Thanksgiving, or The U.S. Apology to All Native Peoples

Book Reviews, Poetry, Sunday Spotlight

In 2009, the United States issued an S.J. Res. 14 “to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.”

Thanksgiving has been synonymous to a long holiday weekend, a table laden with food, a time to spend (sometimes uncomfortably) with family, a holiday bespectacled with gratitude and warmth.

My immigrant family has adopted this tradition for over a decade now, although the only thing that resembles the traditional American celebration is a barely-touched turkey at the end of the evening. The tables are usually filled with Filipino dishes and an assortment of sweets, pies and dessert, as conversations toggle between the best Black Friday sales and what’s happening back in our hometown of Apalit, Pampanga.

I have participated in all of this, but because I am a product of my own curiosity and more and more, a stickler for authenticity, I remember trying to figure out where Thanksgiving came from and what it really stood for. That was back in 2004.

I was horrified as soon as I found out. I was coming of age, coming out, coming to terms with trying to acculturate in a new land, only to find out that this land was actually built on the genocide of Native Americans.

I think of all these things as I currently reside in Northern California — Ohlone land. I don’t get a lot of things right but there is a constant re-education interwoven with love, respect, history and memory; an acknowledgment of a reality rooted in the loss of lives of many tribes and indigenous people.

So I remember, I honor in the best ways I can: this Thanksgiving, an homage to the work of Layli Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota poet, writer and artist.

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On Saturday, December 19, 2009, US President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. No tribal leaders or official representatives were invited to witness and receive the Apology on behalf of tribal nations. President Obama never read the Apology aloud, publicly — although, for the record, Senator Sam Brownback five months later read the Apology to a gathering of five tribal leaders, though there are more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the US. The Apology was then folded into a larger, unrelated piece of legislation called the 2010 Defense Appropriation Act.

My response is directed to the Apology’s delivery, as well as the language, crafting, and arrangement of the written document. I am a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation — and in this dual citizenship, I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.

I started reading Whereas on the eve of Thanksgiving, in the same year the #NoDAPL camps were forcibly closed, where Native Americans, allies and protesters stood in defiance of a pipeline project which cuts across Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

I have so many questions regarding the Apology and its language, its delivery as Long Soldier writes, one of only seven apologies made to Native Americans. It reads like someone’s troubled conscience trying to appease itself of its mistakes, without undermining its inequitable gains.

Some parts of it are downright offensive, some playing it safe. Some are affirmative, some negating. Some hopeful, some guaranteed to elicit long sighs.

It almost reads like poetry, Long Soldier says, in an interview with Krista Tippet. In her book Whereas, she writes rightful responses to this Apology as she maps out words, pain, history, remembrance and the right to life.

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Her poem-responses carry the weight of what wasn’t written down, of what wasn’t acknowledged. They relay the untold stories and the depth of what should’ve been read out loud. She writes about living conditions, mental care, how the Apology was followed by budget sequestration.

And instead of the haphazard ways the U.S. government has continued to treat this issue, the people, Native American lives, Long Soldier offers solutions, poems on what the Apology could’ve looked like.

this land
ill-breaking
“apologizes”
boundaries

Bring this to the table, bring this with you. Bring Long Soldier’s poetry in the arcs of your mouths, in the same manner that you say thanks.

 

Poetry as Vulnerability, with Words Anonymous and Juan Miguel Severo

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit

It all started with Juan Miguel Severo.

Thursday evening dinners are a thing in our family, as my siblings and I, along with our partners enjoy a homecooked meal at home with my parents. Over pork cracklings (toppings for a mung bean dish), my sister showed me video that has just gone viral.

It was Severo’s Ang Huling Tula Na Isusulat Ko Para Sa’yo (The Last Poem I’ll Ever Write For You) and by the end of the 6 minute mark, I was utterly floored.

It was my first time seeing Filipino spoken word poetry. The words that came to mind instantly were tagos sa puso (straight through the heart). Most of the poetry I’ve read from Filipino poets like Lorena Barros, Jose Garcia Villa and Bienvenido Lumbrera have awakened my consciousness, touched my mind with indelible truths. And while I am grateful for these poets for bringing the kind of light needed to usher in what has been the darkest, Severo brought out a different, more tangible element with his spoken word: how it feels to be vulnerable.

I was hooked and I wanted to find out more about the Filipino spoken word poetry scene. Severo was a member of Words Anonymous, a group of spoken word artists in the Philippines.

When I was in the Philippines earlier this year, I was hoping to catch a show. I wasn’t so lucky, but I was able to pick up a few copies of the Words Anonymous’s first collection of poetry Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado (Every Third Saturday).

The book is a transcript of spoken words by the group, compiled and edited by Severo. There are 26 pieces in the collection, poems about love and heartbreak and tenderness and yearning. Of unrelenting hope, of day breaking with the promise of (even more) love.

While my eyes glossed over the pages, I tried to imagine what it would like to be in the presence of these poets, how it would feel like to be in the same room with them and engulf my senses in their pain, in their hope, in their magic.

Two poems that stood out to me, interestingly enough, shared a word in the title of their pieces: landi or “flirting/to flirt.” The word is versatile, as it can denote playfulness in one second, or a weapon of slut-shaming in the next.

I particularly enjoyed Abby Orbeta‘s poem “Hindi Lumandi si Rizal Para Lumandi Ka” (roughly, “Rizal Did Not Die So You Can Flirt”), a poem about a long-lost love, written in a timeline of the worst things to happen to the country.

Orbeta intersected what-coul’dve-beens as she narrated a massacre that happened down south, to a typhoon that ravaged a city. The poem was a commentary on longing, on political consciousness, on a former lover’s attempt of “helping out” at a time of disaster. The country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, did not die after all, so that the youth can engage in “vo-landi” — volunteering while flirting.

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While Orbeta’s poem had more of a playful tone, Jonel Revistual‘s poem “Biyaheng Malandi” (roughly, “A Flirty Trip”) is an entirely different landscape.

#GetLit: Peace, Pasta & the Pulitzer

#GetLit

This week’s biggest news: the Pulitzer Prizes! Even bigger? Black Pulitzer Prize winners:

Screenshot of a tweet from my favorite person/poet/writer ever, Saeed Jones AKA @theferocity.

I was elated to find out that Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with The Underground Railroad (Amazon | Indiebound), which I read and reviewed on this blog last year (Read: A Lifetime of Remembering with Colson Whitehead).

I have yet to read Tyehimba Jess’s book of poetry Olio (Amazon | Indiebound), but I am planning to while getting into this month’s poetry books. We’re about midway through April, National Poetry Month, so are you getting your daily dose of poems? Check out a girl’s lifelong affair with poetry.

* * *

If you’ve been weary from the news these days, from Trump’s brand of all-the-things-your-worst-dreams-are-made-of, here’s a little reprise: hope. I’ve been using Deepak and Oprah Winfrey’s latest meditation series (cost: free) called Hope in Uncertain Times and it’s been giving me the kind of peace and calm I need. I’ve been a fan of these series since 2013, and trust me — this stuff is gold.

Me on a Saturday, at Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

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After doing the necessary inner work, there’s a ton of things happening around us we can always be plugged into. Unless you’re a monk, of course, but for folks like me (brown, queer immigrant activists in the belly of the beast) there’s this: Peace Tour 2017.

In this week’s book review (War and Turpentine by Steffan Hertmans), I wrote about reading the story of the author’s grandfather, who was a soldier and a painter. I intentionally omitted the war years, because 1) honestly not a fan of war novels and 2) here we are in another war again, dropping missiles on other nations (Syria).

What I don’t see in the realm of international geopolitics are attempts to address the root causes of conflicts, which is why the Peace Tour 2017 gives me infinite hope. As a Filipino, I’ve long wondered about the longstanding civil war between the government and the “other government,” led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. If you’re interested in finding out more, look up to see if the tour will be making a stop in your city!

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If you follow me on Instagram (and I think you should 😉), you’ll know that I like to eat my feelings. Here are a few things that have brought me joy in the past few days:

Damn good homemade pasta at Affina.

Also: live music in someone’s living room in San Francisco (yes, like the good ‘ol days). Lattes in the rain, specially turmeric lattes like the one pictured below from As Quoted in San Francisco.

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Have you ever fallen in love with a magazine? Because I have, four times a year for three years now. Kinfolk magazine, to be exact, which is one of a kind. It’s a lifestyle magazine filled with thoughtful pieces on philosophy, music, culture, art, design, fashion and cooking. Reading it is almost meditative; you can’t help but be completely present to the page. 

Imagine my joy at As Quoted cafe with Kinfolk as pictured above, as I read and learned about Shoshin, a Buddhist concept of “a beginner’s mind which refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.” Total hyggeligt.

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Please say hi.

Until the next post,
your friendly Libromance creator + curator, Pia

 

My family home in Apalit, Pampanga (Philippines)

It must’ve been the year 2000, a few months before my elementary graduation. I was sitting on my “study table,” a wooden contraption with shelves, drawers, a pull-out chair and a fold-out desk trying to figure out what poem to write for my school’s literary journal.

In my eleven year-old mind, I’ve written so much about trees and the “beauty of nature” that I was running out of topics to write. Writing poems about nature back then, was my one true forte. I grew up in a house surrounded by greenery: acacia, banana, tamarind, coconut, jackfruit, mango and bamboo trees dotted our fields, while a variety of santan and gumamela flowers crowded the stairs of our house, with tomato, bitter melon, chili, squash, calabash gourd, cucumber plants and other varieties filled the northern section of our garden. I had an orchard of poems.

I certainly didn’t want to write about love, because I knew I didn’t really know much of it, no matter how many love poems I’ve read. I’m not entirely sure how I was able to resolve that situation but it’s one of the earliest moments of my lifelong affair with poetry.

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

— Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not Luxury

These days, I don’t write much poetry although I still read a lot of it. There are so many poets whose work I swear by that I’ve dedicated parts of my body for these lines to be tatted on: Audre Lorde, Wislawa Szymborska, Hafiz, Adrienne Rich, Tomas Tranströmer, Ocean Luong, Nikky Finney, Lorena Barros, June Jordan, Danez Smith, Juan Miguel Severo, Warsan Shire, Saeed Jones.

I’ve also written so many posts on this blog about the work of beloved poets: The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry, Poems of a Half-Finished Heaven with Tomas Tranströmer and The Poetics and Physics of Hugot, with Juan Miguel Severo.

 

A page out of Juan Miguel Severo’s book, Habang Wala Pa Sila

I can remember most of the most memorable — beautiful and painful — moments of my life through poems with the likes of Cherríe Moraga’s The Welder and Warsan Shire’s For Women Who Are Difficult to Love. Everything in my life, it seems like, is punctuated by a poem.

April is National Poetry Month and I’ve been thinking about my relationship with poetry, although I don’t write much of it anymore. Some of the last poems I’ve written were back in 2014, written while riding jeepneys in the Philippines. I’ve also been featured in one of the earliest online poetry collections of Nayyirah Waheed, the very first installment of Salt on Tumblr. I read some of my poems at a Sugarcane reading event in Oakland, where I workshopped my poems with a bunch of amazing queer, women of color for months.

Maybe I’ll find my poetry groove back one of these days, but my love for reading poetry has never stopped.

There’s the writer, who is appealing to her unconscious, to her profound sense of unknowing. And then there’s the reader, who, as the poem comes into being, as I say, as one word puts itself after another, is trying to figure out what the impact of those words in that order might be from a position of knowing. Right? And it’s the negotiation between these two, the unknowing and the knowing, that, crudely put, would represent the positions of the writer and the reader. So if the first reader of the poem is the writer herself, in a strange way the poem is, indeed, only finished, only completely — becomes completely what it might be when that other person comes to it.

— Paul Muldoon, A Conversation with Verse

Here are a few of the poetry books I’m reading this month:

Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado compiled and edited by Juan Miguel Severo
(Amazon | Goodreads)

There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
(Amazon | Indiebound)

Look: Poems by Solmaz Sharif
(Amazon | Indiebound)

Check out the Academy of American Poets’ 30 Ways of Celebrating #NaPoMo, listings and other events here. Write a poem, get a book of poetry for a loved one or read with me! Happy National Poetry Month!

A Lifelong Affair with Poetry

Poetry, Soul + Spirit, Sunday Spotlight

Poems of a Half-finished Heaven, with Tomas Tranströmer

Book Reviews, Poetry

I remember reading Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things mystified by the poet he returns to over and over again: I turn to him when I wish to come as close as possible to what cannot be said. 

“Two truths approach each other. One comes from within, one comes from without–and where they meet you have the chance to catch a look at yourself.”
— 
Preludes, Tomas Tranströmer

In the compilation Tomas Tranströmer: Selected Poems, 1954-1986 edited by Robert Haas, I dove right into his poetry as if getting to know a new lover.

It was a slow process as I read unfamiliar details of unfamiliar landscapes, unlike how I read poems by Rilke or Vuong. Reading their poems in the first few pages alone had me falling right into their depths. Their poems magnified their character.

Reading Tranströmer on the other hand was a lot like roaming vast and empty fields, until you chance upon a small house in the clearing — obscure but undeniably reassuring.

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I read each line and each poem dutifully, slowly getting used to his rhythm. But it wasn’t until I got to The Half-Finished Heaven was I finally able to understand why Teju turned to him.

It is in the small details of life, the tiniest gestures that we can draw the most essential. I loved how he was able to weave natural elements in ways that begets a deeper consciousness of our humanity, as he did in Stones (photo above) and in Late May (photo below). In poem after poem, Tomas made this evident.

late-may

In his poem How the Late Autumn Night Novel Begins, he writes about wandering in a forest late at night, marveling at its peculiar beauty: “Next morning I see a sizzling golden-brown branch. A crawling stack of roots. Stones with faces. The forest is full of abandoned monsters which I love.”

Reading his poems was also at times a spiritual experience. Lulled by imagery and a deep appreciation for life around him, I was reminded of the little things that make for a fruitful life.

He was also melancholic in some, eliciting the kind of tenderness evident with Vuong’s poetry. In Answers to Letters, I could almost imagine the poet poring over what he had in his hands and both reminisce and resign himself to the ether.

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Tomas Tranströmer: Selected Poems, 1954-1986 is a great introduction to Tomas’s work and I have so much gratitude for the translators and the editors who made the compilation possible.

It’s enough to compel me to delve deeper into his body of work.

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book

Tomas Tranströmer: Selected Poems, 1954-1986
Edited by Robert Haas
April 9, 2000
Ecco (208 pages)

The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

Book Reviews, Poetry

His face between my hands, wet as a cut.
If we make it to shore, he says, I will name our son after this water.
I will learn to love a monster. He smiles.
— “Immigrant Haibun”

51t5rbcccgl-_sx365_bo1204203200_To be named after vast waters is an immense weight, but Ocean Vuong’s poetry in Night Sky with Exit Wounds ripples, sends waves across the body, across time.

Living at a time when queer contemporary poets are publishing their work has been life-giving. Over the past years, the work of Saeed Jones, r. erika doyle and Danez Smith have suffused harsh nights with tenderness, long days with joy.

Ocean’s poetry reminds me of Warsan Shire’s in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth where the self is in constant rhythm with flight — of leaving and arriving, of reliving and remembering. Both poets grappled the afflictions of war throughout their writing — from Vietnam, Somalia.

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba?
But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine — but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

A few months ago, I read and wrote a book review of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. What little I knew of the Vietnam War expanded as I dove deep in the sometimes hysterical, sometimes maniacal narrative of Viet’s main character, a half-French half-Vietnamese sleeper spy. While genres, voice and format differ, the Vietnam War left a significant imprint on everyone and everything it touched.

He reveals the semiotics of memory, the traces of war on the body. (To transcribe the poem in the blog would not suffice, here’s “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back” straight from the book:)

I remember picking up Michelle Tea’s book Valencia back when I was 18, reading about a queer San Francisco that seemed worlds away from a small apartment in Daly City. I had to wrap my head around the fact that Mission St. in Daly City led straight to the legendary Mission district where the queer population of the City congregated.

I thought about those times as I drove to the mission yesterday a little after noon, excited for Radar Production’s Bars, Baths & Butches: A Queer Historical Tour of Valencia & 16th. A friend invited me to join the tour and it never occurred to me that such a thing even existed, a decade into staying in the Bay Area.

The sun was high up Saturday noon, as the walls of the Women’s Building on 18th St. glistened in the October sun. Folks young and old were slowly milling on the alley way that served as the meeting spot for the tour, as my friend and I took the last drags of our cigarettes, prepared to join the group.

I looked at the faces around me — mostly white, older lesbians — and silently wished for more queer people of color. The first time I visited the Women’s Building was when I was 17, as a young immigrant baby dyke eager to learn about queer sexuality. I think it was right after reading Valencia too. The Building was holding a free class and I remember feeling queasy and extremely intimidated by the three other white butches in the room in their leather jackets and shaved heads. I never went back to the class but it was enough of an experience for me at that time, utterly confused but feeling like I was onto something I should further investigate.

A few minutes later, the tour’s organizers welcomed everyone. There were folks from Radar Productions, a San Francisco-based non-profit that organizes and produces literary events in the Bay Area, and from the GLBT Historical Society which collects, preserves and interprets the history of GLBT people and the communities that support them.

 In addition to the Women’s Building, the group made stops at the Lexington Club, Amelia’s and Esta Noche, historical queer spaces that have been shut down and replaced. there were performances in each stop: a poem to commemorate the Lex, the only lesbian club in the City which closed in April 2015, another poem to remember Amelia’s where Lynn Breedlove performed with their punk band, and Esta Noche on 16th St., where Persia performed to commemorate the space where drag queens once held shows. My heart, disculpe. 

And then it hit me: while national conversations around gender identity and sexuality are becoming more mainstream, the reality is that physical spaces have vanished in San Francisco. Of course Castro remains, but it has always been the haven of white gay men. Places for queer women, specially for queer women of color, are simply gone.

While part of me feels the loss of these spaces, I also know that queer folks have made our own ways of creating safe spaces for ourselves where we can celebrate each other, honor the ways we’ve learned how to survive. While we cannot reclaim past sites of intimacy, we’ve been able to recreate spaces of love and community. We’ve seen and felt the destruction of toxic heteronormativity, and how we’ve always responded with resilience.

Though we tremble before uncertain futures
may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength
may we dance in the face of our fears.

– Gloria  E. Anzaldúa 

Bars, Baths & Butches

Sunday Spotlight

The Poetics & Physics of Hugot, with Juan Miguel Severo

Book Reviews

Hugot — a word that has reached critical mass, a Filipino word that connotes emotional vulnerability, a word that directly translates “to pull out” or “to draw out.”

Hugot is undeniable in a culture that upholds the harmony of a group foremost, as opposed to speaking out on things that troubles one’s self. It thrives in societies where it is more acceptable to keep it all in, to hold all of it in — whether it is pain, loss, disappointment or heartache — because to create a ripple on the surface is more embarrassing.

It is drawn deep from the emotional ground of the self, where it is carefully kept, nurtured well by similar experiences. It takes root in the heart, plants itself in the mind, until it becomes one with the body. The body holds it closely.

And then it comes out — in the most inopportune times: while watching a movie, after seeing a happy couple at a park, in the middle of a poem.

It bears the undeniable mark of hurt, usually masked with a joke. With a tinge of nostalgia, or bitterness.

This is where Juan Miguel Severo comes in, touted as the “Hugot Boy” or “Hugot King.” My first introduction to Severo like many, was through a video that went viral: 

This video of Severo performing a spoken word piece in Tagalog is electric. It is fire. It is the first of its kind that I’ve ever seen, as a lover of poetry and an avid fan of spoken word poets like Saul Williams, Aja Monet and Kai Davis.

It is also undoubtedly rife with hugot (hugot lines as many would claim) to which I declare: Wrap me up in all of it, please. I am that tender-hearted Pinay who feels safest/happiest in places where emotions are deep, raw and unbridled.

In his debut collection of poetry Habang Wala Pa Sila: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig, I reveled in the intimacy and vulnerability of poems. The book was a pasalubong (along with other books) from my parents after a trip to the Philippines over the summer.

And it wasn’t until my trip to Puerto Rico on the last week of August that I was finally able to immerse myself in it — at Culebra nonetheless, an island off of the main island of Puerto Rico 17 miles away:

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Playa Flamenco (Culebra, Puerto Rico)

It’s been awhile since I read Filipino literature, and there are only a few poems in Tagalog that I remember clearly: Maria Lorena Barros’s and from a collection of political poems called Poetika/Politika.

I always imagined that heaven would be kind of a library.

– Jorge Luis Borges
(quote engraved on to a wall in the National Library of Brazil,
as reported in this piece)

With the 2016 Rio Olympics underway, all eyes are on Brazil. Now on its second week, I admit I never really cared much about the Olympics. I have a slightly more nuanced view of any sports competition between nations, and I echo George Orwell’s sentiment when he says that “sports is war minus shooting.”

In an article from The Atlantic, J. Weston Phippen writes about the depoliticization of sports between nations, something that Russia and other countries have attempted to live up to miserably.

The world has always equated the fastest, strongest, most- winning country in the world with the most economically successful, most politically potent. The best proving ground to do that is the Olympics.

He writes how hosting the Olympics is also another way of showcasing geopolitical relevance.

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Brazil, much like other developing nations, has its own problems: the impeding impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the worsening poverty of many of its citizens, the crumbling infrastructure that the Olympics committee tried to mask and a host of other social and economic issues that the world should also be paying attention to.

As always, I seek literature that reveals what the mainstream refuses to acknowledge. I was in luck: I came across Lit Hub’s 10 Works of Fiction to Better Understand Brazil. Francesca Angiolillo listed and reviewed a number of literary pieces that haven’t been translated in English yet, of which she offers comparable alternatives.

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What I love about her recommendations is that they tackle social, political and economic problems of the country in different literary genres:

  • Lima Barreto’s Clara dos Anjos is about a young, mixed-race woman whose situations was meant to represent the class of whole black women submitted to sexual and social abuse. Angiolillo recommended The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresmo.
  • Rachel de Queiroz’s O Quinze tackles the problems of internal migration, “frailty of the law” as well as racial prejudice. Literary critics say that while de Queiroz’s work has been influential and significant to Brazil’s literature, her political leanings (she was a Communist) and gender got in the way of her popularity. She recommended Barren Lives by Graciliano Ramos.
  • Joāo Antonio’s Leāo-de-Chácara is a collection of stories based on the life of people in the streets of Rio and Sāo Paulo, shedding light on the agricultural problems of the country. An alternative would be Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star.
  • Bernardo Kucinski’s Você Vai Voltar pra Mim is the story of how the Brazilian dictatorship disappeared his sister. A journalist in training, he recounts the story of his sister Ana Rose went missing. Fortunately, his book K is already translated.

Finding out about these titles is as sweet as being witness to Naomi Jackson’s essay from the Brazil Beyond Rio edition of the publication Words Without Borders, who also writes from the breadth of personal and political history: as a West Indian woman from Brooklyn, who would love to call Bahia home.

She wrote and revealed the intricacies of home, geography and identity. The essay reverberated with tenderness, as Jackson navigated the same struggles that most people in the diaspora face: the loneliness of being far, of being away, the longing for the physicality of home.

Once I touched down in Bahía, I felt an intense mix of familiarity and intrigue and what I can only describe as hominess, the same as I’d felt the first times I visited the Caribbean as a child and Cape Town, South Africa, as a teenager. Wary as I was of adopting yet another country as second home in the same way I had with Barbados and South Africa, the moment that I saw the gold statues of the orixas floating above the water just past the airport, I knew that this was another place I would long to call home.

– Naomi Jackson,
Falling in Love with Bahía & Brazil: On Negritude, Saudade & Surrender

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I didn’t realize how similar the Philippines and Brazil socioeconomically and geopolitically. But perhaps that is the fate of developing countries whose economies and culture are constantly bombarded and influenced by the West, as colonies of imperial powers.

These writers and poets reveal the intricacies of Brazil and as always, I am grateful for their work.

To write is to be at one’s own extremity.

– João Cabral de Melo Neto

Sunday Spotlight: A Literary Brazil

Sunday Spotlight

My parents got back from the Philippines last week, after spending two blissful weeks in the homeland. Every time they go for a visit, they always come back electric and full of life. Along with that renewed zest is also a tinge of melancholy, written in their faces as they slowly readjust to life back in the States. I hug both of them and smell the sweet scents of home.

But because homesickness also has a physical element, it wouldn’t be a homecoming for Filipinos without balikbayan boxes. My parents had four of those boxes which contained gifts and goods from the country: dried mangoes, polvoron (plain and chocolate ones), specialty dried herring in mason jars, “French” corned beef, candies from sari-sari stores we used to buy as kids (Mik Mik, Haw Haw, Hi-Ho), lengua de gato (butter oats), 3-in-1 coffee mixes, garlic peanuts, special tamarind candy, delicacies from Baguio (chocolate marshmallows, chocolate flakes) and more.

I think my sisters, our relatives, family friends and I have enough goodies to tide us over until the next wave of homesickness hits. We can always eat our feelings.

While munching on one of the Pan de San Nicolas my dad absolutely adores, my mom handed me another package wrapped in plastic. I think they secretly waited until I ate some of the “heritage cookie” specially made in our province (Pampanga), which bears an embossed image of the St. Nicholas on the biscuit itself. My parents are unhappily aware of my Buddhist beliefs, gravely disappointed by my spiritual choices after having gone to a Catholic school for 14 years. Word has it that it has a “curative effect,” to be eaten while saying a prayer. I felt bad after literally biting the head off one.

I opened the package and in it were three glorious things:

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Habang Wala Pa Sila (Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig) by Juan Miguel Severo

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago

The Duterte Manifesto

The first two books were from my dear cousin back home, Ate Tet, and the last book was something that caught my dad’s eye. I mentioned that I wanted these two books unavailable in the U.S. and sure enough, my family came through with my request.

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tag-ulan

minahal kita
walang payong na dinala.

– Juan Miguel Severo

I first heard about the poet after watching a spoken word piece that went viral. I’ve always loved spoken word artists — Kai Davis, Aja Monet, Saul Williams; and I’ve always admired Filipino poets — Bienvenido Lumbera, Joi Barrios, Jose Garcia Villa. It was a breathtaking experience to see both Tagalog and spoken word combined, to witness Severo’s work. The depth of his poems and the conviction of his delivery tugs at the heart. It was like being granted permission to access those parts of us we didn’t even know existed. And to top it all off — I’m an undoubtedly big fan of a Filipino teleserye called “On The Wings of Love” which featured the poet and his work consistently.

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Law school is quite easy. It’s like a stroll in the park. Pero Jurassic Park.

– Miriam Defensor Santiago

The next book Stupid is Forever by this renowned politician in the country is “a collection of jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks and speeches delivered and/or curated by the beloved Senator.” I’ve always looked up to MDS even as a kid, as I watched her on TV deliver impassioned speeches in Congress, in awe of her intellect and outspokenness. She ran for president during the most recent election season in the Philippines and lost, the frailty of her health a huge concern.

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I don’t care if I burn in hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.

– Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Last but not the least (and also unexpected) was a copy of The Duterte Manifesto from my dad. My dad likes (or loves) to challenge my political beliefs, specially when it comes to politics in the Philippines. He knew I would find this book interesting, notwithstanding its title very similar to another very popular manifesto out there. Duterte is an interesting figure, rife with contradictions but I’m watching and learning. If anything, this book promises to be an intimate rendering of the president. In the introduction, it was signed (translated from Tagalog):

“From my humble hacienda larger than the terrain/estate of (bleep),”

– Senyora Santibañez (the main antagonist of an old Mexican
telenovela aired in the Philippines)

I can only surmise that Senyora is alluding to Hacienda Luisita, owned by the former President Aquino’s family, a site of decade-long struggle and resistance of the farmers against their landlords.

These three books in no means capture the state of Philippine society as a whole, but they draw a picture of popular culture that is reflective of different parts of Filipino society. I’ve always trusted books more than television, finding poets and writers more credible (even while they’re making jokes!).

I’ll be spending the next few weeks immersed in these three literary pieces of which I will duly be reporting back and writing about in this blog. Now that’s what you call healing.

Pasalu-book: Gifts from the Motherland

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight