Pinay’Merican: Black Women Writers

Quick announcement: Since I’m continuing the sub-blog (which I received a grade of A — yaaay!), I added a new category so that all posts related to it can be found in one place.

Pinay’Merican is a series of personal entries about exploring identity, as a Filipino-American, an aspiring writer, and a millennial.

I have about two months to go until I graduate from college! Up to this point, I have become accustomed to the collegiate culture while also be introduced to “the real world”. I have been asked about my post-undergraduate plans, in which my answers vary. Not because “I have no idea,” but because “I have my own agenda and I don’t feel compelled to inform you about it.”

For the past three and a half years, I have fought a secret, silent battle of becoming a writer. In the guise of taking literature and theory courses to “enlighten my intellect” or to “fulfill credits for graduation,” I took note of things that will help me as a writer so that I can build confidence in myself and share it with a wide audience someday. Currently, I am mostly taking elective courses not just to fill up my schedule, but also to feed into my curiosity. One of the courses I am taking is “Black Women Writers”.

In this class, we survey novels written by women of color that explore certain perspectives of Black womanhood. There is a major emphasis on the “lesson from storytelling” that offers the reader to reflect on his/her own perspective of the Black community, especially the women who bear the weight of struggle, adversity, and intersectionality that appear in the texts. (FYI, my professor for the class is Eisa Ulen, author, journalist, and essayist.)

So far we read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (my second time reading of it, since 12th grade), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow. Coming up next is Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak! (The author is also coming to my college for the MFA program’s Distinguished Writers series this semester!). The characters in these novels range in age and circumstance, but they all experience similar conditions that force them into silence but also into breaking it through different means, such as reclaiming identity, returning to ancestral roots, and refuging in the natural world.

I enjoy the class a lot. It offers a great start to my days, especially before going to my internship where I will surround myself with works by Asian American writers. What makes it a wonderful class is that we discuss the themes and motifs that arise in the texts and initiate a conversation about racial and gender discourse (and sometimes digressions on popular culture and family life). Often I would think about my own works-in-progress, where my characters try to understand their positions as young adults who must confront a world that does not welcome them or regard them as part of humanity. In order to write about the experiences of my characters, I must learn to look into my own experience and incorporate that into my writing.

By reading these novels, I look at the narrative structures–the way the author describes internal thoughts and scenes that I mark with a pencil and write, “geez… i feels this” or something more intelligible (for my sake). I also look at the underlying themes in the novel itself or in relation to other things I’ve across, inside and outside of the classroom. By studying the ways these Black women writers depict the world they are familiar with, I begin to see my own world through a different lens besides the one I was used to seeing. What is it like to be a (young) woman of color that grew up in the suburbs? How does my suburban town, which is ethnically and racially diverse, differ from other suburban towns that have otherwise? How has my personal scope been shaped to view things, in relation to my position as a minority? Is it possible to change my perspective or “unlearn” things when confronted with new information?

I am surprised that no one has approached me to ask why I am taking a course on “Black Women Writers” when I am Asian American. What can you learn in that class? Honestly, the name of any class or organization should not mislead people to think that it is exclusive to certain people. But to offer an answer: I am, nonetheless, a (young) woman of color who hopes to be published someday. Through reading the experiences of other women of color–fiction or non-fiction–I learn how to write about my own experiences because my story is as important to tell as any other. I grew up not knowing that there have been Asian American women before me who attempted (and are still attempting) to bring their own voices to the surface because they, as well as many other minority voices, have been denied access to the mainstream literature or media. I may be noble and ambitious to think altruistically about future generations of readers, but I feel that if there should be more voices to speak about the experiences of minorities, I might as well try to be one of them since I already have that motivation set.

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