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Filipinx American Spotlight: Interview with Anjelica M Enaje

Anjelica M Enaje (amenaje) was Born, raised, and still residing in New York. Child of Bicolano parents. Padawan Sister. amenaje is a writer, scholar, voice actor, 1st-generation Raised Pinay, and dutiful daughter. She is the creator of {getLITfilam}, an online curation of (literary) works by and about people of Filipino-descent. She is currently a first-year student in the M.A. in Biography and Memoir program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her thesis project is a memoir about being a Maria Clara type.


You are a writer and also enrolled in MA in Biography and Memoir Program at CUNY. How is the writing process your thesis project, “Maria Clara Speaks” going?  I’m still in the beginning stages of the writing and research process. So far, I have a “table of contents” with titles of individual pieces I plan to write for the project. Mostly it is just notes, original lines, unrefined thoughts, and selected bibliography that I find appropriate for the theme of Maria Clara discourse. Sometimes it feels like everything is scattered, but I manage to remain motivated and inspired to keep working on this thing! The ultimate goal is to have this published into a book that can be read and discussed regarding how Filipino culture raised many of us Filipinas to become Maria Claras. I also hope that it will continue the conversation through others’ personal stories about what it is like to “become” a Maria Clara (or rebel/reject becoming one) and other internal reflections of our culture.

Why did you choose to study on writing memoir?

I knew for a very long time that I wanted to be a writer. It was a matter of figuring out what “genre” I was best at in writing. Memoir was the last thing I thought of ever doing because I thought it would be something that someone should write when they are much older and have a better understanding of life. I got into the BAM program because it was a cross between academic research and creative writing; something I had been searching for, in terms of graduate studies, but couldn’t find a program that really fit into my intellectual and artistic needs. I also really wanted to focus on Filipinx narratives, specifically on Pinays, particularly on how we are telling our stories. This inspiration draws from my involvement in Raised Pinay (First generation in 2016). Through talks with my Sisters, I finally settled on writing my personal story, using Maria Clara from Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere as the major theme to explain my Filipinx story.

How is your relationship with English, Filipino and other languages when writing? How do you connect the languages, or should I ask, how do you feel them? I am always combating languages on a daily basis. This is probably my inner English major talking, but language is weird in terms of linguistics. We use certain words to try to get our points across, but not everyone will understand what we are trying to say because they also use different sets of words to talk about the same thing... If that makes sense?   This is even when speaking the “same” language! Not many people will realize that there are different kinds of English, even if it is someone’s primary/dominant language! Yet, many people expect others to “speak English”--but which kind? My English is rooted in American education, coupled with being raised in New York my whole life and growing up with the Internet. Now when you think of Filipino language... We need to establish that Tagalog is not the only language that exists in the Philippines. There are about 170 languages spoken in the Philippines (which is the latest statistic I checked). My family speaks Bicolano and Tagalog, and I am struggling to be fluent in both! Yet I am told by other (older) Filipinos that it is shameful that I do not know “Tagalog”... That is another discussion to be had, but the point is: Language is always tricky, from its structure to rules, and no one can really claim to be a master at any of them. We are always fumbling with words. So for those of us trying to learn and speak our languages, we should be allowed to learn and speak at our own pace. I mix my English, Bicol, and Tagalog together sometimes, even in the same sentence. I can form very simple sentences in Filipino language. But I am always learning new words and grammar rules.    

Do you feel that social media has helped artists? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself? From what I have seen, I think artists have found their platforms through social media. It has helped connected with audiences who are able to reach out to tell artists how their works resonate with them. I was able to come across plenty of Filipinx artists through (mainly) Instagram and support them in whatever way I can. (I have a few art prints from several Filipinx visual artists on my bedroom wall by my desk. I also have a growing book collection from Filipinx authors & poets.) But I am also aware of the issues artists constantly face online, such as the (monetary) value of their work that they spent hours on, or the reposting/uncredited thefts that occur... There are benefits and risks when it comes to publishing your art on social media, but overall, I find that these digital platforms helped us to support and connect with each other. Since I’m more writing-focused, I use my blog for marketing myself. I try my best to make the posts interesting and readable because it would frustrate me if I cannot keep an audience invested in what I am saying. There are writers who write to hear themselves talk and those who write for others to listen, and it shows. I think I am constantly too self-conscious about that whenever I write a new piece. I always want to have clear and concise stories with some personality in them, which took years to figure out and make into my personal style of writing. 

When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story? I wasn’t much of a reader or writer when I was little. In fact, I had an aversion to books. It was mainly because the way that books were introduced to me were through “graded homework assignments”, and I don’t think anybody at a young age liked doing homework... But what eventually got me into writing was when I was between ages 10-12, when I was experiencing a lot of bullying and needed a healthy outlet to express the confusing emotions that I was experiencing. I was afraid to talk to anyone about what I was going through, for fear of judgment or victim-blaming, so somehow I ended up writing a poem about it. I was amazed that I wrote something that had no relation to school (in terms of grading) and how it made me feel better about myself. It was like a heavy load lifted off my chest. So I kept writing those poems in secret, then I started sharing them with a few friends whom I could trust to read what I wrote.   As I progressed through the grades, I became known as “the aspiring poet/writer” by schoolmates and teachers. It was my 7th grade teacher who actually put into my head the idea that I could become a writer some day! In high school, I had been asked to submit work to the school’s literary magazine (one poem got published). I had also been asked to attend/perform writing workshops and open mics in my county for high schoolers. I even wrote and read an original poem for an honor society ceremony because the advisor (my AP Biology teacher) asked me. People came up to me afterwards (even the school district administrator at the time) to commend me on my poem!   But then I stopped working on poems when I reached college. I think I nearly gave it up because of how difficult it was to find community with other writers in college. It felt more competitive and pretentious than fostering and collaborative. I kept getting my submissions rejected and did not handle the rejection well. I guess I was missing and looking for the comfort of the community I found in my teens that allowed me to explore poetry and writing. I think around 2013-2014 was when I decided to head into a different direction and focus on prose works. That is what I am still focusing on now. But no doubt, poetry was the beginning of how I got on this writing journey. Around 2016 was when I started writing poems again, after I came across other poets outside of school. These were mainly poets of color that were experimenting with form, language, and other literary elements that started reigniting that creativity I thought I had lost while I was an undergrad. I had posted them on my private social media accounts. Now I have an Instagram page (@marienefare) where I would post super short poems from time to time. They’re more like aphorisms than poems, but I still like playing around with concise messages.

What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration? I have learned to just wait. There would be this nudging feeling that I should write something. But that does not mean I have to do it right away. It’s almost like having a craving for a certain flavor or texture, but you have no idea what particular food/drink can satisfy it. I just wait until that image comes into mind. Until then, I do other things to keep myself preoccupied or stimulated, like reading a book, checking/creating to-do lists, running errands, any activity that seems mundane and is not totally related to writing… And then out of nowhere, I finally decide on a slice of chocolate cake from this exact restaurant that is the only place that serves it, because it has the texture and flavor that I had been craving for, and I have to go there immediately before it closes! That’s what it feels like when overcoming the writer’s block. When the idea/inspiration comes, there is this urgency to put it down before it goes away. And this almost always happens to me when I do not have anything nearby to put down the thought! I end up repeating it many times in my head, in hopes that it will be cemented into my cranium until I am able to find the tools to finally write it down. Then a greater rush of ideas start to flood in, and I cannot stop writing. So, for me, it was always patience because the satisfaction of getting it will be guaranteed later.

A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time? To be honest, I was not able to write much of anything in the last 2 years due to family matters. My father was very ill, which required me to become one of his caregivers (my mother was the primary caregiver), so my attention and focus was on his health concerns. Unfortunately he passed away in December 2019, so it is still very recent. I look back on the last 5 years, in particular, when I went through a lot of things that affected me personally. Writing during that time solely became my coping mechanism and my healing process. I did not publish anything because there was nothing I felt could be worth putting out there by anyone. I mainly kept to myself because I had no idea what direction I was going to take in life anymore… It’s even hard to tell now, with COVID-19 happening. I am currently enrolled in my second semester of grad school (but we’re in distance learning now). It is just me and my mother at home now. Yet I have not brought much attention to my serious work. It’s like I know that I could be using this time to write, but at the same time, will it all be worth it, depending on our current situation? For now, I am trying to maintain a routine where I post once a week on my blog--either a blog post or a snippet of my memoir project--and read a few pages of a book once a day. I do other things to keep myself preoccupied while we’re in social distancing/quarantine mode. But I also want to keep up with investing my time with words. Hopefully this will all build up into something that will give me greater encouragement and motivation to write seriously again.

What do you want the readers to know about you? My stories draw from my real life. But some are written as exaggerations or what-if scenarios, unless otherwise stated. This will become more apparent when in my fiction works. But for now, my non-fiction works are true, in my perspective.

What change would you like to see within the writing community and why? The idea of self-insertion, when a certain work of fiction has a narrator/main character who shares the same ethnicity or race as its author. I see this too often when an author, who happens to be a person of color, gets that question because their narrator/main character shares similar identities. But when it comes to non-POC/white authors, there is no discussion from that angle (unless someone is bold enough to do it). When I include a narrator/main character who is Filipinx, in a fictional piece, it is because I wanted to have characters who are Filipinx, because I never saw any in a book when I was growing up. I want to make sure, at least, that young Filipinx get to have that in their time, since I did not have any (positive) representations in mine. But that character does not have to describe me to a T. The only thing we share is a Filipinx identity, and that’s it. I also would want to change the idea of the “single story”, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses in her speech, “The Dangers of a Single Story”. Coming from the Filipinx perspective, we all have unique stories that intersect, coincide, contradict, and subvert the ideas of what is known of the Filipino. It is important for us to tell our own stories to show the vast experiences and perspectives that have shaped our Filipinx identity, individually and collectively. 

Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years? In 5 years, I hope to publish this memoir. In 10 years, I hope to finally publish my fiction works. And through that span of time, I expect to be proactive in teaching writing and literature in safe spaces, whether in a formal classroom, an informal workshop, or wherever I am able to reach Filipinx to help them get into creating their stories and fostering a supportive community of writers and readers.

Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?  My blog is the best way to know what is coming up: []

How do you define being Filipinx American for yourself? 

I am an American-born and raised Pinay. New York (Lenape territory) is the only home I have ever known; spent the majority of my life in Rockland County (a suburbia outside of NYC), in a predominantly Black/Latinx/immigrant community. My exposure to other Filipinos (as in, they do not identify as Filipinx) was mainly through Catholic church gatherings. It was not until I was in my 20s that my exposure broadened to Filipinx in the metro-NY area and online, and I began to consciously think about my identity as a Filipinx American! To be a Fil-Am is to recognize the spaces I occupy and how my identity shapes and is shaped by my lived experiences and perspectives. To be a Fil-Am is to pursue a personal journey into learning about myself, in relation to our heritage and our situated-settlements, and to find communities that support us on our journeys, as we also want to be witness to each other’s growth. 

What would you change about the mainstream perception of Filipinx Americans? 

 Coming from a “non-traditional” angle, in terms of profession, I think we need to start normalizing the image of Filipinx in different career paths. For me, I had always wanted to be a writer. But I felt stifled by the pressure to pursue “more practical professions” (i.e., nursing)—although, I want to clarify that these “practical professions” are so important and necessary in our society… (This is especially true of those who are battling COVID-19 at this time—maraming salamat to all the medical professionals, essential workers, and other fighters! You’re doing incredible work during this very difficult time!) 

The are many Filipinx who are writers, artists, poets, and creatives doing amazing work and should be recognized and credited for what they do! Everyone is doing whatever they can so that they can continue doing what they love and are driven by. My avenues include writing to get published and teaching in Academia and in community. 

While I have always dreamed to become a published author of stories that resonate with folks, I also aim to transform our approach to “creative writing” that has long been institutionalized to curtail a certain set of stories that have long been privileged in publishing and literary canon... This was a long-winded way of me saying, Filipinx Americans are way more capable of accomplishing things that befit our passions and can serve the Fil-Am community in the long-run. We just need to trust ourselves and each other that what we are individually pursuing will be collectively celebrated and appreciated! 

How would you encourage more involvement of Filipinx American with politics/events in the Philippines? 

I think we should become more aware of what is going on in the Philippines. The best way we can do that is through keeping up with news online or, if possible, through Filipino media networks that provide updates. This is especially from independent reporters who are trying to provide more grounded angles on the current affairs and explanations to those of us who are not so familiar with the goings-on in the country.

I mainly get my information from relatives living in the Philippines, who are directly affected by the political situations happening under the current administration. But admittedly, I have very little knowledge of how politics currently works in the Philippines, aside from what grassroots organizations like Bayan USA, Gabriela, and Anakbayan bring to light here in the US. Compared to the stories my parents tell about their time in the Philippines (under Marcos), it looks like there hasn’t been a lot of positive changes… But there is somewhat of a “life goes on/bahala na” vibe from my relatives, who are just trying to carry on with their daily lives.

I have no plausible solutions to provide on how to become more active in their area except to listen to those who are directly affected in the Philippines. If possible, check in on your families back home to see how their situation is and find out in what ways you can help, even if the “bahala na” gets thrown in. Solidarity from the home is a start.

Being Filipinx enough is a concern shared with many Filipinx Americans. Do you feel this? If so, how do you combat this feeling of inadequacy?  

I have always felt and will continue to feel self-conscious of my Filipinx meter. It depends on which spaces I (re-)enter that the meter goes awry! This has become my mode of operation since I became more aware of and involved with other Filipinx outside of my suburban bubble, in the last 5 years.

The best way I have been able to combat this feeling of inadequacy is by talking to a few Filipinx whom I have had regular communication with and feel comfortable enough to share the nuances of my feelings towards the FilAm community in general. It is important to have these open discussions with the few people you can trust because they might also be on the same boat. We can help each other filter out and shift through our thoughts without fear of pushing hard buttons that could provoke a “cancel culture” within the community that ultimately strives for unity. To be able to articulate our own thoughts and have them re-evaluated through personal, private, active listening and conversation is what will help us combat these feelings. That could slowly lead to wider discussions with other circles, the next time we meet up and strategize on ways to fortify a sense of community amongst ourselves. 

Did you always embrace your culture? If so, who taught you? If not, what inspired this change? 

I guess it wasn’t much of a conscious effort to embrace our culture, when I was much younger. I do remember my brother being the one who was really into learning more about the Philippines and Filipino culture, through books, the Internet, and the occasion family trips to the motherland. (This was from the ‘90s to early ‘10s.) Our parents made it a part of our lives, but it was not like they consciously encouraged us to embrace it. They spoke Tagalog and Bicolano like they were innate languages, cooked the dishes like any regular cooking, and told us stories of life in the Philippines at random times. It was not until I was in my early 20s that two major events pushed me to become more embracing of the culture: 1) a college course called Filipino American Literature (taught by poet Luis H. Francia), and 2) the sudden death of my older brother. Both made me realize how much I had taken Filipino culture for granted, from the books that had been published but never crossed my path before, to the one person who had been the inspiration for my own search for Fil-Am identity and understanding. When I joined Raised Pinay in 2016 and (casually) participated in various FilAm organizations (I.e., UniPro, FANHS), I decided to immerse myself in the culture. In subsequent trips to the Philippines, I made it a conscious effort to ask for stories and histories from relatives, to visit sights of my parents’ youth, and to be more aware of my privilege as a U.S. Passport-carrying traveler and de facto balikbayan.   

What do you know about your family history? 

My family is from the Bicol region. My mom is from Camalig, Albay. My dad is from Sorsogon City, Sorsogon. They met each other on Christmas Eve in 1971, at my dad’s cousin’s house in Sorsogon (the cousin was also my mom’s classmate in midwifery school). They got married in 1980 (also on Christmas Eve!) and moved to Daraga, Albay, where Kuya was born in 1981.

My mom immigrated to the States in 1984, on a work visa (she was a registered nurse at the time). She lived in her hospital’s dormitory for 2 years until my dad and Kuya (5 years old at the time) immigrated to the States in 1986. My family settled in New York, living in an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. I was born in 1993, and then we moved to Rockland County in 1995. We have lived in the same house ever since. 

My mom’s life story was the crux of my Raised Pinay performance. I titled the piece “Three Dresses”, where I talked about my matrilineal heritage through dresses, symbols of femininity and womxnhood. In the piece, I retold the story of how my mother only had three dresses to wear during her elementary school years. That part of her life eventually became the underlying reason for her [obsession] with clothes, designer handbags, shoes, and jewelry when she became an adult. And in some way, this influenced my perception of womxnhood and femininity, when I celebrated my 16th and 18th birthdays, wearing two different extravagant ball gowns! But the connection was much like a “rags to riches” narrative, but how a mother lives through her daughter by sharing her wealth that was procured through hard work and determination, on her part. At the time, as a teenager, I did not really appreciate it as much as I should have... But I did not know the story at the time; it was told to me when I was in my early adulthood!  

The rest of my family’s story will be told in my memoir.

Do you speak a Filipinx language? If so, which one? Does this knowledge influence your work? 

I am familiar with Tagalog and Bicolano… unfortunately, I am fluent in neither language! The most that I can manage are short answers, depending on my comfort level within a conversation. (Sometimes, I will speak in Filipinx language when making chismis with other Filipinx, regarding non-Filipinx!)

Since I am working with non-fiction and fiction writing, I use Filipinx language where appropriate. If I am telling a personal story that involves the use of Filipinx words, I will include them in the text. (If I know that my audience may not be familiar with the words, I will provide parenthetical explanations; if there are larger concepts involved, then I will flesh out the meaning within the text.) The purpose of using Filipinx language in my writing, for me, is to show my culture. I am always writing from a Fil-Am perspective, and I want my readers to see that. I do not want to put it aside or hide it; being Fil-Am is part of my engagement with the world! And I am doing my best to learn and translate the languages, as they are part of my heritage.

What are your thoughts on learning a Filipinx language as a Filipinx American? Is it necessary to you? Why or why not?

Some day, I would love to communicate with my relatives in Tagalog and Bicolano, especially with my nieces and nephews. They are learning how to speak English, but I want to show them that it is okay to speak in our native tongue, that as their Tita, they can talk to me in words that are most comfortable to them.

Do you feel obligated to talk about the Filipinx American experience because you are Fil-Am? Why or why not? 

Yes, because it has a lot to do with how I lived this life.

How in your writing do you express being Filipinx, whether implicitly or explicitly? Being American? 

My blog is entitled Pinay’Merican: The Musings of a Young Fil-Am. I want my blog to serve as a basis for how I approach my writing, where I am coming from in the stories I tell. A part of me had wanted an older Pinay to normalize talking about her life as a Filipina American person. Maybe that would have quelled some of the anxieties I suffered when I was growing up and not understanding why I could not connect with certain people my age or how adults treated me… But now I am that older Pinay trying to nurse and nurture my inner younger Pinay that everything is okay and that nothing was my fault or my failure. There were bigger forces at play, but at least I can make sense of them now.

What parts of your identity do you feel conflict? How do you reconcile these differences? 

So the theme of my memoir is on the Maria Clara archetype. For as long as I have lived, I was conditioned to be more like Maria Clara, the ideal Filipina young lady, the dalagang Pilipina. The nuances of the archetype were so subtle throughout my livelihood, that it was not until I reached my mid-twenties that I realized how it messed up my ways of thinking!

I broke down my identity into four major parts that describe the Maria Clara archetype: the pious woman (being Roman Catholic), the virgin (“preserving myself” for marriage), the quiet beauty (emulating the image of a sampaguita—beautiful to look at, but having no voice), and the dutiful daughter (becoming the emotional anchor for the family). Through the process of writing and re-membering, I figure out how this ideal shaped my sense of self and eventually how it shaped our ideals of a dalaga, as Filipina womxn and as a community. And it is through that process that I am learning to reconcile with the differences… There isn’t much I can say beyond that; I would like for everyone to wait and see what the final memoir has to offer!

Who are you, and how do you want the Filipinx American community to know you?  

My name is Anjelica Moresca Enaje, professionally known as A.M. Enaje (Ay-Em-Eh-nah-hey), or “amenaje” (ah-men-nah-hey). I am a second-generation Filipina American, born/raised/still residing in New York. I come from Rockland County, but my roots are in Bicol. I am a multidisciplinary storyteller--my main approaches are through academics and creative prose (non-fiction & fiction), and my main interest is Pinay narratives. I am an academic-in-training, in hopes to teach literature and writing in transformative ways, so that people can become storytellers and bring their voices to the forefront of a changing literary landscape. I am a daughter, sister, pinsan, Tita, best friend, partner, kumare, and awesome person.

Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information:

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