Filipinx American Spotlight: Interview with Jamie Legaspi
Jamie Legaspi is an actor and prose and script writer.
Specific Work links
"The Crocodile God's" first draft: https://www.inkitt.com/stories/fantasy/211084 "Elegies to the Anito" poetry album: https://www.facebook.com/jamie.legaspi.39/media_set?set=a.10211733670112095&type=3
1. How do you define being Filipinx American for yourself?
I define it as 1) being ethnic Filipino, 2) having some type of knowledge about both past and present cultures, and 3) being in touch with other Filipinos online or in the community.
2. What would you change about the mainstream perception of Filipinx Americans?
Definitely want to change the notion that our only options are to be completely Catholic or completely American, and to get rid of the self-hate idea that we don’t want to be Filipino.
3. How would you encourage more involvement of Filipinx American with politics/events in the Philippines?
Maybe there would be a specific news organization that makes sure diaspora Filipinos can get informed about current events happening? It’s not very efficient for me to have to hunt for details about events from friends/relatives, or to frantically do a Google search and hope that the website/organization I got is an unbiased source of information.
4. 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 often feel inadequate because I’m barely fluent in Tagalog; I’m not Catholic, while so many other Filipinos are; and I don’t fit the beauty ideals of fair skin and straight hair. I combat it with learning about our pre-Catholic culture and trying to be nicer to myself.
5. Did you always embrace your culture? If so, who taught you? If not, what inspired this change?
I didn’t always embrace my culture; I used to want to hide it or disassociate from it entirely. But gradually I started finding little tidbits of pre-Catholic culture, and I finally started searching for our culture after watching Disney’s Moana and being fascinated with all the cultural ties we shared with Pacific Islanders/ Polynesians. I am largely self-taught, but I have several friends in the Philippines and the diaspora, plus there are online spaces that I’m involved with.
6. What do you know about your family history?
I only really know about my mom’s side, since my father’s family lives on the other side of the country. My mother immigrated to the Philippines so that she could get out of poverty, like many other Filipinos. She worked there for decades, and now she herself is fairly comfortable, but constantly worried about my part-time-job-having and struggling-artist self. The irony, lol.
7. Do you speak a Filipinx language? If so, which one? Does this knowledge influence your work?
I understand Tagalog, but have a hard time speaking it. Most of my Filipino characters will inevitably be in the same boat (being first/second-generation Americans who can’t speak it well, either). I get nervous trying to write in Tagalog, because I usually have to work off of a Google Translate suggestion and then “fix it” with instinctive “that doesn’t sound right” patching.
8. What are your thoughts on learning a Filipinx language as a Filipinx American? Is it necessary to you? Why or why not?
Learning one of our languages is definitely important, but not necessary. I would love to become more fluent eventually, but if time/resources don’t allow for it, that definitely isn’t my fault, and it wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault that they’re not fluent, either.
9. Do you feel obligated to talk about the Filipinx American experience because you are Fil-Am? Why or why not?
I often feel obligated to talk about the diaspora experience because we’re so underrepresented in society, especially in the arts--while we’re ironically stereotyped as artists and performers and having “Pinoy Pride,” the reality is more often that people don’t support us unless we make it big. It becomes a vicious cycle of “Filipino community complains about underrepresentation > a Filipino artist wants support, but the community refuses to give it because they’re not successful enough yet > the Filipino artist gives up > the Filipino community keeps complaining.”
10. How in your writing do you express being Filipinx, whether implicitly or explicitly? Being American?
I am very explicit in stating my characters in prose are Filipino and Filipino-American. In poetry, I often state that the topics are going to be about Filipino culture. If I’m really feeling bold, I start using little bits of Tagalog as well.
And regarding “culture,” I love writing urban-fantasy and science-fiction to show that we don’t always have to do period pieces and cry about how “SPAIN AND AMERICA TOOK EVERYTHING AWAY FROM US!” They took a lot of things, sure, but not everything. We can either stay stuck in the cultural trauma, or we can make an effort to rebuild it. It won’t be perfect and we can’t get some things back, but if we don’t even try, how will we get any better?
11. What parts of your identity do you feel conflict? How do you reconcile these differences?
I often feel like I’m too “Filipino” for mainstream America to like easily, since my work constantly talks about imperialism and refuses to leave out America’s place in it--but I still don’t pretend that Filipinos from the Philippines are faultless victims either, and I talk about the bad aspects of that society as well. I reconcile it with the knowledge that decolonization and social awareness is happening for both diaspora Filipinos and the homeland cousins, so I hope that soon we’re going to be pushing as movements, instead of scattered everywhere.
12. Who are you, and how do you want the Filipinx American community to know you?
I am a writer/performer who loves putting my culture into things, especially so I can show people that we had one before colonization, and it has survived.
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.