It’s a struggle to be a Filipino-American these days, y’all.

And although I still balk at calling myself “Fil-Am,” I feel the struggle both ways, in all its multiplicity.

The Philippines seems to be at the mercy of a perplexing president whose politics are at best confounding. Following his declaration of martial law in Mindanao (southern part of the Philippines), he also withdraw from ongoing peace talks with the revolutionary (and underground) government of the country (strongest in the countryside).

And then there’s Trump. Following his announcement to pull the U.S. out the Paris Climate Agreements, the easier option is to throw your hands up and lose yourself in moments like “covfefe.”

Maybe my trip to Mexico City in the next few days is good timing, as all of these things can wear a Pisces down. I’m bringing Rosario Castellanos and Octavio Paz with me, two noted Mexican writers whose work has inspired me. Last night, I was leafing through Paz’s A Tree Within (Amazon | Indiebound) and came across this:

Mis sentidos en guerra con el mundo: fue frágil armisticio la lectura.

(My feelings at war with the world: reading was a fragile truce.)

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Reading as a truce, reading as a tool — that’s what this blog has always stood for. I’ve compiled books to help us through these times, like this list of reading for resistanceI also just reviewed a book on tyranny and offered up my response, based on my experience as an activist. As a Filipino in the face of martial law, here’s my blog’s literary antidote.

Even more timely is an exploration of Alexander Von Humboldt’s life, possibly the very first man to confirm man-made climate change.

In spite of this, I come back to a Alain de Botton on his book about Proust. In one of the chapters, they talk about books and reading. And as much as I love both, for as long as I am tethered to words, I recognize both their beauty and fallibility:

We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off and we would like him to provide us with answers when all that he is able to do is provide desires… That is the value of reading and is also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement.

–Marcel Proust

Reading as an incitement, a tool to spur us to action. I think I like that better.

#GetLit: Reading in the Midst of Crisis

#GetLit

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This week’s biggest story is The Atlantic‘s My Family’s Slave by Alex Tizon, a piece that that told the story of the writer’s helper or “katulong” which went viral. I first noticed it on Twitter, where so many folks were talking about it. On Facebook, it was being shared over a hundred times. I’m still thinking about Eudocia, what the term “Lola” actually means, and of course, feudalism in the Philippines. As soon as I am able to, I’ll be writing about it in here. In the meantime, check out some responses that I’m really thankful for and appreciate: GABRIELA USA, Bayan USA, Anakbayan USA.

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I’m also thankful for this self-care guide compiled by the Sylvia River Law Project called Self-Care on the Inside which has tips on meditation and mindfulness, grounding techniques and for nurturing creativity.

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When I’m lost in the work, I’m curious. I don’t know if curiosity is a balm, because it often gets me in trouble, but it gives me control. It becomes fuel, and it brings me out of myself and into the world, even if I’ve just been sitting at my desk and thinking about spirals, which is what I’ve been thinking about this morning.

— Ocean Vuong (aka a Libromance favorite) on being generous in your work

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Because not everything in this world can be dampened by Trump,
nor by the fuckedup-ness of situations, things and/or people.

I always have hope.

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Tuesday morning’s trip to the Rose Garden

#GetLit: Lola, Kinship, Feudalism

#GetLit

One summer day, when the rice lay golden in the sun, startling rumors came to Mangusmana: the peasants in a province to the south of us had revolted against their landlords. There the peasants had been the victims of ruthless exploitation for years, dating back to the 18th century when Spanish colonizers instituted severe restrictive measures in order to impoverish the natives. So from then on the peasants became poorer each year and the landlords became richer at every harvest time.

–Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart

I just published my book review for Bulosan’s America is in the Heart at the same time that #OccupyLuisita in the Philippines is happening. The struggle of farmers and peasants has always been an issue, even a century later.

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Militant farmers break down a portion of the wall of the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita Monday in their own version of “Occupy”, citing a Supreme Court ruling that mandated the distribution of the land. (PHOTO BY DAX SIMBOL, INTERAKSYON)

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If there was anything that I was reminded the most of this week, it’s that repression and oppression only breeds resistance and struggle. That the peace that we truly want is a just one, a peace that is genuine and lasting.

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And if peace could ever come in the form of hip hop music, I’d have to give it to Chance the Rapper for giving me an out-of-body-ethereal-spiritual experience Wednesday night.

I left the Oracle Arena in Oakland feeling at peace with who I am and what I have. Maybe it’s the gratitude, messages of healing and hope he imparted that had me feeling all the feels, but I know that if we were to ever create lasting movements of struggle, music can be another language of resistance.

“Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracles?”

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Gratuitous self-portrait. 

 

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April 29 is Independent Bookstore Day!

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Not online.

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Celebrate this day by supporting your local bookstores — find your local bookstore here.

#GetLit: Carlos Bulosan, Chance the Rapper & Peace

#GetLit

Happy 420! Here are 15 writers who’ve gotten baked, via Electric Literature. Please smoke responsibly and be safe out there. But more importantly, this:

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Mass incarceration and racial disparities spurred by the “war on drugs”

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A proper homie roll call is in order: two of my friends, My-hanh Lac and Sunshine Velasco are doing amazing things and these two brilliant queer women of color deserve a shout-out.

My’s film BUDAI debuted at the Brava Theater last Friday, a short docu-film on her experience as a young refugee from Vietnam. Twelve minutes on a captivating story, along with a gorgeous cinematography had me screaming for more! Also, her film is in Cannes!

Sunshine’s work on the other hand will be exhibited at the SOMArts Cultural Center on April 22nd, at a benefit for the art gallery. Pièce de RESISTance: A contemporary renaissance ball to support SOMArts will feature her photography on femmes, wherein a friend is also one of her subjects. If you’re in the Bay, don’t miss it.

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I’m loving this Raised Fist by Børge Bredenbekk (Norway).

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Teju Cole has been on mind recently, as I sift through more photos from my last trip to the Philippines. I also finally opened another folder of photos from 2014, from another trip to the homeland.

I noticed that most of what I had taken with my camera weren’t “action shots” — not a lot of people or activities but instead, of minute details of the country’s everyday life. An empty soda bottle. A storefront. A row of dog bobbleheads. And for each photo, I can remember the exact moment from almost three years ago.

“…stillness, in photography, can be more affecting than action.”

–Teju Cole

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Maybe it’s because I started this week with Teju, but it’s incredibly heartwarming to see my post from Sunday get so much love. Thank you to everyone who has read, shared, commented and written to me about Postcards from the Philippines. It’s still a work in progress. It gives me tremendous strength that in moments of grief, I am not alone.

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It was an act of faith, and faith would not be faith if it was not hard, if it was not a test, if it was not an act of willful ignorance, of believing in something that can neither be predicted nor proved by any scientific metric.

— Viet Thanh Nguyen

I came across Viet’s piece on The Los Angeles Times wherein he talks about writing. This week, I wrote and published a book review on his newest book The Refugees.

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This week’s new find is a homemade marshmallow swimming, or sinking in a cup full of latte goodness. Still eating my feelings.

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The Titanic II, a vegetarian breakfast empanada from Hollow in San Francisco, and Elle Luna’s book “The Crossroads of Should and Must.”

And sometimes, dancing it all off with friends.

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San Francisco Dyke March Benefit at El Rio, SF. 

#GetLit: 4/20 and Homies

#GetLit

It’s been exactly one month since I got to the U.S. from the Philippines.

The first few days back almost negated the entire three weeks I was there with my family, in really confusing and frustrating ways. Jetlag and homesickness were daily themes, as my sisters and I tried to console and comfort each other. We looked at photos, relived memories. Each new detail we discovered about our trip brought us immense pain and also joy. We would laugh, and then cry. We made pacts, we changed our plans.

For us, there was only one thing that became prevalent: we needed to be back home as soon as we can, in Pampanga.

I started to think about all the photos I took — most on my phone, some on my Instax. I’m missing a lot of the photos too, and I pray to all the gods that they’re just hiding in bags or notebooks somewhere, not lost.

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Since this trip was our first back as a family after migrating to the U.S. in 2004, it was life-changing. We went to different places, famous landmarks, touristy areas and old spots we used to go to when my sisters and I were younger.

And as I always tend to do every time I feel vulnerable, I started thinking of folks who have stirred me with their words.

In Balucuc, close to my hometown Apalit, we had lunch in the middle of rice fields on a Sunday. I thought of Tomas Tranströmer’s book of poems Preludes.

 Two truths approach each other. One comes from the inside, the other from outside, and where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.

— Tomas Tranströmer

I come from a family of farmers, on my father’s side. I remember some days when I’d come home from school with the front of our house turning into a makeshift rice-drying areas, with men raking in newly harvested rice, gently back and forth. I thought of my grandfather.

Our house too looked different. I thought of Teju Cole quoting Marcel Proust, in Known and Strange Things.

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Proust in a letter, “We think we no longer love the dead because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.” Objects, sometimes more powerfully than faces, remind us of what was and no longer is.

-Teju Cole

Teju resonated with me so much, in so many different times. How funny that you can convey a feeling in several ways, whether that’s in Tagalog or German.

The German word for homesickness is “heimweh.” Legend has it that Swiss mercenaries from the fifteenth century onward, dispersed throughout Europe to fight foreign wars, were hardy soldiers susceptible to few weaknesses. But they missed home with a deranging intensity, longing for the high elecution of their cantons, their clear lakes, their protective peaks. This feeling they called, in their Swiss German, heimweh.

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J’ai besoin de beaucoup de tendress. (I need a great deal of tenderness)

I wrote in a journal, just as I remember Susan Sontag doing in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh. I was with her when she said that “the ultimate fantasy is the recovery of the irrecoverable past.” Seeing my friends brought all the feelings, as well as a deep well of gratitude for these connections.

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In Baguio, my sisters and I thought of summer vacations when we would indulge in strawberries (the only time we could), go on a boat at the lake, look at our parents at a different light amidst the fog.

Secretly we are all looking for ways to continue our childhoods — the hurt, the pain, the love, the fear, the shame.

— Susan Sontag

img_4684In Boracay, I took photos for posterity more than anything else. Once again, lines from a favorite:

Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs.

–Teju Cole

And of course, if there’s one person I should quote when it comes to the art of traveling, it’s Alain de Botton.

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold on to it: to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’

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I’m still floating, at times dreamily, thinking of home. I guess I’ll never really be able to anchor myself where my feet are planted, because once you know where you’re supposed to be, you don’t stop until you get there.

Postcards from the Philippines

Sunday Spotlight

 

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

Still on the same frequency after publishing this post because I just came across this gem — Don’t Be a Dick: Colum McCann’s Advice to Young Writerswhich had this essential quote:

Trying to write without reading is like venturing out to sea all by yourself in a small boat: lonely and dangerous. Wouldn’t you rather see the horizon filled, end to end, with other sails? Wouldn’t you rather wave to neighboring vessels; admire their craftsmanship; cut in and out of the wakes that suit you, knowing that you’ll leave a wake of your own,and that there’s enough wind and sea for you all?

— Téa Obreht

So read with me! Currently: America is in the Heart (Amazon | Indiebound) by Carlos Bulosan, and an ongoing read/lesson/roadmap in creativity, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Amazon | Indiebound). Got book recommendations? Drop me a line!

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In other news, I just finished watching the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s powerful stuff, yo. First published as a young adult book by Jay Asher, the series revolves around 13 tapes that a teenager made and disseminated after her suicide. While the show tackled issues like rape, bullying and toxic high school culture, the biggest thing for me is that it opened up the discussion around mental health in the mainstream.

The series isn’t perfect, and can at times misrepresent many facets of suicide, but it’s worth watching. There are tons of local and national resources out there too, like Lifeline and The Trevor Project. I also came across this thing called bullet journaling specifically for keeping up with your mental and emotional health.

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Had the most scrumptious toast and a lavender latte from Home Cafe. Go visit them in San Francisco!

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And if you haven’t read my recent fiction book reviews, here they are:

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What can I become quite good at that’s really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won’t be able to catch up?

Seth Godin

#GetLit: A Libromance Round-up

#GetLit

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I am changing the things I cannot accept. 

— Angela Y. Davis

I remember the first time I heard Angela Y. Davis speak in Berkeley, at the Empowering Women of Color Conference in 2011. There I was surrounded by women of color, listening to a black woman revolutionary speak about building movements, in spite of our vast differences.

Today is Davis’s birthday and her continued resistance is as critical as ever. My inbox has been flooded with news of executive order after another on immigration, on refugees, on cutting funding for sanctuary cities, on the Mexican border wall. I thought of Davis:

Walls turned sideways are bridges. 

— Angela Davis: An Autobiography
(Worldcat | Amazon | Indiebound)

After a historic women’s march over the weekend, I was ecstatic by the mobilization of so many women, men, queer and trans folks, children, older folks. I was reminded of the transformative power of ordinary people coming together. But I was also made painfully aware of how many folks — specifically white people — don’t show up to mobilizations for immigrants, black people and other people of color.

How do we then build bridges with folks who have traditionally benefited from our oppression? For starters, there’s “Healing from Toxic Whiteness” which is a training program for white folks committed to racial justice. There are also tons of resources and literature available out there, including a post of resistance literature I compiled earlier this week. Best of all, there are many organizations and grassroots groups doing the actual work that folks can join.

As for us who have been resisting and in the struggle for so long, may we never lose sight of seeing the world we want to live in, may we continue to build alongside each other.

You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.

— Angela Y. Davis

 Here’s a list of necessary reading by the revolutionary herself:

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Happy Birthday to a Revolutionary: Angela Y. Davis

Sunday Spotlight

“Donald John Trump has placed his hand on two Bibles and taken the oath of office. He is now the 45th president of the United States.”

— The New York Times Breaking News, 1/20/17 12:01 PM EST

I’m letting that sink in for a bit.

I’ve been trying to avoid the coverage of Trump’s inauguration but of course, it’s everywhere. My only saving grace has been the number of people protesting what he represents, what he’s been doing and in all sincerity, how he intends to lead the country.

There are protests all over the country as I write this and tomorrow, there will be a wave of Women’s Marches in different states and cities. Mao Zedong once said that “Women hold up half the sky” — the assault and misogyny Trump has continuously inflicted towards women is unacceptable and needs to be halted. The last thing we need in the government is another misogynist and racist white man who sees and treats women, people of color, Muslims and immigrants as lesser beings. But of course, this is what now have.

Tomorrow, I’m marching with GABRIELA USA to rise against fascism, resist militarization and unite for liberation along with other immigrant and people of color-led organizations in Oakland, California. Check out the nearest women’s march near you and organize and mobilize with the people!

As Assata Shakur of the Black Panthers once said:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata: An Autobiography (Amazon | Indie Bound)

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Gearing up for Women’s March

Sunday Spotlight

More creating

Less consuming

More leading

Less following

More contributing

Less taking

More patience

Less intolerance

More connecting

Less isolating

More writing

Less watching

More optimism

Less false realism

— Seth Godin, More and Less

Friendly reminders as we move forward in the new year, as we usher in a new era of reality across the political and social spectrum. In just a few days, the “orange bloviator” as Zadie Smith referred to him will attempt to further plunge this country into an even more damning abyss of racism, fascism, imperialism.

I’ve been finding solace in so many things: this 2017 Plan of Resistance from the Transgender Law Center, small acts of resistance like The Booksmith‘s response to the alt-right bigot Milo Y’s 250k book deal and of course, infinite joy from book lists from The MillionsVulture and Kirkus Reviews

A book I’ve seen on many 2017 lists is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees, a collection of short stories from the famed The Sympathizer author. I’m a big fan of his work and I can’t wait for this one!shortI’ve always been more of a novel/literary fiction fan more than anything but these days, short stories are blowing me away. Mia Alvar is the culprit; her weapon, In the Country: Stories. The last time I enjoyed short stories was with This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz a couple of years ago, and I’m anticipating even more as Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women collection of stories also just came out. Be still, literary heart, be still.

In a time when most of us — queer, people of color, immigrants — are feeling vulnerable, I always come back to books, among many tools of resistance, to ground me. What are you reading this time around? 

Books for Days! (& All the Titles You Should be Reading in 2017)

Sunday Spotlight