The Influence of Words
Long ago, someone said this in defense of my work: â€œShe is writing from the context of her culture and from her own experience.â€
I had gone to my first ever meeting with real writers. The woman who said those words was a professor from the University of the Philippines and she said those words in response to criticism that said my work would never be good enough for a US audience.
Itâ€™s funny that I should think of those words at this time when the words that chased after me for so many years were the words that told me I would never be good enough. I wonder how I could have forgotten those words when they are so relevant and so important to me as a writer of color.
What prompted me to chase after excellence was to prove the negative words wrong, and once Iâ€™d proven that I could write at that level, I found myself wondering what comes next.
Recalling the statement above reminded me that at some point in my pursuit to become better than my yesterday self I had determined to be true to the culture I came from. Remembering this and holding fast onto this gives me fresh enthusiasm and determination.
Culture, HeritageÂ and the SF&F field
Growing upÂ among an indigenous people was a privilege. History books tell me that the Mountain Province was one of the few places the Spanish could not colonize because of the fierceness of its warriors. Even after American missionaries had made their entry into the mountains, even after â€œthe conversion of the nativesâ€, the original culture still remains intact.
It makes me happy to hear of how the young people from the town I grew up in are still proud of their heritage. Itâ€™s not been easy for other indigenous groups as the struggle to protect indigenous rights is one thatâ€™s often fought against people in power.
On my last visit home, I attended a lecture given by Antoon Postma and the Mangyan Heritage Center. This lecture was one of many that Antoon was giving at several universities. Antoon had lived among the Mangyan tribe for more than fifty years and his lecture had specifically to do with the written tradition of the Mangyan. He was one of those rare people who truly loved the culture and embraced it instead of wanting to change it.
The teacher beside me listened just as attentively as I, and afterwards she said to me: What a shame that we should need a foreigner to teach us pride in our culture.
That a lot of Filipinos believe in the superiority of what’s foreign is a sad truth. It’s just like how Filipinos insist on bleaching their beautiful brown skin because they believe white is a superior color.
But I love the Filipino color. I love our beautiful brown skin and I don’t see why we need to be whiter. It’s just in this way that I love our beautiful Filipino culture.Â It isÂ bright and colorful and filled with so many nuances.Â We areÂ not just the color of earth,Â we areÂ not just the beating of gongs,Â what we areÂ includes the interweaving with other cultures. We are indigenous and multicultural at the same time.
Sometime ago, a Filipino poet told me that we should be multi-genreâ€™d because we are multicultural. I still think on those words and I think itâ€™s an exciting time to be a Filipino Speculative fiction writer.
As I write this, I am reminded of what it is about science fiction and fantasy that excites me. Where realist literature concerns itself with this now and this one personâ€™s reality, Science Fiction and Fantasy invites us to explore beyond the boundaries of what we perceive to be real. I love this genre, I love the way in which imagination and creativity are given free reign, and I love how there is always room for a culture other than that of the West.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in The Netherlands. A graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop and recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship for 2009, her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Apex, The Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, and the Ruins and Resolve Anthology. Visit her online at: http://rcloenen-ruiz.livejournal.com