Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief: The Collaborator (3/5)

Jason Magabo Perez
Feb 10, 2020 · 7 min read

This series documents and reflects on the critical, creative, and lived processes of drafting, revising, and mourning. Since the passing of a dear uncle in February 2018, Jason Magabo Perez has been drafting, performing, and thinking through a one-sentence-long narrative which eventually took on the title “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish.” Along the way, Perez has mourned and continues to mourn multiple additional deaths: a homie (July 2018); a colleague (August 2018); a collaborator (August 2018); a cousin (November 2019). In this prolonged mourning, in an attempt to de-fetishize the literary art object, using this single narrative work-in-progress as a point of departure, return, and escape, this 5-part series investigates the poetics of revision and the labor of grief. Each part shares the same pattern: A) a distillation of mourning; B) excerpts from drafts of “Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish”; C) passages from concurrent and related reading; D) fragments from proximal texts, i.e. e-mails, tweets, revision notes; E) a revision or experiment. Ultimately, in attending to that which haunts and generates the creative process, this series performs and archives a mourning. In Part 3, Perez remembers cultural worker and revolutionary, Ermena Vinluan, and experiments with the linguistic energies of a protracted peoples’ struggle. Perez asks: “How do we, despite the physical loss, sustain these collaborations with our ancestors?”

A.

If you want to know what we are doing, we are collaborating across generations and gestures, landscapes and liminalities, embodiments and ephemeralities. Often, I’m not sure if I deserve to (publicly, like this) grieve the loss of certain people, for the depth of our connection simply wasn’t there. Or perhaps there is always a depth of connection, on some dimension or plane, whenever we feel a sadnesss for anyone. I only knew Ermena Vinluan for a brief period of time. Ermena was a true cultural worker. Her work had always been for and about the community, the movement, the people. Ermena was a core member of Sining Bayan, a U.S.-based Filipino agit-prop theater troupe in the 1970’s. I first read about Sining Bayan in Lucy Mao San Pablo Burns’s Puro Arte: Filipinos on the Stages of Empire. Lucy had shared with me years before the publication of her book a play that Sining Bayan use to perform in support of my mother and Filipina Narciso, In 2014, I was contacted by Ermena Vinluan for a collaboration. The Collaborator invited me to co-direct and perform with a group Carlos Bulosan’s “If You Want To Know What We Are.” What surfaced throughout that collaboration were deep generational and aesthetic differences. Throughout that collaboration, and the night of the performance at the historical International Hotel in San Francisco, I learned from The Collaborator and all of the kasamas who were there, still active, still fighting the good fight, that even the humblest of collaborative encounters teach us about politics, even the humblest of collaborative encounters teach us about what’s possible in the movement, about the hard work of solidarity and showing up for each other and complementing each other’s vision. The summer of 2018 I stumbled upon news of The Collaborator’s death in an e-mail thread. In communication with another kasama of my generation, I sent these words about Ermena: “She was thoroughly good peoples: visionary, rigorously aesthetic-minded, principled, a gangster of cultural production.” What happens when our elders, our visionaries, our momentary collaborators, pass before we have had an opportunity to really honor them and their work with and for us? How do we, despite the physical loss, sustain these collaborations with our ancestors?

B.

Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish, Draft Excerpt, 11/21/2018.

an unremarkable man, his brownness a map of eczema & radiation pink, his nailbeds tinted chemical green, his oversized navy blue & orange Pendleton pressed crisp but balled with & years of threads running & running loose, his unevenly hemmed groundskeeper jumpsuit consistently starched, his Florsheim loafers freshly polished, Solvang cap still rigid on his little head, still stained with coffee, his same spectacles bent, resting crooked & uneasy — a labor of a man, who at the end of this morning, this story, this sentence, shall be remembered simply & humbly as pare, amigo, kasama, compa, lolo, asawa, tatay, tito, tio, uncle, manong

C.

Because I couldn’t travel out to New York for Ermena’s memorial, I asked a dear colleague/kasama, same one mentioned above, to read Mila Aguilar’s “The People’s Poem” to honor Ermena.

Here is the first stanza:

When two hands tug
at a thin, worn string,
sometime it’s bound to snap.
After weekends, we tie it up again,
until the growing knot itself
becomes the breaking point.
Then something snaps forever.

D.

Revision Notes, Excerpts, 11/21/2018.

NOTES:

  • mathematical/logistical planning: types of imagery, level of point of view; think about how to move from landscape/setting to subject
  • inventory the types of description — pay equal attention (in number and style) to both the landscape/setting and the subject/character
  • signposts: migrating, signposts: moving into, through, beyond sentence structures
  • develop pattern of types/tones of imagery: realistic, magical
  • specificity of indigenous land
  • cinematic: waking up inside apartment, walking through neighborhood, waiting at bus stop, stops at Seafood City, walks passed senior center, to Starbucks, hops on bus down MM Blvd, down 805, LJ Drive, VA, walks along the perimeter of campus, down the hills, to La Jolla shores, aross grass, into sand, into Pacific

E.

Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish, Draft 9/27/2019, infused w/ fragments from “The People’s Poem”:

lives the subject, when the storm comes, a quiet and unremarkable man, a labor of a man, a brown man, two hands tug, his brownness an archipelago of radiation pink, his nailbeds a tint of acidic green, his oversized blue and orange Pendleton pressed neatly but full of loose threads still running and running, a thin, worn string, his unevenly hemmed custodian khakis consistently starched, cognac Florsheim penny loafers surely polished, blue Solvang cap gently tilted on his scalp, his thick black spectacles resting crooked and uneasy — its lenses foggier by the minute, the hour, the day, decades, here, this man of labor, damned up rivers stay quiet, who at the end of this mourning, this story, this sentence, a sky foreboding further ill, shall be remembered simply as manong, kasama, compa, pare, amigo, asawa, abalayan, lolo, tatay, tito, thick concrete, tío, uncle, sir, mister, stranger, laborer, labor, a widower who could never petition — torment unimaginedhis familia, a sometimes lettuce-picker, sometimes strawberry-picker, laid-off bellhop, laid-off postal worker, freelance handyman, freelance groundskeeper, part-time caregiver, Dollar Tree stocker, retired custodian, the growing knot itself

+ FINAL NOTE: bring to the sentence the actual words of ancestors.

Read all of Sweet Manong, Sweet Fish: A Labor of Grief:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Works Cited

Aguilar, Mila D. “The People’s Poem.” A Comrade is as Precious as a Seedling. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1984.

AUTHOR BIO: Jason Magabo Perez is the author of Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016) and This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Perez has also written and performed three live multimedia works — The Passion of El Hulk Hogancito (Kularts, 2009); You Will Gonna Go Crazy (Kularts, 2011); and Blue Bin Improvisations (MexiCali Biennial, 2018). Blending poetry, prose, performance, film/video, and oral history, Perez’s body of work investigates the historical presence of colonization and state violence. NEA Challenge America Grant awardee, formerly featured artist at New Americans Museum and community scholar-in-residence at San Diego Public Library, Perez has performed at notable venues such as National Asian American Theatre Festival, International Conference of the Philippines, La Jolla Playhouse, Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. A VONA alumnus, Perez holds an MFA in Writing and Consciousness from New College of California and a dual PhD in Ethnic Studies and Communication from University of California, San Diego. Currently, Perez serves as Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos and is a forthcoming artist-in-residence at the Center for Art and Thought (CA+T).

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

What is it for? Who is it for?

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System & Liminal Lab is an open access social practice experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and infrastructures founded and facilitated by Elæ Moss with an ever evolving global network of creative collaborators of all disciplines (and species).

Jason Magabo Perez

Written by

Author of This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University San Marcos.

The Operating System & Liminal Lab

The Operating System & Liminal Lab is an open access social practice experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and infrastructures founded and facilitated by Elæ Moss with an ever evolving global network of creative collaborators of all disciplines (and species).