(aka: Notes, snippets, mishmosh of thought and emotion)
I'm still digesting, processing, unpacking, untangling and peeling back layers. Since my last post, there have been a good number of responses from within the Filipino/Fil-Am community. I am glad. We need to make our voices heard. (It’s important to note that not all the voices are in agreement.) This one by Melissa Sipin is the only one I've seen from the perspective that *wasn't* positioned in the upper/middle classes. And I am grateful for her essay-in-progress. I think we're all working on something in-progress. I know I am.
So these past couple of days, I've alternated between being angry and weeping. Sometimes both at the same time. And yes, I've run the gamut of emotions in between. This morning, I'm feeling particularly all-over-the-place. There is still so much. I started writing something yesterday and came back to it this morning. And then I found myself asking: who the fuck am I –and American-born Filipina from a middle class family— to be writing anything about this?
And then, I responded to myself: That’s the stupidest self-talk I ever heard. Of course you’re to write about this! You must. Because you’re Filipina. American-born or not, you need to offer your voice to the mix. Do not silence yourself.
Yeah. Writers talk to themselves like this all the time.
Questions. There are at lot of questions in my head. So let’s start there (can’t promise any answers):
Why did Alex Tizon write this story? I understand that he started writing it in 2011 after Eudocia’s death, but why? What made him say to himself: “I’m going to tell this story”? Was he trying to conduct some kind of penance: to admit his guilt, his complicity in all of this and to try to set things right by pulling back a curtain on the utusan? I can’t say for sure. If his widow doesn’t know, then no one will truly know.
But I will say this: this is Alex’s story, not Eudocia’s. Do not be fooled into thinking otherwise. Everything we see and hear and feel is all orchestrated by Alex: his specific viewpoint as well as his writing – from the words he chooses to how he builds sentences and narrative arc. This is how literature works. It’s a conversation between writer and reader. Our responses are based on our individual selves and our individual experiences and relationships to, not just the moments happening in the story, but to the language itself.
This is why his essay triggered a lot of emotions for me.
For one, it’s a story about a Filipino family. It is rare for me to see stories about myself and my cultural heritage – to see Filipinos in mainstream media—so when I get to read one, I get really really excited. But when I saw “My Family’s Slave” with Eudocia’s photo, my gut went: uh-oh. Then, when I read that Alex's family addressed Eudocia as “Lola”, my body tensed. That’s what my kids call my mother. “Lola” is “grandmother” in Tagalog.
How jarring to put the words “slave” and “lola” together.
As writers we aim to seek out truths. And truths vary. But inevitably, they are our own. Readers sometimes forget this. How we put words together, which words we choose, how we build paragraphs – these things reveal more about us than we’d like to admit. But in connection with that, readers are also applying their truths to what they read. Consider the varied responses to Tizon’s piece. How many were “selectively reading”? (e.g one sees the word “slavery” and immediately forms an opinion before reading the rest of the story, if they finish reading it) Consider each person’s sociopolitical position and how that informs their response (e.g. West vs. East). Too often, we all forget these things. And that has never been truer than this moment.
Filipino writers and academics are offering nuanced, critical responses to this story by including cultural and sociopolitical contexts (there we go, educating folks on our culture yet again). Some are responding to these thoughts as defense for Tizon’s family’s actions, as if we were trying to excuse Tizon and his family for their actions. This is what I mean by “selective”. Nowhere does anyone defend what’s happened to Eudocia, but yet, here they are, telling us we are making excuses for Tizon.
[A random aside regarding visibility: I find this an interesting moment for Filipinos in that we are presently in the American spotlight – what will we do with this moment?]
Some are wondering if we could ever know Eudocia Tomas Pulido’s story. I would be interested in hearing it, but the likelihood of someone in a similar situation speaking out? Close to none. Why? Because most of these folks are conditioned to understand their place in the rankings. Sharing their personal story is not an option for them, if it even crosses their minds.
I am exhausted. Emotionally drained.
What is my complicity in this? What about all of our collective complicity? Once we’ve admitted that we are / I am complicit in creating and allowing for these situations to happen, then what? What do we do with this?
In order to solve this problem, in the most basic, reductive terms, we’d have to scrap the Philippines – heck, probably every nation—and start over. This is an issue that is intricately tied across the globe. The historical and sociopolitical structures are so deeply embedded. But a do-over is not an option. So what can we do instead?
I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.
Time to stop here. To take a break. Practice self-care.
[to be continued]