Special Issue: Community


VENUS INFINITE: Sigmund Aberin (Appeared in TAYO ISSUE 1).

Editor's Letter:

By Melissa R. Sipin

"Community" is an emotive word. 

Over the past two years as the Community Engagement Fellow at Mills College's MFA Program, I was blessed enough to enter into a community as diverse and challenging as the Filipino political justice movement here in the San Francisco–Bay Area. Community here is rife with history: the civil rights moment in the '60s; the Delano and Stockton manongs who came here and altered the California landscape with their brown, beautiful hands; the lineage of protest, anti-war, and community organizing; to the growth of Filipino Americans over the past 2–3 decades here in the Bay, which led to the highest concentrated population of Filipino Americans in the U.S.

When I started the community fellowship, I had three goals: one, work with a broad aspect of the Filipino American community here in the Bay Area by teaching and planning writing workshops; and two, let the writing workshops act as a praxis of decolonization through self-reflection. I knew that two years was an impossible linear framework to enter a community: it's like joining a family, and families are built over generations. The third goal was this: publication. Publication, in its most organic and simple expression, is a way of being "seen." The Filipino American community has a history of being "The Invisible Minority," despite being the second largest Asian American population in the nation and having the highest rate of assimilation.

As cofounder of TAYO Literary Magazine, I used TAYO as the backbone of my writing workshops. I brought in writers, all published and interviewed by TAYO, to the workshop. I taught Filipino American writers to Filipino American activists, high school students, community college students, private college students, and public college students. At each phase of my community fellowship, I doused myself in the community and history of this land, bringing in stories that spoke directly to these themes: politics, mischief, trauma, narrative landscape, and community.

In Phase I of my project, I taught a 4-week writing workshop with Anakbayan East Bay (AB), a grassroots national democratic mass organization of Filipino youth. AB participants wanted to humanize the 'militant social activist' and the National Democratic (ND) movement, a political and underground movement against American neo-colonialism in the Philippines.

"The ND movement means fighting to make sure that the people of the Philippines never go hungry. It means letting the people in the Philippines live with a roof over their heads. It means giving them clothing and making sure they have proper healthcare. It means providing the people with real education. It means fighting for a true and genuine democracy that serves the people. The ND movement is a love for the people." — Chris Guevarra

The work from this workshop is presented in the "Where They Belonged" chapbook, and we've published their works here, in TAYO's special issue, "Community." The participants' identification with the ND movement struck a cord with my pedagogy of writing: the belief that self-reflection is an act of praxis, that self-reflection leads to action, that writing—the act of it—is an act of decolonization:

"The ND movement means discovering myself, fighting for what I believe in, connecting to my past." — Eric Guico

We celebrated Phase I by reading at the BAYAN Holiday Party in December 2012. This first phase, which introduced me to the political community in the Bay Area, led me to Phase II, where I taught a one-day writing conference, "Of Colored, Dignified Tongues," with two educational organizations, {m}aganda Magazine at UC Berkeley and Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP), a Filipina/o American Studies curriculum and teaching pipeline. PEP is currently a service-learning program and partners with SF public schools located in the Excelsior neighborhood, which has the highest concentration of Filipina/o youth. The project culminated to a reading of participants at the 2nd Annual Filipino American International Book Fest and SF Public Library in October 2013.

In Phase III, I returned to the SF Public Library and taught a writing workshop with PAWA Inc., {m}aganda Magazine, and TAYO. We held a mini-reading of the works in each magazine and facilitated the collective poem writing prompt. We asked ourselves two questions: one, what's an object that's been in your family for years? What has that object seen? And two, who do you owe this for?

In exciting ways, Phase I–III interlocked in theory and practice, providing tools of writing, archiving, and mental sustenance to Filipina/o youth who grew up in similar childhoods as myself, one of cultural erasure and the lost of unnamable things. But these conflicting emotions erupted in our writing workshops, and we took them, unraveled them, birthed them onto our pages.

I present to the community and beyond the work that was produced in community engagement.

Each piece struck me like no other. In their gravity and weight, each story and poem grappled and disheveled the single story of Filipino Americans—that of the invisibility and erasure of self.

I end with an excerpt from Jean Pada, a PEP student I met at Balboa High School:

The room’s big and dark. It’s late at night, two groups. This combination: a clue for trouble. Then there’s commotion, bottles thrown, fists connecting with faces and concrete painting with blood. Now don’t get me wrong: I come from a good family and I do well in school. This is just an incident. An incident: society’s perception.

Not all teenagers are fools.
— Jean Pada

Not all teenagers are fools; not all Filipinos are maids; not all Filipinos are sailors; not all Filipinos are nannies; not all Filipinos are gangbangers; not all Filipinos are poor; not all Filipinos are desperate; not all Filipinos are resilient; not all Filipinos are content; not all Filipinos are angry. This special issue, and my own community engagement, cannot encompass the magnitude and beauty of what it is like to be Filipino. But: we are here, in America, and we are human, and we have been here for a long, long time. The land knows it. And with our brown hands, we present to you a slice of that phantasmagoria: Filipinos living in the Bay Area, here and now—living and breathing, kicking and screaming, loving and being.



Grace Burns

Featured Reader

Trinidad Escobar


Kathleen Gutierrez


Joshua Castro


Teresita Bautista


Mg Roberts


Kay Cuajunco

Community Poem:
"If Everyone Had The Chance To Tell Their Story,
What Would Happen?"

Participants at the PAWA+TAYO+MAGANDA Writing Workshop
at the SFPL on 02/16/2014

About the Editor:

Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. She won First Place in the 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open and her writing is published or forthcoming in Glimmer Train Stories, Kartika Review, and The Bakery, among others. Melissa blogs at msipin.com.