by Gladys Nubla

[web links]

Emily Lawsin

[gladys's home page]




Emily P. Lawsin




     Emily Porcincula Lawsin volunteers on the Board of Trustees of the Filipino American National Historical Society and teaches Asian American Studies in Los Angeles. An oral historian and spoken word artist, her poetry and essays on war brides and students have been published in Flippin': Filipinos on America, Teaching Asian America, The FANHS Journal, Seattle Arts, dekonstruk, The World Is Yours Zine, Homegrown 3, Forward Motion Magazine's Asians in Struggle, The International Examiner, and The Seattle Times. She has performed her poetry on radio and stage, at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, the Japanese American National Museum, the Northwest Asian American Theatre, the University of Washington, the Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle, and at various events in Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu, and Seattle, with the "Our Path to Follow" and "Isang Mahal" Filipino spoken word artists.

An Interview with Emily P. Lawsin

How easy do/did you find it to publish your work?

I've just begun to see my poetry and spoken word pieces published in different anthologies, journals, and 'zines, mostly because I've only been submitting my work in the past two years.

Ten years ago, when I was a creative writing major in Washington, there weren't as many Asian American or Filipino American publications as there are today. Back then, you certainly didn't see as many calls for submissions that are geared towards our communities as you do today. Getting published in "mainstream" publications is another story.

To what extent do you think your experience in publishing pertains directly to your being Filipina?

My experience in publishing pertains precisely to me being Pinay; everything does! 

Have you, as a Filipina, had any obstacles in becoming a writer? I.e., how has being Filipina affected your ability to "break into the business"?

Probably the biggest obstacles for me in becoming a writer were/are 1) racism 2) my family, and 3) myself.

In college, we were placed in these writing groups, where you workshopped your classmates' short stories. That was probably one of the most eye-opening experiences for me, since I was almost always the only person of color in those English classes and definitely the only Filipina American. That's how I came up with my poem "Notes From A University Writing Group (Or, From the Woman Who Told Me To Write White)" that is published in Flippin': Filipinos on America. It's my shortest poem that isn't really a "poem";  it's the actual notes--word for word--that I took one rainy afternoon after five white classmates mangled a piece that I had written about a Filipino American family.  One classmate said that I should actually remove ALL of the Tagalog and cultural references!  I thought to myself, "Now how in the hell can I do that? There would be no words left!"  That experience stays with me every day that I write, every day that I place my own students in writing groups, and every day that I submit a piece; I wonder, will these readers be more aware, more culturally sensitive than my former classmates?  Geez, let's hope so.

My mother and father wanted me to become an engineer. I actually studied and interned as one too, and of course, I hated it. When I finally told them that I wanted to go in to writing and Asian American Studies, they didn't even know what that was; they just shook their heads and tried to talk me out of it. In addition, my parents are also at the core of most of my writing, whether it's creative or academic. I used to worry that they would disapprove of me showing the world their craziness, their traumas, their lives, fictionalized or not. Until one day, a few years ago, I flew home to Seattle for a poetry reading, the first one that my parents had ever attended, and they applauded. Loudly. They finally understood. These types of silly fears prevented me from writing; sometimes they still do. I just keep telling myself that writing--and sharing one's writing--is about overcoming those fears, overcoming those obstacles.

(The other challenges for any writer are, of course, networking and getting a publishing contract.  I haven't done that yet, so I can't say I've "broken in to the business," as you say.)

How do you see Filipina writers in relation to the canon?

The canon? Which one? 

Do you see any changes for Filipina artists in the horizon?

I see lots of changes and hope for Filipina artists in the future. For example, writers Virginia Cerenio and Marianne Villanueva are putting together a Filipina Women's Anthology. Some fellow spoken word/poetry pals and I are submitting a collaborative piece, written by what I like to call our up and coming "Pinay MAFIA*" (*Mad-Ass Filipinas Infiltrating Amerikkka).  We don't know if the piece will be accepted, but the real message is that many of us Pinay poets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, are working together, writing together, and performing together in new and different venues: schools, museums, theaters, festivals, bookstores, coffee houses, community centers, and even cyberspace. And that's exciting.