It's so important to have someone you can count on for professional advice, a first reading, a second opinion, encouragement, reality checks, book suggestions, wine glasses and cake for a celebration, a listening ear, and a nudge in the right direction. Some of my best teachers have been these and more, and they've been there at every formative stage— From the diminutive third-grade teacher with the indomitable-sounding name of Sifora Fang (she plied me with so many books for "extra reading!" and gave the hardest spelling questions) to my college literature professor Del Tolentino (he was one of my first colleagues the year I started teaching, and the one who told me my poems were "ready" - for publication, that is; it may not sound like a lot but this felt like a big deal to me). Another memorable college professor, Chari Lucero, was well known for her acerbic observations. We met again at a conference years after I'd graduated; I had three young children by then, and a marriage that wasn't in good shape. She hugged me warmly and said, "Hello!!! I hear your life is not so exquisite, but that your writing is." I know I got a laugh and I guess some perspective out of that.
When I went to Ateneo de Manila University for my MA in Literature, I took courses with the late Doreen G. Fernandez, one of the Philippines' leading cultural historians and food critics. I quickly understood why she made an indelible impression on generations of students who had received her mentorship: for her, the classroom, the exacting demands of scholarship, literary editing, and production, should always emerge out of a sense of our specific connections to place and community. With other colleagues, she was one of the first to volunteer to make and bring food to civilian protesters and soldiers alike during the 1986 "People Power Revolution" against the Marcos dictatorship. Her generosity and kindness were legendary—who knows how many students, myself included, had found temporary shelter in her home, coming and going in Manila; or were the recipients of meals and books and long hours of life conversation?
Carlos Angeles, whose book A Stun of Jewels (Manila: Alberto S. Florentino, 1963), received both the Carlos Palanca Award and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award for Literature, was a Filipino poet I'd read and admired since college. In Chicago, while I was working on my Ph.D. at UIC, Doreen (she was still alive then) introduced me by email to Carlos, and this led to an almost daily correspondence between 1993 and 6 or so years later when he died. I'd gone to Carson City/LA (where he was living at the time) to visit him a few times. He was a late but eager arrival to the internet, and every email I received from him would invariably begin with the question "What have you written today?"
Working on my creative dissertation (a manuscript of poems with a critical preface), I had the good fortune to have the late great Ralph Mills, Jr. as my adviser, just before he retired. I liked how he conveyed without fanfare that it was possible to be both a practicing poet and someone devoted to family. And I will forever be grateful for how, after my dissertation defense and unknown to me, he'd sent his own publisher a copy of my manuscript to discreetly inquire if they might have some kind of interest in such a thing. When they actually called me a few months down the road with a publication offer, I was dumbfounded. This led to my first full-length US publication, In the Garden of the Three Islands (Moyer Bell/Asphodel).
Having these kinds of mentors in my life has made a profound impact on my own teaching. Like them, I hope I will be able to help open doors, listen for depths, and make some kind of difference; each student teaches us all so much.