You have reached the main content

Literature as a Language for Migrants - an interview with Kuwait’s Pluma

On July 5, 2014

Less than a year old, Kuwait-based Pluma is a literary migrant guild focused on migrant narratives. The group endeavors to bridge the citizen-migrant divide by encouraging informed discourse on migration literature and by creating a space for migrants to co-identify with shared experiences. In the following interview, we spoke with group members about their strategies and aspirations for this novel initiative. Can you first tell us about Pluma and why was it founded?

PLUMA is a cross-cultural advocacy group consisting of writers who are interested in Migration Literature. It was founded on September 14, 2013. During the initial stage of putting up the group, we searched for people who are not only passionate about writing but also eager to connect with other nationalities. There were some trials at first but only those who stood by the group’s objectives survived, although the group is still open in welcoming new members, whether they are expat or citizen, it doesn’t matter, as long as they are interested in Migration Literature and are brave enough to leave their comfort zones behind. Pluma realizes the value of challenging socio-cultural divides and penetrating ethnic discords. It is our responsibility as writers to not only write and get published but to also effect change as peacefully as possible. PLUMA was founded out of need, the need for the personal and social obligation to be performed. Moreover, check out our blog if you wish to be updated on our activities or learn more about our writers.

MR: How do you plan to reach out for migrants and engage them in your project?

We are keen in reaching out to the public through multilingual literature, or shall we say, Literature in the language of the migrant. We’d also like to encourage other migrants by writing about and for them, and making these writings available in all possible forms. Apart from publications, we plan to collaborate with other advocacy groups, not only in Kuwait but also abroad through forums and workshops, online or offline. In fact, we just carried out an event called Pluma + Kuwait Mapping Meetup at TIES Centre last May 16, 2014, discussing crowdmaps of domestic help abuse not only in Kuwait but also in the entire Middle East. It was a joint discussion between Pluma and Kuwait Mapping Meetup with an Ushahidi correspondent, who is also the creator of the crowdmap, through a video call and an open forum. One of our members also attended the cross-cultural diwaniya organized by EQUAIT last May 26. We are also currently working on our first project which is a chapbook of epistolary poems.

MR: Will you be cooperating with any institutions in Kuwait?

Perhaps, we could work with NGOs like human rights groups, cross-cultural organizations, and literary societies that are promoting cross-cultural dialogue. We have plans of expanding as well as reaching out and partnering with social groups that are willing to cooperate with us.

MR: Why have you chosen English as your medium language, and do you plan to bring more texts in other languages?

So far, we are writing mostly in English and in Filipino, until we find translators or bilingual writers to join us. We always welcome new members and even volunteers.

MR: You mention literature as a 'bridge' for dialogue, do you think such aim is feasible in Kuwait considering the segregation between citizens and migrants?

It is possible if we continue getting published in various media like magazines, blogs, and social networking sites to get into the local population. By promoting the cause to non-reading population and we believe we are getting there; to get to expat communities and find locals by challenging viewpoints through practical approach. By going to common meeting places until we find our common ground and take off from there. Literature lives forever. We are not only writing for the present generation but for the future as well, and it’s our chance to ask these societies to contribute and work as one. Of course, locals are also migrants someplace else. So from this perspective we have a common ground and they can share their experiences with the public not only as a citizen but as a migrant, as well. We also wish to tap dual citizens and gather their experiences by encouraging them to open up. Another thing is that translation is important in this advocacy. And through translation/transliteration, dialogue is feasible. It will always be. Literature, if planted with good intentions, will bear an idea that can transcend beyond citizens and migrants.

MR: Have you faced any difficulties so far?

Yes. We received feedback about focusing on domestic help abuse and we're being challenged to also tackle abuse cases on locals. Of course, we appreciate the feedback which is seldom, and it helps in our awareness as well. All we need is to address such feedback or criticism with an open mind but we refuse to be defensive or be shaken and suppressed. We are more than glad to welcome criticism because we couldn't deny the fact that all of us may have contradicting outlook. Acknowledging this will only show our humanity and receptivity toward various opinions. If we openly discuss the statistics and not be biased with the facts then we are giving people space to confide. It is important to get first-hand stories from those who experienced abuse in order to remove assumptions and falsification, and also to stop generalizing which we all know makes people uncomfortable. This is only possible, however, by braving to cross social boundaries and putting aside cultural walls. We need multilingual speakers, too. Apathy is also an obstacle. Some people know what’s going on but no one acts upon it. It is one of the aims of the group to tap specific cultural "problems" from each country, to be comfortable and become allies instead of enemies. On another note, some of us have difficulty reconciling our schedules.

MR: Do you think self-censorship is one of these difficulties, since migrants are most vulnerable under law and might fear persecution?

Of course we are aware that we could get jailed or summoned for one or two of our pieces. But even some local writers face similar problems. Every writer, in one way or another, deal with such threat. Every writer is at risk of misinterpretation, and we try to be prepared as it is unavoidable. Nevertheless, writing is what we are passionate in doing. Advocacies have risks, especially when one empowers people. But we could rid our writings of stereotypes even though we are not limiting our voice. After all, being human requires self-censorship. We are censoring our conversation with people everyday without even realizing it. We always find another way to curse a person, a system, or a situation while taking care not to offend others (or maybe just offending them enough). We expect our readers to be intelligent and tolerant enough to decide which is offensive or not, considering their multicultural backgrounds, we cannot avoid conflict. Without conflict there could be no dialogue.