Fil-Am author Jia Tolentino gets what's on our minds

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

For as long as Jia Tolentino has been reading, she’s been a writer as well. Whether she was in the bathtub or roller skating around the neighborhood, she had her face in a book. She’d write in her journal, and tell stories of new worlds being opened before her.

Now, the 32-year-old author has more than just her nose in a book. Now she has her name on one.

And not just any book. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion, a collection of essays on diverse subjects, from scammers to how social media shapes our world, landed on the New York Times best seller list shortly after its release in 2019. The book earned praise from all corners, with the Washington Post writing, “She writes like a dream.”

Born in Toronto to Filipino parents, Tolentino grew up in Houston, Texas, from the age of 4. Despite not knowing that writing could eventually become a career, she says her parents were supportive of her dreams. 

She eventually enrolled at the University of Virginia, and then earned her Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing at the University of Michigan. Still, she admits to feeling overwhelmed when she was hired to write at The New Yorker in 2016.

Prior to that, she had worked as an editor for the feminist blog Jezebel, writing commentary on memes and music videos. Now, she was at the pinnacle of periodical writing.

“I didn’t know anything. I think it was a real privilege to be able to learn on the job in such good hands,” Tolentino said in an interview with Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins for the latter’s So Jannelle TV show. “I think that’s the thing that I like about writing in general and about any sort of opportunity that's ever presented itself to me in my life, which is that, you start off knowing nothing and with journalism, right? You ask people enough questions and then suddenly you learn, right?”

That sort of curiosity has led Tolentino to explore more nuanced subjects in this ever evolving world. The pandemic has changed the dynamic of what she’s writing about, and the only thing she’d found interesting in that time have been the protests and mutual aid networks. Still, one subject that has captivated this self-described “creature of the internet” are the economic systems that underpin the web.

“It was always, the internet was this kind of thing to look at but then during the pandemic the internet became the entire world and real life became this very constrained thing,” she said.

The world isn’t only on the internet these days for Tolentino. She’s now a mother to an 8-month-old daughter. And she says the experience of motherhood brings with it its own journey of discovery.

“I’m only 8 months into being a parent. It's hard to even consider myself that way too because it's an experience I've had almost completely in private. I haven't been out in the world with this baby, but when people have children so much of the conversation is about setting them up for individual sort of protection and success, right?” she said, adding that what she wants for her daughter is a “different world.”

“My hopes for her are almost non-individual. It’s like, whatever she's going to do she's going to do, I have no control over it, but I want the world so desperately to be fairer and softer and better and more kinder.”

Toward the end of the almost-hour long conversation, Tolentino also shared with So-Perkins that parenthood hasn’t changed her politics. Rather, it has given her a new perspective on the better world she envisions.

“I wouldn’t say that parenthood has been radicalizing because... this was my politics, pre-parenthood. But it’s made it a lot more intimate that it’s like,  how dare we ask people to care for children in a country with no safety net and vast inequality and vast disparities in every way,” she said. “It has made me think about how I can reorient my life around these priorities around ameliorating this in some more direct way.” – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

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