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In Praise of the Filipino Hustle
[That’s me, with Eileen Tabios, in 2001 or 2002, toasting Manuel Ocampo’s painting Die Kreuzigung Christi.]
It’s recently been brought to my attention that in the APIA literary scene, so many of the “movers and shakers” are Filipino Americans. Is this true?
I had to think about it, and while I think my perception isn’t objective, neutral, or balanced by any means, I want to say, to some extent I agree. Growing up into and in a Filipino American literary scene, there were a lot of “elder” and fellow Filipino American authors pulling, pushing, coaxing me along, personally, or by example, or by their presence and visibility, or by a bit of wisdom or encouragement passed along in a brief conversation — Manong Al Robles, Jessica Hagedorn, Ninotchka Rosca, R. Zamora Linmark, Brian Ascalon Roley, Bino Realuyo, Arlene Biala. Or their books challenged me or opened me up in big and important ways — Catalina Cariaga’s Cultural Evidence, Luis Francia’s Eye of the Fish, Jaime Jacinto’s Heaven is Just Another Country.
[Nick Carbó, Patrick Rosal, Anthem Salgado, Luis Francia, SFPL librarian Estela Manila, (a friend of Estela’s), and that’s me on the floor, 2003.]
Luis Francia and Eric Gamalinda co-edited Flippin: Filipinos on America (Asian American Writers Workshop, 1996).
Luis Francia edited Brown River, White Ocean: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Philippine Literature in English (Rutgers University Press, 1996).
Nick Carbó edited Returning a Borrowed Tongue: An Anthology of Filipino and Filipino American Poetry (Coffee House Press, 1995).
Evelina Galang edited Screaming Monkeys (Coffee House Press, 2003).
Nick Carbó and Eileen Tabios edited Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers (Aunt Lute Books, 2000).
Eileen Tabios edited Black Lightning (Temple University Press, 1998).
Marianne Villanueva and Virginia Cerenio edited Going Home to a Landscape: Writings by Filipinas (Calyx Books, 2003).
Now, I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Flips (I know it’s a racial epithet; this is also what the Filipino writers listserv is called) hella been publishing novels, short story collections, children’s books, poetry collections (my ongoing biblio is here); winning prizes right and left; founding, operating, and/or teaching in writing orgs (Sarah Gambito, Joseph O. Legaspi, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jon Pineda, Patrick Rosal, Oliver de la Paz, R.A. Villanueva, Regie Cabico, Rick Barot up at Kundiman; Evelina Galang and Jessica Hagedorn at VONA), becoming poet laureates (Paolo Javier of Queens! JoAnn Balingit in Delaware! Russell Gonzaga in Lake County, CA!), founding small presses in all kinds of places — the legendary Kearny Street Workshop, Asian American Writers Workshop, Eileen Tabios’s Meritage Press, Edwin Lozada’s Carayan Press, Cecilia Brainard’s Philippine American Literary House, Marie Romero’s Arkipelago Books, Paolo Javier’s 2nd Avenue Press), editing/curating literary journals/venues “big” and “small” — Vince Gotera at North American Review, Eileen was editing Asian Pacific American Journal, and in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s at UC Berkeley, Celine and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas were part of a team of editors producing Smell This, a women of color coalition publication, and this left a mark on me in a big way. Rachelle Cruz is now curating and hosting The Blood-Jet Writing Hour. Remé Grefalda is the founder and curator of the Asian-American Pacific Islander Collection in the Library of Congress and editor of Our Own Voice: Filipinos in the Diaspora.
On the local level, I was so moved to action by Liwanag, Kearny Street Workshop, Maganda magazine, Bindlestiff Studio. Fellow writers in my local “spoken word” scene were so energetic and positive; I remember just trying to figure it all out with Michelle Bautista, Rona Fernandez, Maiana Minahal, Marirose Taruc, Tony Robles, Joel Tan, Anthem Salgado. My Flip mentors kept me on track in my most scattered and negative moments, reminded me to stick to my guns and stand my ground when events organizers tried to shaft me, to persist in submitting my work to publishers, to self-examine my work and process in literary and political contexts. They opened up publication and reading opportunities to me when I thought there were none.
At my reading at UTEP, I was introduced by the ebullient Sasha Pimentel Chacón, whose introduction flustered me to no end because it was so full of this amazing praise. I almost didn’t recognize the person she was talking about. But at the end of her intro, she said something that really warmed my heart. She told the audience that I was the source of one of her earliest publications (I’d included a couple of her poems in the issue of OCHO I’d guest edited some years ago, before her first book was even accepted for publication by West End Press), and that I was “an accomplished Pinay giving an opportunity to an emerging Pinay,” “a role model,” she said. I’ve got nothing but gratitude about this all.
What I want to know is this: where did we get that hustle? How did my mentors know what to do, how to do it, in the name of Filipino American letters? I’ve learned from them, Nick Carbó, Jaime Jacinto, Eileen Tabios, Bino Realuyo, Evelina Galang, Vince Gotera, Marianne Villanueva. I am trying my best to do for folks in my community, and especially for younger Flip writers, what my mentors and elders have done for me.