To My Unknown DaughterMelissa R. Sipin
2016 Digital video recording Duration: 18m 46s Courtesy of the artist
Melissa R. Sipin
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Nicknamed "small but terrible" by her lola, MELISSA R. SIPIN was born and raised in Carson, CA. She co-edited Kuwento: Lost Things (Carayan Press 2014) and is Editor-in-Chief of TAYO Literary Magazine. Her work is in Prairie Schooner, Salon, Guernica Magazine, and Black Warrior Review, among others. Her fiction has won Glimmer Train's Fiction Open and the Washington Square Review's Flash Fiction Prize, as well as scholarships/fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Poets & Writers Inc., Kundiman, VONA/Voices Writers'
Workshop, Squaw Valley’s Community of Writers, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She was recently shortlisted for the 2017 Rona Jaffe Writer's Award. She is hard at work on a novel. More at msipin.com.
Here is an essay I wrote about the Pinay body: “To My Unknown Daughter,” which was published in Glimmer Train back in 2014. I thought reading this essay for CA+T’s “Talking Bodies” exhibit was appropriate but also star-aligning, because I wanted to do something more with it, something visual, something multimedia. I decided against using footage of me reading this essay, or any footage of me really, and instead used this vintage, archival footage of my family in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines, in 1967, during the Marcos regime. There’s so much lovely irony in this archival, fragmentary footage ... My father's in there with his older brothers; him the youngest, the most hungry. He’s about five years old, such a ripe and innocent age, a persona of my father I’ve never met or seen before, and he is seen riding a bike or longing for his eldest brother, my Uncle Dennis, the chosen patriarch of my family after my grandfather died. The men first seen in the beginning, in the first clip, is my Uncle Geony and my Uncle Eddie—both of whom fled to the East Coast right around the time my grandfather passed, almost in defiance, in irrelevance to my Uncle Dennis. All the kids dancing are my familia—my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my bloodline.
Let me go deeper, and tell you the backstory behind the footage: my white uncle, who filmed this footage, met my Auntie Lodie near Clark Air Base (she was a prostitute), and they married; before he left for America (and subsequently took her, which allowed my whole family to immigrate), he would visit the family home in Manila and bring gifts, like this camera. In this essay, I talk a bit about how this complication, this nuance, this chance meeting between my white uncle and prostitute aunt is a consequence of U.S. Imperialism, and how all of this—this kind of colonial inheritance—affects the ways I write about the Pinay body. Although I wanted to film new material, these archival, old family videos made by my white uncle—who, ironically, is the only one archiving and recording our family histories, our family tree, and salvaging mementos from our past—obsessed me. This footage always damages me in a slow, pregnant way; it marks the infancy of my familia, it marks the moment when we were once together, before we broke apart. I decided to loop the video in hopes of producing a kind of fragmentary remembrance.
- Born: Torrance, CA, USA
- Based: Los Angeles, CA, USA