Writing as a Mirror: Janice Sapigao on Her Upcoming Book, microchips for millions

Janice Sapigao is the daughter of Filipina/o immigrants. Preparing for the launch of her first book, microchips for millions, we sat down to find out more about the San Jose born poet, writer and educator and what's behind the poetry book that highlights the toxic work of Silicon Valley.


Janice's mom with a work face cover
What is the inspiration behind microchips for millions?

microchips for millions came out of a political urgency with emotional expediency to get the story out. I have a tendency to write under the impression that I have to write or else I would die. A lot of that comes from my dad, grief and injustice have a similar effect in my body; they live in the same place. microchips for millions came out of wanting to write against injustice, but it also came out of grieving the way my mom lost her job every so often when I was growing up. Not having a job, or losing one can feel like a death. That's where I started writing the book.

What can writing do that isn't like anything else?

Writing can literally change someone's world. I really believe in writing as a mirror, some kind of reflection that tells people about themselves and their world.

That kind of magic or power is actually inside you, as the reader and as the writer. It’s very physical, it’s very spiritual, and also really transformative in that way, but writing too often gets a bad rap. People seldom see it operate in a way that allows them to re-discover anything about themselves or their world.

How did you start storytelling?

This is going to sound really weird, but when I was younger I used to watch soap operas with my mom. In one show where the scene ended suddenly I made up the rest in my head. I find myself doing that now; I create my own stories in my head before I go to bed, and I’ve kept a journal ever since I was six years old. That’s also when my father passed away. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, and I don’t take it lightly that I sought out a diary when one of my parents passed away.

I started seriously writing when I was 18. I listened to spoken word poetry religiously through age 20. At 21, I wrote a play for a Pilipino Cultural Celebration with my friends Jet Antonio and Ed De Los Reyes. This one-year project of writing a play, and infusing poetry and performance into it, made me want to go through the transformative process of writing and pursue an MFA in Writing.

What was one of the first stories you wrote?

In the early 1990s, I watched The Disney Channel and I was hella excited when Disney promoted a competition for young writers to submit their stories to be turned into a short animated film. I hand-wrote a freewrite of my story, and my mom asked, “Why don’t you type it?” even though we didn’t have a computer. An auntie had a typewriter, though, so she typed out the story for me, and I sent it to Disney with hella typos and all.

A young Janice with her mom 

The story that won was about a young, white boy taming a dragon and making the dragon his friend. The story I submitted was about two young girls, one Pinay and one African American, who were getting their first jobs. The girls discussed their happiness at having a job, keeping the job, sharing the amount of money they’d made on their paychecks, and deciding to save it instead of spend it on clothes. So, of course I lost that competition. Disney didn’t understand young brown and black girl joy back then. I even tried writing a story about a young white boy named Trévor who slayed monsters that my brother drew, but I don’t think I ever sent it out for the following year’s competition.

Has your mom read the book?

She has not read the book. She has read the chapbook version, which came out from tender tender press in December 2015. She may read it when it comes out. She went to a reading of mine before, and she told me she felt embarrassed because she thought people were looking at her. I wrote the book so that she could understand it. I wrote it so that younger readers and poets can see the different ways we could be visual with poetry.

This question reminds me of Lysley Tenorio, who wrote a dope ass short story collection called Monstress, and he once said in an interview that he loved the fact that his mom loved a book he wrote that she technically couldn’t read. I feel that way about my mom and how proud I hope she is. I have the same hopes with my mom – to love the book anyway even if she can’t or doesn’t read it.

How did you become aware of the toxic effects of the work in Silicon Valley?

The first time I learned about the toxic Silicon Valley was back in college at UC San Diego when Professor David Pellow taught a class in his area of expertise, Environmental Racism, which talked a lot about the Silicon Valley. There’s a poem about it in my book.

Do you think folks in SV are aware of how toxic this work is?

I don't even think the workers really know, especially if the workers are mostly immigrants, or if English is their second or third language. Even if they've been doing the work for a really long time, I think that Silicon Valley, like many industries, has a lot of workers who didn't know when they signed up what they would be doing. I read an article about immigrant workers who did not know, and I wrote a poem about. It went something like, “You have to remember that these were just people who are looking for a job,” and so that tells me a lot about the high demand for people to do the job, and it also tells me about the complete disregard for their work. If people knew that this would be cancer-causing work, I think they could remain healthy and choose not to do this kind of fatal work.

I also think that people who work in software companies don't know, just as I'm pretty sure that a lot of them do not know that their work cannot exist without these women who make the microchips.

When it comes to Silicon Valley and the microchip industry, how does it affect culture and equity?

The poetry in the book references how the microchip industry, like many industries, depends on immigrant labor. Because the Silicon Valley has systematically employed entire families, entire neighborhoods, and then because these families potentially become dependent on a single company’s employment, it allows that company to take advantage of the workers by creating familial pressure to go to work, do well at work, keep the job. It creates a culture of hard work and loyalty, but the company leverages it against the families. The loyalty disappears once the company closes, and it creates a disparity, largely for people of color who take on these jobs.

I hope that the book will get people to act, think critically, be powerfully kind, and I hope that they choose to give a f*** about people who experience injustice. I also hope that people buy the book and will get their folks to buy the book.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to say thank you to a lot of community bases that have helped raise me when I was a teenager, or when I was in college, grad school, and even now. If I didn't have a lot of people pushing, or checking and asking about my writing, then this book would not exist. I think that I wouldn't know how to live if it wasn't for the writing.

Book tour image 

Join Janice at her San José Book Launch 

Friday, Nov. 18th
7:00-9:00 p.m.
@ Silicon Valley De-Bug
701  Lenzen Ave

Image of Janice from janicewrites.com by Kirstie Mah


Related Media:
Filipino American History Coming Full Circle

Cheers from the Wasteland: A San Jose Place Based Journal

The Sacred and Familiar in the Forthcoming "Knowing Your Worth" Zine

About Liz Gonzalez

Liz Gonzalez is a San Jose based writer and holistic healing practitioner, she leads a weekly meditation circle at De-Bug on Tuesday nights at 7:30 pm.

About Quynh-Mai Nguyen

Quynh-Mai is a social artist, designer and producer extraordinaire.

This article is part of the categories: Arts & Culture  / Business  / Community  / Economy  / Education  / Environment  / Health  / Immigration  / Poetry  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: High Tech  / Immigrant labor  / Janice Sapigao  / Microchip Industry  / Microchips  / microchips for millions  / Pilipina writers  / Poetry books  / San Jose Poets  / San Jose writers  / Silicon Valley  / Toxic Tech 


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