I grew up in the Philippines, where I survived a Catholic brood of over forty-seven first cousins. It was part of our family custom to swap stories over hot dinners and afternoon snacks we called “merienda.” But while our oral tradition as Filipinos was strong, our written one left much to be desired. Nobody ever wrote anything down. Many stories, we were ashamed of. For others, we couldn’t seem to find the right words.
When I was young, my paternal grandmother was posthumously honored as a national hero for housing revolutionaries during martial law under the Marcos administration. But when my dad and his siblings talked after the ceremony, their recollections were a mish-mash of conflicting memories that didn’t quite fit together. I wonder how many stories about my Abuelita (Spanish for little grandmother) have been lost, forgotten. As my Dad gets older, I’ve become the storyteller, reminding him of the memories he shared with me when I was younger.
The idea that stories can—and often do—get lost forever is one of the saddest things in the world for me. And it’s not just stories of my hero Abuelita that deserve our memories, but it is stories of my parents, how they met, what my Dad looked like, statuesque, broad-shouldered, the chiseled slant of his brow, before everything became crooked, engorged, and slumped over. I grew up in a place where language was inadequate, unbound by rules. We spoke not one tongue, but two, awkwardly sewn together like a verbal Frankenstein. I could only express myself with borrowed phrases from English, Spanish, Tagalog. But I wanted to be a storyteller and I had faith that stories transcend language.
I left Manila when I was seventeen to study English Literature at Brown. I wanted to be a novelist. But I discovered writing novels was too lonely for my taste, so I went to the place I thought told the best stories: Pixar. Having grown up with movies like “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” I was happy to just to be able to work there and be a part of their storytelling process. But as a Technical Artist, the writer in me felt unsatisfied. I knew there was much more in me that I had to give. I dreamed about one day writing my own stories, sharing my father’s stories, the stories of people like me, with the rest of the world.
It was at Pixar that I discovered screenwriting. Something about the screen—the visuals, the sense of adventure we feel when we see new worlds —feels so alive. Being able to show people experiences so far beyond our own social, professional, even existential realities allows writers to connect with viewers as people in a way that simple words on a page cannot. And for what reason should anyone write, if not to move another person? I write because I believe stories transcend culture and language. They are the way we celebrate our common humanity.