“Angry men have little to live for when their rage becomes ineffective.”
— Miguel Syjuco from his novel Ilustrado.
I’m having a very hard time writing my Statement of Purpose (and/or Autobiographical Sketch/Personal History Statement) for my MFA applications. I keep telling myself it isn’t because I’m a bad writer (if it is, then I shouldn’t be applying in the first place). It’s just because my mind is everywhere. I’ve been researching and researching on “what to write in the statement of purpose,” from the MFA Creative Writing Handbook, to the MFA Creative Blog, to random blogs of different MFA-ers online, to even the Statement of Purpose essays of my dear friends, which have been tremendously helpful. The best article that helped me was on the Chronicle, which was entitled “The Purposeless Statement”, and in it, Peter Derby tells us quite explicitly to just be honest. Then I realized it: I have been desperately searching outside of me to find a reason why I “want” to be a writer. I’m an insecure person and I always have been, and so it makes logical sense why my first impulse is to search for others’ confirmation for my writing abilities instead of looking at myself, at the own plank(s) in my eyes. The truth is I am a writer. I always have been, writing has always been my catharsis, my method of navigating this world, and the other side of that truth is I’m not a very good writer (yet). Another thing that is hindering my statement is my anger. I’m a very angry person. My anger stems from my natural being as an idealist, a disappointed idealist at that, and I do not know how (yet) to directly channel my anger for effective causes or actions. I know what I want to say in my statement. I just don’t know how to frame it. And, I guess, this is what the uphill battle is for a writer. It’s so difficult to be one, always constantly guessing yourself at every turn and always trying to extricate from the rubble of your personal histories to find who “you” are or what your voice is trying to say of the world. I mean this with a nod to James Baldwin and the plight of the non-white man. And, as such (with a nod to the poet Eileen Tabios), I realize my anger also stems from the fact that I am a bastard child due to the Philippine diaspora. But the reason why I want, no, why I have to write is because I see there is a specific voice that is still lacking in the repertoire of Filipino literature and American literature. I separate these two because they are not necessarily one and the same (and I bundle ‘Filipino American literature’ with American literature). To be quite honest, I’m tired of hearing the voices of children from the elite in Filipino literature. I’m tired of reading a novel that spans 150 years of Philippine history and is in itself a long-arching metaphor that externally reflects the embattled self of my embattled homeland. The reason why I am tired is not because this fiction isn’t good fiction, and not because the things that these specific novels explore have already been said and analyzed, no, there should be more novels on the Philippines and its heartwrenching relationship with its children. And I’m not tired in the sense that I think I shouldn’t read such novels, I actually love and admire them, and I devour these novels whenever I have a chance. The reason why I’m tired is because what we usually hear in these novels are the voices of the people who are from the ilustrado, and they are part of a people, whether they like it or not, who regard people like me, people who come from street urchin parents, with disgust and disdain, and as such they paint us as if they see us unequivocally when in fact they cannot and do not know our qualms, our fears, our darkness. Call it their colonial inferiority complexes, but there is a gap between us and the elite whether we like it or not. A child of a rich man can’t fully know the depths of a poor man, and it is an impossibility that is akin to a camel passing through an eye of a needle. Like James Baldwin, I am unmistakably American first and Filipino in body. Yes, my father was born in Mandaluyong and my grandmother was born in Northern Luzon (her city is still unknown to me), but my identity as a Filipino has been stamped out because of my father’s relentless ambition to erase any foreign accent that might have been placed on my lips. I cannot even say my father’s place of birth without butchering it shamefully. You see, my anger is vast and it is everywhere. There are many authors who have shed a light on what it means to be a Filipino American, like Brian Ascalon Roley, Lysley Tenario, and many others, but there are few. As for me, I’m still trying to distill my answer to why I write. It is a process, and I hope I can find a structure to my answer soon.