Thursday, October 20, 2016

Interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard by Libay Linsangan Cantor in BOOKWATCH, NBDB Philippines

The following is an excerpt from the article "Anthologizing the Filipino Experience in America" by Libay Linsangan Cantor. It is an interview of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard by Ms. Cantor who also edited BOOKWATCH. 

You can find the article in p. 29 of BOOKWATCH Vol. 20 No. 3. BOOKWATCH is published by the National Book Development Board of the Philippines.

So what does it take to create such an anthology, and how is it possible to gather varied voices and collect them under one volume? Another anthology editor, novelist and essayist Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, shared with us her thoughts on the matter.

A California-based writer of Cebuano heritage, Brainard travels frequently to the Philippines where she still enjoys literary connections and publication deals. 

“I really had fun editing the collections Fiction by Filipinos in America, Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, and Growing Up Filipino: More Stories for Young Adults. I did these books in response to some need that I perceived.

"Let me explain. For instance, Fiction by Filipinos in America came about because of my attempts to find an anthology by Filipino American writers to help me improve my own writing. When I could not find such an anthology I proposed doing the book to Mrs. Rodriguez, my publisher at New Day (in the Philippines), and she welcomed the idea. That was how that book came about. It’s a fine collection that includes works by such established writers as Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido N. Santos, Linda Ty- Casper, NVM Gonzalez, as well as emerging writers. Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America grew from that first collection and was published by Karina Bolasco at Anvil Publishing (in the Philippines).”
Much like the previously mentioned anthologies by other editors, Brainard also saw a thematic need that needed to be addressed, and her two literary collections tried to contribute in hopefully removing an obvious invisibility.

“The young adult anthologies came about when I learned both in the US and in the Philippines (that) there is a lack of books for our young adults. I collected, edited, and published Growing Up Filipino. After it came out and received excellent mainstream reviews, Anvil expressed interest in a Philippine edition. Growing Up Filipino: More Stories by Young Adults is an offshoot of the first Growing Up Filipino. This book also received excellent reviews. I have learned a lot from editing these books, and I also had the great pleasure of being in close contact with numerous writers. It is gratifying that these books remain in print and are used in schools.”
As a writer in the diaspora straddling two cultures (or even more), there would always be challenges when it comes to curating content. Brainard shares with us her thoughts on being a writer ensconced in such a place and space. 

“It’s not easy to become a writer no matter where you are. Having said that, I have to add that there are specific challenges that so-called ‘minority writers’ deal with in America. There are creative questions to consider: Which language to use, what topics to write about, what characters to populate your stories with? These questions relate to what market the writers hope to reach, and what publishers they hope to get. Regardless of their ethnic background, some writers may decide to write of white protagonists with mainstream themes. I know a black writer who has done so and is successful commercially. He writes of white characters, living in white neighborhoods, with white conflicts. You wouldn’t know from his writings that he has an African American background.”
Like any other writer struggling for publication space, one common thing hounds authors regardless of race or ethnicity: markets. Brainard expounds on this further. 

“These creative choices by writers may have something to do with the market and publishers in the US. Obviously the majority of readers are WASPs (White Anglo- Saxon Protestants) and they are the ones who make up the bulk of the buyers of magazines and books. Since publishing is generally a business, this means that editors have to cater to these buyers and print the stories and articles that these readers want. Following this logic further, writings by ‘ethnic writers’ have a limited market and they have a harder time finding publishers. Those are some of the headaches that minority writers in America deal with.”

Applying these challenges and restrictions in her own life, Brainard tries to go beyond the perception of the audience while trying to strike a balance on what publishers might be looking for.

 “As a Filipino writer in the US, I’ve had to look at these issues and make decisions about my own writing. I write in English for an international readership. If I include some Tagalog or Cebuano words, I am aware that some people may not understand them and I have to weigh the matter – how important is it to have that Cebuano or Tagalog word in there? I’ll throw these ‘foreign’ words in for local color and for artistic reasons, but I don’t flood my work with them so that my readers don’t get confused or stumble over too many of these words. 

"I have decided that what is worth my time is to write about what is close to my heart and not try to write something for (maybe) commercial success. Most of my stories therefore explore my Filipino and Filipino American experiences. It has been difficult to market these stories and books in the US because of the business repercussions of my decision to stick with these ‘nonmarketable’ topics, but I’ve been fortunate in being able to get my work in print.”

Discussing writer classifications in relation to markets and audiences, we asked Brainard if there are specific definitions of what makes up “Filipino- American literature.” Seeing from the previous examples of anthologies we shared, it is indeed hard to pin down specific characteristics while at the same time, it is somehow “easy” to spot similarities in these anthologies. 

“I am not sure anyone has defined what Filipino American writing is; I am not sure anyone has successfully defined who Filipino Americans are. Many are still bickering about who the true Filipino American is. At some point, some said only those born in the US were the real Filipino Americans. Of course the immigrants ignore this definition.”

She continues, “It is impossible to pin down who Filipino Americans are, and it is just as difficult to define what Filipino American writing is, but here are some thoughts about this question. There are many topics that Filipino American writers tackle in their creative attempts to understand themselves and their place in America. The early Filipino writers in America like Carlos Bulosan, Ben Santos, and NVM Gonzalez had stories with purely Filipino themes (i.e. set in the Philippines) but they also had stories (some of them famous) about Filipinos in America – what one can call Filipino American themes. What comes to my mind is the story ‘The Romance of Magno Rubio’ by Carlos Bulosan about a simple Filipino worker, a manong (elderly man) who gets involved with an American gold-digger. 

"Linda Ty-Casper, Ninotchka Rosca, Jessica Hagedorn, and I have written stories that explore historical events in the Philippines. There is something about living in America that prodded me into studying Philippine history as well as my own personal history – a curiosity was aroused, a desire to know where I came from. Perhaps like the saying goes, I realized it’s important to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going.”

Seeing the newer batch of anthologies penned by Filipinos in the diaspora, Brainard also mentions the themes of “going out of the roots box” that some writers have been doing.

“I should add that I and other so-called Filipino American writers do not necessarily write exclusively of the Filipino experience. We may be inspired to look at the diaspora of the Filipino and write stories of their personal experiences in the United States and other countries, for example. But we may also write of any topic that will fascinate us, because the bottom line is that writers have imagination and can ‘get into the heads’ of any character that captivates them. I am aware, however, that western culture has a surplus of stories that are widely circulated whereas Philippine and Philippine American stories do not. If I am tempted to write about a white protagonist, I think of this. Unless I feel compelling passion for the topic, I will generally drop it because writing takes time and energy, so why should I contribute to a body of work that really doesn’t need my input?”

Regardless of where we are in the world, we Filipinos still need the support of one another, especially when it comes to encouraging the growth of our own literature. Be it the literature of Filipinos based elsewhere or based in the homeland, one thing is clear: our experiences are unique to us, and we need to share them with the world.

As Brainard concludes, labels identifying who we are as Filipinos sometimes function beyond culture. Labels could be initial connections, and what we do with these connections is what’s more important. 

“I think the ties between Filipinos in America and elsewhere and Filipinos in the Philippines are tight and intertwined, and we are all interested in knowing what literatures are being produced by our brothers and sisters everywhere. It’s the same consciousness. In the end, the ‘tags’ of ‘Filipino’ or ‘Filipino American’ blend and merge because writers can and will write about topics dear to them. It happens that quite a number of Filipino American writers (or Filipino writers in America) have written (or edited) books that are relevant to Filipinos everywhere. These works contribute to the understanding of Filipinos in the Philippines and elsewhere. These works should be read by Filipinos anywhere in the world.”

~end of excerpt~

Tags: Philippines, Philippine, Filipino American, Philippine American, Cebu, Sugbo, literature, books, writer, author, novelist, interview, students, research, National Book Development Board Philippines
This is all for now,

No comments: