In my struggles to get good stories out and hopefully published, it has not escaped my fellow LitCritters that nearly all of my experiments in SpecFic writing explored some aspect of Pinoyness in them.
What Qualifies You To Write About Filipinos?
Nothing. I'm no expert on the Philippines and on Filipinos. Then again, few people are. Many think they are just because they were born here (hey, I was born here), and lived here for some time (hey, I've lived here most of my life), but haven't actually studied it (hey, I've studied a little). They haven't read up on the history, learned the cultural dances, studied the martial arts, traveled to the deep north or sojourned to the far south.
Does interest and actually being Filipino count? Does having spent a length of time abroad disqualify me?
My own belief is that my time abroad actually sparked my interest in Philippine History and Philippine Culture. I consciously tried to find out more about the Philippines (and learned more about it) during my time in the U.S. I hung out with 1st Wave, 2nd Wave, and 3rd Wave Filipino immigrants as well as Filipino visitors to the Land of the Free. I bought books there concerning our country that I never even though of looking for here. I learned first hand that things we take in stride here can shock foreigners - and here I trot out the story about how my sister and I communicated wordlessly about how to arrange things in her dorm room using the "point with the lips" technique - and even amaze them. ("Yes, Donald, you've discovered a terrible secret. My sister and I are telepathic. All Filipinos are.")
And yet, including these things in stories - bits of history, bits of cultural habit and national character, bits of trivia - are they enough?
What about bigger things? Like our sensitivity to status and social prestige and our desire for a better country? What about darker things, like the sex trade and institutionalized graft and the destruction of our natural resources and extrajudicial killings?
And if I write about them, will I do them justice? Should I do more research so that I can understand the issues better? Like journalists, should I examine all the sides of an issue so that I don't come across as biased, or worse, wilfully ignorant? Should I take a stand or will I just come across as preachy? How do I create characters that are believable and not just mouthpieces for a particular side of an issue?
ANGST! (angsty pose)
All these thoughts and more were swirling in my mind even before the recent outpouring of opinions, and sadly, few answers have been put forward that have been satisfying and none have been very enlightening.
Ultimately, I believe that we should just write stories and get them published to see if this is the kind of fiction that people are looking for - hopefully a fresh take on topics and themes and experiences that we have learned to ignore as part of the grey buzz of "being Filipino".
OFWs and the Uniquenss of the Experience
Bhex mentions, in response to Charles's OFW question, that
i don’t think the OFW experience is unique to filipinos. if you’re going to write a speculative story that serves as a metaphor to an underprivileged class/race selling themselves into servitude for a shot at a better life, i don’t think you’ll be symbolizing something that’s unique to the philippines, even if that was your intention. without using clearly defined filipino elements, you may as well be symbolizing the exodus of the chinese, the indonesians, the mexicans… it has nothing to brand it as uniquely filipino.I must respectfully but strongly disagree with the statements made here. I believe that while there are similarities to the experiences of other people who work abroad to improve their own living standards or the living standards of their families back home, there is something inherently unique to the OFW experience: the involvement of Filipinos and Filipinas. The way they deal with the trials and tribulations of living and working abroad is shaped by the culture and the nation they group up in and cannot help but be unique to the Philippines. And there are fantastic little bits of detail that are just waiting to be mined - how we deal with loneliness, how we skirt around the rules and authorities, how we are taken advantage of by our own people, how determination and ingenuity allow us to extract little joys from the stresses of overseas work, how the mini-communities that we form to protect ourselves from an unfamiliar land can foster miracles and tragedies.
If we eliminate this experience just because there are some broad commonalities with SOME other nationalities, then we must eliminate other situations that we share in common with ALL other nationalities from our fiction (such as growing up, going to school, falling in love, etc.).
Celebrating the diversity of the Filipino experience
What is "something Filipino"? The Filipino and the Filipina have many different faces and lives. There are the rich and the poor, the lazy and the hardworking, the good-looking and the ugly, the fashionistas and the fashionless, the inarticulate and the verbose, the hope of the future and the treasures of the past, and so on and so forth.
We're the 12th most populated country in the world - there are millions of us, each life a unique story. (Hey, does the European Union count as its own country?)
Shouldn't our fiction be as diverse?