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Writing for the Womanist: Healing Generational Trauma

The Womanist [1], a poetry, prose and visual art journal for women and femmes of color at Mills, has given me the opportunity to creatively process generational trauma in the form of poetry. <

When I first saw the Womanist flyer requesting submissions for this semester’s edition, the theme of how we carry our ancestors, and how our stories collide with theirs, pulled me in. I was reminded of a story that my grandma, Justinana Nantona, told me when I was little.

Both of my father’s parents were born and raised in the Philippines, a place I have never been to. She would often tell me very short stories about her youth during the most random moments, usually over food. Her stories of her days in the Philippines, about my family that I never met, brought me closer to my mother land. She told me that her family took her and her siblings to hide in the mountains, and for a while this was all the information I got about why they had to do that.

As I got older, that story stayed with me and my dad filled in the blanks. Between 1942 and 1945, the Philippines was occupied by Japan. The occupation of the Philippines began after the attack on Pearl Harbor [2], and Japan’s control lasted for three years. Many people lost their lives as Guerrilla fighters fought to reclaim their home. My grandma and her family were forced into hiding in the mountains within an abandoned coal mine. This was a story for me as a child, but for my grandma, it was life or death.

This story inspired the poem I wrote for the 2019 Spring Edition of the Womanist. My poem “Justinana,” is one in which I climb the mountain to bring my Grandma back down again. The main focus of my poem was to heal and understand the sacrifices my Grandma made before she even knew me.

The Womanist gave me the platform to do just that. I am thankful for that, since it brought me closer to understanding the lives my Grandparents live, and the trauma we move through as a family.

Poetry is a very vulnerable art form. Poetry is often a form of emotional expression, and there is a rawness that comes with writing about such a certain personal topic or moment. But there is a calmness that follows after you share your truth. I was able to experience that catharsis while writing the poem for my grandma, sharing her truth and mine.

Giving women and femmes of color the opportunity to write in a safe, supportive environment allows us the chance share our stories, our grandparents’ stories, and our ancestor’s stories. There is power and pride to reclaim in that.