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But think about the little girls—the ones whose stories were told and those whose stories were erased with time—who entered Wonderland. They can be Alices, Dorothys, Wendys—women that Wonderland didn't mark, didn't claim for itself.

—from Shimon Adaf’s Sunburnt Faces

 

In a recent conversation with yet another friend, I strove to explain the frustration that lies behind the giving away of our stories to visitors to our culture.

“Think of it in this way,” I said. “Say that we are a small tribe, and we have this sacred story that we tell to each other. This story is the story of our history. It is the story of our struggle, it is the story of our migrations, it is the story of the love that binds us to each other.

“One day, a visitor from the big outside comes to our tribe and hears this sacred story. This visitor is no ordinary passerby. They have come to our tribe because they have heard about the love that binds us and wish to hear our sacred story for themselves.

“ ‘If you will give me permission,’ this visitor says, ‘I will share your story with the entire world. I will tell the world of the love that binds you to each other.’

“And because we think and we believe that the visitor is sincere, we grant this visitor access to our stories. We grant this visitor the license to take our sacred story and mold it into what they perceive our sacred story to be.

“When the time comes that this sacred story becomes known all over the world, let me ask you who will be given credit for this story? To whom does the story now belong? Does it still belong to us or does it belong to the person who told this story to the world?”


I have come away from a conversation on the appropriation of our stories that ends with me wondering if I am a bad person for my reluctance to compromise and allow the borrowing and the taking away of what is ours. I understand the argument that goes there is no artist or writer who will tell these stories for us. I also understand that there are approaches to a work that are sensitive and respectful, and yet, I find it difficult to move across the threshold and to say yes to the appropriation of narratives that should be told and credited to Filipinos.

I question whether sincerity is enough and I ask again, who benefits from this appropriation of our narratives? 


“Is it worth it?” I asked Flavia.

Flavia is a friend who understands the struggle against appropriation and erasure.

We had met in Amsterdam, and we were talking about our various struggles and how the struggle in society is often reflected in the struggle for visibility in the arts and literature. We talked about how sometimes we find ourselves repeating the same things we’ve said previously and how it sometimes seems as if no one really wants to listen.

“Think of it this way,” Flavia said. “I can easily say I will stop speaking out. But if I don’t speak out who will?”

I nod and stare off into the distance. It’s not like I haven’t said these words to myself before. But today, I am dispirited and am on the verge of giving up.

“It’s like this,” Flavia went on. “Someone before us said the same things we are saying now and someone after us will say the same things, but each time these things are said something happens. We are part of a chain in this struggle that goes from way back when, and when we are gone someone else will continue until this shared vision becomes reality.”

(Oh Flavia, do you know how much I needed to hear these words repeated to me at that moment?) 


I think of Flavia’s words as I think of struggle.

I think of the writers of color who are convinced that if only they write well enough, if only their narratives conform to expectations, if only they rewrite enough, edit enough, get enough critiques, the work will find the recognition it deserves.

It is a good thing to strive for excellence. It is a good thing to strive to be innovative and to write because you have something to say. But the truth of the matter is this: no matter the excellence of a work, if it doesn't come to the attention of those people who have power, the work will sink into oblivion.

But isn't this also true for writers and artists of all colors, all nationalities, all creeds? Don't we all struggle to be in that light where we find recognition for what we have brought into being?

The thing is, we forget how some struggles are more equal than others. It is only inevitable that the struggle of a man in America who knows all the right people and has the means to meet and become known to the right people is more equal than the struggle of a non-white and non-anglophone person who does not have the means, or the connections, to people of influence.

No matter how much we claim that the Internet has decreased the size of our world, there is still a huge difference when we talk about who has the means and who has the access and who gets to be seen and heard in the places that matter.

I think of these imbalances and I share in the frustration of those whose voices are rendered mute because our narratives and our words have been stolen and appropriated. I understand the anger that comes from knowing that, no matter how hard you try, the narratives of those who have plundered your histories and your cultures will be counted more “authentic” simply because they who have done the plundering have access. 

I think of how the appropriation of our narratives only adds to the intensity and to the weight of our struggle and how, in spite of this, we cannot allow ourselves to surrender the field or give up the fight. 


My struggle is the struggle of every writer who does not come from the majority. My struggle is the struggle of those who have not been marked or claimed by Wonderland. My struggle is the struggle of a woman, it is the struggle of a person of color, it is the struggle of a person belonging to the QUILTBAG.

This is the struggle against erasure and forgetting. It is the struggle against the temptation to give up.

This is the struggle that recognizes how science fiction's narratives are not my narratives. They are the narratives of the colonizer. They are the narratives of the Western world. 

This is the struggle that acknowledges my desire to become part of that narrative even as I resist conformity to that narrative. 


In his essay, “An English Apart,” Filipino poet Ricardo M. de Ungria writes, “During the act of writing, I have to play blind to the fact that the whole Western writing tradition is not mine—”

This too is part of my struggle. Even as I acknowledge how science fiction is rooted in Western tradition, I find myself wrestling with it. I seek to bend it to my will—to break the existing mold and to claim it also for my own.

 

Note: This is only the first part of a series of essays unpacking the various aspects of struggle. It is the intention of this author to simply express, as I have always expressed, the things that have come to me as I also work to make space for a future generation.




Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in the Netherlands. She attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2009 and was a recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship. Her work has been published in various online and print publications in the Philippines as well as outside of the Philippines. You can visit her website at rcloenenruiz.com or follow her on Twitter.
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