Terra Pericolosa is an Italian phrase for “dangerous land” that was used originally in cartography to designate territories – usually unmapped or only partially documented – where the traveller might find themselves in peril.
Recently my father, who lives in regional Victoria, used Google Maps to see where I live in Brisbane, Queensland, calling me afterwards to say, “I can see your car, right there in your driveway!” It was an oddly creepy and endearing interchange. I simultaneously wondered if my dad had too much time on his hands and felt warmed by the fact that he cared enough to want to see my house, and to ask what I was doing with the garden, which Google Maps has immortalised in a rather desperate state.
Seems everything is on the map these days.
In this era of inescapable global positioning, tracking, closed circuit television, social media tagging and checking in, surely there are no longer any uncharted lands? We seem to need to know exactly where we are, who we are with and what we are doing all the time; mystery has lost its cache and replaced with the ubiquitous GPS.
Or is there something still seductively concrete about the map, and by association being “on it”? There has been a fantastic upsurge in writing and discussion about Asian Australia of late: anthologies, festival panels and the like. It feels a little like Asian Australian writers are successfully inscribing themselves into a cultural landscape, marking themselves as legitimate occupants of that territory and space. Presumably, as we surge forward in the “Asian Century”, there will be even more ways in which contemporary Australian society looks to pleat the map and bring these two geographies closer together.
Here at Peril, we are curious as to the ways that our writers, poets and storytellers might contribute to that conceptual and cultural origami – and equally interested in acknowledging the limitations of the mapping analogy. Obviously, there’s more than geographical legitimacy at play here. Perhaps those very limitations to geography highlight why we are still so fascinated by emotional and creative landscapes, those places that are so much more difficult to find, slippery define and therefore navigate?
In the coming days, Peril Prose Editor, Lian Low, and I will be profiling a series of Asian Australian poets, writers and playwrights, asking them questions as to how they define (or do not define) their identities as they respond to the themes of terra, land and place. In effect, we are making a Peril Map, a virtual, geographic anthology of writers whose work we admire and whose practices we see contributing to that metaphorical landscape that is Asian Australia, the unknown, perilous, only partially charted territory.
In doing so, we are looking to not only profile a range of emerging and established Asian Australian writers, but also to generate a new issue format to your Peril experience, with regular content updates rather than a singular issue launch. Hopefully you get more Asian Australian arts and culture more regularly in your life, and we get the chance to spark interesting conversations with key practitioners in the area and subsequently you.
But let’s get back to that map.
In medieval times, perilous, uncharted areas were often marked with dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures, which gave rise to the practice of mapping uncharted areas with the phrase “here be dragons.” There’s a pleasing kind of wordplay between the Italianate terra pericolosa and the traditional Chinese symbology of dragons in the mapping context. Let’s go exploring and see what we find.
In the spirit of shared disclosure, both Lian and I will be sharing short works in response to the theme as well. We’re all coming from our own unique places, but here is one work of mine – pinned to my lovely early home in St Albans, Melbourne, Victoria.
I don’t speak Tagalog
Although I don’t think that is entirely my fault;
it is so much more fashionable now, for children
to produce adorably garbled sentences,
requests for appeasing sweets and rides on the pony, spliced between
the mother tongue and the father tongue.
Back, however, when I was young, it was all about fitting in,
skinning your knees at backyard footy
encouraging freckles and having crushes on boys with red hair.
No one thought it ideal to have your children stand out;
indeed, we begged for vegemite sandwiches.
My mother was working on her Ingglés then too –
why confuse the issue? Though we knew
to give our names, and then the blessing, to older Filipinos who asked:
Anó ang pangalan mo?
Having disinherited myself from all that might be
(had only I been a better Filipino daughter)
I sometimes sit bored at family parties and only occasionally
let on that: Hindî ko maintindihan.
I’ve no idea what you just said.
Ironically, my mother “worked her fingers to the bone,
so I wouldn’t have to live with poor people in Asia”,
sending me to the kind of school that let me read
Camus in the original French and made me ashamed to be ethnic.
Maria Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino died,
to barely a ripple on the Australian news
and barely a ripple for me although, coincidentally, we had been in Manila,
holed up in some hotel, watching Sesame Street
while below there was a “People Power Revolution”.
Though some obtusely compliment and say I am not “very Filipino”,
I am still Filipino-Catholic enough
I lit a candle for her in my head
and thought of José Rizal, another of their revolutionaries, who said:
He who does not look back to his origin,
will never reach his destination.