Don't you know you smell like the deep brown earth
January 17, 2020 9:10 AM   Subscribe

As a poet I've followed the footprints of the manongs. I gathered their history from Agbayani Village to Stockton, in the farms and fields that stretched north, south, east, and west. I followed them deep inside fish bellies swimming across the icy cold Pacific waters. Sat down with every single manong and watched as they weaved out dreams from fishnets beneath trees, in the Kauai rains. I cried out to them across the sugarcane fields. Mudfish cut through my mind.

Al Robles was a Filipino American poet, a native of the Fillmore district of San Francisco, an activist who fought to defend tenants of the I-Hotel, a sensualist and keen observer of the jazz rhythms of city life. Poet Barbara Jane Reyes remembers her mentor. posted by sunset in snow country (5 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding of Filipino history in the United States comes from my grandfather's stories and Carlos Bulosan's writings. I will read Al Robles and listen. The first impression I have is they share that sense of bustling, painting a world bursting with many different peoples. Thanks for this.
posted by Mister Cheese at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I-Hotel represent! Kearny Street Workshop was my first home as an artist, and I learned so much from my elders who founded the arts center/activist hub in 1972, on the same block as the International Hotel. I've been wanting to watch Manilatown is in the Heart which features Robles as he reflects on the manongs and the city of San Francisco.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:59 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yay, thank you for the extra links, Mister Cheese and spamandkimchi!

Al Robles passed away while I was doing my final semester in my Asian American studies minor program. His book has been out of print forever - one of my teachers had one old copy that she might let us look at during class, and otherwise we just passed around xeroxed copies of particular poems. I remember the exact moment when I realized that I was an adult with an income and I could spend $25 on an out-of-print book on Amazon if I chose to, and now it sits proudly on my shelf. I always recommend him to people who want to read Beat poetry but are sick of white dudes.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:59 PM on January 17, 2020

I got so excited to see some flavour of Filipino as part of the #poctakeover, and was like, "Woo! Something I can connect with!" Then I realized as I started reading the links, that I might be too far removed - generationally, from a class perspective, geographically - to relate. And that made me feel really sad and disappointed (in myself, at the universe?).

Shouldn't still see some threads that connect my Filipinoness to his, even if I was born in the Philippines and moved to Canada in the early 2000s? Even if I work in tech and earn a lot compared to (what looks like) the former residents of I-Hotel?

This part of Rappin' with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark makes me feel all kinds of things:
IF you only knew how brown you are
you would slide down
from the highest
mountain top
you would whip out your lava tongue
& burn up all that white shit
that’s keeping your people down.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by tinydancer at 5:08 PM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have some of the same thoughts, tinydancer. Mine is for not feeling very Filipino, I guess. I'm multiracial Filatino, so the most Filipinoness I got was my Ma's cooking out in the middle of Texas. Far from Al Robles' experience in San Francisco, far from my Grandpa's experiences in the Pacific Northwest during the 1930s.

So there's all sorts of different Filipino flavors, right? Robles' poetry has got my mind filled with that mass of jostling cultures trying to figure things out, struggling to make and keep those threads and connections, straining against those white things binding us.
posted by Mister Cheese at 8:30 PM on January 17, 2020

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