I use “third world literature” to refer to stories about rampant poverty, inequality, corruption, racism, police brutality. I use “third world literature” to mean stories of hope and happiness where there seems none, of the fantastical and magical that can only occur in such places. I use “third world” not in a colonial-derogatory way, and not in its original reference to the countries that were neither aligned with communism nor capitalism. I use “third world” for lack of a better term. I trust that everyone will immediately understand what I meant by “third world,” if only in some instinctive, popular culture way.
I love reading and seeing stories about the third world because I feel a connection to the themes. Having grown up in the Philippines and then migrating to the U.S., I cannot help but see the stark contrast in lives. This is not a value judgment, merely an observation of facts. I love both countries and I’ve written equally about them. But writings of the third world are always going to be disproportionately fewer than writings of the first world. Even if an immigrant artist such as myself ends up living in a developed country, there’s no guarantee that he’ll write about the past. There is no requirement, and indeed there shouldn’t be. But that means some voices from distant lands are always going to be left unheard in the broader world stage.
In a book I’m currently reading Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat ponders what it means to be an artist living in a different land:
“The immigrant artist shares with all other artists the desire to interpret and possibly remake his or her own world. So though we may not be creating as dangerously as our forebears–though we are not risking torture, beatings, execution, though exile does not threaten us into perpetual silence–still, while we are at work bodies are littering the streets somewhere. People are buried under rubble somewhere. Mass graves are being dug somewhere. Survivors are living in makeshift tent cities and refugee camps somewhere, shielding their heads from the rain, closing their eyes, covering their ears, to shut out the sounds of military ‘aid’ helicopters. And still, many are reading, and writing, quietly, quietly.”
One of the things that sometimes differentiates a third world writer from the unmarked first world writer is the very possibility of owning the word “writer.” There is almost no concept of writing as a serious career path in the former. Nobody upon high school graduation, declares that he or she wishes to become “a writer” in the third world. And even if he or she does, there will almost be no schools to accommodate such a desire.
I hope to dedicate this blog to following all news, stories, movies, literature set in the third world or told by a third world writer. It’s hard enough to be one. Let’s not make it harder to read one.