the Twitter’s visuals and how it renders itself on our screens.

And lastly, while we’re in the space of having others speak for us, here’s Wendell Berry from his 1982 essay “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms:”


“It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


If being redirected and forced to adapt because of limits is “the real work,” then it’s been “real work” I’ve been hoping to do.

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Guest Interview: Art Series by Eliseo Art Silva

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Guest Interview: Art Series by Eliseo Art Silva

Save the Planet: Eliseo Art Silva


ART SERIES

A collection from 1980s–1990s

Eliseo Art Silva


I had the pleasure to interview Eliseo Art Silva in 2009, back when I cofounded TAYO Literary Magazine. Eliseo is one of my most favorite visual artists who has influenced my writing since I was a very young girl. I grew up in Carson, California, a L.A. suburb highly populated with Filipino Americans, and passed by his mural, ‘Roots and Wings (1996),’ every morning on my walk to school and church. Eliseo and I built a strong professional friendship over the past five years, and I was honored to interview him again for TAYO’s Visual Artist Interview Series. We’re immensely excited to present a preview of Eliseo’s early artwork from 1980s–1990s. His full collection is forthcoming in TAYO Issue 5.
— Melissa R. Sipin, Editor-in-Chief

Eliseo Art Silva studied at Otis College of Art and Design and Maryland Institute College of Art, where he received an M.F.A. He has exhibited his work throughout the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines. He has transformed over a hundred empty walls into a “second classroom”—a journey with murals which began when he received “chalkboard art” commissions at 3rd grade. Check out his social media profile here: Facebook.


Tell us a bit more about yourself.

I remember that I was always fascinated by the original art displayed throughout our house. My father commissioned detailed oil on canvas portraits of my mother and my dad’s father, my Lolo whom I was named after. Aside from these my mother also collected original art painted by her brother and prominently displayed around our home. My school and our neighborhood also had a very dynamic environment to encourage creativity and instill the imagination. As early as grade school, I’ve been in-demand to draw visual aids for our teachers, from poster boards to chalkboard art. Our school’s library was also my Eden and the books was an endless source of stories and images for my art. There are also several on-the-spot drawing contests in our town which I consistently won. When I went to Letran College in Manila, my love for painting and the arts flourished. Not only was I one of only three art stars, Intramuros (which is our Pearl of the Orient Seas) was my new neighborhood and learning center, helping instill in me a richer imagination. The healthy competition I obtained from my peers pushed me to strive even more to excel. Furthermore, my parents also encouraged my talent in painting when they bought me a complete set of oil paints for my 9th birthday. I was also placed under the tutelage of our local maestro… Roger San Miguel who was my first true art mentor at the age of 11. The work I produced under his guidance prepared me for the full scholarship I obtained from the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) which sealed my commitment to become an artist.

What compels you to Philippine myth? Does your community work influence your artwork?

An unfortunate consequence of our colonial education from the United States is that because we are taught English from Grade 1 onwards (instead of our own mother tongue) , we are denied the most transformative aspect of the meaning of words- the part that connects directly to the culture of that language’s originating nation. What most Filipinos obtain are the dictionary definition of words and not the multiple indirect and implied meanings of the word. Thus, culture is dispelled in our path to learning and progress. Because culture is not included as an integral part of the equation, commerce alone is what drives most Filipinos towards attaining the three “Ds” to success: drive, direction, and determination to succeed. By denying Filipino culture, what makes language forge a country into a nation united by ideas and a common emotion of what it feels like to be a Filipino, results in a country of individuals: discordant and self-destructive.

We have to establish a paradigm shift through education and the arts to reclaim what was denied us as a people: and these are all embodied in our myths. I believe that myths have evolved through millennia and stayed with us because of two undeniable truths: (1) they are stories so good that they had to be told many times over; (2) they kept being told even more than “Thrice Upon A Time” because they are all rooted in truth or a semblance of some historical fact. Through our rich resource of Philippine myths and mythical creatures my community work has found its inspiration and drive. It’s the umbilical cord that surfaces our suppressed voices which is the ultimate aim of my work as an artist and cultural worker. Our myths make the invisible visible. These stories passed on from one generation to the next, make tangible those which are implied and indirectly referred to: instilling the imagination and shaping our world (Dr. Patrick Flores).

For example, the 1995 Filipinotown mural was inspired by “The Story of the Adarna Bird,” which was about a sick king with three sons who set them out into the world to return with a cure for their suffering parent. In addition, the Philadelphia Filipino Mural was inspired by the myth of the Bakunawa, a moon-eating dragon that is a Filipino symbol of good and evil. Even a non-Filipino mural I designed for the Jewish community of Los Angeles was inspired by the Filipino myth of the Sarimanok. A Maranao myth culled from the oral epic “Darangen,” the Sarimanok tells the story of how the Prince of the Maranao journeyed from the heavens to the terrestrial domain to reunite with his beloved, the Maranao Princess. The Prince from the heavenly domain is symbolized by the bird, while the terrestrial domain of the Princess is embodied by the fish; thus, together the Sarimanok is an artifact that represents the harmony of heaven on earth.

Who's your favorite artist?

My favorite artist is Juan Luna. His achievements in art and our own emergent national and international history is unequalled. By contextualizing Contemporary Filipino Art in Southeast Asia through Juan Luna alone, what we have attained in terms of body of work and level of artistic achievement has no equal in our region. Unfortunately, this fact has not reached the consciousness of art historians and art writers in the United States, which explains why there has yet to be any Filipino contemporary art masters in US Museums or an awareness or demand for Filipino contemporary art. Singapore alone has 14 art galleries and museums that proudly displays Filipino art, meeting the high demand for Filipino Art in the region.

There was even a direct connection with Juan Luna’s 1884 “Spoliarium” with Pablo Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece “Guernica.” It’s been documented in a 1998 book, Philippine Treasures in Spain, that when Picasso met a Filipino artist in Madrid, he relayed to him that as a young man the “Spolarium” was still hung and displayed at the museum in Spain. It had a profound impact on him. If one looks closely at Picasso’s masterpiece, the viewer can connect the diagonals in the composition, the images of the dead, or the woman holding a lamp in the darknessalong with the double meaning of both pieces as a depiction of a specific event and yet designed as a stand in to surface a larger universal message.

Juan Luna’s work supports Maya Angelou’s idea that it is not what you say or do to a person that matters… it is how you make them feel. In Juan Luna’s case, the works he created for his generation transports the public to the state of the Philippines at that particular timesparking dialogue which eventually ignites change from within the person. Beyond his vocation in painting and drawing. Juan Luna also served as a diplomat sent by Emilio Aguinaldo to the United States and Europe to lobby for US recognition of Philippine Independence, was appointed Philippine Ambassador to Spain and designed the uniforms of Aguinaldo’s soldiers of independence. If there was a Filipino that directly shaped our history and directly contributed towards it's becoming and establishment, or created “Filipino Art” by indirectly implying the country visuallyfocusing instead on the emotions connected with the Filipino experience that can transcend the boundaries of nationsthat Filipino artist is Juan Luna.

What's your favorite book?

My favorite books are not limited to one publication, but several: Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo, Austin Coates’ Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr, and finally the 10-volume Filipino Heritage Encyclopedia edited by Alfredo Roces.

These three books loom large in what shaped my journey as an artist. As I explained earlier, a major part of the disconnectedness of Filipinos with a cultural context to their learning is the introduction of a foreign language from the very beginning. In my own experience, it was not until we moved to the United States in 1989 that my connection with our Filipino culture began to unravel more directly.

Picking up the book by Austin Coates and reading the introduction printed along the cover flap instantly triggered a powerful emotional response that moved me to tears. At that moment, I felt alone and the book spoke to me, telling me that: "This is what I was meant to do on this earth.” That moment marked a milestone that situated a before and after in my artistic journey. That book made me realize that’s what’s missing with our Filipino experience is context: context in terms of our Filipino history with the rest of the world, that history was written from one perspective: to arrive at our own “truth,” we must read several perspectives, as well as the centrality of Jose Rizal as a writer and artist in the emergent Filipino nationalism and self-determination among subjugated peoples of Asia. His writings literally created an entire nation and was the foundational text of the War of Independence, which both his novels predicted and foresaw up to the final detail eight years prior to its becoming. This revealed to me the power of art. Austin Coates also provided a more realistic understanding of what really happened during that time, as someone who had direct knowledge of the other three great Asians of Rizal’s generation: India’s Nehru and Gandhi and China’s Sun Yat-Sen. Coates also framed Philippine events with what’s happening in context with multiple nations’ current events at that time, an important element missing in most biographies of Jose Rizal written by Filipinos (usually does not make other events beyond the Philippines part of the equation), because a biography of Rizal is in itself equivalent to the story of the Filipino nation.

After that initial encounter with Austin Coates’ book on Jose Rizal, almost everything I read made more sense. Even the 10-volume Filipino Heritage revealed a more valiant and triumphant perspective on the War of Independence against the United States, as well as a comprehensive evidence of a highly civilized Filipino society prior to Western Imperialism. A major void that needs to be filled in the telling of our story is that we are only aware of 400 years of Western subjugation. What about the history of our country from 900 AD to 1565, which is 600 years…or 60% of our collective history? Within those 600 years, a civilization that equaled if not surpass our neighboring SE Asian cultures are evidenced through the jewelry, artifacts, architecture, infrastructure, ships, customs, accounts and enclaves with a sophisticated governing structure.

With almost 80% visuals and about 20% text, this collection of 10 books has filled me with stories and images that paints a valiant panorama of Filipino history from an early age.

What's your relationship to process? To form?

My work is directed towards a process that aims to surface images and stories that are suppressed; and, which implies and engages the audience or its viewer the feeling of what it is like to be in the Philippines or be part of Filipino America. As a Filipino artist in the United States, the most challenging aspect is the fact that there’s no market for Filipino and Filipino American Art, there are no art critics or writers contextualizing contemporary Filipino Art in the United States, and there are no contemporary Filipino masters in US museums. My dream is that one day, Americans can walk into a US Museum and be surrounded by Filipino American Art and know deep inside that what they are seeing and feeling is “American.”

I believe what’s missing is an emotional attachment towards a collective Filipino and Filipino American experience, a kind of “watermark” that establishes an emotional bond that is also a gateway to all our stories and images. For example, whatever output the Japanese American community has in the arts or literature, there’s always an implied watermark that identifies their collective experience: the unjust internment of their community while their children fought for their country valiantly through the 442nd Regiment. I believe, that we have to focus on surfacing our part of history that occurred on American streets, because American History is made in the streets. The two events that are best examples for Filipino America is the anti-war mass demonstrations led by the US Anti-Imperialist League (with Filipinos prominently participating) opposing the US War against the Philippines from 1900-1915, and the 1965 Delano Grape Strike. I do not believe that WWII will be as effective, since that was US war against Japan and we are just viewed as a “little brown brother” with Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur as the hero of the narrative. With WWII as the central narrative, non-Filipino Americans are the ultimate authority on the matter, because it was their war against another foreign nation.

For these reasons, I chose street art to be the form by which I hope to manifest our Filipino and Filipino American myth-making and visual language. Through this sites of public memory or cultural landscapes, we were able to create the first memorial honoring the 1,500 Filipino American Farmworkers through the 1995 Filipinotown mural; as well as build the world’s first memorial honoring the Philippine American War through the 2013 Filipino Philadelphia mural, which is also the first public art mural with Filipino images in the East Coast.

How does your work and daily life influence your artwork?

I believe art is not just a mirror that reflects life, but more importantly, it reflects the audience for our art. Interpretation of challenges viewed through colonial lens contributes towards the perpetuation of our problems and not solving them by getting straight to its core or roots. We must not be held captive by how others view us, but by how we view ourselves.

For example, discrimination experienced by my father shaped our life in USA. When we transplanted to the United States in 1989, we settled in rural Riverside, CA. We realized soon enough that we were the first Asians in the neighborhood. During a debut party of my sister, even without a first warning…our neighbors called in the cops to stop our party and my Father was handcuffed in front of all our friends and family, spending the night in jail. According to my mother, this singular event was the worst our family experienced in America.

The perspective that we became a target of racism did not enter my father or mother’s mind. To both our parents, the event, although an injustice, made my parents alter the way they raised us seven children in America. Instead of family dinners, disciplinary methods using the belt or slippers, usually family bondings through out-of-town family trips, my father announced that: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This would have been fine, but what eventually happened was that youngest two of the siblings were rendered “untouchables” and the older ones were still treated the same way they were raised in the Philippines.

This of course caused our family to drift apart, caused by a discriminatory act, which in turn worsened because of colonial mentality. My father and mother became so afraid of America that our family dynamic was completely altered. Thus, my work has become a vehicle for me to undo this social deterrent present among the minds of many Filipinos due to our colonial education; to prevent others from experiencing the same dilemma.

This issue has been the subject of many books and publications, giving it a fresher perspective by renaming it “internalized oppression” or “internalized racism” which cuts at the very core of nation-building in the Philippines. Since the subject is such a huge topic, I listed the most common direct and indirect manifestations of colonial mentality in the Philippines:

A) Denial that US Imperialism had brought more damage to the Filipino than Spain or Japan combined.

B) Indirect manifestation of colonial mentality: perpetuation of myth that centers on Bonifacio as the central figure of Philippine nationalism which effectively dispels the achievements of the Aguinaldo/Mabini Republic that stood up against the supreme might of the United States. This narrative provides a powerful argument favoring the US colonial project in the Philippines, and shifts the target for all the wrong that happened from the massacre of over a million Filipinos by the invading army of the United States, towards the 29-year old Emilio Aguinaldo.

C) Centrality of WWII in the national narrative of the Filipino and even Filipino American experience; shifting the centrality of Asia’s 1st War of Independence in both the national and international narrative of the Philippines and Filipino America. For example, in Filipino American timelines or narratives that shape and impacts the contributions of Filipino Americans in US Civil Rights movement, WWII and the 1960’s contributions of Filipinos and Filipino Americans holds the foremost significance in the telling of our stories. What is ignored is the central role of Filipinos in America during the United States earliest anti-War mass demonstrations which happened through the US Anti-Imperialist League (1900-1915) and the Rizal Day celebrations (1912-1940s) which was utilized by Filipino Americans as a stage to campaign for US recognition of Philippine Independence. Using Rizal’s life and legacy to challenge racial stereotypes that Filipinos come from a barbaric race unworthy and incapable of self-governance.

D) Our national symbols from the Bahay Kubo, the Bamboo Dance to the Barong Tagalog enhances our subjugation. Instead of surfacing the highest achievement of the Filipino prior to Western Imperialism: from the Baybayin, Babaylan, and the Bakunawa, we prefer on flaunting our symbols of subjugation as a polite way to prevent ourselves from asserting to the foreign invaders that we were better off before their invasion and governance. This is very evident in our Great Seal of the Republic that proclaims our subjugation to foreigners with the inclusion of the Spanish Red Lion and the US Bald Eagle. Even the USA chose the bald eagle because it is without a crown, symbolizing their disdain for the monarchy. No other nation similarly colonized include their former colonizer’s national symbols.

Last but not least: what does your family think of your art? What's their relationship to it?

My family are very creative and artistically inclined. Because my art is very much connected to my work with the community as well as politics, as we grow older…I find myself in my own world, pretty much detached from my family.

Most of my siblings have focused their lives on commerce and not so much on our Filipino culture. Because of my pro-Filipino perspective, I’m seen by my own father and some siblings as dangerously anti-American. This of course is farthest from the truth, for there is nothing more American than fighting against the status quo and reclaiming self-respect and dignity.

In conclusion, I believe that what prevents the Philippines from rising out of poverty of the spirit, soul and land is our inability to emerge from the dark, encompassing shadow of the United States in the mind and land of the Filipino.

Physically, the centerpiece of our greatest collective achievement beyond the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, is the exact equivalent of what the US National Mall is to the USA or the Vatican is to Italy was reduced to ground zero via US Bombs during WWII. What we lost there is unquantifiable and worth more than a generation’s lifetime. For within those ancient walls, which earned our nation the title of “Pearl of the Orient” are seeds of culture and civilization that benefit succeeding unborn Filipinos for all time. With its 14,000 “Bahay na Bato” homes, National Archives and National Library with artifacts and resources unequalled in our part of the world, including three original mural-esque oil on canvas from Juan Luna highlighted with a Luna painting about the French Revolution called “People and Kings” as well as eight churches, ten schools and learning centers; we could have easily have a physical manifestation of the Philippines’ greatest generation: The Generation of 1898 which waged Asia’s first War of Independence, our people’s greatest legacy to world history. Furthermorethe direct and substantial benefit of Intramuros would have been a centerpiece of our tourist destinations, which easily could have resulted in at least 10 to 15 million tourist arrivals annually, ending the vicious cycle of the OCW (Overseas Contract Workers) which destroys the fabric of Filipino society: the Filipino family.

Internally, until we reclaim commerce and culture as equally integral to the equation of what drives us to succeed and to advance as a nation, we will remain as individuals plagued with what E.J. David identifies as “internalized oppression.”


* "Jose Rizal" is the only painting in the collection that was created in 2011.


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Meet Our New Associate Editor: Janice Sapigao!

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Meet Our New Associate Editor: Janice Sapigao!

San Diego: Ernie Peña


SapigaoJanice_photo (1).jpg

Janice Sapigao is a Pinay writer and educator from San Jose, CA. Her work has been published in Quaint Magazine, the anthology Empire of Funk: Hip Hop and Representation in Filipina/o America, and AngryAsianMan.com, among others. She earned her M.F.A. in Critical Studies/Writing at CalArts. She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called the Sunday Jump. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College and San Jose City College.

* * *

Why TAYO? (Or, why do you think TAYO is an important space for diasporic art?) Why do you think publication is important?

I am joining TAYO’s editorial team after much thought and care. Last year at the Association of Writers & Writing Program Conference (AWP) in Seattle, I spoke with my Voices of Our Nation (VONA) writing instructor from 2011, author M. Evelina Galang, whom I had asked about her move, or service, to become writer and editor. Evelina told me that her decision to edit the anthology Screaming Monkeys came from a community need to edit and put together an anthology that responded to ongoing racism against Filipinas/os. She helped me understand that circumstances called her to become an editor, not that she simply chose to become one. This is very much how I feel about my writing – that I was called to write and create because circumstances in my life have always called for it, for me to document unapologetically, against forgetting and losing important memories.

TAYO is important because it was one of the first places to publish my work when I decided to pursue writing poetry seriously. In addition, publication is important because it’s one way for me to put out into the world the kinds of writing I wanted to read when I was younger. Diasporic writing is important in general because I think the writing world is hella devoid of and needs more of the weird, the diverse, the people-centered, the complex, and the broken. I think publication, like the way I view politics and power, should be more representative of our world and its gorgeous differences.

What's your favorite book of all time--a book that you keep going back to?

I’m not sure if I have a favorite per se, but I have constants (the books I always turn to or find myself coming back to): from unincorporated territory [hacha] by Craig Santos Perez, trespasses by Padcha Tuntha-Obas, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The House on Mango Street and Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, and the book that brought me to questioning, writing, and recognizing struggle—Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur. I love and teach these books to my students. I hope they know how much I enjoy reading them over and over again.

What brought you to writing? Tell us your writerly beginnings.

I learned to love writing and reading at an early age. I got my first diary from Sanrio when I was six years old and I have always had one since. I developed a love of reading in early elementary school, which means I loved book orders time and the flower petal thin paper we got to write on. Through those book orders, I subscribed to author Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club Little Sister series. Each month, I’d receive a packet of four books for as many months as there were books. I eventually burned through all of the books that completed the series. The publisher, Scholastic, offered me a new subscription to The Babysitter’s Club, which were sent to me in the same fashion as the Little Sister series. I remember reading so much that I finished all four books in one day. I read more than there were books because the subscription ended sooner than I wanted. I think my mom also realized that my reading habits were costly for a small family like ours, so she brought me to the library every week in fifth grade. (Thanks, Mom!) My mom recognized my love for books and I am so, so happy she did. I was brought to reading because I lived in those stories. I loved the female characters I spent time with. I write because of my love of reading.

Last but not least: anything you'd like to add. Or something about yourself our readers might not guess. 

I’ve never really shared this much about my book-lovin’ origins. I think I want to add this: when my father passed away months before I got my first diary. I knew that I had so much to say but didn’t want to necessarily share because I didn’t know how. I was so little and I knew how to write. I read and wrote a lot because I was shy. Because I was sad. Because I knew I was missing something but didn’t quite know what. I fear that writings and books will be dishonest this way, too, that our world will be missing stories and will not know what. I say: write against that by knowing, creating, and reading.


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SF Zine Fest Interview with Liz Mayorga, Director of SFZF 2014

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SF Zine Fest Interview with Liz Mayorga, Director of SFZF 2014

PHOTOGRAPHY: Bel Poblador


SF Zine Fest 2014

Interview with Liz Mayorga, Director of SFZF 2014

BEL POBLADOR


Image provided by SF Zine Fest

In August 2014, I attended the San Francisco Zine Fest. I had moved back to San Francisco in March after having attended and graduated from a Master’s program in Writing at CalArts. As many post grads feel, I was simultaneously adrift and goal-oriented, exhausted and exhilarated, built-up and run-down. Upon returning to San Francisco, I was hungry for the same artistic community that I had found at CalArts: people who cared about other people as well as the art, who cared more about marginalized voices and authentic storytelling and less about getting that big publishing deal. I volunteered for the event and left with stars in my eyes. The San Francisco Zine Fest was one of those communities/events that made me feel that I would be alright in the real world, outside of the art school bubble—that there were like-minded people who believe in community and story-telling above all.

Afterwards, I exchanged a series of emails with Liz Mayorga, director of SFZF 2014 and a dear friend of mine, asking her more about SFZF. She is a writer and illustrator who received her MFA in Writing from CCA. I wanted to pick her mind about a few things: how SFZF started, the collective and community spirit of those who run SFZF as well as those who take part in it, the alternative paths to publishing that SFZF offers, and why she believes the zine fest is so important to an ever-shifting San Francisco.


In the About Us on the SFZF website, it says this: “SF Zine Fest seeks to advance the do-it-yourself ethos by fostering community throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. In a weekend-long event we celebrate and support independent writers, artists, and creators allowing them to share their work with an ever-growing audience in workshops, exhibitions and public events.” How did SFZF even get started, and how has it evolved since its inception? 

The San Francisco Zine Fest was founded in 2001 by Jenn Starfiend. SFZF started because the "Zine Alley" in APE (Alternative Press Expo—a branch off of Comic Con) closed. APE became way too expensive for zinesters to participate, so they started their own event. In 2006 Calvin Liu continued organizing, but stepped down and François Vigneault took over as the chief organizer from 2006 to 2011. He worked with another team of five people. François now organizes Lineworks NW, a comic convention in Portland.

When SFZF first started, there were about 46 exhibitors/artists. I'm not sure how many people attended, but it was a much, much smaller space. Since then, the event has grown to three times its original size. 

The event started with an idea of showcasing artists and distributing zines. The leadership has changed. It used to be two to three organizers, and as the number of participants increases, so does our group of organizers. We now have ten organizers plus volunteers working to make SFZF happen. The people who continue to care about this idea keep SFZF going, regardless of who has to step down or move away. 

How did you get involved in SF Zine Fest?

I went to SFZF for the first time in 2009, and I loved everything about it, especially how down to earth and approachable all of the artists were. I became friends with Rick and Eve, who had been doing SFZF for a few years, and Rick invited me to volunteer. I started by flyering and keeping track of the calendar. 

How and why did your role in SFZF evolve?

SFZF has been transitioning in leadership for the past four years. When the last director moved, Sean Logic and I followed as Co-Directors.

I was in the middle of graduate school at the time and wasn't sure I could take on so much responsibility, but we needed to keep things going somehow, so I agreed to take a leadership role. Sean eventually got promoted at work and he didn't have any free time after that, so I became the only Director. But that's not to say other people didn't step up. Everyone did more than their share to make sure SFZF happened this year, and I'm grateful for the team.

I believe my role at SFZF changed as I became more involved with the DIY community. I became part of the POC Zine Project and started doing zine workshops for teenagers. That's when I thought SFZF could play a bigger role in San Francisco and reach out to the kids and artists growing up in all our neighborhoods. It's a good opportunity to highlight folks who are sometimes underrepresented. 

Who was the team for SFZF 2014? 

Jennie Hinchcliff, Sarah Godfrey, Ric Carrasquillo, Ramon Solis, Channing Kennedy and Emily Foster, Amy Burek, Rick Kitagawa, Sean Logic, and myself. We're all volunteers. Some of us are teachers, freelance artists, journalists, scientists, and librarians. We organize SFZF as much as we can on our spare time. Everyone's super talented and hard working—we're lucky to have such a strong team. 

How did the team choose what the panels would be and who the panelists and special guests would be?

We start by making a list of people we'd like to invite as our featured artists. In the past, we've invited artists with roots in DIY art who have moved to more mainstream successes.

But this year, we decided we could redefine success. There are people who have been tabling at SFZF since the very beginning. They have created a long archive of work, have contributed a lot to the community, and they too deserve to be celebrated. 

We approach workshops and panels in a similar way. There are way too many talented people we'd love to feature, and we use our brainstorm session to draw ideas for other ways in which we can share our talent. Workshops and panels give us the opportunity to engage our audience in a different way. It allows for a give-and-take relationship that goes beyond supporting art through money. There are a few questions that come to mind: What knowledge can we share with people who might not always have access to artists? And what issues keep coming up in the Bay Area? How can we use these workshops and panels as a way to entertain, inform, and support each other?     

Talk a bit about the letter of apology that was posted on the Zine Fest website as well as the events surrounding it.

We had a significant boycott against one of our exhibitors, and some people asked that we un-invite the artist. We got together to debate the matter. It was one week before the show and we still had to run the event, so we decided we couldn't just kick someone out this close to show-running. 

But while those of us based in the Bay Area worked on a unified response, an organizer who was helping us with emails from far away responded to people before we did. His main message was "Your concerns are important to us and we will get back to you as soon as we have an answer." However, he voiced his own debate in one of those responses. He raised the question, "Where do we draw the line between personal history and artistry?" He was worried that by judging one person and pushing him away, we'll do the same to more people. It was a valid concern, and he made sure to note that he was responding as an individual and wasn't speaking as a representative of SFZF. But he made a few comparisons that were not politically correct, which angered the recipient even more, so this email made a few circles through the internet. Rumors started spreading that the exhibitor people were protesting was our featured artist, shedding light away from the three artists we were actually highlighting and all of the good work we had done. We felt like all of our efforts were starting to fall under an unpleasant shadow, so we apologized to the community for the email and rumors and not communicating better amongst ourselves. In the midst of all the false information and overwhelming negativity, we decided to approach this apology with sincerity and without any more slander. 

We made many mistakes this year, most of which could have been avoided with better communication. But what we were trying to keep in mind was this: SFZF is still a great show where young artists get to exhibit their work for the first time, and where professional artists get to share their side projects.

So much good comes out of SFZF, it isn't fair for one person to take the attention away from that. We promoted all of our positive work to try to backlash against the internet hate, even if we knew it wouldn't remove the negativity that had already started. We needed to remind ourselves of why we were doing this.  

How do you foresee SFZF evolving or changing, especially as the environment and social makeup of SF changes?

Like everything else, SFZF will always evolve. A newer generation will take it over. The group dynamic is always changing. People bring new ideas, and we push ways to make things even better. But there are some things we will fight to keep the same, like affordable tables, free admission, and our commitment to DIY art.

Lately, it's been a challenge to keep things going. Everyone's aware of how rent has sky-rocketed. Well, the County Fair Building, which is where we've had SFZF for the past 10 years, keeps increasing its rent. We're considering other venues, but it's hard to find an affordable space in San Francisco that could host more than 100 exhibitors. If we do find a more affordable and accessible location, we may have to decrease in size. While that may help make things more manageable for us as organizers, it would also mean less people will get to participate. San Francisco is already experiencing an exodus of artists; we would like to keep fighting for a space where artists of all socioeconomic backgrounds can exhibit their work. 

Yes, the San Francisco demographic has changed a lot over the past few years, and it will always change, but we can't ignore the different pockets of people who have established themselves here long, long ago. The Bay Area has a long history of attracting artists and people who don't fit into the norm. It's part of the Bay Area's charm. Regardless of how much new money comes into the area, I don't think this area will ever completely lose some of its personality. That's why I think it's crucial to create the time and space for this personality to shine through. 

What does it mean for you as a woman of color to be directing SFZF?

I never cared for titles or leadership positions—not because I wasn't capable of them, but because I prefer working quietly in the background and getting things done. My experiences taught me that there are two kinds of people in the workplace: people who talk, and people who do. Most of the bosses I have encountered talk. The more they talked, the more I did, and I didn't want to be like them. Granted, I have also had great bosses, but for some reason I couldn't see myself in their position. I think a lot of that has to do with the way I grew up. I was taught to take pride in the most humble work, and I do. 

SFZF exposed me to a different type of group leadership. I joined the team just as François moved to Portland, and François was a great manager. He delegated work according to people’s talents and abilities, and he carried himself as an efficient organizer rather than a "boss." Even though I never got to work with François, I really appreciated the culture that the SFZF organizers continued to develop. After a year or so, I started speaking more. SFZF helped me to identify and validate my own skills. Organizing helped me change the way I perceived myself. The DIY culture that encouraged me to create the things I wanted to see also encouraged me to model the leaders I looked up to. 

I could see why so many people seek "important" titles. A title can change the way you see and carry yourself. In most cases, I've seen that change people for the worse. After all, we're set up to destroy each other when we compete for power. But now I've witnessed how titles can change people for the better, too. If you are aware of how your team is more important than you, how your team makes you stronger, and you validate others' skills as well as your own, you help everyone grow. I once heard someone say, "If you want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with successful people." That can be interpreted in a few ways. After SFZF, I interpret that bit of advice to mean that people build each other up to be successful. 

But I realized that working quietly in the background is a disfavor to my community, and that it goes against everything my parents have fought for.  

In today’s publication and literary world, what can events like SFZF represent and offer?

Excellent question. Now that APE (Alternative Press Expo) is moving to San Jose, there is a lot of talk amongst comic book artists as to whether or not we need a comic convention in San Francisco. At the same time, major comic book publishers, such as Fantagraphics and Last Gasp, have launched kickstarters to keep their businesses running. This might seem grim, but I think it's just evidence that things are changing and that we need to work together. 

Zines are an alternative to traditional publishing. They provide a way to practice your craft and share creative projects without waiting for someone to say "I want to publish your work." It takes guts to do that, and anyone who exhibits their work that way deserves an audience. Zine fests are a good way for people to see what's up and coming. It's also a good way to establish relationships between local artists and more traditional literary circles. There are a lot of talented artists at these events, and while zines are one form of validation, they should also be acknowledged by mainstream publishing houses. 

And there's also the issue of experience. People come to Zine Fest, not just to shop, but to experience Zine Fest—talk to artists, engage in workshops and panels, trade zines with people. You can't get that online. These events create a great atmosphere and more people including major writers, publishers, curators, should also be a part of it.  

How can events like SFZF aid in access to the publication/literary world for marginalized groups and communities?

Through events like SFZF, we have an opportunity to talk and express a lot of things that might otherwise be censored. It's a different level of freedom, which is why it can provide marginalized groups with a platform. Zines were a way to discuss political ideas and build connections, and they will continue to do so for those who aren't well-represented in mainstream press. 

For people who might have an interest in creating a similar event in their cities where nothing of this nature might currently exist, what advice can you give them to help start the fulfilling, necessary, but quite complex journey? What do they need to keep in mind, and where do they start?

SFZF is a community event that takes place once a year, but it is a full time job for organizers. We're constantly thinking about it and planning for it on our spare time. It really helps to have folks on board who don't work 9-5 hours or only work part-time, because organizing an event like this requires a lot of flexibility. It also requires a strong group of people to help with the administrative parts. Once the logistics are taken care of, the most important thing is to have a space for people to gather. With a little bit of advertising, artists and attendees will start showing up. Most of my experiences with SFZF have been extremely positive and life-changing. The whole team of organizers feels the same way. This sort of love and affection has kept SFZF going. If you are interested in starting an event like this, be prepared to love the event and to give a lot of yourself to it. It might seem like a lot to give, but it will be worth it, because it will give you just as much.




ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER:

Bel Poblador is a Los Angeles native, writer, and editor who lives, loves, and creates in San Francisco. She received her MFA in Writing from CalArts in 2013 and is an editor of the anthology Best of Trop, Volume I: Watching the Cash Roll in Since 2012. Bel is a rock that holds the ocean. 


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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: On Discipline" #BlackLivesMatter #Makibaka

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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: On Discipline" #BlackLivesMatter #Makibaka

PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA SY


Sweat the Technique:
On Discipline

Guest Blog Series on Craft (2)

Jason Magabo Perez


I backtrack—a disclaimer for this series: Whenever I intellectualize my own work, I’m haunted by the specter of Carlos Argentino Daneri, the librarian, the poet, the know-it-all from Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “The Aleph.” The narrator describes Carlos Argentino Daneri as “authoritarian but also unimpressive.” Daneri simultaneously recites and shamelessly applauds his own craftily intellectual poetry. “Daneri’s real work,” suggests the narrator, “lay not in the poetry but in his invention of reasons why the poetry should be admired.” Daneri is his own best critic and publicist. I caution against ever becoming as wiggity wack as Daneri; however, I’m certain that my Catholic self-debasement is merely a variant of Daneriesque self-applause. In any case, you should know, these fears guide my hesitations, and I’m super suspicious of our becoming the Carlos Argentino Daneris of our day.

I.

Discipline/Disciplinarity/Disciplinization. The Disciplining. It/I begin(s) early. I'm five years old. I'm in kindergarten, what my parents call, keen-dayr. We're at McKinley Elementary School in Redlands, CA. It's morning. It's hot. We're in a classroom—part hardened carpet, part cold vanilla tile, a holding cell for crybaby kids who miss mommy. We've been learning how to follow rules and how to open the mini milk cartons without spilling. (Discipline.) We've been learning how to square dance like white people who wear funny-looking boots. (Discipline.) I'm identified as bright, a rule-follower, perhaps one of the muddy-mouthed brown kids that the white teacher can save. (Discipline.) Today, we're coloring the king. The king is plump with a beardly beard and a pointy nose. I crayon the king's skin a gentle orange and his beard a harsh copper. I copy the method of some of my classmates—first, I trace the inside of the king's outline, then I color within the line of my own tracing. Eventually, I color the king's cape red. This time, I lay the red crayon on its side. As I shade the cape, a gorgeous texture emerges—a vastness of uneven strokes, punctures and embossments caused by pebbles pressing up against the underside of the paper. I finish it and I hurry to show my teacher. "I'm disappointed," she says. She runs her fingers across the now three-dimensional cape. "I expect better from you." Never mind that my crayoning shows traces, the process of my art, the transparency of my method—a very process-not-product-anti-fetishism kind of performance, no? But my teacher remains disappointed. My teacher tries to smooth out the cape. My teacher expects me to color more cleanly, like a good pupil, like a good subject. I might never color like this again. Ever. I might forever stay within the lines. I might never again lay the crayon on its ribs. And I might never again let myself imagine another way. The disciplining begins quite early.   
 

II.

I continue thinking through French philosopher Michel Foucault's meditations on discipline. (Yes: another white French philosopher! Consider this part of my disciplining. My method: perhaps I'm exorcizing myself of white men epistemologies.) While it offers insight into the culture and structure of the prison and the carcerality of our society, Discipline & Punish also tells us much more about the pervasiveness of power and how it is exercised in other institutional contexts like schools, the military and hospitals. "Discipline," writes Foucault, "defines each of the relations that the body must have with the object that it manipulates." That is, discipline is about controlling the body's movement, making certain ways of being and doing seem impossible. Foucault considers 'discipline' a technology of power. Through this definition, an artist who is disciplined is not someone who demonstrates an unwavering commitment to his/her/their craft; rather an artist who is disciplined is an artist whose practices may be heavily (self-) regulated due to the demands of Power. An artist who is disciplined is an artist who may never lay a crayon on its ribs. 
 

III.

I encountered creative writing proper as a spoken word artist. I was inspired by groups like I Was Born with Two Tongues and 8th Wonder, and solo artists such as Saul Williams and Sarah Jones. At that time, writing was about immediacy. If there was a protest, we'd write poems to articulate our grievances and demands. If we were performing in front of a class, we'd weave in references from our readings and reinterpret the relationship between history and the present. We and our poetics were prepared to fight for justice at all times. Some of us romanticized ourselves as cultural workers. On this basis, this practice of writing and performance, I applied for MFA programs. (I wanted a shortcut to teach college.) When I got to my MFA program at the (now defunct) New College of California, I unwittingly wrote texts that were a hybrid of poetry, memoir, fiction and political history. My cohort members would get into debates about whether or not my use of footnotes was distracting. Some of the white students suggested that I get rid of the footnotes. They'd say, "Is there a way to incorporate these notes into the text? Or maybe you can make them endnotes?" My Dominicana homegirl argued that my references to Philippine history helped her understand the relationship between her own history and mine. Eventually, after sitting through workshop after workshop of my cohort debating over the wrong aspects of my writing, and after being told that the performative gesture in my texts was not always pleasurable to read, I scotched writing 'experimental' texts and began writing fiction. Still, I wonder how such disciplining affects how I write this to you right now. I'm convinced that my cohort's anxieties about footnotes was a result of the racial and cultural politics of form—a suspicion of the trans-disciplinary and the performative. Now eight years out from the MFA, I continue to slowly make my way back to the immediacy of a literature I once wrote in order to survive, a literature I had been taught to disown and to snobbishly distance myself from.           
 

IV.

Discipline is violent. Epistemologically. Interpretively. Discursively. Psychically. Emotionally. Materially. Physically. Discipline forecloses possibility. Discipline is about the regulation of the body, the mind, the desire. Discipline is often what helps even the most radical of academics become legible to the institution. In fact, discipline helps academics get jobs. Discipline helps writers get published. This, I think, is part of its violence. This, I think, is part of its danger for us. We become all too legible for the wrong people. We become consumable through our having been disciplined. We become good and disciplined (colonial) subjects. Discipline is part of what keeps cops pulling the trigger, is part of what keeps killing Black people in the U.S., brown peoples, poor people everywhere, is what wants Ferguson (and the rest of us) to stop fighting for our dignity. In my estimation, this is all the same technology of power, this is all about the making of impossibility, of life, of imagination, of desire, of a better us.      
 

V.

For now, I fashion myself as an interdisciplinary thinker and artist. Yet, interdisciplinarity, too, itself has its limits. Even interdisciplinarity might be violent and violating. It presupposes that we retain disciplines, the disciplining. I'm after anti-disciplinarity, which needs no justification, which makes me only accountable to my communities and not to any structures of power that need to make sense of what we have been doing all along anyway. I'm after—
 

VI.

Where and when and how is it that we've learned to discipline our body and imagination? Where and when and how is it that we have come to do what we do without regard to what has been done to us? 
 

VII.

I revise this in a very crucial historical conjuncture in which discipline is yet again something worth meditating on:

#BlackLivesMatter
#HandsUpDontShoot
#ICantBreathe
#Makibaka

(More and more later / I have that privilege to live think through.)


NOTES:

1. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph," in The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998), 118-133.

2. Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1977, 1995), 152-153.      



ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER:

Jason Magabo Perez is a writer and performance artist. His writings have appeared in TAYOWitness, and Mission at Tenth. Perez has been commissioned by Kularts and funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant, and he has performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Asian American Theater Festival, and the International Conference of the Philippines. Currently, he lives in San Diego. www.jasonmagaboperez.com

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On Ferguson: A professor's letter to her students

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On Ferguson: A professor's letter to her students

Fighting for a Reason: Cher Musico


Dear students,

I’m writing you all in response. One of you asked what were my thoughts on Ferguson. S/he asked me whether or not I believed Ferguson was a race problem or a police problemwhether or not policemen and policewomen should be more adequately trained morally and ethically. 

Now, I want to briefly state: according the proposition, of course it is both a race problem and a police problem. The two are not mutually exclusive. We live in a social environment conducive to racism. No matter how many training programs we could force our policemen and policewomen to complete, the problem at hand is our how culture breathes and perpetuates a racist society, a society that allows white counterparts to experience more privileges than their black/brown counterparts, a society that values their white counterparts more than their black/brown counterparts, forgetting that in order to heal, we must stay steadfast to the belief that we were all created equal; that we are all brothers and sisters; that our society is broken because the racial gap between whites and brown folks is only getting larger.

Now, I will respond to the grand jury’s verdict on Officer Darren Wilson. Because you will see from this non-indictment that the two posed problemsrace problem or police-training problemare intersected and complement the other. What happened in Ferguson was racially intensified because of the history Missouri and the history of America. We discussed at length how America was not only built via white supremacy, but white supremacy birthed this nation, supported it, has maintained it. I want to let you know that I am, like many of you, frustrated, disappointed, and sadden by the repetition of history: the non-indictment is too similar to the Jim Crow lynching era. We see, again, that the law of the land will not give the same protections it owes to its very own citizens.

What harrows in my mind is George Orwell words from Animal Farm:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Here are the facts:

1. It is EXTREMELY rare for a grand jury to not indict. Grand juries nearly always decide to indict. However, as we previously discussed in class, the prosecution had personal ties with the Ferguson Police Dept.

Before the trial began, Mike Brown’s family requested that District Attorney McCullough step aside from the case and let a special prosecutor handle the case based on his deep ties with the Ferguson police department. McCullough refused. This is why the National Bar Association is questioning the grand jury’s non-indictment, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence:

The family of Michael Brown requested that District Attorney McCullough step aside and allow a special prosecutor be assigned to the investigation to give the community confidence that the grand jury would conduct a complete and thorough investigation into the tragic shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown. The grand jury’s decision confirms the fear that many expressed months ago — that a fair and impartial investigation would not happen. The National Bar Association is adamant about our desire for transformative justice. While we are disappointed with the grand jury’s ruling, we are promoting peace on every street corner around the world. The only way to foster systemic change is to organize, educate, and mobilize. We are imploring everyone to fight against the injustice in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout the United States by banding together and working within the confines of the law,” states President Meanes.

2. Darren Wilson was not charged by the grand jury for many reasons, despite having 12 witnesses who overwhelmingly agreed that Mike Brown was shot with his hands up, surrendering.

"Wilson fired 12 shots. Photos released of the officer after the grand jury's decision on Monday show some bruising on his face and the back of his neck, but no serious injuries. Several eyewitnesses have disputed the notion that Brown charged at Wilson. Although they support that a confrontation occurred, some eyewitnesses said Brown looked like he was trying to surrender and had his hands in the air when Wilson fatally shot him."

3. Darren Wilson’s testimony described Mike Brown as: 1) Hulk Hogan (he described himself as a five-year-old, despite being around the same height and build as Brown), 2) Mike Brown could walk through bullets, and 3) He was a demon.

"Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds."

“[Darren Wilson:] At this point I start backpedaling and again, I tell him get on the ground, get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot another round of shots. Again, I don’t recall how many [hit] him every time. I know at least once because he flinched again. At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way."

"And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan," Wilson said of his struggle with Brown. "That's just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm." Wilson told grand jurors that when he and Brown struggled over the officer's gun, Brown "had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked."


Beyond the institutional racism that allowed Darren Wilson to not be indicted on any chargefor truly, we must beg the question why a prosecutor who has personal and familial ties to the Ferguson Police department was allowed to take the casethis, Darren Wilson’s testimony (beyond the fact that police brutality has historically been against minorities, beyond the fact that policemen and policewomen have been trained to racially profile minorities and that minorities statistically receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts on the same crimes, and beyond the fact that such institutional epidemics like the school-to-prison pipeline to anti-black racism to the stop-and-frisk policies that resemble the Black Codes from the Reconstruction Era are built into the social fabric of America’s national identity) shows why what happened in Ferguson is both a racial issue and a police brutality issue:

This is how the nonsensical, irrational racial fear of black bodies looks like.


Let us consider the three facts we discussed during our Myths on Race unit:

1. Anti-black racism: "To the surprise of many prognosticators, anti-black racism in America — not just that limited to the far right — actually rose over the four years of Obama’s first term, according to a 2012 Associated Press poll. The poll found 51% of Americans expressed explicitly anti-black attitudes, compared to 48% in 2008, while 56% showed implicitly anti-black attitudes, up from 49% four years earlier. Another AP poll, in 2011, found that 52% of non-Latino whites expressed explicitly anti-Latino attitudes, a figure that rose to 59% when measured by an implicit attitudes test" (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2013).

2. School-to-Prison Pipeline: "One in five black boys have received an out-of-school suspension, according to 2012 Department of Education data. And black students with disabilities are three times more likely to be expelled, a punishment that sets kids in zero-tolerance systems up for later criminal punishment. Other regional statistics tell a similar story. In Chicago, for example, three-fourths of kids arrested in public school were black. This disparate impact perpetuates a cycle of criminal justice over-exposure that follows many African Americans throughout their lives and yields astronomical incarceration rates" (Dept of Education, 2012).

 3. Harsher punishments on minorities: "Latinos and blacks tend to be sentenced more harshly than whites for lower-level crimes such as drug crimes and property crimes; however, Latinos and blacks convicted of high-level drug offenses also tend to be more harshly sentenced than similarly situated whites" (The Sentencing Project, 2007).

Lastly, here is another fact from Mic News on police brutality:

The statistics:
White officers kill black suspects twice a week in the United States, or an average of 96 times a year.

Those are the findings of a USA Today analysis of seven years of FBI data, which claims around a quarter of the 400 annual deaths reported to federal authorities by local police departments were white-on-black shootings. What's more, the analysis indicates that 18% of the black suspects were under the age of 21 when killed by the police, as opposed to just 8.7% of white suspects.

Throughout much if not all of America, black people are disproportionately more likely to be killed by the police.

The background:
Statistics like these may help explain why Pew polls have demonstrated continued low confidence among non-whites in the police and justice systems. Police in general, and white cops in particular, have a pattern of disproportionately directing force against black people. All too often, cases of abuse and excessive force are simply swept under the rug.

University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker told USA Today that the lack of a comprehensive national repository on use of force has been a "major failure" for oversight, while USC colleague Geoff Alpert pointed out that around 98.9% of excessive force allegations are ultimately ruled as justified. In just one of many examples, NYPD almost exclusively shoots black or Hispanic suspects.

Protests involving black people are also more likely to attract police attention and use of force to disperse them. The ACLU has intensely documented an immensely troubling pattern of police militarization and found SWAT teams and other heavy-handed tactics are much more likely to be used against minority suspects than white ones:

Image Credit: ACLU


In Ferguson, where community members are currently protesting deeply entrenched, racially discriminatory policing, 92% of all people arrested in 2013 were black. The community as a whole, however, is 65% black.

It's not just the police, either — the Urban Institute estimates that white-on-black homicides in states with Stand Your Ground laws are 354% more likely to be ruled justifiable than white-on-white ones. The State's Warren Bolton describes how black men in America "endure a lifetime of suspicion," both from the authorities and people of other races.

The statistics are clear. Being the disproportionate target of violence by the police and white people in general is a systemic problem for black people across America.

Why you should care:
The statistic on white-cop-on-black-suspect shootings is alarming in and of itself. But while race plays a critical role, the number of white cops shooting black people is just part of a larger problem. Black people across the United States are more likely to face discrimination in the criminal justice system and be harassed, arrested and shot by police. Sadly, even the most extreme cases of police excess often end in little punishment.


I want you all to think about these overwhelming facts over Thanksgiving break. I know it is hard. I know it is a time to spend with your families; but I am sure that many of your families are struggling over the same facts that I am. This isn’t an issue of whether or not Mike Brown was purehe was a college-bound student who possibly stole cigarettes and possibly got in a squabble with a police officer.

But does this mean that he deserved to die? Does this mean that because Mike Brown looked “like a demon,” was “Hulk Hogan” (when the officer was just an inch shy of him), that he could walk through bullets, thus Mike Brown deserved more than 6 shots even after he was dead?

I want to you really think why this was a race issue: it’s a race issue not because race “sells” to the media or that the media blows things out of proportion–they do this because neoliberal capitalism feeds off what is already systematic and oppressive. This is a race issue because we, as Americans, do not know how to function when a white policer officer kills an unarmed black boy because he is inherently afraid of what "blackness" is. This "blackness" is defined by the European system of reality Baldwin talks about his famous debate with William Buckley (more on the debate here). This "blackness" allows white folks to perpetuate this system of reality that defines the American Negro as a savage. This "blackness" uplifts the idea that whites are more civilized than us, more equal than us, more human than us. And we know this is not true. We know this system of reality is what allowed the colonists to decimate Native Americans' lands, allowed the white supremacists to lynch and harass and murder thousands of black and brown bodies. I want you to ask yourself: who is the real savage here? 

Last but not least, I will leave you with the words my own high school teacher, who is a wonderful white, Jewish man who first unchained my system of reality that was once caught in Plato’s cave:

"Yeah, I know the internet and the media is all abuzz with the verdict. Lots of opinions and thoughts. Read this recently. It's an amazing time capsule from 1963 by black author James Baldwin entitled, "A Talk To Teachers":

http://www.pps.k12.or.us/files/district-leadership/A_Talk_To_Teachers__James_Baldwin.pdf

Here is his concluding paragraph:

I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person. And on the basis of the evidence—the moral and political evidence—one is compelled to say that this is a backward society. Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, who were in my care only a few hours of every day and would then return to their homes and to the streets, children who have an apprehension of their future which with every hour grows grimmer and darker, I would try to teach them—I would try to make them know—that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him.

I would teach him that if he intends to get to be a man, he must at once decide that his is stronger than this conspiracy and they he must never make his peace with it. And that one of his weapons for refusing to make his peace with it and for destroying it depends on what he decides he is worth. I would teach him that there are currently very few standards in this country which are worth a man’s respect. That it is up to him to change these standards for the sake of the life and the health of the country. I would suggest to him that the popular culture—as represented, for example, on television and in comic books and in movies—is based on fantasies created by very ill people, and he must be aware that these are fantasies that have nothing to do with reality. I would teach him that the press he reads is not as free as it says it is—and that he can do something about that, too. I would try to make him know that just as American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, so is the world larger, more daring, more beautiful and more terrible, but principally larger – and that it belongs to him. I would teach him that he doesn’t have to be bound by the expediencies of any given administration, any given policy, any given morality; that he has the right and the necessity to examine everything.
— James Baldwin

And for a contemporary take on Baldwin, check out Brittney Cooper's angry meditation today.
http://www.salon.com/2014/11/25/i_am_utterly_undone_my_struggle_with_black_rage_and_fear_after_ferguson/

There will be no justice for Michael Brown, so there will be no surrogate acts of “dignity” from protesters.

Neither should we any longer submit to the disciplinary impulses of the “rule of law.” The rule of law wants to beat into us, through “discipline,” the belief that we—black people—would be animals but for its chastening rod of correction. The law stepped to a podium yesterday, under cover of night, to tell us that it reserves the right to slaughter black men with impunity, that it seeks to coerce through threat of force, our permission to do so.

To ask us to be “dignified and disciplined,” to ask us to “respect the rule of law” in the face of such a mockery of justice is to ask us to affirm the path to our own destruction.

Surely America knows black folks better than that.

Humans can only be sucker punched for so long. Humans can only have the life choked out of us for so long. Humans can only be kicked in the stomach while your foot is on our neck for so long. Humans can only be bullied for so long. One day we stagger to our feet, and you see reflected back to you the results of your own unresolved monstrousness.

I asked for a different beginning, hoping we wouldn’t end up here. But here we are—at the end again. Here we are—black people—yet again faced with the magnitude of our need and the inadequacy of our resources—trying to make ends meet. Trying to begin again.
— Dr. Brittney Cooper

With all the light I could muster,

Profesora Sipin


*Note: In seconds apart, my student and my high school teacher emailed me about Ferguson. As I prepared to write an email back to my white student, who was trying but still believed Ferguson was not about race but making better and more moral policemen and policewomen, I wept because we know, as educators, the fight is difficult and will not end, the fight is a struggle, that even though we KNEW this was going to be the verdict, we KNEW this nation was never built for the safety and liberties and livelihoods of us, we will take our beloved books that speak universal truths and take what gives us collective strength and take what we know to be of the highest good and the highest knowledge, and though we are hurt, damaged, and pained, we will continue our important work; we will continue teaching what it means to be divided and conquered in this racist society, and we preach the truth and the love and the hope because our lives DO matter, our black lives DO matter, our hopes and our dreams and our children and our bodies DO, and will always, matter. No matter what the laws say. No matter what the real demons say. No matter what white supremacy says. We matter, and I will continue to teach this truth with the myriad of books and teachers and giants behind me who have helped us to stand.*


ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER

Melissa R. SipinBatibot: small but terrible. Melissa is a writer from Carson, CA. She won First Place in the 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open. Her work is published/forthcoming in Guernica, Glimmer Train Stories, PANK, Kweli Journal, Eleven Eleven Journal, and HYPHEN, among others. She cofounded and is editor-in-chief of TAYO Literary Magazine. As a Kundiman Fiction Fellow, VONA/Voices Fellow, and U.S. Navy wife, she teaches at Old Dominion University and blogs at www.msipin.com. She’s working on a novel.

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#IEW2014 Creative Writing Workshop: Writing Your Origin Story

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#IEW2014 Creative Writing Workshop: Writing Your Origin Story

My Way of Home: Stephanie Hsu


Writing Your Origin Story:
Creative Writing Workshop

International Week 2014, U.S. Department of State,
the U.S. Department of Education, 
Old Dominion University,
and Office of Intercultural Relations

Melissa R. Sipin


Tide Pull: Jonathan Reinert


2014 International Education Week Event

The Office of Intercultural Relations promotes campus internationalization at Old Dominion University. All departments, organizations, students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to host & participate in the 2014 International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.


As immigrant artists for whom so much has been sacrificed, so many dreams have been deferred, we already doubt so much. Who do we think we are? We think we are people who risked not existing at all. People who might have had a mother and father killed, either by a government or nature, even before we were born. Some of us think we are accidents of literacy. I do.
— Edwidge Danticat

I. Workshop Event

This 3-hour creative writing workshop will emphasize the communicative thread of writing one's origin story and immigrant/international narrative as a source of self-empowerment and building student community. Each writing prompt will guide the student through the creative process in hopes that they will become self-explorers in finding and calling forth their own voice through engaging in challenging, viable, and creative written, verbal, and visual expression.


The curriculum is designed to provide students with access to a diversity of models of prose and poetry, as well as to encourage self-actualization by aiding students in improving their writing and reading comprehension skills while using a variety of literary techniques and genres. Students will read and discuss narrative prose and poems focused on personal narrative and social commentary.

At specific points in their reading, students will conduct research by exploring questions about the author, the stories/poems, and how they can relate the content in the narratives to their own lives. Students will develop a series of poems and pieces of writing focusing on specific facets of their humanity and themes concerned with issues of social justice.

The student work will be published in a Special Issue in TAYO Literary Magazine as a mark of culmination for International Education Week and celebration of intercultural relations.

Dialogue will be facilitated during the workshop around the subject matter at hand in order to create an inclusive community of writers.

II. Workshop Goals

– Participants will gain access to creative literature that is concerned with social justice.
– Participants will develop technical and conceptual skills related to the practice of their writing while engaging both individual and collaborative approaches to the artistic process.
– To understand and develop the potential that writing has as a tool for self-exploration, change, and power.
– To examine critical and theoretical issues of race, culture, history, and socio-economical positionalities.

III. Workshop Outcomes

– Demonstrate verbally and in writing an understanding of the composition of a narrative poem and fiction piece through discussions, written poetry and short fiction, and shared writing.
– Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of the social context surrounding poetry and fiction through reading poetry and short fiction, writing poetry and short pieces, and discussing literature.
– Convey a sense of personal conviction, dignity, and knowledge of self through writing poetry and short pieces, reflecting through taking a narrative snapshot of personal life, and discussing content.

IV. Instructor's Biography

MELISSA R. SIPIN: As a writer from Carson, California, my work hinges between the empty spaces of autofiction. My writing was awarded First Place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open (2013), a Tennessee Williams Scholarship at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference (2013), the Miguel F. Flores Prize (2011), the Amanda Davis MFA Thesis Award (2013), and a VONA/Voices Fellowship with Junot Díaz, M. Evelina Galang, and ZZ Packer (2014, 2012, and 2011, respectively). My work is forthcoming/published in GuernicaGlimmer Train, PANK Magazine, Kweli Journal, Fjords Review, and Hyphen Magazine, among others. My short story, “How To Leave Familia,” was selected by the Hyphen Magazine Reader, a monthly roundup of APIA lit reads as their “Best APIA Fiction Pick for June 2014.” I received my M.F.A in Fiction from Mills College and my undergraduate degree in English and philosophy at the University of Southern California. As the first Community Engagement Fellow (full-ride) at Mills, I taught political writing and multi-genre workshops in the Bay Area, partnering with PAWA Inc., Anakbayan East Bay, and UC Berkeley’s Maganda Magazine. As the editor-in-chief of TAYO Literary Magazine, I blog at www.msipin.com, teach at Old Dominion University and Tidewater Community College, and am currently working on a novel.


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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: Theses on Form & Genre: Introduction"

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Guest Blog: "Sweat the Technique: Theses on Form & Genre: Introduction"

PHOTOGRAPHY: JOSHUA SY


Sweat the Technique:
Theses on Form & Genre

Introduction: Guest Blog Series on Craft (1)

Jason Magabo Perez


Researchers never found all the pieces yet
Scientists try to solve the context
Philosophers are wondering what’s next
— Rakim [Allah]
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
— Audre Lorde

I confess to them and I confess to you now: It is the English language and its attendant forms and genres that perpetually fail and fail us. Through and through.

For the most part, I've been disciplined to squeeze my ideas into unfriendly forms and genres. I've been uneasy about my relationship to 'the law of genre.' I've been reluctant about making my writing legible for the wrong reader. What I've discovered in my work as a writer, performance artist, activist, scholar, and teacher, is that the greatest potentials of both genre and form lie in their utter failures, in their utter incapacities to capture fully our fiercest desires, passions and political sentiments. For every miniature and massive failure of form and genre there follows the imperative to experiment, to make possible, to act out with non-normative, perhaps queer tendencies.  

Every semester, I confess to my students that although I may be positioned before them as an 'expert' in the conventions of critical and creative writing, I have consistently scored low on literacy/verbal and reading comprehension tests, received poor grades in literature and writing courses, and have felt inadequate at understanding and finding value in canonical works. Yes: English is my first written and spoken language. Yet still, English and my imagination remain at odds. I also work to convince my students that they have not in fact failed at writing in the English language. I confess to them and I confess to you now: It is the English language and its attendant forms and genres that perpetually fail and fail us. Through and through.      

This blog series does not attempt to dismiss English, the Western aesthetic imaginary, genre or form wholesale. I'm not interested in dismissing or negating certain ways of writing and thinking. Leave that up to colonialism. This blog series simply presents a set of theses, of autobiographical reflections and meditations, of provocations and critiques that invite our communities and cultural workers to rigorously interrogate the politics of creative writing and art practice. Too often genre and form are used interchangeably. While it's not my primary objective to propose a rigid distinction between genre and form, I will explore the relationships between the capitalist logics of production and consumption and notions of genre and form. In his discussion of genre, the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida sets out to interrogate the argument that "genres are not to be mixed." In my discussion of genre here, I will mix and mix and remix. Part memoir, part autoethnography, part critical theory, part rant, part bashful manifesto, this series argues for a robust understanding of literature, one that attends to the ethical and political implications of our creative writing practices. In other words, this series sweats the hell out of technique and style, what some might call poetics, what some might call practice, what some might call aesthetics, what I sometimes call writing swagger. I intend to reckon with these often conflated terminologies. I intend to meditate and meditate toward either a fresher understanding of or a host of new questions about literary practice.


I remain committed to the ‘literary act’ and thus, I often wonder: Can we in fact dismantle the master’s house with our current set of literary tools? What is it that we actually do in/with our literature? What can our literature actually do? That is, what are the material effects of our writing?

While I will reflect explicitly and implicitly on poetry, memoir, fiction, drama, performance, ethnography, history, film/new media, blogging, I am more interested in broadening the series toward a discussion of practice. What we do. How we do. How it is that we have come do what it is we claim to do. Perhaps this series is an epistemology of form and genre. As a VONA alumnus, a traumatized MFA, and an ethnic studies scholar, I center the problems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and nationalism. Furthermore, I draw upon an interdisciplinary body of knowledge in order to broaden my interrogation. I will do my best to provide adequate context for the conversations I wish to incite.   

Some topics I'm considering exploring: the notion of subjectivity and its relationship to form and genre; the question of audience; the power and limitations of fiction; contemporary ideas about creativity and art; the 'law of genre'; the discursive and epistemic violence of discipline; the 'racial mountain' for Filipino American artists; the predicament of English for Filipino and Filipino American writers; performance and performativity; experimentation and its discontents; and failure as a potential method. (Secretly, I hope that your comments/insights will throw me off course so we can have a more dynamic, unpredictable discussion.)  

Ultimately, "Sweat the Technique" reinvigorates the discussion around the politics of form, genre and creative writing practice. I remain committed to the 'literary act' and thus, I often wonder: Can we in fact dismantle the master's house with our current set of literary tools? What is it that we actually do in/with our literature? What can our literature actually do? That is, what are the material effects of our writing?


NOTES:

1. Rakim [Allah], "Don't Sweat the Technique," in Don't Sweat the Technique, Erik B. & Rakim, © 1992 by MCA Records, Audiocassette.  

2. SEE Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," in Sister Outsider (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007), 110-113.

3. SEE Jacques Derrida, "The Law of Genre," Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992), 181-252.    



ABOUT GUEST-BLOGGER:

Jason Magabo Perez is a writer and performance artist. His writings have appeared in TAYO, Witness, and Mission at Tenth. Perez has been commissioned by Kularts and funded by an NEA Challenge America Grant, and he has performed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the National Asian American Theater Festival, and the International Conference of the Philippines. Currently, he lives in San Diego. www.jasonmagaboperez.com

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