Touchdown home last week was brief as I headed to the Bainbridge Island Indipinoy fest on Saturday. I'd heard of the Festival from Gene Tagaban over a year ago, and it took nearly the interim to track down the dates. I'd found old 'net notices for the events in 2000 and 2004, and thankfully the contact numbers were still good. (I lurv the 'net).
Bainbridge is about a half hour ferry ride west of Seattle, just long enough to munch on a hot dog (with glow in the dark relish) and down some bottled water, but historically, the two Filipino Communities really didn't interact much. It's never much of a surprise to me when I don't know about FilAm communities, especially in the Seattle area. I lived a pretty sheltered suburban life back in the day.
But on Bainbridge there's a vibrant community, complete with their own gathering hall. This is a cool thing for me, having been in many groups where the Great Dream was to have a space of ones own, to not have to pay fees for space and juggle schedules, competing with other groups with not quite enough cash to build their own space. The story goes that back in the 50's, a group of Pinoy farmers pooled their money together to build the place, that they had rockin' parties there every year, complete with Strawberry queens, lumpia by the panful, and buckets and buckets of pancit served with grilled salmon. (okay, I'll admit it, the /food/ promised at the event was definitely the tipping point for me to make the 2+ hour trip down).
As kids grew and moved away, though, and elders became more elderly, the center went into disrepair in the 70s until an enterprising group set out to remake the place into somewhere to be as a community in the '90s. They've been having the Indipinoy Fest there ever since, and this year was complete with Native drummers, Hawaiian dancers, Elvis-Returned, delicious food, and a raffle. Basically all the stuff that makes a Gather special.
I felt like the interloper though, the anthropologist come to see the natives do their thing. I had camera in hand and a recorder, plus my trusty moleskin and pen...I was there not only to meet new NW pinoys but to get the story - the story of how Pinoys and Natives got together, the whens and hows and whys, to fill in that missing part of history at least for myself.
Thankfully, the community in Bainbridge had done quite a bit of work already to preserve their history, not only by refurbishing the community center, but also by conducting an oral history project where student interviewed elders and noted their stories. The study was done in 1993, and there was a book published about it, but it has since gone out of print.
FilAm history seems to have these sorts of cycles of remembering and forgetting, of taking for granted history-in-the making, then being startled out of complacency because of death and departure, then rediscovering that the history, the people, and the art have been there for much longer than personal memory.
This is why it saddened me to read the recent article in the Philippine News which seemed to imply that the FilAm artistic community was not doing enough to create a presence in Literature, not enough to break down the perceived barriers created by Big Box Bookstores, not enough to address and protest the inequities Filipinos and FilAms have experienced over the decades of colonization and postcolonization. The columnist and the featured commenter both appear to have the same viewpoint - Filipinos are lazy because they are oppressed, are oppressed because they are complacent while at the same time demanding that literary artists pay for the creation, production, publication, and distribution of their work NOW in order to create the comfortable readership necessary to appear on the Bestseller list of *fill in the blank hot awards list*.
The implication that the "community" (which apparently does not include the commentor) must birth, fully formed, agented, awarded, and booked on the Oprah show, an artist (preferably fiction, apparently) who can bring about the Filipino Literary Revolution disrespects decades of writing published by Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the US and abroad. The Call to Pens is a wonderful rallying cry, good for newspaper copy, but really, if the organizers of the event (who, if they were paying attention to the FilAm lit scene at all the last 30 years, would know their event is /not/ the first of it's kind by a long shot) really want to affect the course of Fil and FilAm publishing, then they've got to shake off their isolationist tendencies and show their students that there exist now viable markets for their work, that there are artists, now, publishing and receiving awards, that there are Fil and FilAm publishers already in existence who need their fresh eyes, fresh words, and fresh energy to keep their publications on the shelves, that there are independent bookstores more than willing to put their work on their shelves to keep the Big Box Stores at bay and maintain their uniqueness in a sea of sameness that is US publishing of the Twenty First Century.
Near the end of the Bainbridge Indipinoy event, a latecoming indipino related his sad story of exclusion, of how his family was nearly denied the ability to use the Filipino community center on Bainbridge because, although his father, a pinoy farmer had been featured in the 1993 oral history project and although his picture hung prominently in the hall, his wife and children were not full blood Pinoy, and so they could not celebrate his life in the hall he had helped build. The speaker wore his scars on his eyes and tears, speaking in broken words full of emotion. He spoke of a great and long standing injustice, and we, all gathered, agreed.
We do not live in isolation. If we did, there would be no talk of oppression, no talk of diaspora, no drive to connect with each other. There are too many stories as yet untold, too many stories as yet uncreated, to many moments uncelebrated to stand around wringing our hands about 'what is not.'
To the artists I have met and had the pleasure of reading, to the publishers who have taken on non-mainstream work, and to the readers constantly hungry for more, thank you.
You all make working at this mostly solitary art worthwhile.