Found “Object”

Binocular | March 8th, 2010 - 4:18 pm

I found the following in my previous website. It was how I introduced the reviews for my first book. After reading it again, I had a series of thoughts about the state of American writing, and the intersection of race and culture in the arts.

Following are reviews of the book in the U.S. and the Philippines. In reading them, please observe the almost staggerring differences between reviews from the two countries. It is not surprising that reviews in the Philippines contextualized the novel and placed it within a Filipino historical and literary framework; the reviews in the United States couldn’t seem to remove it from a catalogue of Asian American writing or some kind of ethnic potluck, within which many of us Filipino writers are unfortunately categorized. What becomes of a book (or anything) once removed from its original context? But then, only in the Philippines–the country of origin–can we create a historical and literary consciousness around Filipino and Filipino American writing. In the U.S., we will always be compared to precedent ethnic writers or worse, dead “white” American writers, completely ignoring the centennial of Philippine literature in English. I think there exist a possibility of a more thorough reading of Filipino text in the United States, if only one would devote enough time and effort to study the context from which it is written. In fact, a few Filipino American writers have taken on reviewing works of their own, breathing into such literary texts a living and profound historical insight without sounding esoteric (e.g. My reviewer for San Francisco Chronicle is in fact, Filipino-American).

My perspective on publishing has not changed in the past fifteen years.    After watching the Oscars last night, and noticing that the only Asians on TV were unknown faces next to male entertainment moguls, I felt that Asian-Americans have a long way to go.  When my friends and I started the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in 1991, we were addressing the dearth of Asian-Am writing in American publishing (you know, to tell our story, the way we wanted).  True, the numbers of published Asian Ams probably nearly doubled in almost two decades, but all of that came crashing down with the downsizing of publishing houses.   However, it is important to note that for Filipino-American writers in mainstream presses, there has been very little movement.   While literature languish in the backrooms of publishing houses, celebrity books seem to be taking an all time high.   Sometimes I ask, do we really need to read a book about the pilot who landed his plane on the Hudson River?   Is that moment, understandably phenomenal, worth expanding into 200 pages?   Well, according to HarperCollins, yes.  In fact, said pilot was offered a book deal worth $3 Million dollars. That’s enough to publish 50 literary writers in the U.S. But a choice between a future Pulitzer winning author and one of the decadent Real Housewives of New York, who do you think gets to bite the dough?

So what do ethnic writers in America get to settle with? If Oscars Night was any indication, the answer perhaps is to mask one’s ethnic identity, or write  for the demographic majority. Here’s a scenario:  forget you’re Asian, write a story about a football jock named Garth. Maybe he had an Asian girlfriend (there’s your guilt). The story is really about how he befriended a football player from a black neighborhood. There you go. It has that feel-good interracial flavor. Make sure though that Garth gets 95 percent attention in the book. Would Hollywood consider it as a possible project for Matt Damon? Perhaps.  And Lucy Liu.

Funny, last night, I was thinking, maybe I should write a screenplay. After all, I had my beginnings in playwriting in grade school and high school. I suddenly stopped myself with a thought: “but you really believe in writing the story of your people.”  I think Hollywood is still at the very early stages of representation of ethnic America.   The industry has yet to fully include blacks, much less the rest of us.  

On a positive note, because we do need to sleep at night with good vibes, things will change. There are the ingredients to success: perseverance, persistence, resilience. There are the cultural movements. There are the constantly shifting waves in American politics. But more than anything, there is the changing demographics in the United States. In the future, more and more ethnic Americans will demand their own histories in America.  While publishing and entertainment are very slow to reflect these changes, the work needs to be written now.

Related Reading:  Births to Minorities Are Approaching Majority in U.S.


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