on being kindred spirits with a diaspora in another world
This is part of a series called Margin Letters, where I write open letters to fictional characters of content I love. Please let me know what you think!
Jinseins are the citizens of Jin-sayeng, a small kingdom ruled by the titular Bitch Queen Talyien aren dar Orenar and her estranged husband, Rayyel aren dar Ikessar. Many of them have moved to the nearby Empire of Ziri-nar-Orxiaro, forming pockets of immigrant communities and serving as an important source of labor. Only the events of the first two books, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and Ikessar Falcon are covered in this post. Book 3, The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng is recently released this month. Spoilers ahead!
“Why did you move here?”
You have probably get asked this question a thousand times before, and I bet that even over time, the answers have never gotten easier. You probably have shortcuts by now, especially when you do not have the time to unload a generation’s worth of pain: We have better work here. The government back home sucks. This is better. I just need a fresh start.
I’ve heard the same questions, and I’ve made my own shortcuts as well. The vague and brief answers I give satisfy a regular person who is just making small talk, but honestly, they leave me hollow every single time. Sometimes, I want to snap and retort that even asking reveals a whole world of privilege where one did not have to face this reality.
What moves a person to uproot themselves and their entire family from the only home they have known to a totally foreign land? No contacts. No sure friends. No assurances of a stable job or even a clean place to live in. No security of citizenship, at least for the first few years. No rights–economic, legal, or sometimes even human–are accorded. Most of the time, not even a modicum of respect. The question, “Why did you move here?” only serves to underscore the years of hardship, of the wars waged over land titles and of the battles a humble clerk without any connections has no hope to win.
The worst part is, your Beloved Queen–the very person who should know why her people would choose the slums of Dar Aso and the discrimination from Xiarans over the richness of Jin-Sayeng–is the one asking it. How dare she? How dare she not know?
The Queen has no idea of the community we have carved for ourselves in these alien lands that continue to reject us. Night after night, the diaspora huddles in its safe spaces: yours in the gin-soaked taverns of Dar Aso heavily monitored by the City Watch, and ours in the house churches operating in secret from the CID. Night after night, I listen to stories of what is going on back home–either snippets of letters from relatives or memories–in heavily accented Filipino, or in your case, Jinan. Sometimes we even play a game of Guess-the-Province, which is not so much a matter of mockery than a recognition of kinship ties and an intense longing to hear a reminder of home, even in an accent that fades with each passing day.
In the middle of the revelry, I see you put your heads in your hands and rub the soreness in your muscles, all while trying to enjoy the last few hours of freedom before another death-defying work shift. The loudest uncles who would yell for another round are also the same ones who immediately clam up when the ibang lahi walk by, too conditioned by the screaming and unjust punishments from these masters. But who were they to complain, they would whisper, if this is simply how this new land is run? Keep your head down too, little darling, they would say as they pat my head. It’s better if they don’t notice you at all.
And unlike the popular notion back home that you don’t care anymore about the country you have left behind, you actively keep yourselves up to date. When the letters go silent and the memories are back on repeat, you haunt the docks for any sign of passengers who might have been to your hometown. You hunger for news and talk about political affairs of Jin-Sayeng, all while worrying about the situation of relatives back home and planning escape routes to another province in case war breaks out. You have theories of what leadership should be. You know that you are not being treated right in either country, but you also go through the guilt of at least having marginally better lives in this Empire.
This is our home at the moment, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
This community is still part of Jin-Sayeng. Even though it is a sea away, it is and should be part of the people these nobles have sworn to protect. “We are swords first, servants first.” Isn’t that how their saying goes? The Queen herself should at least have an inkling of the hardships that drew us together, but no. She still asks why. She has no qualms of leaving her men behind, her fellow Jinsein behind to suffer the violence from Zarojo masters.
But the swords are pointed toward us, and we are hacked down in service to the throne. Our lives matter little in light of the power struggle between the Ikessars and the legacy of Yeshin the Butcher, Yeshin Berdugo.
How then do we suffer this betrayal? How can we bear more retaliation for the games our nobles play? How many more lives do we lose as pawns in their political schemes? All my parents want is to go back home and finally be free of the empire that sorely needs but continually rejects them. All we ask is a show of solidarity from our rulers, don’t we? A sign that we are seen as worthy of respect?
Is it easier to not care what happens to us since the Queen and her retinue can go back home and live normal lives? Do we matter less?
It’s too much to ask to wait for our Beloved Queen to come to her senses and defend us and not her father. Every moment that she hesitates and falls back on the narrow-mindedness of her privilege is a death in our own ranks. A fire. An unjust arrest. An unclaimed body in the city morgues. A massacre that can easily be swept under the rug. A thousand slowly dying beneath the noses of broken bureaucracies.
But will anything change if we join the ranks of the Shadows? Will the likes of Dai alon gar Kaggawa truly champion our families back home and make the land rich enough to provide for us? Will the rot in the system be cleansed, and will the landed elite simply paint over the palace trimmings with their names? Will assassination do the trick, or will it only birth more heads that will wage war with our children over their imagined hurts?
Talyien aren dar Orenar and Dai alon gar Kaggawa: are they our only options?
I don’t know. I have no clear answers. Will our anger feed the bellies of our children? Will our voices keep them safe from state forces–both Zarojo and fellow Jinsein, both my parents’ hosts and my fellow Filipino–who have no regard for ordinary human lives?
My parents have heard me scream about this, and they know how much it pains me to watch them bow. In the middle of the night, they would hold me and tell me about the glittering fishponds of Pangasinan over and over until I fall asleep. Someday, anak, they would whisper, we will finally be home. Someday this will be over. For now, you are safe here. My anger cannot save them at the moment, and might even put them in danger. My anger would have to wait. For now, I write to you, hoping that your many voices would amplify mine.
This is a hard letter to write, and even harder to admit that I am taking up your precious time by offering no solutions. As we mourn the deaths of Saka and other unnamed Jinseins and as we fear for the lives of countless others who will be punching bags for the men whose egos our Queen has offended, I also stand vigil for the lives of my fellow Filipinos both here and abroad. While I write, my cellphone pings with updates: headlines that scream violence and hate and apathy; crying emojis from my sister who is too tired to find the words for all the injustices committed against them today; and pleas for food and support from officials who have turned away from their oaths to serve.
But we are no mere pawns. We are more numerous than our rulers. In my world, the diaspora and the mainland have already begun to realize the work needed to oust our sitting president Rodrigo Duterte, whose unyielding ego has endangered and killed so many Filipinos both here and abroad.
I hear that the streets of Jin-sayeng are slowly being filled with people who have had enough, of people who see no point to the brewing civil war. You might think these people are mad, but I plead you to listen to what they have to say. They share your stories. You share their names. You are all Jinsein. You are Jin-Sayeng.
Unlike the Philippines where our ruler revels in darkness and blood, I think there is still hope for Queen Talyien. She has begun to lose her confidence in the power and privilege that blinds her to the real Jin-Sayeng. To us. She is now less hesitant to let heads roll. She listens to your tavern talk. She has begun to question the power her father holds over her own mind, and I hope that she replaces Yeshin’s voice with our own.
She has only begun the process of saving her own self, and though I don’t like putting stock in heroes or miracles, I’m sure that she cannot rebuild a country that she does not yet fully know. The road home to Jin-Sayeng is paved with blood and violence, and we can only trust that Tali is strong enough to forge the path for us.
I just hope that she is not too late.
If she finally makes it home, then maybe there is also hope for us.
Your ally in arms,
- Have you read the first two books of the series? Have you finished them or have they finished you?
- Are you also part of a diaspora community? Big hugs.
- To my fellow Filipinos, how do we deal with the grief that we are still second-class citizens in our own country?