Last night’s launch event for Decolonize Your Bookshelves was a success! Turnout was better than expected and I woke up this morning to SO MANY positive messages in my inbox. Seeing people post photos and testimonies about their experience at the event on social media was incredible. Thank you so much to everyone, especially GINA APOSTOL and Enoch Pratt!
Filipino authors are often overlooked within the Asian American genre of literature. A lot more attention is given to East Asian authors. Think of the most mainstream Asian American authors: I’ll bet they’re all Chinese (Amy Tan and Celeste Ng to mind), Korean (Mary HK Choi) or Japanese (of course, Murakami comes to mind).
Filipinos are one of the largest groups of Asian Americans now. We come in as the third biggest, behind Chinese and Indians, but if the U.S. census correctly separated Chinese from Taiwanese, we actually have a larger population than Chinese Americans. We are everywhere, and yet we’re so invisible. So little is known about us. For example — did you know that Filipinos were the first Asians to step foot on American soil? We landed in Morro Bay, California in the 1500s. The first permanent Filipino American settlement was in Louisiana in the 1700s. And did you know that the Colt .45 was created specifically to be able to kill Filipinos?? It’s because the Colt .38 proved too ineffective. Colt manufacturers had to create a whole new gun just to bring us down. I could go on but you get the point. Our history with the U.S. is complicated and dark (and that’s putting it lightly).
Filipinos mistakenly get lumped in with today’s East Asian struggles and issues in America, which is inaccurate because we have a completely different experience and culture. We actually have a lot more in common with Latin Americans. I’ll admit, it’s hard to understand if you’re not Filipino American.
Decolonize Your Bookshelves is not just about diversifying your reads to include more Filipino authors. No, it’s about making our own voices dominant. It’s also about the intersection of literature and activism. In addition to being the launch of this series, last night was also the launch of Malaya Movement Baltimore. It’s no surprise to me that so many Filipino American authors are also activists: Gina Apostol (a fellow convener of Malaya Movement), Carlos Bulosan, the late, great Dawn Mabalon, Gayle Romasanta, Randy Ribay, and Al Robles, just to name a few.
Humans are born to love stories. They are instant generators of interest, empathy, emotion, and intrigue. Stories are one of the best ways to make people care about a cause. They allow us to walk in someone else’s shoes and we can imagine what it’s like to actually be that person. There was a study done that found that literary fiction -- as opposed to non-fiction and sci-fi -- enhanced a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to imagine what’s going on in someone else’s head. They found that literary fiction focuses more on the characters’ interior lives than nonfiction does. For example, when people read a novel about a Muslim American woman, they become less likely to make broad assumptions based on race.
Great literature intrinsically holds hope and the possibility of change. No matter how dark the topic might be—and some of civilization’s most important works are dark indeed—great literature is about hope. By asking to be read, literature assumes human potential.
Reading a book (and especially writing one) means believing in openness to change and the possibility of change.
- Cherilyn Parsons, How Literature is an Activist Force
Last night’s event was just the beginning. Because of the great turnout, Enoch Pratt has already approved funding for two more events in this series! I hope to spread this message to more Filipino Americans and that they may start similar book clubs and literary events in their cities. Let’s make this a movement!
The next confirmed Decolonize Your Bookshelves event is on October 22nd. Grace Talusan is the featured author and will be doing a reading from her latest book, The Body Papers, a memoir about Filipino American identity and sexual abuse.