Thoughts About Acknowledging Filipino American Authors

It’s October, which means it is now Filipino American History Month. It is a month devoted to reflecting on the historical events, experiences, and people who’ve shaped the path to where we are as a community now.

To mark the month-long occasion, Randy Ribay, author of the highly acclaimed coming-of-age novel Patron Saints of Nothing, wrote a guest post for School Library Journal where he talked about recommendations of Filipino American books written by Filipino American authors for all age demographics.

I advise that you go read this piece from Ribay, for this is actually the part where I make it my segway into today’s topic. Without a doubt, it is impossible to compile a list – whether by Ribay or anyone else for that matter – of every single work from every single Filipino American author on the face of the earth. What I do want to put out there are a couple of questions that I have from observations I have made over reading such lists and articles: Is there a limit regarding which Filipino American authors are to be acknowledged for the work they put out there? Does our work have to focus on the community in order for it to recognized by the community? Where do Filipino American authors like us fit into all this?

I am sort of an example of such (I say “sort of,” for I don’t want to completely discredit the support I have received). While both of my novels have Filipino American characters, at the end of the day, neither of my works are centered in or are about the community. But should who or what I choose to focus my novels on have any effect on how these books are to be received by the Filipino American community? Shouldn’t the fact that a Filipino American author penned them at all be of satisfactory?

Because of the fact that the Asian American community at large has been absent from literature for so long, I strive to feature Asian American characters of different ethnicities coming together in the stories I write. Also, being a mixed race Filipino American who was been brought up in a predominantly white household, I didn’t feel that I was in the right headspace just yet to write a story set within the community. Now that I’m currently writing a novel that has a Filipino American protagonist, will that be received any differently than my previous works when the day comes to release it into the world?

There’s another Filipino American author that comes to mind, whose work is not Filipino American-centered: Paul Krueger. He just released his second novel about a week and a half ago called Steel Crow Saga, and so far, I haven’t heard a word about it from the community. That was also the case a few years ago when he released his debut novel, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. Apart from it being about magical alcoholic beverages, could having a Chinese American lead have had an effect on the Filipino American community being largely mum about his contributions to the literary world?

In this conversation he did with Sarah Kuhn for Angry Asian Man three years ago, he said how if he were to write his debut novel then in 2016, he probably would have made his protagonist Filipino, on account of him coming to terms with his own Filipino identity while writing the book (Krueger, like me, is mixed race Filipino American). If he has done that, would that have made a difference in its reception by the Filipino American community?

I hope this doesn’t come off as selfish, for again, this is all based on observations made within recent time. I also don’t want to disregard the authors Ribay mentioned in his piece. They’re doing very important work by bringing stories from and about the community that we’ve needed for decades onto our bookshelves, and that is ultimately the message that he expressed.

But generally speaking, just because a Filipino American author chooses not to write about Filipino American subject matter, let alone be set in the community, does not and should not mean they nor their work should be passed over from appearing on such lists altogether. We’re writing, we’re putting stories out there, and that should be enough.

I mean, think about it: Celeste Ng’s latest novel, Little Fires Everywhere, mostly features white characters, and yet her book is still being recommended all over the place, and she’s still highly regarded as a skilled writer within the Asian American community. Why then does it have to be any different specifically within the Filipino American community?

If you are able to, I hope you can go support me in all that I do by leaving a tip over on Ko-fi. I do a lot of writing that I get paid very little for or not at all, and so this is a way of showing your support other than just reading my content. Donations of varying quantities and frequencies are greatly appreciated.

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