For Até Evelina, Até Elmaz, my literary sista pinays & kuyas & brothers ❤
There is so much to say about this past literary weekend. First, I have to say thank you. Thank you to my literary atés, M. Evelina Galang, Barbara Jane Reyes, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Luisa Igloria, Angela Narciso Torres, Marianne Villanueva, Cecilia Brainard, Mg Roberts, Penelope Flores, and to the honorary pinay Elmaz Abinader; to my literary sista pinays & brother pinoys, Trinidad Escobar, Janice Sapigao, Grace Burns, Maria Vallarta, Aimee Suzara, Raymond Sapida, Jean Pada, Von Torres, Kristian Kabuay, and more; and to my literary kuyas, Paul Ocampo, Edwin Lozada, Jason Bayani, Mitchell Yangson, the honorary kuya Oscar Bermeo, Lysley Tenorio, Jon Pineda, and more. I know there are so many more to thank, and so many people I wished I talked more to at the Fil Book Fest II–Rashaan, Luisa, and Jon to name a few–but I can’t express how honored I am to be part of such a wonderful, vibrant, opinionated, funny, ambitious, and fierce community. For the lifting words, the love and warmth, the challenging conversations and panels and readings: it was wonderful. Truly.
Likhâ ng Lahi (literature of the people); Writing Our Way Home. This was the theme of this year’s festival, and this notion permeated my mind throughout the weekend. Flashes of images from the festival saturated my mind: the SF Public Library and its neighbor, the golden City Hall with is plaza burgeoning of homeless folks and crowds of bodies for The Flaming Lips concert at the left, and another food festival down the street; the dancing Pinay with a smoking leaf who celebrated the festival’s grand opening; the beating of the Kulintang a tiniok, its melodic murmur filling the library’s basement with sounds of home, a mythical home for me, a home I cannot remember fluidly but know I am from and a part of; the elongated paper printed with black ink, bleeding an old Tagalog word I couldn’t recall but knew was a part of me, a part of that mythical home; the library’s public bathrooms with signs, Absolutely No Bathing of Any Kind Allowed Here; the crowded Latino Community Room with the colorful, rainbow-like mural on the wall; the stacks of books and books from Arkipelago and Philippine Expressions; the room crowded with even more brown bodies, people buzzing from table to table, filling the room with their murmurs and love as if this were a family reunion, a reunion of letters & arts; and the panels–the panels!–such interweaving and intersecting conversations that conflicted my mind and expanded it; and the readings–the stellar readings!–by artists and writers whom I could call my own: my community.
This was, and is, a literary event eschewing that idea, Filipinos don’t read, and although it was stressful, tiring, and exciting, I know it can only get better from here.
There is much I can talk about, but I will condense it here: I loved spending time with Até Evelina. It was such a joy to drive her around and pick her brain and talk incessantly about anything: from the way our hair is affixed to wedding dresses to flounders (did I spell that right? Haha, wonderful 10-year-old pinays who are too old to be flower girls) to the community to writing to art to the half moon to history to the lolas to my own lola, who follows me everywhere, protecting me when I am alone and when I am not.
I was grateful for LitCrawl and the tireless LitQuake volunteers for pulling off the monster that is LitCrawl. Thank you to those who crowded the streets at the Deepistan National Parklet for an awesome PAWA Reading, thank you to the readers for enunciating and flooding your stories and poems to the blinking lights and cars passing by, and thank you to those who filled up the red, red room of Revolution Café, for hearing us, Nani, Jenny, Margaret, Rebecca, and Micheline, honor the oldest cunt in the world–the carved image of a vulva on the Gobekli Tepe in historic Armenia. Thank you to Micheline, Muthoni, Shanna, and Gastavo for the wonderful adventure post-LitCrawl–for shrimp tacos, bad sangria, and a slice of pizza–thank you.
Thank you to my Até Elmaz for always, always grounding me, and to Anthony for always feeding me and taking my picture (ha!).
Thank you to everyone in this literary city, for it is here that my writing has exploded, it is in this new home where I have found myself, again and again, where I can look up to the sprawling skyscrapers, recall the places I have been, travelled, seen, and escaped, and I can look at the fog clouding the nighttime sky and moon and think of my husband, of my family, of all those who loved and love me, and I can be thankful for everything that life has given, breathed, partook, taken, and allowed.
I am thankful. Although I know that writing is a solitary act, it is reminders like these that come to me like the murmurs from a home now lost: I am not alone. I’m not treading this narrow path without compadres or atés or kuyas or sistas or brothers. Literature is important. Writing is important. Our writings are important. Our stories are, too, and they are of the new Americana, they are shifting the literary mindscape of what it means to be American. I am of two countries and not; I am of two families and not. I am contradicting and not; I am American and Filipina and not. I am a writer and a woman and a pinay and a human and everything that is in-between: I am a dalaga. Always searching for home, always questioning, always treading a path paved by the giants and atés and kuyas before me. And for that, I am always grateful.
Last but not least, I will end with this lasting, cutting-to-the-bone image: a homeless woman in a public restroom, her coat tattered, her white hair disheveled, her skin rough, her eyes opened, sad, her lips breaking into a smile, her turning to me with a pink razor in her hand, shaving the beard that you cannot see. I shared a mirror with that beautiful, old woman. I wanted to hold her hand, tell her that I, too, suffer from incessant hair growth, and if only we weren’t tormented by things of our past that make us look into that mirror and have to shave, cut, edit, critique, erase. This woman with her eyes: she will never leave me. I left that public restroom in that grand, sprawling library, with its glass ceilings and windows, in awe and in torment of the things I had no control of, of the things that I share with countless of bodies that crowd the streets, all looking for a way home.