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A Review

Not Home, But Here:
Writing from the Filipino Diaspora
Edited by Luisa A. Igloria. Manila: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2003

Over the past decade, anthologies of Filipino writing have become an important arena for discussions of diaspora. NOT HOME, BUT HERE: Writing from the Filipino Diaspora does not merely add to the burgeoning collections of Filipino writing, but takes a different turn in de-centering the United States as its primary referent. While previous anthologies of Filipino writing highlight the differences between Filipinos in the Philippines, Filipinos in the United States, and American-born Filipinos, this anthology takes the subject of writing in the diaspora as its defining feature.

The fifteen essays by Filipino writers, poets, and academics (including one advertising executive turned shaman) hail from Spain, Korea, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Australia and the United States, and invite critical thought on issues of writing as a Filipino abroad. In her eloquent introduction, Editor Luisa Igloria describes the goal of the anthology to consider “related themes of separation, exile, expatriate life, (im)migration, (re)location and/or travel abroad— primarily in terms of how these experiences impacted on their lives and work as writers, influenced and defined their creative process, (re)defined, unsettled questioned, and shaped their concepts of home, nation(ality), identity, allegiance, and possibility.” NOT HOME, BUT HERE is successful in providing a space for personal meditation and critical reflection on the complexity of diaspora. The essays are presented as individual pieces, rather than grouped by themes. Taking the concept of diaspora to form as well as content, many of the essays are hybrids of prose and poetry, while others take more explicitly the form of journal notes, lists, or a film script. As with any edited collection, the quality can be uneven at times, though the variation is not extreme.

NOT HOME, BUT HERE is successful in providing a space for personal meditation and critical reflection on the complexity of diaspora.

If the discourse of diaspora highlights difference, then the anthology invites us to think about the various registers of that difference. Quite a few essayists focus on linguistic differences as a mark of diaspora. Bino Reluyo’s well-crafted “Life at McDonald’s (or Life is not English)” reflects upon the politics of speaking English and Spanish at McDonald’s in Manila and New York City. According to Reluyo: “McDonald’s is a sampling of what’s happening in America. My experience there informs me of a world that is based on language, informs me of an empowerment based on language.” Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “Speaking, Listening (and Swearing) in a language I Just Don’t Understand” poignantly relates how mispronouncing the name of her mother’s Philippine province (and being corrected by Filipina writer Jessica Hagedorn) made her question her authenticity. Edna Weisser’s piece “London Boys and Other Filipinos” ponders the fate of Pinoy English at the hands of the British. For Weisser, “...to be Filipino is a process. not an end...you can be Pinoy in New York, Berlin, or Paris and still remain a New Yorker, Berliner or Parisian.” In “Border Lover,” Merlinda Bobis compares the possibility of writing in Bikol, Pilipino, and English in the Philippines to the feeling of being “surrounded by the English language” in Australia. By gesturing to the hybrid forms of English produced by the diaspora, the anthology also raises the related question of whether the meaning of the Filipino diaspora is limited to English-language texts.

One of the most interesting aspects of this volume is the unevenness of Filipino writers’ responses to diaspora. Some contributors celebrate Filipino diasporic identity while others question its implications —all in varying degrees and configurations. In her lengthy toast to poetry and wine, writer-turned-grape farmer Eileen Tabios figures diasporic identity as a “gift” of perspective. For Tabios, linking Filipinos to a global diaspora is a positive expansion: “If anything, the diasporic history of the Philippines should emphasize this: the history of the Philippines is also the history of the world.” More melancholically, Reine Arache Melvin’s “In Paris, a White Cockroach,” reflects upon the freedom of displacement that allows her to “play with selves.” Taking a more skeptical approach, Leny Mendoza-Strobel distinguishes herself from Filipinos “fleeing poverty,” but also rejects the appropriateness of Pico Iyer’s elite model of postmodern nomadism to the Filipino diaspora. “Cosmopolitan polyglots?” she asks, referring to Filipino OCWs (Overseas Contract Workers).

...reconceptualizing the Filipino diaspora with
a wide-angle lens does not have to mean losing sight of the historical specificity and processes of racialization that undergird Filipino journeys outside of the nation.

The anthology suggests that there is much to be gained by enfolding Filipino concerns into a global diasporic phenomenon. But it subtly reminds us that reconceptualizing the Filipino diaspora with a wide-angle lens does not have to mean losing sight of the historical specificity and processes of racialization that undergird Filipino journeys outside of the nation. From his artist’s residency in Spain, Nick Carbo reflects on what it means to be a Filipino writer of the “brown diaspora,” situating himself as part of a longer colonial history of Filipino migration to Spain and the United States. For various essayists, including Carbo, United States universities also figure prominently —and inadvertently—as catalysts for Filipina consciousness and creativity. Barbara J. Pulmano Reyes’s funny, yet absorbing piece “101 Words that Don’t Describe Me” attributes her “coming of age” to her literature courses at U.C. Berkeley, where she read works by writers of color: “Exposed to their subaltern perspectives, the many revolutionary ways in which they discussed ‘Home,’ I awakened and found that I had a voice, a deep love of spoken word, an addiction to the stage and a call and response rapport with a hip brown audience who indicated to me with finger-snapping, hooting, and interjections of ‘GIRL!’ that they felt what I felt.”

Descriptions of how Filipinos living abroad remember the Philippines and what Filipinos living abroad bring back from visits to the Philippines provide refreshing angles to the anthology. A recurring theme of this book is how the Philippines evokes a sense of irrecoverable loss and ghostly absence, more a memory than a reality. At other times, the Philippines appears concretely in references to the Marcos dictatorship and the People Power Revolutions, interwoven with personal anecdotes. For Filipinos born outside of the Philippines, the act of remembering the Philippines is a more complicated project. Jon Pineda reflects upon this issue in his piece “Once Removed”: “As a child, I regarded the Philippines as a place shrouded in mystery. My grandparents were a photograph in my parents’ room. My relatives, names I had trouble pronouncing. My father’s language, words I would remember or forget.” NOT HOME, BUT HERE delivers an intriguing series of pieces on overlapping issues of diaspora and the creative process. By depicting a diaspora written from multiple locations, this anthology prompts us to expand our understandings of the Filipino diaspora beyond the US-Philippines trajectory and simplified economic explanations. It makes an important contribution in bringing complexity, contradiction, and nuance to discussions of Filipino diasporic writing.

© Cynthia Tolentino

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