“The way in which I write about trauma is never as a portrait, but as a landscape,” says Filipino-American author Elaine Castillo.
“Often, we get depictions of trauma where only one person has gone through it and everyone is a handmaiden to that trauma. That doesn’t at all look like the trauma experienced within the community I grew up in.”
In her debut novel America Is Not The Heart, everyone hurts not directly. There is Paz, who pulled herself out of an impoverished childhood within the Philippines to change into a nurse in Milpitas, San Francisco, supporting her total household alongside the best way. There is her husband Pol, certified as a physician within the Philippines, now diminished to working as a safety guard due to his immigrant standing.
And there may be his cousin Hero, whose thumbs now not work as a result of they have been fractured by way of torture in a jail camp. She has been disowned by her rich dad and mom and despatched to reside undocumented within the United States.
The title of the ebook arose from a personal joke that Castillo, 33, had about Carlos Bulosan’s seminal 1946 Filipino-American novel America Is In The Heart, which she learn when she was 14.
It was the primary ebook she had ever learn that talked about individuals from Pangasinan, the province from which her mom hails, and the type of abject poverty her mom had grown up in. When pronounced in a Filipino accent, its title feels like “America isn’t the heart”.
“I’m interested in characters that don’t care about assimilating into America as this monolithic ideal, or proving their worthiness within the American structure,” she says. “I’m interested in the banal, granular details of the lives of people in American cities which are not represented as American heartlands.”
The world of America Is Not The Heart is the one into which Castillo was born. Like Paz and Pol’s younger US-born daughter Roni, she had extreme eczema as a baby and grew up within the San Francisco Bay Area, in a group the place most residents communicate a language apart from English. “Someone would start a sentence in one language and end in another. That porousness of language – that was our reality.”
Much of the novel’s materials is drawn from her life, though it’s not autobiographical. “To write fiction,” she says, “is like taking everything you own in your home and putting it out on the street. But is that still your home?”
Hero, from whose perspective many of the novel is instructed, is partly impressed by a cousin of Castillo’s, a high-ranking member of the Maoist insurgent group New People’s Army. Relatives would inform tales of hiding her from the authorities.
But Hero is not any hero. “I was set on writing about a loser,” says Castillo, “somebody who wasn’t politically significant.”
When she started writing the novel in 2013, she began with a second-person prologue from Paz’s perspective, however couldn’t proceed. Then she tried about 200 pages within the voice of Roni, the character with whom she most identifies, earlier than she realised the narrative was dead on the web page.
Castillo, who has a companion, was uncomfortable writing Hero – a daughter of the Manila elite, the type of perspective she felt was already over-represented in fiction – however quickly realised that discomfort shouldn’t be underestimated as an engine for writing. “I felt comfortable yanking the rug out from under her.”
Growing up, she made it a degree to hunt out books from non-American writers – the Japanese novels of Kenzaburo Oe and Banana Yoshimoto, or Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy (1990).
She studied historical Greek in school and tried to jot down a novel concerning the Greek poet Sappho and the refugee disaster, which she later “abandoned for the good of all humanity”. She is now engaged on what she deems to be the “spiritual sequel” to America Is Not The Heart. “But it’s turning into science fiction.”
She is glad of the rising visibility of Asian-American writers, but in addition desires extra nuanced dialogue of intra-Asian racism.
In the novel, there may be colourism and classism even inside the Filipino-American group. Roni is instructed by her playmate’s middle-class mom that she shouldn’t be a great affect. Hero’s girlfriend Rosalyn, a make-up artist, resents having to make her purchasers’ options look extra Caucasian.
Castillo has been pigeonholed already because of her ethnicity, however she shrugs it off. “I don’t feel that being classified as Filipino-American diminishes me as a writer.”