That is how love letters always begin. Someone wants something. And waits.
Last year, the University of the Philippines Press published an Asia-Pacific anthology, Press: 100 Love Letters edited by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo and Francesca Rendle-Short. It was an idea inspired by the kuih kapit, or ‘Chinese Love Letter’, a “hot-pressed coconut wafer biscuit eaten traditionally during Chinese New Year” in Malaysia. The biscuits are always packaged in 100 pieces. They are eaten for prosperity, but also to celebrate sweetness at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. The call for submissions was issued in 2014 for letters from women to women. Even though the book had been ready since 2015, it took the long route to find a home. I think it was worth the wait.
I want you.
Each letter in the book celebrates love and desire between women, in different stages. It must be read as a queer women’s anthology, breaking ground in the Philippines, making space for women naming their desire for what they can have, or can’t have, for what they used to have, or what they do have, and even what they never had. The contributors from the Asia-Pacific (mostly Australia and the Philippines) took the prompt and found a variety of forms to embody this desire: poems, essays, illustrations, playing cards, photographs. They literally made love with their hands.
But the book is also more than a queer anthology, as it also contains letters from daughters to mothers and mothers to daughters—the primordial love a woman knows, the one that is most instructive. And sometimes devastating.
I want you to know.
In their epistolary introduction, Laurel and Francesca give us an intimate glimpse of the way they themselves journeyed with the project. We read it and we feel as if we know them, or they know us. That if we read the book, we are sharing in what Francesca calls “Desire lines of travel present here on these pages.” I cannot help but feel how long my own journey has been. In this book, I have two pieces: a poem about past and lost loves and a letter to my daughter about her first love (now lost). I share these pages with an ex (Hello, Michiko.) as well as an ex of an ex (Hello, Shakira.). But what was most surprising was there was actually letter for me inside it. I really didn’t know before the book came out; she had kept it secret for three years.
In July 2014, my partner Mags Maglana and I were only starting to date, and what a leap of faith that she had submitted that letter to the anthology. What if our relationship didn’t survive the time it took to publication? How embarrassing for both of us! But then again, one can say her letter wasn’t really about us, but about larger issues of acceptance of queer love. In fact, I’ve never received a love letter referencing the killing of transwoman Jennifer Laude and geopolitics, and including a numbered list of steps to fight for LGBT equality and against invisibility. Surely, these issues override our love. And the present struggle to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill in Congress is proof of this larger context within which we all love.
In the introduction, Laurel also talks about the Philippine context of the love letter, referring to Rizal, the kundiman, Catholicism. Francesca explains, “The letter is a declaration. The letter is an exhortation. The letter is a report. The letter is a plea. The letter is a tenuous bridge.” Putting the book together, they asked, “What happens when women write to each other, for each other?”
Each of the 100 love letters is an answer.
Everything is going to be all right. I want to be with you.
Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City and is a columnist of Mindanao Times. This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of March 19, 2018. http://mindanaotimes.net/lugar-lang-love-letters-from-women-to-women/
Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)