11 Questions with Jason Bayani
INTERVIEW BY STEVIE EDWARDS, Editor-in-Chief
1. How and when did you first get involved with the poetry slam?
I kept hearing about these Poetry Slams while I was in college at San Francisco State. Never went to one because I was running around with this crew who was doing Asian party promotions. Around this time (mid to late 90s) in San Francisco there was a bit of an artistic surge happening amongst young Filipino artists around performance and poetry and theatre and music and comedy that was inspiring as hell and I wanted to be a part of it.
The first person I’ve ever seen perform their poetry live was at this spot that used to be in Oakland called The Upper Room, and I saw Barbara Jane Reyes, who has moved on and done some pretty big things in the literary world, and it blew me away. I saw her doing her thing and it just hit me in the guts. I said, "I want to get on stage and do that ." When I graduated, I had been mostly doing theatre and felt I didn’t really have a future in acting, but I still needed something creative to do, so focusing in on spoken word seemed like the most practical and least costly way of being able feed those needs because I get to write AND perform and to do this; all I have to do is go out and drink beer. So I hit three slams within a few days of each other: Second Sundays at the now defunct Justice League in SF when it was hosted by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and was pulling in 400 plus a night, the Berkeley Slam, and the earliest incarnation of Jamie DeWolf’s show Tourettes Without Regret. After that, I was hooked.
4. How has your working-class upbringing as the son of immigrants influenced your writing?
I think being the first American born child in my family and sitting right on that divide between here and the Philippines, because I don’t even know my own language, has in a way, maybe inadvertently, created a need in me to name my experience. It wasn’t any of fault of my parents, but growing up felt a lot like having to navigate this place, this America, on my own. To write became a way of coping, of trying to understand what this was. The poem helps me reframe my life, the experiences of my family, and to declare it when so much of my days are spent feeling, in this country, our experience is insignificant and easily erasable.
5. Can you speak a little about the genesis of Proletariat Bronze?
We were the only Filipinos at the time actively doing poetry slams in the Bay so we just kind of gravitated towards each other. There were several Asian American spoken word groups at that time. You had I Was Born With Two Tongues out of Chicago, Isangmahal out of Seattle, and the Bay had 8th Wonder. We thought we could start something like that and added a few more members but ultimately realized that might not have been the best idea and ended up stripping down to the three members we have today: that’s myself, Jaylee Alde, and Mesej 1.