An Interview with The Brown Orient's Founder Elizabeth Ruth Deyro

ELIZABETH RUTH DEYRO is a 21-year-old poet, essayist, editor, and creative from Laguna, Philippines, with a BA in Communication Arts, focused on creative and critical writing from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She is a published writer, with works included in independently produced print and online anthologies, literary journals, and media outlets, such as sea foam mag, Rising Phoenix Review, Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, The Tempest, and The Poetry Annals, featured in Silenced Museum's Intervention Exhibition in Autumn 2018, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work as a writer and an editor has also been profiled in Maudlin House, Luna Luna Magazine, follow the halo, TERSE., and Mentor Menu MNL. She is the Associate Editor of Half Mystic, and an editorial staff of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She will be editing and publishing a standalone poetry anthology entitled Reclaim. Read more about her at elizabethruthdeyro.weebly.com.

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Editor-In-Chief Kanika Lawton had the opportunity to speak with The Brown Orient’s founder Elizabeth Ruth Deyro on TBO’s beginnings, future endeavours, and the importance of providing spaces for marginalized voices. As two creatives whose identities converged along the lines of what it means to be Brown Asian women, Kanika and Elizabeth spoke at length about the problematics of an all-encompassing “Asian” identity that ignores West, South, and Southeast Asian identities, navigating what it means to be represented in publishing and beyond, and how to push allyship towards creating an equitable space within our online literary communities.

KANIKA LAWTON: Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for sitting down to speak with us today!

ELIZABETH RUTH DEYRO: It's my pleasure, Kanika! Thank you for having me.

As a fellow biracial, Brown Asian woman, I was very excited to see The Brown Orient grow and develop, but I was also disheartened since there have not been many spaces for Brown Asian women and femmes before TBO came along. How have the lack of representation for Brown Asia influence the conception of TBO, and what do you think needs to be done to further bridge this gap?

Oh, this lack of representation is exactly what brought The Brown Orient to life. I envision the journal to not only serve as a literary platform to showcase words of the marginalized, but also to become the inception of a greater movement. Our name literally implies a reclamation of the Asian identity: a nudge to the rest of the world that Asia is not single-faced, unlike how we are often portrayed as. For so long, people seem to just listen to East Asians, so much so that the term "Asian" is only ever associated with them. But we Brown Asians exist, and it is about time that people stop ignoring the fact that we have so much to offer. I do believe that founding The Brown Orient is already a big, crucial step to forward this cause, and I am very humbled that several people and publications have supported this project since our launch. However, a venue in the independent arts community is but a simple initiative in comparison to what is needed for us to actually reclaim our place. I think what would make the most significant change is if the mainstream media actually recognizes and does something about this very issue. Media impacts people heavily; everything we consume, we have a great chance to internalize. Media might have been the very means by which this conscious erasure of the Brown Asian narrative has arisen and developed; I believe that it will also be the means to correct this, so to speak. We need more Brown Asian characters to be called as "Asian". We need to forget the misconception that all "Asians" are fair-skinned and have slanted eyes. Indians are Asians. Filipinos are Asians. Pakistanis are Asians. When you say "Asians", make sure that you use the term as an inclusive word to refer to all of us; otherwise, better not use it at all.

The conversation around representation of Asians in literature and media have grown in recent years, yet have (seemingly) focused solely on East Asians and East Asian-American representation. You have spoken out about the marginalization of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and West Asian voices and narratives before, but how would you like to see the conversation change to include all Asians from all regions?

What we often fail to address is how, even if East Asians remain to be a part of the general marginalized sect as persons of color, they still hold a massive advantage in comparison to us Brown people. This may be a result of power play from hierarchical relations, and honestly there is no point in denying it. This was why I opted to create a venue exclusively for the rest of Asia instead of founding one for the entirety: because people already listen to them—perhaps not always, and definitely not the way they and everyone else deserves to be heard, but they are visible. We Brown Asians have to fight for our space even in this community, two-fold. Regardless, I still wish to curate a venue inclusive to all Asian voices, one that will be fair for all. After all, the idea is to raise the voices of the less represented regions of Asia in hopes to reach the same plane as East Asia. This is one of my plans for the future, although I am unsure if I would launch it as a standalone project or as a special folio of The Brown Orient

Although TBO is a relatively young publication, it has grown rapidly since its conception (congratulations!) Where do you see yourself taking the magazine one year, or even five years, from now? How do you envision TBO's growth and development?

I have so many plans for The Brown Orient, but of course, as an emerging publication made up of a small team of volunteers, thorough planning is necessary and will likely take time. What readers can look forward to is, firstly, an online community that we will be launching on Facebook, inspired by L'Ephemere Review's Transitory and Luna Luna Magazine's own Facebook community. This one will be exclusive to Brown Asians, and will be a space to share projects, meet new people, promote their own publications, hatch ideas and maybe spark collaboration. It's exciting, and definitely necessary in my opinion. I've received so many heartfelt messages from readers and previous contributors thanking me for creating The Brown Orient, and I figured that perhaps a venue where they can actually interact with other Brown Asian creatives would be of great help.

I also intend to turn TBO into a press, which will release digital micro-chapbooks. Print issues are also always on the table, but since we are a volunteer-run team, we currently lack enough funding to push through with this idea.

This is the biggest idea of all, but one I really want to see come true: I plan to stick to what I claim, that The Brown Orient is more than just a journal. TBO can be turned into a collective of some sort, producing not only journal issues and chapbooks but also live events and exhibits.

These are grand ideas from an idealistic perspective, but I do think that with the people who support us deeply, we'd get to accomplish these things and more. 

TBO is in partnerships with a number of publications (including us here at L'ÉR). What drove you to begin forming these kind of partnerships and support systems with other journals?

Yes! These partnerships really are just casual, contrary to what people think. Putting a label on it makes things more formal, so to speak, but the terms remain. Usual terms for partnership include mutual promotion on and off social media, opportunities to collaborate with us for future projects, option to request for reviews from us for any publication released by the journal or a staff member of the journal. These terms are flexible and can definitely be altered upon discussion with the editor-in-chief of the partner journal. The partnerships are basically just a way to build and strengthen community among like-minded folks. When I first started submitting in and applying for literary journals, I found comfort in the company of particular people who were just so supportive of my craft. I wanted to forge more relations of the similar vein with creatives from Brown Asia and those who value the similar advocacy that I forward. I do believe that consistency is a crucial part to community-building, and a formalized sort of affiliation between two collectives is a fitting venue to practice such.

What type of work would you like to see more of, and what would you say to fellow Brown Asian writers who may want to publish work with you?

Generally, I want to hear from more writers and artists from Central Asia and the Southwest Asia. We've been well-received by Southeast Asian and South Asian creatives, but of course, we always aim to represent each of our showcased regions. I also have a soft spot for creative nonfiction. Reading work lifted from personal experiences is essentially witnessing writers offer a part of themselves to the editors and readers, which to me is simply humbling.

What I want to tell Brown Asian writers and artists who may be interested in contributing to TBO is simple: do connect with us, write to us, and share your work. Do not hesitate. Please believe in the power of your work, and know that TBO is a venue specially created for you. You are always welcome here, and we are rooting for you.

What type of changes would you like to see happen in the greater literary community in terms of representation, allyship, and levelling the playing field for marginalized writers to create in a safer environment? In what ways, do you think, we can implement these kind of changes in our own communities, as writers and editors?

We are relatively new, so I always feel quite at the sidelines when talking about issues pertaining to the greater literary community. Still, we believe in this community and are truly grateful to be a part of it, and we will always want to protect the members of the community who values. Recent events have been significantly difficult for our friends, who were directly harassed by particular individuals with unjust principles. I am especially saddened by how one article by a mainstream media outlet defended these manipulative people, even painting the actual victims in a dark light. This was not the first one that I and The Brown Orient have encountered, and sadly, I do not expect that it would be the last. What I do hope for is a stronger allyship in response to such situations. It is, after all, indicative of the present state of the community—problematic personal politics held by key members say a lot about the lapses of the community as a whole, especially when we claim to be inclusive for all identities. This community, as any community, should have room for everyone but those who worship bigotry. What makes the presence of such personalities much more harmful in the case of the literary community is how this space was supposed to be a safe haven for artistic expression. I do believe that a lot of community members already acknowledge this lapse and actually speak up about it (including you!), but perhaps a relatively great part remains silent, be it in fear or indifference. For us to resolve such issues, we must first engage more people and let them in on the conversation, help them recognize the problem before moving ahead with concrete steps to fix it. Doing so would be easy, but it's the process of convincing people to care, to understand that they are still affected even if indirectly—that's what will be rigorous. 

We need more platforms for the marginalized, and less opportunities for harassers to harm victims. We need more editors who are strong-willed and principled, who know how and when to speak up about the injustices that are sadly still faced by members of this community. We need more people, in general, who will break the silence, but more than that, we need people who will listen.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, and congratulations on the release of your third issue! We look forward to reading many more issues from TBO in the future! 

Thank you for letting me speak about The Brown Orient! I look forward to L'Éphemère Review's forthcoming issues and projects as well!

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Photo by Eldon Vince Isidro on Unsplash