Rina Garcia Chua: September 2020 Scholar of the Month

ASLE’S Scholar of the Month for September 2020 is Rina Garcia Chua. 

Rina Garcia Chua is currently a PhD Candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. She is the editor of Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry (2018) and is working on an edited collection, Empire and Environment: Confronting Ecological Ruination in the Transpacific, with Heidi Hong, Jeffrey Santa Ana, and Xiaojing Zhou, forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press in 2021; Rina is also the Diversity Co-Officer for the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) and Poetry Editor of The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada.

How did you become interested in studying ecocriticism and/or the environmental humanities?

I grew up in Manila, Philippines, but in its southern-most portion and in an old white house that was surrounded by two gigantic, feral vacant lots. I reveled in those vacant lots, the backyard forests as I called them – planting and harvesting moringa, waiting for fresh mangoes or coconuts to drop from the trees, eating nectar from the gumamela flowers, and with ten dogs, a couple of lab rats (kept as pets), hamsters, chickens, goats, and the occasional snakes. We were also an hour’s drive away from stunning beaches and hot springs; I consider myself very lucky.

However, when I was pursuing my Master’s Degree in Literature in a university that was situated in the heart of Manila and feeling lost as to what to pursue for my thesis, I was suddenly caught in one of the most devastating floods ever to hit the city. Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) quickly inundated our streets and swallowed the whole metro within hours. Unfortunately, I was still in the university at that time and had to walk, swim, wade, run through and into the floods for five hours so I could get home. I remember distinctly thinking – exhausted and functioning on adrenaline – as I walked through traffic lights blinking blue, What else can I do? I can survive, yes, but after this, what else? I needed my scholarship to be my activism – for my research to be the remembrance of that evening wading in the flood, and for the remembrance of those who were lost and continued to be lost to these calamities. I also desired my scholarship to marry the “north” and “south” places with me: the memories of my childhood and the flashes of my city in ruins.

Within a month, I believe, I stumbled upon Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism (perhaps the only ecocritical text in my university at that time) and everything else fell into place.

Who is your favorite environmental artist, writer, or filmmaker? Or what is your favorite environmental text? Why?

My focus is on ecopoetry, so I will begin with ecopoets from the Philippines – Filipina-Australian Merlinda Bobis weaves some of the most fantastic imageries of island life and living through magic realism (Fish Hair Woman and Banana Heart Summer), while S.E.A. Write Awardee Marjorie Evasco (who is one of my beloved mentors) creates specific imagery about home in a language that speaks to the soul (her poetry collection, Dreamweavers, is a standout). In Canada, where I currently am residing, I return to Billy-Ray Belcourt often (his This Wound is a World is heartbreakingly brilliant), Don McKay, and UBCO Professor Nancy Holmes. Right now, I have been keen on poetry by Craig Santos-Perez (I attended a reading of his in Honolulu, Hawaii last year during a conference and he moved me to tears with his words) and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

As a fellow editor of an anthology, my constants when it comes to ecopoetry anthologies are The Ecopoetry Anthology by Anne Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, Nancy Holmes’ Open Wide a Wilderness, Yvonne Blomer’s Refugium, and Ghost Fishing, of course! Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change is also, I believe, one of the best anthologies out there – it is collected texts and photographs from Filipinx artists that juxtapose with one another in the remembrance of the devastation and victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a couple of things, as I always seem to find myself to be. I am a co-editor of a manuscript that is forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press in Fall 2021. It is entitled Empire and Environment: Confronting Ecological Ruination in the Transpacific, which stems from the first ASLE panel I attended back in Detroit, 2017. I am working with my co-panelists on this manuscript, who are now my dear friends: Heidi Hong, Jeffrey Santa Ana, and Xiaojing Zhou, and we are currently in its final stages of editing for submission to our publisher.

Greg Garrard (who is my supervisor) and I are also completing an essay entitled Stop Close Reading Now for the collection Close Reading in the Anthropocene, which links closely to my dissertation. We are exploring the analysis of motivated form in ecopoetry and how this is to be seriously considered when teaching ecopoetry (and in ecological literacy).

My dissertation, The Ecological Literacy of a Migrant Ecocriticism, is an attempt to methodologically deterritorialize ecocriticism by creating a productive space of proximity for “marginalized” writers to be in conversation with canonical writers when it comes to ecopoetry and ecocritical theory. My focus is to, perhaps, create a migrant reading practice that argues how we are all migrants – that we are created from spaces that we become intimate with as our many movements are realized and reflected upon. Thus, to engage with these movements (that is more apparent now more than ever), the field has to navigate away from its centre in order to be productive and to progress. This is a risky body of work as I am focusing on the poems (and not on the theory) to guide me, and I do not have a clear conclusion or methodology (basically I am inventing the methodology as I write along) to follow. Literally, I am allowing the ecopoems to “speak”; if they keep silent I’m in a lot of trouble!

What is something you are reading right now (environmental humanities-related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally? Comment briefly on why or how it inspires you.

For my dissertation, I have been reading and re-reading Derek Attridge’s The Singularity of Literature as his ideas reflect a lot of mine as well. For my own pleasure, I’ve been reading a lot of books by IBPOC writers (Heidi Hong has inspired me to be more intentional in the books I choose and read, and now I also try to read more IBPOC women writers), specifically Robyn Maynard’s Policing Black Lives (I am GRA of the Public Humanities Hub – Okanagan, and this book is our first selection for our Book Club) and Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. The latter book has been loved by the forest rain after a camping trip, but I am still striving to finish it when I can.

Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you? Why?

I do not want to go down the supervisor route, since that is a given, but I am enamored of Astrida Neimanis. I am about to start reading Bodies of Water as I’ve heard so many good things about it. I am also in constant awe of Ursula Heise – seeing her sit down during our ASLE panel back in Davis was such a thrill as I’ve carried some of her books with me across an ocean. Here in Canada, I follow Rita Wong and Jeanette Armstrong (also from UBCO) and their works and advocacies closely.