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Hu ,Julie

Ethnic Literature 4

January 9, 2011

Jessica Hagedorn

Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn was born in Manila, Philippines on May 29,

1949. Her mother is Scotch-Irish-French-Filipino and her father is considered

Filipino-Spanish. She considers herself a hybrid because of all her different

nationalities. Some of her readers often question her Asian identity. She feels

that her Filipino side is the largest role in shaping her imagination. Her work is

about her experience as a Filipino in Manila and the United States.

In 1963, when Jessica was fourteen years old, she and her mother

immigrated to the United States. She lived in San Francisco where she studied

acting, martial arts, and fencing at the American Conservatory Theater. When

Jessica first moved to the United States, she was terrified because she thought

she would stand out. She considered herself lucky to have settled in San

Francisco because it had a multi-ethnic community. Chinatown was the closest

thing to Manila they found and went there constantly. Jessica also felt that, as a

female, she had a sense of freedom that she never had growing up in Manila.

Back in Manila, all the girls had to be chaperoned as a kind of tradition. They

were expected to marry and have a family. In America, she had more freedom

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because she didn’t need to be chaperoned. Her mother was also pre-occupied

with settling in to a new country, so she couldn’t control her as much as she

would have liked.

In 1975 she formed a rock band called The West Coast Gangster Choir.

She made the band because she wanted to somehow perform the stories.

Jessica didn’t want to just stand on a stage and read a book out loud, so she had

the idea that they could perform it in a band. She then called Julian Priester, a

composer friend of hers, and asked him to help to get some musicians together.

The band kind of built on from there. It gradually built up to more and more

people and instruments. She was the lead singer and songwriter. When she

moved to New York, a few people went with her and they re-formed, but changed

their name to The Gangster Choir.

The performances influenced her later works in multimedia plays. In 1978,

she moved to New York and pursued a career as a performance artist. She had

to adjust to a whole different culture and artistic scenery. As a performance artist,

a few of her plays were professionally produced including Mango Tango and

Holy Food.

In 1988, she returned to the Philippines to finish her first novel Dogeaters.

Dogeaters received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus

Foundation. The story begins at the movies. She started it like that because the

movies really shaped her life. While growing up in the Philippines, she loved

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watching movies. When she was a child, the film industry filmed many different

kinds of movies. In her childhood, they had all kinds of movies; musicals,

dramas, comedies. She watched movies at least once a week. She grew up

without a television, so it was either the movies or radio. She had to use her

imagination to amuse herself as a child. Sometimes on the radio, there would be

horror shows on the radio that terrified her as a child. In her book, she included a

torture scene. While writing this part, she tried to capture the intensity of how

scared she was back then.

Jessica started to write at a young age. She always loved writing little

poems and comic books. She thought herself as a writer. When she was

fourteen, her mother gave her a typewriter where she could read and type

poems. She also had a family friend who would come over and look at her

poems. Once he gave them to a journalist friend of his who thought they should

send them to Kenneth Rexroth. Kenneth then came in contact with Jessica. She

found out that he was a wonderful poet, and soon after he became some-what of

a mentor to her. She was really influenced and encouraged by Kenneth Rexroth.

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Sources Cited

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