A Review of Dogeaters, a Novel by Jessica Hagedorn, an American Book Award Winner from the Before C
Having read Jessica Hagedorn’s controversial novel, Dogeaters, I found myself struggling with the the novel’s complex structure of the narrative, which uses the risky interchanges of first and third person point of views as well as interwoven newspaper clippings that pieces together an intense journey leading up to the main event of plotting an assassination. Jessica Hagedorn is a Filipino author, poet, playwright, and a multimedia artist, born in the Philippines and migrated to the United States. She has written five novels Toxicology, Danger and Beauty, Dream Jungle, Gangsters of Love, and Dogeaters, and won the American Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent novel Dogeaters is about the stories of several characters of the Gonzaga, Avila, and Alacran families that reveal the drama and politics surrounding the conflicting events of the “Young Miss Philippines,” a cultural film festival, and an assassination.
The shifting of narratives challenges my perception in which the story undergoes a process that explores a diverse lens of versatile narratives, encompassing the power of voice for the Filipino narrative. Understanding the intent, I can begin to perceive different angles of the story establishing a valuable lesson: visibility is achieved by encouraging ourselves to engage in diverse perspectives. Hagedorn not only achieves the goal of insisting visibility and empowerment for marginalized groups, she connects with the audience by her tremendous poise and storytelling abilities through constructing an authentic narrative that challenges the lay out of the gruesome and harsh reality of the Philippines’ racial politics.
Due to western and eastern influences from Spain and America’s dominant rule, the Philippines faces historical trauma from negative effects of colonialism and Americanization, including the loss of Filipino culture and identity. However, the novel uses language with brief examples of Filipino words like ‘tsismis’ to provide an emphasis on code-switching, a practice of switching between two languages within conversation, thus acknowledging a hybridity of the Filipino narrative and identity. My personal connections to the term hybridity has a significant effect to my mixed ethnic background, where even in my Filipino upbringing my mother has referenced that due to the Spanish colonization of our Filipino ancestors, our identity is of the ‘mestizo’ or ‘mestiza.’ ‘Mestizo’ or ‘mestiza’ is a word that references to a person of mixed descent, usually from Spanish or American Indian heritage. Having mixed feelings about this term for its negative ties of maintaining “purity” involving the Filipino identity, I realize the issues with Filipino culture has an off putting way of treating individuals who may not be full Filipino and ruling them as different or other in which issues with acceptance and belonging adds strain to their culture and identity. Understanding hybridity as a guide through navigating the Filipino identity, the novel references to ‘mestizo’ or ‘mestiza’ representing the failure of acceptance and belonging. On the contrary, I believe that hybridity in the novel reveals symbolic imagery of change and transition to reach at certain points in breaking down cultural and social barriers, reconfiguring the Filipino identity.
As part of the new generation of Filipinos, I find it challenging in ways that the Filipino culture often fails on advocating for inclusivity. Growing up, my role of participating in my Filipino culture events were limited, as having dealt with the fact that my peers would often place their negative assumptions that I did not fit the criteria of being “full” or pure Filipino, making it extremely difficult to experience the history, culture, and language. Feeling defeated and frustrated with my Filipino identity and culture, my bitter reactions only created a further gap of acceptance and belonging. Facing these hardships, I approached my mother about the struggles with my acceptance and identity, and she revealed that this is a constant concern as it connects to our mestizo and mestiza influence. Realizing that this could be one of the reasons for many individuals of the new Filipino generation to lack the interest in learning about our history and culture, I acknowledged that there needs to be a drastic change for Filipino and Filipino American communities to allow for more acceptance so that it does not compromise any negative feelings or perspectives of our own identities. That is why the Filipino and Filipino American communities must unite and empower today’s youth to embrace their Filipino identity and culture. Therefore, it is crucial to discuss controversial texts like Dogeaters, allowing individuals to gain diverse perspectives on topics that expose the questioning of culture and identity by insisting on audiences to look at different angles of the story, revealing inquisitive layers of the Filipino narrative.
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Rachel Egoian - Pleasant Hill, CA
Originally from the Bay Area and a graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Education, Rachel has a profound interest in Asian American literature and communities. In addition, she is a recent graduate student at San Francisco State University for the English Literature Master’s program. Coming from a mixed ethnic background as an Armenian, Irish and Filipina, she values the importance of culture and self-identity. Through the foundations of literary criticism, she encourages and stresses the need for diversity in literature.