ALOYSIUSI LIONEL POLINTAN Reviews
WRITING NAKED: A MEMOIR by Arnie Quibranza Mejia
(University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, 2016)
IMMIGRATION AND INDIVIDUATION AS MEMORY'S SMORGASBORD
"What does it say about me when I ask for asylum
in places where people wish to leave?"
—Eileen Tabios, "The Empty Flagpole"
This impelling question from Eileen R. Tabios's verse perfectly fits the overarching theme of Arnie Quibranza Mejia's WRITING NAKED: A Memoir (USTPH, 2016).
What's unique about this memoir is its production of fragmentary reminiscences of a man who identified himself as a "happy" individual and who back then hesitated about returning to the Philippines from the United States. It is in latter territory he found solace coupled with the courage to live life garnished with profound joy, rather than living a life expected of a man. "How was I supposed to know that I would assimilate so well that I would never leave?" It is in foreign land he found means of embracing his sexuality and pondered questions of pleasure and relationships.
With a big backdrop of family history, Mejia laid out on the table, as if a smorgasbord waited to be enjoyed and consumed by one and all, a chronicle of events surrounding his Marcos-supporting family's search for political asylum, leaving the homeland after the 1986 People Power Revolution. Arnie was too young then to grasp the oddities of immigration, the peculiarities of assimilating to American life, and the subtleties of dealing with Filipinos and homosexuals. But through a matured Mejia's memory and imagination, he was able to write down his adventures in the metropolis with gay men, his schooling frustrations, and his perceptions against friends, in-laws, and the neighborhood.
If we were to conform to William Zinsser's description of a good memoir—"a work of history, catching a distinctive moment in the life of both a person and a society" (1995)—we could acclaim Mejia having done a good job.
This writing down was all the way fearless, as he enumerated events we might not be able to imagine as happening in real life. But this did not end up as a braggadocio's audacious remarks, for gentleness presented itself between paragraphs and frame narratives. Needless to say, this memoir was Mejia's constant reminder to readers that sexuality does not limit its definition to how one views himself or how he distinguishes himself from the strata. Sexuality, as implied while one reads, ranges from getting in touch with the body—all curves, edges, flaws and blemishes—to reaching out to people of same and/or different preference.
Mustering the courage to tell his parents of his being gay and the infeasibility of marrying a woman to secure a green card resonated in Mejia's scribbles of immigration and individuation. This was the recurring theme, the smorgasbord's piece de résistance. However, at the near end of the book, with assurance of gentle acceptance from his parents, he wrote: "The years I spent without my parents were a gift since I was able to spread my wings and accept who I was."
In her breakthrough research on creative nonfiction, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo said: "Stories—be they fiction or nonfiction—satisfy, not much because of the experience they depict, but because of the insights into that experience which they offer." (2005) Just like how excellent he is in cooking, Mejia chopped and minced his heartbreaks and let treasured moments simmer so we could cherish the smell they spawned and the tastes lingering in our buds and our consciousness.
Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan is a Senior High School Coordinator of Divina Pastora College in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija. He loves reading and writing poetry, and everything that ranges from Bob Dylan to Hozier, and from Mahalia Jackson to Christina Aguilera. He is doing research on intangible cultural heritage of Southern Novo Ecijanos. He maintains a blog: /react-text http://renaissanceofanotebook.blogspot.com