I’ve been a writer ever since I can remember, but I’ve only recently started writing characters who are Filipino or Indian. All of the characters in my previous stories have always been of the generic Western race. Back then, it never struck me that this was wrong. After all, why should I question it when a majority of the books I read featured Western characters?
But as I began to explore and develop my writing, I realized that what kept me from writing about people like me was the fear of being othered. I didn’t want people to look at my work and to criticize how I represented Filipinos or Indians because I was only half of both.
But here’s the thing, writing about people like me went beyond our skin tone or language. When I wrote about people like me, I found that I was able to talk about the country’s culture; I was able to showcase our political climate; our economic inequalities; through my characters, I was able to call out prejudice, privilege, and abuse.
My reason for writing is to create a world that is not only fantastical but also to help my readers, my people, find a voice. And so, here are some messages my story hopes to give readers.
Because my fantasy book has been inspired by elements of our current climate under the Duterte administration, activism is a strong theme in my book. However, it does not manifest itself in the ways we imagine them. I wanted to show the different faces of activism. There’s Ligaya who is loud and bold in her activism; there’s Ghoul who seeks the truth before making his choices; there’s Ghost whose anger is untamed.
It is important more than ever for us to fight for our country and people. And fighting to protect can even be done in the quiet ways. Like Ligaya who befriends the orphans of the drug war or like Ghoul who speaks up against an office, or even like Ghost who chooses to expose her murderers. Quiet activism is just as vital.
THE RELENTLESS PURSUIT
Even before I began writing my Filipino inspired fantasy novel, I was too insecure to write about characters who were of my ethnicity and race. I had this dream of being a popular writer, and a small part of me believed that I wouldn’t get there if I wrote what I wanted. After all, how many books had I read which featured dark-skinned women, much less a Filipino character?
Writing a westernized story is one of my biggest writing mistakes. But when I came to realize that I could write whatever story I wanted, I wrote Ghoul and I have never been more proud of a first draft. My book as a whole is a message. It’s more than just about my resentment for seeing lighter-skinned people having the most representation, but it’s also about wanting my readers to never give up. To relentlessly pursue their dreams without fear.
FAMILY IS NOT BLOOD
Filipinos are inherently family-centered culture. Family gatherings include not only the immediate family but also those on the lone branches of the family tree. Respect and tradition are taught to every Filipino children.
But Filipino families can also be toxic when the culture expects you to care for every person simply because you are connected by blood. I had to recognize the toxic family traits and reject them in my story. So, I made it a point to write characters who got off on the wrong foot, who blundered and pushed to know each other, and understood that loyalty is earned. I wrote characters who called out each other when something was wrong, who forgave, and painstakingly built trust.
In my book, I wanted to show the importance of family while rejecting the notion that family is only blood. I want my readers to know that while family is important, they are not the be-all, end-all.
It took me a long time to finish my first draft especially since I had my doubts on whether I was giving the proper representation and also whether the messages I tried to weave in were the right ones. I know I will not be able to write my book as perfectly as I want to, but when I was done with my novel, I was overwhelmed because I had just written a book full of characters who looked just like me and my siblings. But as I said before, this is more than just about race. I only hope my readers will understand that too.
Augvocate for the Day
Camillea grew up rewriting fairy tales and myths she didn’t like the endings of. A small time poet with a passion for reading and spicy food, Camillea is currently working on her novels inspired by Filipino and Indian culture. She loves classic film scores, rainy days, revolting against colonialism and the patriarchy, cakes, and trying to give her literary babies a happy ending.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August until the 28th. Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What do you think about the three messages Camillea hopes her Filipino-inspired fantasy will share to readers? Did any of them resonate with you?
🌻 Have you encountered an important theme in an Asian book that you could really relate to or see yourself in?
🌻 If you were to write a book inspired by your own culture, what message/s would you like this book to have?