Addressing Filipino culture

Author Jessica Hagedorn read from her novels and poems about her life and experiences.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 25, 2002

Author Jessica Hagedorn

Why did the Filipino cross the road? -- that was the question noted Filipino author, poet and musician Jessica Haregorn posed jokingly to her audience Tuesday night. "Because he thought America was on the other side," she answered.

Much of Haregorn's writing focuses on this problem: the Filipino culture, its attitude towards immigration and the conflicting feelings many Filipinos have about America.

Haregorn entertained a small group at the Kelly Writers House with readings, jokes and personal reflections.

The event was co-sponsored by the Pan-Asian American Community House and the Asian-American Studies Program.

About 40 people packed the small room to hear the readings.

"She is one of the leading Filipino-American writers," said Yen Ligh Shek, PAACH's program coordinator. "We are honored to have her here."

Haregorn's selections included passages from two of her more famous novels, Dogeaters and Gangsters of Love. She also read "Song From my Father," a poem she wrote during her first visit back to the Philippines.

Between pieces, she also revealed tidbits from her personal life and the effect that Dogeaters -- a book that portrays Filipino culture in a controversial, uncompromising way -- has had in the Filipines.

She acknowledged that most Filipino citizens had probably not read the book, but those that did had polarized opinions.

"There are a lot of people who were outraged and offended [by Dogeaters]. But then again, there are those that were really supportive, and taught it in the universities and such."

After the reading, Haregorn signed copies of her novels, and chatted one-on-one with some of her fans.

"I was a little star-struck at first," said College senior Clifford Bersamira of meeting Haregorn. "She is one of the big influences in Filipino-American culture. She really shows what the culture is all about."

Haregorn did the reading as part of a two-day visit to the University. On Tuesday, she guest lectured in an Intro to Asian-American Literature class, and yesterday, she ran a performance art workshop.

"In class, I mainly just answered questions," admitted Haregorn. "There was a nice combination of questions; some small questions, plus a lot of big ones about the craft of writing itself."

"I really look up to her," Bersamira said. "It's rare to have an Asian-American role model come to Penn. It's even rarer to get a Filipino-American."

Haregorn has just finished her latest novel, entitled Dream Jungle, which will be in print next September. She is currently working on a play and is helping edit an anthology of Asian fiction.

"The anthology is great. There has been a real boom in Asian-American writers in the last 10 years," Haregorn said. "I'm reading a lot, and having to make some very hard choices as to who to include... there is just so much good writing out there now."