Geography as the Body & Inherited Landscapes: A Shamefully Overdue Re-Cap on the 2012 Mills College Workshop

Absolutely and positively late in re-capping but still here it is, an overview of the Mills workshop that your salonniere was invited to as a guest speaker hosted and organized by the gracious and talented writer and publisher melissa r. sipin , sponsored by ANAKBAYAN East Bay, TAYO Literary Magazine, Philippine American Writers & Artists and Mills College. The Political Content & Engagement Writing Workshop was a series of five free writing workshops where participants from all age ranges and from across the Bay Area also performed at a reading gala and had their work published in the “i am ND” anthology.

Your salonniere was honored to  present the workshop“Political Narratives in Colonial Amnesia: Filipino/American Landscapes” on Sunday, November 18, 2012 at Mills College. On a gray and wet Sunday afternoon, which happened to be the birth date of my late maternal grandmother Ramona Accompañado Napala, who I dedicated the workshop to, a strong mix of talented and keen writers came to spend the last daylight hours of the weekend discussing Pin@y writing and reading. Armed with their laptops, Moleskines, and notebooks, all of them deeply involved, they introduced themselves and named their favorite authors, which included the likes of Albert Camus’ The Plague, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Walden Bello.

Sipin opened the discussion asking what about the emotive responses for the assigned readings: Kartika Review’s interview with Evelina Galang, her stories, “The Guerra Sisters Who Never Talk” and “Laban for the Lolas.” Lysley Tenorio’s “Save the I-Hotel” a New York Times article on activist Larry Itliong and a story by yours truly, “Here in the States” from GUFII.

The writer-participants discussed the loss of space and identity and how space evokes disparity and emotion. They also covered ideas on identity politicking and how a story can essentialize cultures and traditions versus playing with and subverting tropes. A quote from Bhanu Kapil was raised about “reverse migrations” and how diasporic cultures move forward and backwards.

The workshop’s description as described on their website:

This political content & engagement workshop invites writers to shape their memoir, poetry, prose, or performance work with an emphasis on impacting perceptions, be thy political, personal, social, literary, or cultural. We exchange our writing and develop voice and authority while working on techniques to elevate the richness and toughness of our voice. We read and analyze authors to observe how they effectively move the reader, affect perception, and perhaps opinion. Class discussions focus how our work affects how we are perceived and how the events of the world are understood. The elements of each genre are addressed as well.

When it came time for writing, your salonniere created prompts to play with ideas on memory and/or cultural amnesia regarding native land, family, culture and tradition. The students wrote about body and space, concerning their hometowns of Vallejo, Toulumne, Los Angeles, and my neck of the woods, Paradise Hills in East County San Diego. The slides below are from the presentation on “Love & Labour: Geography and the Body” where writers explored their childhood neighborhoods and were challenged to describe their homes as a lover or an old friend.

At the end of workshop one of the students asked for book recommendations for her “traditional” mother. Some possible titles suggested include, Marianne Villanueva’s Going Home to a Landscape, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard’s When the Rainbow Goddess Wept and the two anthologies she edited Growing Up Filipino I and II from PALH.

The talent and integrity of each participant was inspiring, and it was a real privilege to work and learn from these writers. Here’s to more community workshops.

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