By Jessica A. Kent
Feb. 27, 2019
Frankie Concepcion is passionate about building community in the city of Boston.
She’s the writer behind the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon, which first appeared on social media at the beginning of January, and which will hold its first event on March 5. The Salon, whose goal is to “create a community which empowers and inspires immigrant voices,” is a passion project of Concepcion’s, herself originally from the Philippines, as a way to unite, care for, and encourage the immigrant writers of Boston.
“The history of how the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon got started is very closely tied to my personal history,” Concepcion tells me during our recent chat at a bustling Tatte Bakery in Harvard Square. A writer from a young age, Concepcion moved to Boston from the Philippines in 2010 for undergrad, then stayed for grad school and remained on a one year work visa. After getting married, she applied for her green card, and found herself in a season with time to spare, as she was unable to be employed. She volunteered for a local organization working with immigrant students, but realized that if she wasn’t going to be able to get paid, “I might as well focus on a passion project, something that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do if I was worried about a full-time job.” So the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon was born during this period of anticipation.
Since its inception, its Instagram feed – which, without a website, is the Salon’s front-facing page to the public – has been filled not only with teasers as to the Salon itself, but with writing prompts (“What does home mean to you?”), facts about immigrants and immigration, and highlights of local community organizations and people. But the public Instagram feed is really a pointer back to the hub of the Salon: Their private Facebook group. “The scary part of the internet is anyone can see what you’re doing and what you’re saying, and anyone can attack you if they so choose,” explains Concepcion. “And so if I came into the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon wanting to create that safe space for immigrants, I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want them to feel like they needed to censor themselves or they needed to explain themselves to a larger audience. So I created a closed Facebook group for immigrant writers.” The inspiration for this came from the safety she found in the private Facebook group of the Boston Writers of Color, which is supported by GrubStreet. “They made sure that people were joining the group from a genuine place,” she notes.
The Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon has three values as its purpose: Creating Brave Spaces, Community Through Craft, and Reshaping the Narrative. Concepcion expounded on all three. Of the first, Creating Brave Spaces, she noted that she wanted to create not a safespace – which might be a place where difficult topics are shied away from so as not to make others feel uncomfortable – but a bravespace. In a brave space, she describes, “not only are we actively exploring those difficult topics, we’re holding each other accountable for our identities, accountable for our words. We’re actively listening to other people and making sure that everyone has space to say what they need to say.”
Of the second, Community Through Craft, she again cites inspiration from GrubStreet’s community, where she takes classes and participates in the Writers of Color group. While she’s admittedly more inclined to be a solitary writer, Concepcion knows that’s not sustainable. “You need eyes on your work, and you need people you trust to put their eyes on your work. And so I wanted to create a community centered on the idea that we’re all working together to make sure that we’re creating the best piece of writing that we can.”
The third value, Reshaping the Narrative, speaks to a bigger concern playing out in the nation today: the mainstream media’s portrayal of immigrants. Concepcion explains how the rhetoric around immigrants today often portrays them as being a “monolithic entity, like we’re all the same in some way, whether we’re all workers or we’re valued because of our labor, or even worst things: we’re criminals.” She cites as well how this rhetoric can be very isolating. While there’s a lot of conversation around immigrants in the media, “so rarely do we actually hear from immigrants themselves,” Concepcion points out. “I wanted people to feel like they weren’t alone. And I also wanted people to feel like they were individuals who could tell their personal stories, and that those were valid.”
Follow the Instagram feed, and you’ll find a number of local organizations, literary magazines, groups, and people highlighted, in a series called “Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon Thanks.” Concepcion credits multiple people and groups for getting the Salon off the ground, including The Cauldron, a monthly gathering for creative women, and local musician and storyteller Naomi Westwater and the Creative Collective she founded. Other grassroots creative ventures she finds inspiration in and community with is the Allston Living Room Read, Angry Asian Girls, and Pizza Pie Press. Another group featured on their feed is a local poetry and performance duo called Adobo-Fish-Sauce, whose recent performance at the Boston Center for the Arts centered around the idea of home – which is the theme of the Salon’s first event, entitled “Healing Salon: Defining Home.”
“Home is really important because it’s a difficult question for us to answer,” says Concepcion, about the idea of home as a frequent theme for immigrant writers. Recently, before she received her green card, was there a very real possibility for Concepcion that she would need to leave Boston – even after she was in a relationship, even after establishing a career, even after signing a lease. “So did I consider America home during that time? I don’t know – how could I? And yet somehow I did,” she explains. “Now I have my green card and all of a sudden I can create again, I can look for opportunities, I can grow, and that to me is a kind of home – being able to grow and actually hold onto things that I should have been able to hold onto in the first place.”
Home and identity are also themes in Concepcion’s work. Beginning as a poet, she published her first work at seventeen, and since then has branched into short stories and essays. Her work has also dealt with the Asian immigrant experience, and identifying as a Filipino when the opportunity to visit home only happens once a year. She observes that “the evolution of my writing has really been informed by my identity and my journey, and again, this idea of home.”
While the March 5 event’s subtitle is “Defining Home,” which is the focus for that night, the event itself is the first in a series of “Healing Salons.” The evening is being called a healing event – not a writing event, or a workshop event – for very specific reasons. “What I envisioned the salon to be is a space where immigrant writers can gather, and through a guided discussion about a topic that is very specific to us as immigrants, we can reflect, we can share space, we can impower each other and validate each other.” Though there will be workshops and readings and more work-based events in the future, Concepcion’s intention initially is towards community self-care. “I think what it really is about is being able to reflect and feel safe in yourself so that your work comes out better than it would have if you had not taken that time to understand yourself.”
Concepcion’s vision for the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon is both micro and macro: She’s focused on March 5’s event as way to interact with and learn more from the immigrant writing community, and then grow from there. But she’s also planning more healing salons, workshops, a work exchange through a yet-to-be-built website, and would eventually like to plan a multi-day conference for immigrant writers. Someday she hopes to be functioning as a non-profit.
Ultimately, though, for Concepcion it comes back to the people of the Boston immigrant writing community, and seeing their unique, individual stories thrive. “Sustaining the community is something that I really want to work on as a major goal.”
Visit the Boston Immigrant Writer’s Salon Instagram to find out information about the Salon itself, upcoming events, community highlights, submission opportunities, and more. If you would like to join the Facebook group, head here.