by Rose Churma
The book was conceptualized to express a variety of positions on the question of what it meant to write in the diaspora and to represent a broad variety of perspectives.
The writers were asked to reflect on the related themes such as “separation, exile, expatriate life, (im)migration, (re)location and/or travel abroad” and how these experiences affected their lives and works, and how it has defined the creative process, as well as their concepts of home, identity and allegiance.
The thrust was more on the personal and meditative essay (less academic) that asks the writer to reflect on their experiences in the “space” represented by the motherland or the idea of being Filipino.
Fifteen writers from different parts of the world responded to the challenge, and the result is what Marianne Villanueva describes as “A lovely and powerful book—a meditation on what it means to be the other. It’s about journeys; it’s about memory. It is about recovery and discovery. Ultimately healing and transformative, this is a book to savor.”
The first essay in the book is by Nick Carbo who has two published books of poetry and is the editor of an anthology on Filipina and Filipino-American writers. He calls himself part of the Martial Law Generation who grew up under the Marcos Dictatorship, and whose American journey began in 1984. He writes: “In America, I began to look at things clearly, pulling them off like leaves from a tree and putting them in a book,” noting that Native Americans called books “talking leaves” and he began to make beautiful books!
Another interesting essay is by Bino A. Realuyo, author of Umbrella Country, whose mental monologue entitled “Life at McDonald’s (or, Life is not English)” concludes that sharing a common language gives strength to a community, but also can become exclusionary if others in that community do not understand that language. A strong proponent of learning English as a common language, he believes that this will allow communication at a rudimentary level—an epiphany he received while ordering breakfast at McDonald’s.
In “Fading Tattoos” the author Angel Velasco Shaw shares a script initially conceptualized as film. She believes, however, that this piece of writing “is meant to be read, projected on the back of readers’ eyelids, in their own home theater.”
It is a difficult piece to decipher. A co-editor of Vestiges of War(NYU Press 2003), this book uses photographs, plays and poetry to address issues brought about by American colonialism in the Philippines. “Fading Tattoos” is meant to be viewed in your mind’s eye but with similar artistic juxtapositions used in her earlier anthology on American colonialism.
The longest of the essays (and one that resonated with me) was the piece by Melinda Bobis. She is a trilingual (Bikol, Pilipino and English) writer of poetry, fiction and performance text (material she uses for her performance art). She also is a lecturer on creative writing at the University of Wollongong in Australia.
In this essay, she uses the human wishbone as a metaphor for the practice of art and likens it to crossing borders, thus the title she chose for her piece: “Border Lover.” Crossing borders come in many forms: it could be the conflict brought about by the choice of language to use in one’s art; or crossing borders between writing genres, which in this case is “Rita’s Lullaby.”
This is her radio play that won the Prix Italia (an international competition with entries from 30 countries in 1998). She shares how it evolved from a poem to a stage play but was eventually adopted into a radio play.
The editor is Luisa A. Igloriawho is the author of 14 books of poetry and four chapbooks. She is a tenured Professor of Creative Writing and English and was Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University.
She was selected as the Poet Laureate of Virginia in 2020 and served as a keynote speaker at the Aloha & Mabuhay Conference in 2021. She was a Visiting Humanities Scholar in 1996 at the Center for Philippine Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Originally from Baguio City, she has received awards from both the Philippines and the USA for her poetry.
ROSE CHURMA established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.
by Rose Churma