Craig Santos Perez on tiny dots on a map
Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). A poet, scholar, editor, publisher, essayist, critic, book reviewer, artist, environmentalist, and political activist, he is a Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa.
Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S., yet we are also one of the most invisible. Most people do not know about the complex history of the Pacific, nor do they know about the rich diversity of Pacific cultures. The mainstream media barely covers the existential threat of climate change to our islands or the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Pacific Islanders across the diaspora. Our stories of trauma, survival, and resilience have remained unheard and unseen, like tiny dots on a map.
Relatedly, Pacific authors do not receive support within the American literature and publishing industries. If Pacific authors were supported, so many powerful stories could be written. Stories about ancient Pacific customs and traditions. Stories about conquest, missionization, settler colonialism, racism, disease, and depopulation. Stories about islanders involved in whaling, the California gold rush, and even the American Civil War. Stories about militarization and the experiences of the Pacific during World War II. Stories about islanders serving in the U.S. military and fighting in America’s endless wars. Stories about nuclear testing and intergenerational fallout. Stories about migration and diaspora. Stories about reclaiming native languages and practices. Stories about gender and sexuality. Stories about climate change, rising sea levels, and disappearing islands. Stories about protecting our sacred islands, waters, and mountains from desecration. Stories about sovereignty, decolonization, demilitarization, environmental, and food justice movements. Beautiful, tragic, surprising, inspiring, empowering, essential, and urgent stories.
I imagine a future in which Pacific writers are equitably included and fully supported by foundations, funders, publishers, agents, bookstores, and literary organizations in the U.S. I imagine a future in which our stories are visible and Pacific story-makers are thriving.
The following action plan aims to start a conversation about how we can establish a nurturing infrastructure and community for Pacific literature.
- Pacific Islander literature digital mapping project. Funding a group of Pacific literary scholars to create a digital map of the literary history of the Pacific will bring visibility to previously published books and authors. This digital mapping project could include book summaries, author photos and bios, historical and cultural contexts, lesson plans, and hyperlinks.
- Pacific literary organizations and publishers. Providing grants to the precious few publishers and nonprofits who support Pacific literature will allow them to sustainably continue their work. Additionally, providing a large grant to establish a Pacific Islander writers organization will create a more robust support system.
- Fellowships and residencies for Pacific Islander authors. Many Pacific authors do not have the financial stability to focus on our projects. Creating fellowships and residencies specifically for Pacific writers will give us the support we need to pursue and complete new work.
- Pacific Islander Literature Festival. Book festivals are effective events to celebrate writers and introduce them to a larger audience. A Pacific literature book festival will bring together Pacific writers to share our work with new audiences and network with publishers and literary agents.
- Pacific literary community programs. Pacific writers are ethically committed to engaging with community, but it can be difficult to sustain this work without funding. Providing grants for Pacific authors to perform literary readings throughout our communities, as well as to teach writing, spoken word, and literature workshops for youth and adults in the public school system, after school programs, community gathering spaces, prisons and detention centers, and homeless shelters, among other spaces, will create the foundation for long-term, community-engaged Pacific literature programs.
This essay is part of CREATIVE FUTURES, a series of provocations by thinkers across the arts, documentary, and journalism on how to reimagine their sectors.