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Pilipinx poetry about ’punyetang’ politics

NORTHERN California-based poet and editor Eileen Tabios has released a spunky collection of verses that add to the literature of the Philippine diaspora.

Titled “Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry,” the 36-page chapbook gathers poems written by 16 US-based Filipinos about politics, race, identity, homeland, and other issues that concern immigrants and those born in the US of Philippine heritage.

Thanks to Eileen for using my artwork “Salitang Makulay: Puñeta” as the cover illustration for this book. The artwork was an embroidered piece I created for the Chromatext Rebooted art show that ran from Nov. 6, 2015 to Jan. 15, 2016 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The show, curated by Krip Yuson and Jean Marie Syjuco for the Philippine Literary Arts Council, featured the works of around 120 writers and artists.

Eileen acquired my work immediately upon seeing it from a photo Krip posted on Facebook, and I am moved that she liked it enough to live with it, and now to use it as the cover of this anthology. Some of the poets whose works are in this book even want the design on t-shirts to wear to this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs event! Now that would be something interesting to see.

From the poems in the collection, here’s Michelle Bautista’s “Flow.” It starts: “Hear playful moon in this sacred space. Our afflictions, its laughter of paradise, fire jutting out of a deep pulse. Crafted warriors, sliding, struck upon fire and water, earth and air. Hear guardians in corners split heavy hollow resonance. Touch earth and air. Red bamboo above flows…” It seems to me more a song, a mood piece with a narrative open to the reader’s interpretation.

Jose Padua’s “Headhunters” tells of a “man in a barrel” wood carving from the Philippine highlands that he had in his home as a child. It’s a poem about negotiating one’s identity—of growing up Filipino in the US, and handling interactions with the country’s privileged race: “…we’re looking at you, we’re paying attention to your moves, your strange exotic speech and your skin / a color you can only see in our teeth and our eyes when we look / at you and smile. We’re nice and kind and polite and we like / to cook and entertain, but cross us and there’s no way for you / to know if it’s daytime or nighttime or heaven or hell and time for us to start collecting heads again.”

In truth, this awareness of racism is a common feeling among Filipinos in the US, particularly for immigrants with their different accents, gestures, and other traits that set them apart as “not from around here,” “not one of us.”

Why “Pilipinx”? This is a spin-off from the term “Latinx” (pronounced “la-teen-ex”), which refers to people from countries colonized by Romance-language speaking countries Spain and Portugal. Pilipinx/Filipinx (they are interchangeable) is a gender-neutral (and all-gender-encompassing) alternative to F/Pilipino/a.

However, usage of the term here in the US, as I’ve noticed, sticks with ‘P’ to decolonize the term, because, the reasoning goes, ‘F’ was not, as far as it is known, a phonic (letter sound) in the pre-colonial language.

To clarify, Pilipinx refers to ethnicity, not race. In the US, Filipinos and Indonesians are both classified as Asians or belonging to the Asian race, but Filipinos are not Indonesian.

I’d like to see the “x” adapted for other similar ethnic terms to render them gender-neutral and thus more inclusive and less divisive. Perhaps we might say, “Ilocanx”, “Kinarayx”. Words such as “Igorot” and “Ifugao” are gender-neutral and would not require such modification.

Such a practice could be seen as a form of political correctness. In this era of Trump, political correctness is coming under attack from conservatives, and certainly exaggerated manifestations of it are humorless, irritating, and abusive.

But political correctness was developed for a reason—to minimize offense and offensiveness based on race, creed, abilities, and other differences that do not minimize nor take away from our common shared humanity, and to reduce the need for defense and defensiveness against bigots, racists, sexists, and others who hurt those who are not holders of the same type of privileges they possess, often through an accident of birth and no merit of their own.

Using the “x” to defang insensitive terms would help shift society to a mindset of acceptance, harmony, and community, because language influences thinking. Words have power.

And the words in “Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry” are powerful and empowering. 

(Available as an e-book or print-on-demand copy at www.moriapoetry.com/locofo.html and www.lulu.com.)

Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Follow her on Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember

Topics: Eileen Tabios , “Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry”

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