I gave a talk at the writers’ forum of the PEN’s For Love of the Word, a two-day workshop on teaching literature. It was an honor to be sitting with Davao’s literary greats, and with a large audience of teachers and professors from all over Mindanao in attendance, too.
Since our topic was Writing to Protect Our Home, Our Habitat, I took the obvious interpretation and tied it to the environment. I read from my short story The Feud and connected it to Laudato Si.
I may have caused a bit of discomfort with some candid comments, but I don’t see any way I could have kept silent. During the Q-and-A, the first two interlocutors asked something along the lines of native writing and “settler” writing. This seems to be the natural evolution of the old mainstream vs margins discussion that has been plaguing Philippine literary conferences for as long as I can remember. But I felt deeply disturbed by the political undertones of this distinction. So I felt compelled to say:
“I’m sorry, I don’t subscribe to your label of me as a ‘settler.’ I was born here, and this is my home. Just because you have this historical narrative that you want me to fit into, this does not make it right. I will engage you in dialogue, I will recognize the injustices done to your people, I will even help you tell them, but please don’t seek to privilege yourself and disenfranchise my own heritage to make yourself feel better. You don’t get to do it at my expense.”
Or something to that effect.
The third interlocutor, the venerable Dr. Lualhati Abreu, historical researcher and writer, took the mike and agreed with what I said. “That’s why I don’t use this ‘settler’ language,” she said.
This will have to be the subject of a longer essay, I hope soon.
Still, it was nice to meet some old friends and former students among the audience. I got the rock star treatment with several people wanting to take photos with me. I admit, it felt nice.
Dinner for tonight was seafood ramen. Make that leftover seafood ramen. Still very good, though.