Marías at Sampaguitas
Filipinx American Spotlight: Interview with Ashley C. Lanuza
Name: Ashley L.
Hometown: City of Angels, Golden State, Land of Capitalist Endeavors (LA, CA, USA)
School: Go Bruins (UCLA)
Dream Jobs: Executive Film/Television Producer to diversify media representation, especially for People of Color…Screenwriter…Novelist.
Food of Choice: Noodles, Sushi Rolls, Dessert, more noodles
Drink of Choice: I love the two clear drinks available in this society: Water and…
Anything else? No? Contact me if there is.
Your book My Heart of Rice will be published in February 2020. You say that ‘you wrote this book because you wanted to share your experiences as a Filipino-American and the narratives you have read and heard about from your peers and university research’. Can you tell us about the process of writing My Heart of Rice?
The process has been very cumulative. Growing up, I didn’t really reflect on my cultural identity because of my family system, but with the increase in political correctness/wokeness/POC education during my senior year of high school, I became more aware of this idea of ethnicity and race- especially in America. When I got to college, I simply wanted Filipino friends! But then I learned so much beyond just those social networks, and I was inspired. It all culminated into this poetry that reflects on my thoughts, experiences, and the conversations I’ve had with my Filipino American peers. It also reflects the critical discussion held on forums and online boards. The book sees this whole world of the modern, conscious Filipino American through a beginner’s lens, in hopes to transcend that beginning to evolve into a more holistic, educated understanding. Tl;dr: it’s a coming of age from someone who is also growing up and reflecting on her identity journey so far.
You are also a filmmaker. Can you tell us which part of this process you are engaging to? How did you come with the idea of your short film Paint Me With Love, Los Angeles?
As a filmmaker, I speak from the heart and from my experiences. The shorts I’ve made, save for one or two, are inspired by my life because I believe in “write from what you know.” I didn’t intend for my poetry or film experience to necessarily correlate, but if my book inspires someone to visualize their own experience, I’m a strong supporter of that.
For Paint Me With Love, LA, I just Taylor Swift-ed my ex-boyfriend. It was my first break-up, I was hurting, and I wanted to make something beautiful out of that pain. Poetry has always been the way I process my emotions, so Paint Me With Love is a poem. But I’m a sucker for a good camera shot, urban journeys, and deep symbolism. I incorporated all these elements to Paint Me With Love. Our relationship was very rooted in my first time exploring Los Angeles as an adult, the city where I’ve lived all my life. I remember during my healing period, it just hurt to go to my favorite places because of the memories that were there. I wanted to reclaim that for myself. I began to see a parallel between the good and bad of a relationship and a bustling city like LA. I mean, you have these beautiful lights, sights, and stars, but you also have an increasing homeless population, poor street maintenance, and worn-down buildings. Relationships have the same good and bad sides to the coin as well, and I wanted to capture that. The entire experience was nothing short of a cathartic way to dull that puppy-love wound.
Do you think that magazines play an important role in a poet’s/artist’s publishing career? Do you have a dream journal? Or a dream publishing house?
I think magazines do play an important role because it’s one pathway for an author’s work to get out there. I don’t think it’s a crucial aspect though because there are so many ways for writers to publish. In my own journey, I contributed to newspapers and digital articles because I like the freedom of choosing what genre I wanted to tackle that week. Since I do have so many interests, I don’t actually have a dream publishing house. It’d definitely be amazing to publish with any of the top three. My dream production company is Universal Pictures, though ☺
How do you define being Filipinx American for yourself?
Being Filipina American means resourcefulness when left with nothing, strength in the face of adversity, and remaining humble of her achievements.
What would you change about the mainstream perception of Filipinx Americans?
I would change the mainstream perception that Filipino Americans are solely obedient, people-serving individuals. I think Filipinos really shine when they’re working for themselves and a larger cause, rather than being instrumental for others. Hospitable personalities are amazing, and we’re really good at our emotional range, but I wouldn’t want that to be our only descriptive.
How would you encourage more involvement of Filipinx American with politics/events in the Philippines?
Displaying the relevance of politics to Filipino Americans’ lives is a big step in encouraging political involvement. Filipino families tend to keep to themselves and focus on their local connection, but connecting our communities to the bigger picture would help in involvement. I think a great way it has been done is through social media engagement, as many Filipino Americans use the internet to connect with family back home.
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?
Yes, I constantly feel this. Even around Filipino Americans, I question my “Filipino-ness!” I talk about this feeling a lot in my anthology. I grew up in diverse communities and the only one of my generation in my family, so I wasn’t exposed to Filipinos my age on a constant basis. I still get anxiety when going into Filipino/Filipino American groups, even though I know there’s nothing to really be afraid of. To combat my anxieties, I just constantly remind myself there’s different ways to be Filipino, and that’s okay.
Did you always embrace your culture? If so, who taught you? If not, what inspired this change?
I’ve always embraced aspects of my culture, mainly when it came to food and entertainment. Most immigrant families integrate these elements into their children in one way or another. I have always loved Filipino food and prefer cheesy Filipino rom-coms over the American ones any day. I was severely unaware, however, of Filipino American history and activism in the United States. To be honest, the Philippines felt like a strange relic of the past only my elders could access. I had this sense of being Filipino because I compared myself to the rest of my society, and that’s who I was relative to others. This all changed when I got to college and I began to learn about Filipino American history and community narratives. I learned that being Filipino American is an active definition I could carry and define for myself.
What do you know about your family history?
I don’t know much about my family history. I know where my grandparents came from (Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Makati) and some details about their lives in the Philippines. But, unfortunately, no, I don’t know my personal history as much as I’d like to.
Do you speak a Filipinx language? If so, which one? Does this knowledge influence your work?
I understand Tagalog and speak a little bit. I’m a bit shy of speaking because one time, I read intentions in Tagalog during a Christmas mass, and my Filipina friend joked that I sounded “white.” I’ve refrained from speaking outside of my family since. I use a few Tagalog words and phrases in my poems to emphasize the cultural significance.
What are your thoughts on learning a Filipinx language as a Filipinx American? Is it necessary to you? Why or why not?
I think it’s a necessary language to pick up on, mostly on the premise that the more languages a person knows, the better. What I don’t believe is defining someone more or less than Filipino for knowing a Filipino language or not. It’s critical to look at the person’s family experience, as some immigrant families want 100% assimilation and speak to their kids in only English. It’s up to the person if they want to learn the language when they’re older, but that also just depends on the individual’s perception of their cultural identity.
Do you feel obligated to talk about the Filipinx American experience because you are Fil-Am? Why or why not?
No, I’m not obligated to speak solely about being Fil-Am. I do like talking about being Filipino-American, however, because I’m passionate about the topic and the research surrounding it.
How in your writing do you express being Filipinx, whether implicitly or explicitly? Being American?
My writing is mainly about my relationship with being Filipino American. The poems start with Filipino food, and how that interacts with the rest of American society. Like many children of immigrants, I rejected my heritage to assimilate into America and the Hispanic communities prevailing around me. I cared less about being Filipino, even though internally, I always felt like something was missing. The poems then discuss my journey into understanding what Filipino American is on my own terms. It is the effort of the histories, narratives, and community issues that I am able to come to a semblance of what Filipino American means to me.
What parts of your identity do you feel conflict? How do you reconcile these differences?
There’s conflict in my identity as an artist, a woman, a partner, a Pinay, a daughter, a student… honestly, I think every piece of my identity is a battle. I’m still in my early 20’s and figuring sh*t out, so my only way to reconcile my differences is let life happen to me and learn from it.
Who are you, and how do you want the Filipinx American community to know you?
I’m an artist focused on highlighting the beauty, strength, and diversity of the Filipino American community. Know that, though I’m one voice of many, I am here to represent the voiceless.
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
I was ten years old when I wrote on the back of my religion studies workbook, this little stanza about a yellow cello. I thought it was cool because it rhymed. The next year, I won a city-wide writing competition for a poem I wrote for Latino Heritage Month! Since then, I became a writer, a poet, a creative, and I found my voice through the verses. I then expanded into writing short stories, speeches, and scripts.
Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary, etc.? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?
It’d definitely fall into contemporary. I think my work is rather straight-forward and less flowery than most. I look for a flow throughout the work, something that starts feebly, crescendos into drama in the middle, and ends in a way that makes the reader sit there thinking, “Oh.”
What is your ‘process’ for writing poetry? I think about what I’m feeling about a particular subject. Am I sad? Happy? What’s the first, visceral reaction do I have to something? From there, I just write. Words that rhyme or sound good together, and later on after a bit of a break, I look back and revise some word selections. I’ve definitely taken to drinking a glass of wine or beer sometimes for writer’s block.
I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?
All the time! Poetry especially come from emotions and experiences, so sharing my work feels very vulnerable and exposing. For this book, my publisher guides me on marketing strategies and really putting myself out there, but there’s that nagging, humbleness so inherent in Asian culture that I have a hard time marketing myself. I’m learning to do that though, as I was reminded recently how important it is to celebrate myself, too. It’s just really scary. It’s definitely a fine line.
What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?
I go through my day, keeping the issue at the back of my mind. My day usually inspires me and sparks an idea. So I’d be there, running on the treadmill, and the solution kind of plays itself in my head and that’s the “Aha!” moment.
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?
Writing is not a friend of time management. Writing is a very creative and emotional energy, it’s not something you can just block out on your calendar and assume it’ll all work out. I’m a full-time student, so that makes it quite exhausting because I’m writing papers and doing readings that go beyond lecture time. The majority of revisions, the parts that make my book what it is now, was done while I was studying abroad, so I was lucky in that sense. I had a lot more time since I was on my own, and when I was traveling, those intercontinental train rides take hours! I was basically a quintessential indie film, writing my heart out as the European countryside passed me by.
What change would you like to see within the writing community and why?
I would like to see more diversity in mainstream publications! I was listening to a podcast on how homogenous the publishing industry is, and that’s definitely true. I came up on a few cultural differences while creating my book. They weren’t bad experiences, but it’d be nice to have a person of color, understand your work and where you’re coming from.
Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?
In the next five years, I hope to have published another book. I’m not sure if that’ll be another poetry collection, or something else entirely. Currently, I’m hung up on relationships (I’m a Psychology major!) and interested in couple/family dynamics. So I’m inspired to do something along those lines. In ten years? I’d love to be a novelist or a well-known screenwriter/producer.
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: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.