Written on the Bodies: The Language of the Hostile Environment

Last November, the English PEN invited me to write an essay for their PEN Transmissions Magazine. This is English PEN’s online magazine for international literature, in which they publish interviews and short personal essays. Past contributors included Olga Tokarczuk, Zadie Smith, Ananda Devi, Maryse Condé, June Bellebono, Scholastique Mukasonga, Samar Yazbek, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Olivia Laing, Geovani Martins, Tice Cin, Jay Bernard, Priyamvada Gopal, Malorie Blackman, Anuradha Roy, Mia Couto, Selva Almada, Peter Stamm and Svetlana Alexievich.

I wrote about my experiences in the Philippines and as a migrant living in the UK. I consider this essay as an articulation of the trajectory of the direction of my writings (in theatre, my fiction, and in my academic endeavors), my creative processes, interests, and politics for the next decade or so.

Published last January, I consider this piece as my first literary work written and published entirely in the English language and outside of the Philippines.

Also, some of the ideas I introduced in this essay were lifted from my current research work for my practice-based PhD at Birkbeck and with my current engagement with the Royal Court Theatre, New Earth Theatre, and with the various Filipino migrant communities and activists back in the Philippines: the intersection between the fascist regime in the Philippines and the UK’s hostile environment policy, the language of the hostile environment and rigid nationalist identity formations, migrant bodies, migrant narratives, and the brown and black migrant bodies as a site of the border of violence.

I am grateful with the English PEN for providing this space.

It was from the dead body of my neighbour sometime in December 2016 that I was able to read that my country was undergoing a violent transition, paving the way for the return to power of the Marcoses. Blood was splattered on the same asphalt road that I used to tread every day, going to the market to buy my provisions, or walking to get my bus from the main road. The remains of what was once life were covered with blankets. His fingers were cold and stiff, like roots of ginger protruding oddly from the cover, as if trying to remind the neighbourhood of how to read his death: We are at war, I am the enemy. You could be collateral damage, anytime, soon. Take heed. It was at this moment that I realised that the popular, massive, nationwide project of creating and recreating a monolithic Filipino civic nationalist identity formation was moving closer and closer to my own body.

You can read the entire essay here.

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