My Heart Is In Two Countries

Three nights ago, I attended the Is America In The Heart? New Filipinx Literature event at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in NYC. Coming back into this space is always warm and welcoming, as a former intern for this incredible organization that supports emerging and established Asian American writers and literature. Even more so, the line-up for the event featured Luis H. Francia, Joseph O. Legaspi, Gina Apostol, and debut author Elaine Castillo, for the release of her first novel, America is Not the Heart (Viking, 2018) and discussions on Fil-Am literature and diasporic writing.

I was fortunate to attend the event, in the middle of the week, because AAWW fosters a space for intellectual enlightenment and low-key fangirling over meeting writers who look like you. (AAWW is also amazing for broadcasting their events through livestream, so you can experience the magic of Fil-Am literature and writers below! Here’s their YouTube channel: AAWWTV!)

Listening to Francia, Legaspi, and Castillo read some of their work on stage was an “experience”. I say that in quotes because I rarely get a chance to be present in the same room with those who are in the position that I want to be in some day–a writer whose work is widely recognized and speaks on my experience as an American-born and raised Filipina. So it is an ethereal feeling of sitting a few feet away from these writers discussing their work and what/who influenced them to pursue writing. (From the video above, a portion of my face can be seen at 1:25:34, where my friend Michael asks a question. That’s how close I was!)

Gina Apostol acted as moderator for the event. She posed a few questions to the writers, the stand-out being: “What does Bulosan mean to you?”

Elaine Castillo said it best, “We are all kids of Bulosan.” For many of us who search for Filipino identity, particularly in literature, coming across Bulosan’s novel America Is In The Heart is the one that invokes an awakening within us, almost like becoming a “born-again Filipino”. (Religious imagery may not be for everyone, but it fits here because many of us were raised Catholic, myself included.) Reading the experiences of the manongs in the West coast, through the perspective of Allos, and learning more about the history of Filipinos in America ignites an inner fire to carry on their legacy. It is through Bulosan, who also wrote poetry and short stories up until his death in 1956 (his work published posthumously), that we aspire to become writers and bring our narratives to the literary space that has long been dominated by “the white establishment” (i.e., Anglo-centric, male-centric, hetero-centric narratives).

I had written my thoughts on Bulosan and his novel back in November 2014. But I will say here that Bulosan is my literary manong, and it is by writing in this space that I am carrying on his legacy. I hope to one day get published and become recognized for my work, but I already acknowledge and regard myself as “one of his kids”.

After the panel discussion, I had the chance to meet the authors and get their “blessings” on my copies of their work and in my notebook.

(From top to bottom) Gina Apostol (author of Gun Dealers’ Daughter), Elaine Castillo (her book SOLD OUT at the event!), and R.A. Villanueva (author of Reliquaria) // Written in my notebook for {getlitfilam}

(I have previously mentioned that Luis Francia was my former professor in college, which is a privilege to be one of his students and to have learned so much about Fil-Am literature and Philippines history from him!)

It was a blessing and honor to meet Fil-Am writers who are where I want to be some day. It matters a lot to be able to speak to them (for a short time) about their work and to express gratitude for paving the way for those of us trying to push through with our writing. (Even more so, being told that you have a beautiful name–which you are still trying to appreciate having/being identified by for many years–as Legaspi wrote in my copy of his book, Threshold…!!)

[Side story]: I finally had the chance to meet R.A. Villanueva, author of Reliquaria. I wrote about his book for a class called Asian American Poetics in Fall 2014 (taught by Sally Wen Mao). My professor told Villanueva about my paper, and we corresponded through social media about meeting in person, mainly to rave about it! This event was made even more special because of this (and meeting his adorable two-year-old son!), all thanks to Sally Wen Mao for mentioning my paper years ago :) Since I didn’t bring my copy of his book for him to sign, he wrote in my notebook (shown above; bottom of page).


With all this raving about Fil-Am literature, I would like to announce that I will be launching {getlitfilam} (or, “getlitfilam channel”) this summer!!

It has been a long time coming… But this project is dear to me because I have been looking for “myself” in books and never felt like my experiences as a Filipino American were worth telling or being significant…

Through {getlitfilam}, I hope to bring literary works “by and about people of Filipino-descent” to an interactive space, no matter where you are or at what level of interest in books. There is an excellent, ever-growing collection of works I have to discuss/review/analyze/fangirl about with you all! Looking forward to it!!

The launch will take place in June or July (depending on how quickly I can recover from jetlag, as I will be traveling in the Philippines–the Motherland!–next month). A website and YouTube channel will be released (also to be updated in the tab); but for now, check out the official Twitter @getlitfilam for updates! (#getLITfilam #gitgitLITerate)


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