Romalyn Ante sat down recently to answer five questions about her Jhalak Prize-shortlisted debut poetry collection, ANTIEMETIC FOR HOMESICKNESS. Huge thanks to Romalyn for her insights, and to the Jhalak Prize for facilitating.
Congratulations on your Jhalak Prize shortlisting. Can you tell us a little more about your book? What inspired you to write it?
Thank you so much. Antiemetic for Homesickness explores what it means to be exiled through employment. What it means to leave your country to take care of others whilst you cannot take care of your own family or (sometimes) even yourself. When I migrated to the UK at sixteen years old to live with my mother, who is an NHS nurse, I always looked for our narratives in the British literary landscape. However, I could not find any stories about or by us. There are 40,000 Filipino nurses in the UK: we are the second-highest migrant nationality in the NHS, Indian being the first. During the pandemic, there have been high death rates amongst the Filipino nursing community in both the UK and the US. But who views us as more than just cogs in this big machine? More than just numbers? Our narrative has been going on for decades, even before the pandemic. I wrote Antiemetic for Homesickness to shed light on the community and the career that I love and to explore the human cost of living and loving.
How does it feel to be shortlisted?
As a 1.25 generation migrant who chose to make Britain my new home and as someone who came from a non-literary background and writes in my second language, I feel so honoured and humbled to be shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize. But most especially, I feel so grateful because the Jhalak Prize provides a platform where my book can be acknowledged. Being shortlisted helps me to share our narratives, too.
How important is your local bookshop to your community?
I believe that our local bookshops play a significant role in the growth and distribution of arts and literature. I felt so happy when independent bookshops in other counties, countries even, contact me to say that my book has ‘sold out’. Our bookshops help cultivate our literary and readership ecosystem and I’m so thankful they exist.
What do you hope that readers will take away from reading your book?
During my first year in the UK, back in 2005, someone asked me where I was from. I said, ‘I’m from the Philippines’. Then he asked, ‘So, are you Korean?’ I hope to inform readers of the story of Overseas Filipino Workers, especially migrant nurses. What are our dreams and predicaments, and who we are as human beings. I want to illustrate a sense of personal, familial and political fracture. Nowadays, when all of us are exiled from the people and the things we love, I also want to help the readers find their own sense of healing, their own antiemetic.
The Jhalak Prize celebrates its 5th Anniversary this year. What are your wishes for the Prize over the next 5 years?
I pray for the Jhalak Prize to prosper because prizes like this are not only necessary but also revolutionary. I believe there are many more writers whose narratives need a platform to truly shine, and there are millions of readers who need to know our stories. The Jhalak Prize allows the writers to be understood, and the readers to understand more. And through that understanding, empathy can be born.