SVCreates Content Emerging Artist 2023
Putting Pen to the Past
A shoulder-hung tote swings in the mid-morning air as Keana Aguila Labra approaches a sanctuary of creative inspiration. Depending on the day, that sanctuary may be a cafe, a public garden, or a library. Wrapped in the canvas tote are tools for building historical foundations and deconstructing generational curses. Along with writing instruments to translate pain and promise into poetry and prose, you may find books written by authors such as Victoria Chang, Therese Estacion, or Janice Lobo Sapigao—literary figures outside the canon of white literature sharing stories with which Keana can relate.
Keana wears many hats and explains, “I see myself mostly as a poet, writer, editor, and creative. I am also co-director of the Santa Clara County Youth Poet Laureate program and co-founder of Sampaguita Press, an independent publishing house.” Keana’s work focuses on sharing cultural, historical, or personal knowledge to foster representation and safe spaces for readers and creatives unseen in society’s cultural hierarchy.
“I hope that I can share the knowledge that I have obtained and disseminate it freely to folks who might not have access to the education I have had. Education is power.”
Keana is a Cebuana Tagalog Fil-Am poet, and writer in diaspora. Her parents, who immigrated from the Philippines, wanted a better life for their children in the form of Americanization and careers in science. Interested in creativity and ancestral roots, familial friction fueled Keana’s interest in developing forms of self-expression. “My mother can be my biggest role model and enemy at the same time. I hope she sees I am breaking generational curses,” she shares. “I empathize with my mother a lot. The trauma of immigrating alone when she was 15 is her generational curse. Poetry is a vessel to work through the things I couldn’t articulate to my mom, not because I couldn’t share what I felt with her, but because I knew she was carrying her own weight. Our parents aren’t just parents; they’re people too.”
Keana’s poetic process is captured in a quote from William Wordsworth: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Keana’s poetry typically begins with a thought or emotion that crystallizes in a moment and is jotted down as a note for later interrogation. “I try to sit with myself in a kind of meditation, write down snippets, and continue coming back to them. I think of them as my children,” she explains. “I don’t rush a piece if it is about very intimate emotions. I like to keep the original snippets to see how I refined them over time, thinking about craft, intention, negative space, and the flow of line.” Keana, a self-described poet-historian, writes poetry in both English and the Bisayan language of Cebuano, a regional language in the Philippines and her grandparents’ native tongue.
Keana hopes to expand Marías at Sampaguitas Magazine from a digital to print publication, pursue an MFA in creative writing, and obtain a teaching credential while writing a book and screenplay. Keana concludes, “I hope that I can share the knowledge that I have obtained and disseminate it freely to folks who might not have access to the education I have had.
Education is power.”