Celebrating Filipino American Literature, Poetry & Art in NYC

In Queens, NY, from Sept. 21 to Oct. 29 there will be a Fil Am gathering of writers, artists, and scholars hosted by Queens Poet Lore Paolo Javier and Bliss on Bliss Art Projects visual artist/printmaker Ged Merino. I interviewed Paolo Javier about the event and people involved in the month long program.

What's the Fil Am literary & art community in NYC like?

Rich, varied, and sophisticated, which, one might argue, is expected of community based in a cultural center such as NYC, but that I, myself, would never take for granted. To be sure, the Fil Am community here features its own cliques, but these are bound by a pretty wide spectrum of interests, including the visual arts, film, theater, fiction, poetry.

Out of the five boroughs, however, Queens has long served as a vital home for Fil Am artists, particularly writers and filmmakers. Ninotchka Rosca lives here, as does film producer/activist Ramon Mappala, and Guggenheim recipient and indie filmmaker Lavrente Diaz, to name a few figures in the community. And Queens, for as long as I've visited (since the mid-80s) and lived in it (since '99), has provided a safe haven for an active LGBT Filipino/a arts scene, contrary to what the NYTimes will irresponsibly have you believe about the borough and its immigrants.

How is the Fil Am literary & art community in NYC different from scene(s)/events in Manila?

I can't speak for the scene in Manila, as I don't live there, but from reports I receive now and then from folks passing through New York, I get the sense that its writers and artists are quite connected and immediately available to one another. Not surprising, given how much smaller the literary and arts scene of Manila is in comparison to a bigger and richer city like ours. Perhaps the lack of financial support available to Manila's artists and writers, in addition to the persisting issue of censorship by the church and state, bind their communities in ways that you can't expect of the Fil Am community in New York.

In contrast to Manila, however, you'll find that our writers and artists here converge from someplace else, forming/joining groups that are heterogeneous in class, race, and nationality. Most of the visibly active artists and writers I know of aren't native New Yorkers, for example. In fact, the featured gathering in the upcoming Bliss on Bliss Art Projects are all immigrants to the U.S. who spent their formative years in the P.I. I wanted such a dynamic reflected in our program, one that's made up of writers and artists whose work draws from other disciplines, and troubles the space between "Filipino/a" and "American" rather than resolve it.

Who will be participating in this year's Fil Am literary & art event?

We're kicking off the event with a salon/talk by historian and scholar Vicente L. Rafael (The Promise of the Foreign, Duke University), who teaches at the University of Washington. I also invited novelists Jessica Hagedorn (Toxicology, Viking) and R. Zamora Linmark (Leche, from Coffee House Press, and Drive-by Vigils, from Hanging Loose), who will read together. Our two BBAP artists-in-residence, Astoria's Marietta Ganapin and Brooklyn's Ernest Concepcion, will open their studios to the public. I am also presenting two films by Elmhurst's own independent filmmaker, Lavrente Diaz. And last but not least, since the program is being held in my neighborhood, I am throwing a book party for my new book of poetry, The Feeling Is Actual (Marsh Hawk Press). You can find out all relevant info about the program and how to RSVP to the events on the BBAP blog.