An Impressionistic Social-Intellectual History of R. Zamora Linmark’s “Rolling the R’s” on its 20th Anniversary

“Friend Request” by M. Evelina Galang

“Vicente, hey.

It’s me, Augustina. I don’t know if you remember me, but I did not forget you, Katrina, and Edgar. I was on my way to the Philippines. Nobody knew it, but I was pregnant and my parents were bringing me “home,” but first we stopped and visited you and your family in Kalihi. Remember? I was moody and I hated my parents and so maybe you don’t. Or maybe you do—I had Farah Fawcett hair and you couldn’t stop running your fingers through it, remember now? We stayed with you for a week and I hung out with your sister, Jing. One night, we babysat you over at your friend, Katrina-trina’s house. You did that disco show. Oh God. That was hilarious. I was never into Donna Summer or KC and the Sunshine band. Not like you crazy little fools. You made me laugh the way you took the stage like that (love to love you baby) and lip-synced before lip-syncing was in. The way you didn’t give a shit and did whatever you kids wanted to do. God you kids were loud…

 

“I Love Chachi: On the 20th Anniversary of ‘Rolling the R’s'” by Joseph O. Legaspi

“I’m foggy as to when I first read R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s. It’s a book that’s been a part of me, like a good friend. You don’t recall when or where or in what circumstance you met because you seem to have known each other all your lives. Every time I flip through its pages, as I do now, on Rolling’s 20th anniversary, it blows open the proverbial floodgates. Torrent of fantastical narratives, pidgin, Tagalog, 70s pop culture, Donna Summer, Farrah Fawcett, Catholicism, attitude, poetry. The book remains defiant, distorting the status quo of Western literature, populating a world with mostly Asians and Asian-Americans with more sass than a drag queen…”

 

Remembering ‘Rolling the R’s'” by Theodore S. Gonzalves

“What I loved most about the book when I first picked it up twenty years ago was how it was such a strong antidote to the everyday fantasies that many of us have about Hawai‘i. When I meet people who ask me about where I’ve lived and worked, I talk about my nine years in Honolulu. For those who’ve never been there, I can see their eyes glaze over. It doesn’t take too long for someone to ask a version of the same question I must have been asked hundreds of times since I moved away in 2011: “Why would you leave paradise?”

Even today, there’s no shortage of images that go right to that lizard part of the brain that conjures durable notions of scantily clad, ethnically ambiguous women serving umbrella-topped cocktails. Fantasies crash into each other—hypersexualized natives and militarized police officers—every week, reinforced by the re-boot ofHawai‘i Five-O. And do we really need to re-hash the weird treatment of native people in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, where the Allison Ng character (supposedly of Chinese and Hawaiian descent) was played by the Nordic Emma Stone?…”

 

Kara Hisatake

Rolling the R’s is near to me personally and professionally as someone born and raised on O‘ahu and currently in the midst of writing a dissertation on the literatures of Hawai‘i and Pidgin. In the so-called “melting pot”—or as R. Zamora Linmark would say, “volcano”—of Hawai‘i’s multi-ethnic communities, the aim of my dissertation has been to explore Pidgin’s role in counter-cultural manifestations to U.S. imperialism in the Pacific. In this short piece, I want to highlight some flashpoints of the history of Hawai‘i Pidgin to contextualize the power of Linmark’s novel and whatRolling the R’s has done to intervene in the usual representation of Hawai‘i as America’s fiftieth state.

As most people discover reading the novel, Pidgin, also known as Hawai‘i Creole English by linguists, is the local language of Hawai‘i. Hawaiian language is the indigenous language, but was banned in schools in 1896, a few years after the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was overthrown by white American businessmen interested in expanding sugar industry profits. English was the language taught in schools, and children who spoke Hawaiian were punished. By the latter half of the twentieth century, few people spoke the Hawaiian language fluently…”

 

“Linmark’s Gift” by John David Zuern

“In keeping with its epigraph from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Rolling is a book that never grows old, which is not exactly to say that it never grows up. The novel’s historical setting—the early 1980s—was “dated” even when it was first published, and as time passes, more and more of the cultural touchstones from that period—Charlie’s Angels and Love Boat, the film Making Love—need explaining for today’s undergraduates. Nevertheless, Rolling has retained its unsettling vitality and, from my perspective as a critic and teacher, it has kept pace with and at times even seems to have anticipated developments in the discourses of cultural and literary studies, queer theory in particular. Its young characters’ strategies for forging affective and erotic alliances outside conventional boundaries line up with the counter-hegemonic intimacies and counter-public formations Lauren Berlant, Samuel R. Delany, Lisa Duggan, and Michael Warner have sought to describe. Its representation of the ineffectual but damaging impact of heternormative institutions’ efforts to “protect” children points us toward Lee Edelman’s argument in No Future, while at the same time the poignantly inchoate ambitions of Edgar, Vicente, and Katrina participate in the queer futurity José Muñoz imagines inCruising Utopia...

 

from “Photographing Queer Kalihi” (2009) by Loraine Kanervisto & Keir McCoy

” R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s frames the tense development of queer and multiethnic youth in Kalihi Valley during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The spirit of Linmark’s O‘ahu can still be found in parts of present-day Kalihi. As photographers, we sought to capture the frames of mind prevalent in Linmark’s locales, places with multiple layers of symbolism clashing into one another—the religious with the transgressive, the public with the private, and the suppressed with the unrestricted.

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“Not Quite Nostalgia” by Loraine Kanervisto

“Nostalgia wasn’t really the best word to describe the feeling I got while reading and researchingRolling the R’s. I had never lived farther than a mile and a half away from the neighborhood the book describes and was just barely an adult at the time of my research. Looking back on my first reading of it, I was bewildered and very slowly surprised that yes, I was reading something that often paralleled my childhood, location memory, language memory, and feelings of being a queer outsider in a way that I’ll probably never find in any other book....

 

Oliver de la Paz

“Zach was hitting on me. Yes, he hit on me for a good fifteen minutes over the phone. I’ve always been a dense person when it comes to these kinds of things. There came a point, however, when I finally figured out what he was doing and I’m pretty sure he figured I was interested in women. I’m pretty sure we figured each other out right around the same time. Then a whole other cascade of minutes flew by once we got ourselves “straightened out,” so to speak. We said our goodbyes, figured out ways to get in touch with each other, and then that was that.

The very next day I ordered Rolling the R’s. How could I not? I read it quickly from cover to cover on a snowy Saturday. I was intrigued by its polyglot. Its hybridity. Its cacophony. Really, it’s a remarkable novel that’s as shapeshifting as the pop culture that much of it invokes…”

 

Gem P. Daus

“Listening to ‘70s Dance Party Playlist on Amazon Prime for get me in the mood to write about Rolling the R’s. I have a hardback copy with an Autographed Copy sticker marring the cover. Ah ah freak out. I bought it at the now defunct Lambda Rising Bookstore in DC. A mini-easel holding a gauzy glamour shot of a young Asian man topped a stack of red books. I hadn’t yet connected with a community of Asian gay men, so this was a novelty. One of his names sounded Filipino. I read the jacket flaps and flipped through a few pages. I saw that he autographed it on 2-21-96. Not really what I normally read but I bought it anyway.

Get down boogie oogie oogie. Life had not prepared me for Rolling. It actually took me many years to fully appreciate it because the dialect, structure, and characters were so unfamiliar to me. I read the pidgin and understood the words. But I couldn’t get the rhythm, so I felt like I was missing out on the meaning. It was not until two years later, when I visited Oahu for the first time, that it clicked. I reread a few passages when I got back home and it made new sense…”

 

“Reflections on 20 Years of ‘Rolling the R’s'” by Wilma B. Consul

“My introduction to Rolling the R’s happened in 1996, when R. Zamora Linmark read “They Like You Because You Eat Dog.” It’s a poem so entertainingly honest, it angers and empowers at the same time.

Rolling the R’s introduces characters rarely seen in American literature. They are Filipinos rooted in a place to which no Honolulu tourist dares trek. They ramble about identity, reveal secrets, and enable and deny the dramas in their tropical lives. Linmark’s teenage fantasy playground spinning in seventies soundtrack emotes the familiar to Filipino Americans and especially to immigrants like me.

In November 2008, I directed a stage reading of Rolling the R’s: The Play at Source Theatre in Washington, DC. We packed the house—standing room only. Makakoa Enterprises, Inc., a catering company owned by a Hawaiian and a hula sister, donated kalua pork, King’s Hawaiian Bread, and Spam musubi for our reception. At the end of the show, we performed a hula for Linmark, who was in town to be honored among 100 awardees by Out Magazine

 

“Philomena, Kuya Bongbong of Magsaysay Street” by L.M.S.P. Burns

“Katrina, Edgar, and Vicente had the “Purple Man and his disciples” at the Kam Shopping Center. We—Gerlie, Totoy, and Baby—had Philomena on Magsaysay Street. Philomena talked to herself, swatted insects with powers of invisibility flying around her head. Though she did not come to Red Cross every day, where my mother worked, she came regularly enough for us to wonder every other week if anyone has seen Philomena. Whereas Jesus of Kam Shopping Center (as christened by Edgar) rushes to a corner, curls himself up into a ball, and shrieks at the shoppers entering and exiting the automatic doors of Star Market or Longs Drugs, Philomena taps three times to the left and three times to the right before crossing any entryway. Ninang, anong trip ni Philomena? We would ask Auntie Annie. She would say anong anong trip? Ano bang alam ninyo sa trip trip? Dismissing us, saying what the hell do we know about drug trips. Sometimes, Philomena can be heard, screaming, and seen bending to one side or another, as if she’s scolding someone short next to her. One of the nurse interns at the Red Cross explained that Philomena is so smart, all her knowledge got confused in her brain...

 

“Taking Them to our Lady of Kalihi” by Brian Ascalon Roley

“Over the years, I have taught (and continue to teach) Rolling the R’s in creative writing classes for the same reason I assign As I Lay Dying. As with all of my favorite books, when I share it what I actually want to share with people is that initial reading experience—the excitement, the enchantment, the exhilaration—which I hope will be sparked in them too. I wish I could share with them my jolt of recognition that came from seeing Filipino objects, family life, religious artifacts, and people in an American setting. Normally I can’t; but there are other fruits to this manuscript and its parts. I remember, the first time I read Rolling, being blown away by the bravery of an author being willing to put himself into a narrator’s thoughts, to capture them so truly and honestly and to express them without fear that people would mistake them for his own. (Faulkner advised young writers: do not judge your characters. Does this mean that Faulkner embraces every dark, venomous barb voiced by Jason Compton? Of course not. No more than he thinks in diagrams of coffins, or believes Jesus is blameless for killing Nancy. He’s telling us not to hold back, to get rid of the self-protective armour. Comedy is a self-defense mechanism against uncomfortable emotion—embarrassment, hostility, taboo-breaking, humiliation, awkwardness, shame.) There is a certain kind of ironic distance—and certain kind of judgement— most writers put in place, especially when humor is involved, to make it very, very clear to the audience that the author does not share these ugly thoughts...

 

“Teaching ‘Rolling the R’s’ at SFSU” by Wei Ming Dariotis

“I started teaching Rolling the R’s when I first taught the Pilipino Literature class (AAS 363) at San Francisco State University in 1999, and continued to teach it over the next decade in AAS 206: Introduction to Asian American Literature, and in AAS 214: Second Year Composition, when I taught the course focused on queer Asian American literature and when I taught it focused on Asian American men’s issues. I’ve taught this book a lot!

One of the biggest challenges for students is the book’s language (Hawaiian Pidgin is not easy, as I found out in 1997 when I first taught All I Asking for is My Body, by Milton Murayama—students complained that the title was missing a verb!). I am not a native speaker of Hawaiian Pidgin, but Linmark’s work, like other books written in this dialect, will reward the diligent reader who takes the time to quickly look up a few words and phrases. The language is rich and challenging. Much like Zorah Neale Hurston’s capturing of a specific Southern dialect in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Linmark’s achievement in setting this language down in written forms is not to be underestimated. As a creative writer I can attest that writing in “standard” English is the easiest because there are so many models and it is what we are trained in, while writing in dialect is notoriously difficult because we have to rely mostly on our own knowledge...

 

“Kalihi in Farrah/Farrah in Kalihi: Marginalization and Appropriation in ‘Rolling the R’s'” by John Charles Goshert

“Set in 1970s Hawai‘i, Rolling the R’s resonates with confrontational politics and poetics the period’s young Asian American writers developed to explore the dominant racial, gender, and sexual discourses that structured their marginalization. Specifically, Linmark recalls cultural reappropriation practices by members of theAiiieeeee! group, such as Frank Chin and Jeffrey Paul Chan, who used ironic affirmation of dominant stereotypes and narratives as a key strategy of undermining their efficacy. Chin, for instance, reconfigured the historically pejorative “Chinaman” as a term that could describe an outlaw political-linguistic hybridity; the empowering Chinaman identity, he believed, was best understood as a “miracle synthetic” which confounded persistent attempts to contain, and in turn, continue to marginalize and degrade Asian Americans (Chickencoop 8). Similarly, LGBT Asian American literature and criticism extend this disruptive tendency by exploiting the ways in which Asian Americans have long been “queerly” positioned along ethnic, national, gender, and sexual axes, both within and against dominant U.S. historical/cultural narratives. Certainly subjected to profound forms of discrimination and marginalization, queer Asian Americans are also uniquely positioned to identify and intervene in what Chin described in 1970 as “all the space that no one was occupying” (Chinaman 111)...

 

“A++++: Zack Linmark’s ‘F For Book Report'” by Micah Perks

“For the 100th year anniversary of Rolling The R’s I wanted to talk about my “bestest bestest” part, “F For Book Report,” the part I’ve taught over a dozen times in classes at UCSC.

“F For Book Report” begins with the teacher’s directions to the students about how to write a book report, which includes a list of traditional questions about theme, character, and conflict, and ends with an exhortation in caps: “NO PIDGIN-ENGLISH ALLOWED.”

The author of the report, Katherine Katrina-Trina Cruz, has chosen to write on Judy Blume’s Forever. Forever defined the 80s generation, at least for girls. In middle school many of us first read about masturbation and menstruation in Judy Blume. Then Forever blew our minds in high school. It’s a frank love story in which the teenage girl has sex and never regrets it. So, Forever: iconic book, but iconic middle class white girl book, and Katherine Katrina-Trina Cruz is about to appropriate it to tell her own story...

 

“For Zack (that is for AALR to celebrate ‘Rolling the R’s’)” by Karen Tei Yamashita

“It’s been awhile. Well, if we’re celebrating how many years of Rolling, is it one hundred already? Okay, it’s not that long ago, but this is not about Rolling. It’s about Zack, Zack as a newbie teacher of creative writing. It’s all very fuzzy now, but I think my colleague Micah Perks and I convinced Zack to come to UC Santa Cruz to teach creative writing for a year, which year I don’t remember. At first he moved into a room in my house dis-occupied by my traveling daughter. But after about a month, my daughter moved back home, so Zack kindly agreed to move into his office. Well, agreed is not really true, but this is a writer who has said that his home is his email address, and it was a pretty big office. Micah helped him haul in a futon bed from her house, and he set up camp in the Kresge creative writing annex. Besides our offices, the annex had a small lounge, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. Perfecto. After awhile, he made friends with another professor who also lived in his office at Kresge College, and pretty soon, Zack knew where to take showers, where to wash and dry his clothing in the coin-operated student laundry, the route to the gym, how to order out for pizza, how to raid the student cafeteria. This business of living out of one’s office was apparently a time-honored tradition...

 

Sunyoung Lee

“I never really thought about this before sitting down to write this, but editing is an incredibly intimate way to experience a book. It’s a bit like walking down the middle of empty, snow-covered Broadway in NYC right after a blizzard; you feel profoundly that no one else will know the street the way you do. It’s a fantasy, of course—an editor is just one of the critical eyes that a book undergoes in its passage to the public. But that sense of possibility is very real—you’re working with a manuscript before it’s entirely, irrevocably set, before it has fully taken on the form that it will have for the rest of its published life, even as the story of your passage through it becomes something tucked away into its seams, unimportant and invisible, like the thread that keeps a book bound together.

I didn’t know any of this when I began working on Rolling the R’s, of course. Rolling was the first book I ever edited. I’d done copy-editing and proofing before, but for Rolling, I was told to take a stab at sequencing. This was an unexpected but not unwelcome responsibility that I took very seriously. What does progression mean in a novel that thumbs its nose at a one-size-fits-all approach to genre? What did readers need to know in order to feel the full impact—the energy and intelligence and aliveness—of each character and each chapter? I remember in particular agonizing about what to suggest for a possible ending—what would be the best way to bring such an agile, multiply voiced book to a close?...

 

“Rolling the R’s” Forum Response: Allan Punzalan Isaac

“I met Zack Linmark in 1996. Rolling the R’s had just been released. Now, almost two decades later, Rolling has become a mainstay in my and many other Asian American literature classes across the United States. Hearing Zack speak about gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, postcolonialism, alternative Englishes, and experiments with genre and voice in his writing has complicated students’ cognitive map of Asian America and American society as a whole. In Rolling as well as in his novel Leche, “place” is woven in as if it were a character that contributes to the web of interpersonal relationships in the work’s development, adding complex layers to the way place and physical movement relate to identity formation. His prose bears the marks of his poetry as found in numerous anthologies and his collection, The Evolution of a Sigh—multi-vocal, lyrical, and irreverent.

From New York to San Francisco and from Honolulu to Manila, Zack has been a generous and generative interlocutor for ideas on literature, teaching, and writing as a process. We continue to discuss trends in American, Asian American, and Philippine writing and the question of our relationship to “home” and diaspora communities and multiple allegiances. His articulation of cultural trends and issues as a writer has contributed productively to my own inquiries as a scholar on race, gender, and sexuality. The following is a recent exchange over email about Rollingwhile I was in New York and he in Manila and San Manuel...

 

R. Zamora Linmark

“This small book would not have survived if not for the scholars/professors/lecturers who taught, and continue to teach, it in their classes, in colleges/universities/high schools (excerpts, though I’ve been told that it’s passed around stealthily among high schoolers). It is because of these teachers that the R’s, well, keep rolling…”

 

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