#GetLit, A Hella Pinay Edition

This post was originally written for Hella Pinay, a “space for positive representation of the diversity and complexity of Pilipina womxn, and facilitate dialogue between Pinays in the Philippines and throughout the diaspora.” I’m happy to announce that I’ll be writing a monthly column on all things literary for the site!

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To be a Filipino living in the U.S. these days means enduring affronts from both the Philippine and the U.S. governments, (seemingly) forever caught in a geopolitical crossfire that requires a skillful navigation. How can we best express our wholeness and honor our ancestors while at the same time acknowledge the painful contradictions we live in in this country?

First, we read.

Just as Jose Rizal’s books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were banned after successfully fomenting a Filipino national consciousness in the midst of Spanish colonization, we can turn to literature. We read to guide us to a deeper introspection of who we are / where we come from and to propel us to find critical connections within ourselves and our communities, all from the pages in our hands.

And what better time is it to dive into necessary lit than right now? October happens to be Filipino-American History/Heritage Month, first celebrated back in 1988. From the first Filipinos who set foot in Morro Bay, California in October 1587 to a current population of over 3 million in the country, our people are a force to be reckoned with.

It is also Indigenous Peoples Month in the Philippines, and I’m remembering the ongoing struggle and resistance of the Lumad people in the southern part of the country (Mindanao), as well as their incredible resilience in the face of displacement, violence and political repression.

Here are five essential reads that reflect our times, written by Pinays whose work encompasses many ways we’ve struggled and survived as a people, whose stories amplify our collective strength and resilience:

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In the Country: Stories (2016) is a collection of nine short stories by Filipina author Mia Alvar. They are stories of family, loss, love and migration. Alvar writes of overseas Filipino workers in Bahrain, of grief-stricken separated siblings, of an estranged child witnessing his father’s death. More than the characters and the stories themselves, Alvar writes about political and economic shifts in the country.

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BAYI: Stories of Lumad Women (2016) tells the stories of ten fierce Lumad women in Mindanao and their struggle to fight for their lives, land and liberation. Meet 92-year old Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay, a female Lumad tribal chieftain in a culture that has been traditionally patriarchal. Bai has been leading the fight against mining mega-corporations and their paramilitary counterparts.

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Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (2017) is the work of journalist Raissa Robles, who has been covering the Marcoses for decades. Borne out of the need to retell the story of martial law largely in part because of martial law’s omission in Filipino textbooks, Robles’s tome is a testament to the atrocities of a regime ruled by repression, disappearances and intense violence. With a a generation growing up oblivious to the terrors of ML, this is an essential book.

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Invocation to Daughters (2017) is due to be out in November this year, and already it’s been getting a lot of buzz. This is the fifth collection of poetry by Filipina poet Barbara Jane Reyes, written “in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Invocation to Daughters is a book of prayers, psalms, and odes for Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations.”

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Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living with War (2017) took 17 years to make, as M. Evelina Galang interviewed sixteen Filipino “comfort women” who were abducted, raped and tortured by the Imperial Japanese Army. Galang spent a lot of time with the Lila Pilipina women, an organization of surviving comfort women as they protested, recounted their stories and lived as survivors. Continue reading

Poetry as Vulnerability, with Words Anonymous and Juan Miguel Severo

It all started with Juan Miguel Severo.

Thursday evening dinners are a thing in our family, as my siblings and I, along with our partners enjoy a homecooked meal at home with my parents. Over pork cracklings (toppings for a mung bean dish), my sister showed me video that has just gone viral.

It was Severo’s Ang Huling Tula Na Isusulat Ko Para Sa’yo (The Last Poem I’ll Ever Write For You) and by the end of the 6 minute mark, I was utterly floored.

It was my first time seeing Filipino spoken word poetry. The words that came to mind instantly were tagos sa puso (straight through the heart). Most of the poetry I’ve read from Filipino poets like Lorena Barros, Jose Garcia Villa and Bienvenido Lumbrera have awakened my consciousness, touched my mind with indelible truths. And while I am grateful for these poets for bringing the kind of light needed to usher in what has been the darkest, Severo brought out a different, more tangible element with his spoken word: how it feels to be vulnerable.

I was hooked and I wanted to find out more about the Filipino spoken word poetry scene. Severo was a member of Words Anonymous, a group of spoken word artists in the Philippines.

When I was in the Philippines earlier this year, I was hoping to catch a show. I wasn’t so lucky, but I was able to pick up a few copies of the Words Anonymous’s first collection of poetry Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado (Every Third Saturday).

The book is a transcript of spoken words by the group, compiled and edited by Severo. There are 26 pieces in the collection, poems about love and heartbreak and tenderness and yearning. Of unrelenting hope, of day breaking with the promise of (even more) love.

While my eyes glossed over the pages, I tried to imagine what it would like to be in the presence of these poets, how it would feel like to be in the same room with them and engulf my senses in their pain, in their hope, in their magic.

Two poems that stood out to me, interestingly enough, shared a word in the title of their pieces: landi or “flirting/to flirt.” The word is versatile, as it can denote playfulness in one second, or a weapon of slut-shaming in the next.

I particularly enjoyed Abby Orbeta‘s poem “Hindi Lumandi si Rizal Para Lumandi Ka” (roughly, “Rizal Did Not Die So You Can Flirt”), a poem about a long-lost love, written in a timeline of the worst things to happen to the country.

Orbeta intersected what-coul’dve-beens as she narrated a massacre that happened down south, to a typhoon that ravaged a city. The poem was a commentary on longing, on political consciousness, on a former lover’s attempt of “helping out” at a time of disaster. The country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, did not die after all, so that the youth can engage in “vo-landi” — volunteering while flirting.

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While Orbeta’s poem had more of a playful tone, Jonel Revistual‘s poem “Biyaheng Malandi” (roughly, “A Flirty Trip”) is an entirely different landscape. Continue reading

Gagamba: The Filipino Spiderman, with F. Sionil José

No, he is not the dashing Filipino iteration of the well-loved superhero around the world. Nor is he the lean prototype of a man scaling the side of towers and buildings, saving lives, saving everything. But to be fair, there is a building in the story, “Camarin” as it is known, a story in which Gagamba (spider in Filipino) is the hero of.

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by Manny Garibay

In a killer earthquake which struck Central Luzon where the country’s capital Manila lay, the Camarin building came crashing down. Gagamba was right outside, at his usual stall selling sweepstakes tickets when he felt the turbulence. Even though the shock caused him to fall on the ground, he got up and walked away unscathed.

Inside the building were people from varying economic backgrounds and professions, all cocooned within the building’s cool air-conditioned air and plush ambiance, fit for the capital’s elite, crushed under the rubble a few minutes after one that afternoon.

The cripple, Tranquilino Penoy — otherwise know as Gagamba (spider) to the denizens of Ermita — was one of those who survived the collapse of the Camarin building on M.H. Del Pilar Street — the only building in Manila which was totally wrecked.

I’m slowly making my way through the stack of books I picked up in the Philippines in March, hoping to orient myself on Filipino literary greats. This is my first F. Sionil José book. His name leapt out of the spine, as I recognized it as one of those I need to be acquainted with. Gagamba (Amazon) after all received the 2004 Pablo Neruda Centennial Award.

So thus lived Gagamba, in awe of it all — not hurt, still breathing while the whole building and its occupants under the rubble. He attributes his luck, this bizarre incident befallen an unlucky man with his deformities, to none other than his God.

F. Sionil José goes through each victim, each buried character’s story. It is a cacophony of characters really, a cocktail of the worst kinds of people in society, mixed in with a few good ones, an amalgamation of life unfolding before the reader’s eyes.

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by Manny Garibay

There’s Fred Villa, Camarin’s new owner. He has just upgraded many of the building’s facilities, making it more suitable and appealing to his clientele. Not only was Camarin known for its excellent Spanish cuisine, but high-profile politicians, businessmen both local and foreign frequented the establishment for its main specialty: women, or as Fred called it “call girls.” Continue reading

Loving in the Martial Law Years, with Lualhati Bautista

“Martial law” was just a buzzword when I was growing up, hemmed in within the walls of an all-girl Benedictine school compound, something we talked about in passing during our history class. While the lesson itself was short, I remember feeling a sense of indignation towards the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family who imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981.

This was how the conversation with one of my classmates went: “Imagine — at this age, we already have debt because of the Marcoses. Grabe! All the money they stole from the kaban ng bayan, all of Imelda’s shoes, all of their extravagances — even our great, great, great grandkids are already indebted!”

At that age, my comprehension was limited to what my mind could fathom: the ridiculousness of it all, the audacity of the Marcos family, and how I would be paying for a debt when I haven’t even started earning yet. That was about 20 years ago.

In May of this year, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern part of the Philippines after alleged ISIS-backed groups clashed with the country’s armed forces. To date, more than 84,000 have been displaced after being forced and ordered to evacuate from their homes. Last year, I published a post about martial law revisionism after seeing the resurgence of the Marcos family in the Philippine political area, backed by Duterte nonetheless.

Call it historical amnesia if you will, call it historical apathy. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States, until I moved away did I start to see my home country in a different light. Loving her from a distance. And it wasn’t until I became part of a national democratic movement did I learn about the atrocities of martial law, beyond what I learned in the classroom.

There were the economic ramifications, but also the grave human rights abuses. The suspension of writ habeas corpus. The torture. The enforced disappearances. Fear. The erosion of trust within communities, within movements.

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“Malumbay si Ina” by Pablo Baens Santos

I saw all of these when I read Lualhati Bautista’s book Desaparesidos (Amazon), a novel about a family’s struggle during Marcos’s martial law. Anna is a mother, a widow, a survivor of torture and a former member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that the administration was trying to crush. The book revolves around her struggle and her story, from the time that she was part of the NPA, to her abduction where she was tortured and raped, to the time when she was imprisoned, and up until she went back to her civilian life as an NGO worker.

The story starts with a convening of NGOs, faith-based leaders, international human rights organizations, lawyers and martial law victims and survivors as a case against the Marcoses is being prepared. Anna is present, but her mind wanders back to the time when she saw the body of her lifeless husband in the town plaza, afraid to claim it for fear that their newborn child in her bosom would suffer if she did. She would be immediately identified as a rebel, her cover blown.

Hinigpitan niya ang yakap sa anak. Anak, tatay mo. Ayun siya, iyong nasa pangalawa. Namatay siya para sa bayan.

Gustong-gusto na niyang yakapin ang bangkay ni Nonong. Gustong-gusto na niyang bugawin man lang ang mga langaw na nagpipista sa natuyo nang dugo sa mukha nito, halikan ang mga daliri na binunutan ng kuko.

Pero wala siyang magagawa. Kailangan niyang magpakabato, timpiin ang sarili, mag-isip ng masaya.

(What follows is my meager translation:)

She held on tight to her child. My child, here’s your father. There he is, on the second. He died for the nation. 

She wanted so badly to embrace Nonong’s corpse. She wanted so badly to swat away the flies hovering over the dried blood on his face, kiss the fingers where his nails were torn out.

But she couldn’t do anything. She had to be steely, compose herself, think about happy thoughts.

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“August 21” by Phyllis Zaballero

While Anna was helping build a case against the Marcoses, the story pivots between several events and characters to reveal the kind of repression Filipinos were dealing with at that time. There were mass arrests, harassment from soldiers, even the burning of homes in villages.

Bautista painted fear in every character: from the former rebel who pointed out his comrades’ hideouts, the pregnant lady who was entrusted to take care of Anna’s newborn, Anna’s second child Lorena (named after the revolutionary martyr Lorena Barros) who resented her parents for being away, and the family of Mang Manuel and many others.  Continue reading

The Life & Death of Andrés Bonifacio, with Ambeth R. Ocampo

“History does not repeat itself.
We repeat history.”
–Ambeth R. Ocampo

These lines from Ocampo couldn’t have been more relevant today, as the Philippines is facing yet another political crisis: on May 23rd, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern part of the Philippines (Mindanao), after terrorist groups clashed with the country’s armed forces.

What would have Andrés Bonifacio, hailed as the “Father of the Philippine Revolution” done if he were alive today?

Back when I was in the Philippines a couple of months ago, I picked up Ambeth R. Ocampo’s book Bones of Contention: The Andrés Bonifacio Lectures (Amazon) at a local bookstore. I was immediately drawn to the face of the revolutionary leader against the Spanish colonizers on the cover — austere, pensive, the look of a determined man against his oppressor.

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The book  is a compilation of lectures delivered by Ocampo, a historian and professor in the Philippines. It wasn’t until I started reading that I realized how little I knew of Bonifacio.

Other than his legacy in the revolution, I had little to no knowledge of his life. What Ocampo offered in his lectures was a closer look on not just the life of the Supremo, but on his assassination, the political atmosphere of his time, and how deeply rooted the Filipino elite has been in the country’s politics.

Boy was I in for a surprise. Reading Ocampo is a bit like reading a TMZ version of Filipino history, and a bit like watching a telenovela.

Instead of purely historical accounts, Ocampo delves into Bonifacio’s downfall within the Katipunan which eventually led to his death.  In Opening Pandora’s Box, Ocampo recounts the factions within the revolutionary secret society (KKK, and no, not the white supremacist group). Continue reading

May’s Reading List

The month of May is a lot of things: May Day or International Workers’ Day (May 1), Mental Health Awareness Month, Memorial Day in the U.S., Mother’s Day (May 14), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Malcolm X Day (May 19) among a slew of other celebrations and observances.

I’m still reading Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World (Amazon | Indiebound) and it’s been an eye-opening experience as I read about Humboldt’s passionate pursuits. His curiosity and drive is infectious, coupled by Wulf’s engaging writing. I find myself looking at plants and trees a little more closely these days, to see with Humboldt’s eyes and find the connection in everything. File this under Japan’s Greenery Day celebrated on May 4th (which is also Star Wars Day).

After being immersed in Humboldt’s world, this month’s reading list is shaping up to be an exciting one! I finally get to some titles I’ve had for a while but haven’t found the time to delve in. Knowing myself, it’s easy to get swayed into reading a book not on my monthly list once it has arrested my attention and my imagination. Sometimes it’s worth it though — see Wulf’s title above.

Keeping up with my year-long commitment of reading a Filipino book author a month and participating in the #DiverseBookBloggers projects, here are this month’s goodies:

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I’ll be reading Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: img_5724Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Amazon | Indiebound) up next, after coming across a Lithub piece on the historian’s take on Russia, Trump and Terrorism. I’m always curious about what historians think of current political contexts and with tyranny on the rise, it would be a good read to see how it dissects democracy as well as people’s movements. The book is a short read, with only 128 pages. I thought of this book for this month right after reading Claudia Salazar Jimenez’s Blood of the Dawn, which I reviewed just last week about the Peruvian’s communist group The Shining Path.

img_5723Right after is Ambeth R. Ocampo’s Bones of Contention which I picked up in Manila when I was in the Philippines a month ago. When I was at Arkipelago Books a few weeks ago, I had the chance to chop it up with the new owner and I asked about the popularity of Jose Rizal books versus Andres Bonifacio’s. These two Filipino men are heroes in the country, although the former is more prominent. As expected, Rizal’s books are being sought more as opposed to Bonifacio’s. I can go on a different tangent here about the legacy of these two men but I think I’d save that for another post. Watch out for my book review of Ocampo’s book — I’m just as excited to read about Bonifacio as I’m part of a movement he started. I also just looked it up on Amazon recently and whoaaa — it is selling for $651.02! Hit up Arkipelago Books in San Francisco if you want a copy, they may have it or help get it for you.

Another one that I’m already giddy about thinkingimg_5721 of reading is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World: Stories (Amazon | Indiebound) because the title alone gives me all the feels. I’m a little bummed that I missed her reading in San Francisco at Green Apple Books in February but I’m all eyes. I’ve recently enjoyed reading short stories and this one is a must, having coveted several literary awards. Keeping up with the #DiverseBookBloggers project, I’m so eager to dive right into the work of a Persian novelist hailed as “our generation’s Flannery O’Connor.”

img_5722And last but definitely not the least, I’m diving back into one of my favorite marketing guru, philosopher, author, blogger, overall life coach’s book The Dip (Amazon | Indiebound). From the day I started reading his work, I’ve been a fan. The conceptualization of this blog came out of reading his daily emails, inspired by the wisdom he imparts. To be clear, he’s a marketing guru professionally. To me though, he is what I would call a modern-day philosopher. Subscribe to his blog if you want to know what I mean. There should really be a national holiday for Seth’s book because it was released about ten years ago this month. It’s only fitting that I end this month on that wonderful note.

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Have you read any of these books? Tell me what you’re reading this month!

An ARKIPELAGO of You and Me: Finding Filipino Books in San Francisco

The South of Market district in San Francisco is home to a plethora of things — tech giants like Twitter, swanky residential hotels, studios and art spaces, the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art plus a hum drum of restaurants, clubs and bars — ideal for tourists and would-be residents to call home.

While this influx of traffic is generally seen as a boon to the district, it casts a long, dark shadow to what makes SoMa a historic and amazing place to be in: its mainstays, mostly brown and black folks.

What might be a a relatively unknown fact to most is that the SoMa is also home to a sizable Filipino population — the largest concentration in San Francisco — residents of the area since the 1900s. In April 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution establishing SoMa Pilipinas marking 2nd St. to 11th St. down from Market St. to Brannan St. the Filipino cultural heritage district in the City.

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Source: Arkipelago Bookstore

And right on Mission St., between 5th and 6th, is a very special corner I’ve always loved to call home: the Arkipelago Books, a Filipino bookstore carrying titles by and of Filipinos. I first came across Arkipelago at a yearly Filipino festival called Pistahan. I met Marie in her stall back then, as I perused and tried to contain my excitement over classics I recognized plus a lot of new titles neatly stacked.

That was about six or seven years ago, and I’ve gone back to Arkipelago frequently to procure more books. A few weeks ago, I came across a friend’s post on Facebook with a fundraising link for the bookstore as it expands its services, upgrade its equipment and other services, as well as venture out into publishing.

On a sunny Friday in the City, I ventured out to the bookstore and got a chance to meet Lily Prijoles, the new owner along with her other Pinay partners Golda Sargento, Ley Ebrada and Charity Ramilo. What followed was an exploration and conversations on pre-colonial Philippines, Melinda Bobis, bookselling and Arkipelago’s future ventures.

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I first found out about Arkipelago like Pistahan, and I met Marie a couple of times. What’s unique about Arkipelago bookstore?

Lily (Arkipelago)

 

A lot of Fil-Ams, are trying to get into their pre-colonial side, the pre-colonial Philippines, because they want to discover more about it. We try to accommodate them with books but a lot of the books are very dense and academic, or if we do get books there’s not enough people writing about them. They want to know about Ifugao, Igorot and other indigenous tribes. They’re finding out something about themselves and it helps that Whang-Od is doing all these interviews, doing tattoos. But also a lot of people are looking up Eskrima and Arnis and those have hints of pre-colonial roots of the Philippines.

I finally found a book — Tahanan, which is a publisher, came out with it. They came out with Halo-Halo Histories which is a children’s book about the history of the Philippines. It has pictures and easy explanations and I get a lot of parents buying it not just for their kids, but also because they want to find out for themselves. Their warehouse in the U.S. is all gone! It’s written by these four anthropologists and they did a lot of intensive research about our history. We were colonized but how were we before that?

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Source: Arkipelago Books (Facebook)

Libromance

That’s really interesting to know, because I’ve also found books to be self-revelatory tools.

Lily (Arkipelago)

Yes, and it’s mostly Filipino women who look for these books. And if you think about it, rre-colonial Philippines is empowering to a lot of women. There was more gender equality even before the Bible came.

The creation story in the Philippines is Malakas at Maganda, who were created at the same time as opposed to Adam and Eve, wherein Eve was born out of Adam’s rib. Then you start thinking about the roles of women, and a lot of pre-colonial requests are from Pinays, and finding empowering positions of women in history.

I tell them: Don’t be a coy, just tell me what you want. I’m a sister — I got you!  Continue reading

To Break the Wall Between Self and the Future, with Carlos Bulosan

“I will be a writer and make all of you live again in my words.”
–Carlos Bulosan

My introduction to Carlos Bulosan, perhaps one of the greatest Filipino-American writers to have ever lived, is a little late. While most of my peers learned about Bulosan and read his work in college, I finished the book just a little over a week ago.

It is the year 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. As the month of April nears its end, many of the preparations in the community are geared towards May 1st, International Workers Day.

I think about Bulosan and his words, and the significance of May Day as I write this. How a book that was written in the 30s of the last century — which detailed the simultaneous heartbreaking and back-breaking struggle of Filipino farmworkers in the Northwest, and Bulosan’s first encounter with fascism — is still relevant to this day.

America is in the Heart (Amazon | Indiebound) is presented as the autobiography of Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino peasant migrant from the Philippines to the U.S. While many facts in the book are refuted, it nonetheless stands as a testimony and a witness to the early experiences of Filipinos in the country.

The book is a sweeping account of his life, from growing up poor in the Philippines, in a small village in the northern islands. Allos, as he was referred to initially, grew up helping his father farm and his mother vend small goods. At an early age, Allos was becoming more and more aware of the conditions of people like him, which made up the majority of the Philippines — the peasantry.

Most of those who were young and able-bodied, specifically men, knew that in order for their families to survive, they had to get out and look for jobs elsewhere.

In the provinces where the poor peasants lived and toiled for the rich hacienderos, or landlords, the young men were stirring and rebelling against their heritage. Those who could no longer tolerate existing conditions adventured into the new land, for the opening of the United States to them was one of the gratifying provisions of the peace treaty that culminated the Spanish-American war.

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Early Filipino American farm workers, as in this 1936 picture of a musical get-together at Estalio’s labor camp. (Photo courtesy of Rosalie Marquez)

America became a dream for young Allos, and as soon as he was given the opportunity to board one of the ships that could potentially change his life forever, he immediately hopped on. Continue reading

Filipinos for Export and Their Stories, with Mia Alvar

About 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines each day, off to countries around the world in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families. Off to any place where any currency except the Philippine peso is stronger, where dreams of living large are bigger.

In the 80’s, the term “Overseas Filipino Worker” or OFW became a real thing. They were touted as the modern heroes of the country, as they raked in dollars or euros or riyals all bolstering up the country’s GDP. Remittances became a huge boon.

This is the premise of Mia Alvar’s book In The Country: Stories, a compilation of nine short short stories of family, love and migration — and also of neoliberal economic policies.

The book begins with a short story titled The Kontrabida, a word which translates to “villain.” Images of Miss Minchin (from Sarah, Ang Munting Prinsesa) and Angelica Panganiban as Madame (from Pangako Sa’Yo) immediately popped up in my head. I’ve watched enough telenovelas to understand the depths of crazy there is in a kontrabida character, so I was expecting a grandiose tale of the bida or the “hero” at the end of the story victorious, the kontrabida slighted in some way.

But that wasn’t the case in this story. It revolves around a family of three: a son (Steve) who works as a clinical pharmacist in New York City, his ailing father in the Philippines, and his mother the caregiver who also vends household items from their sari-sari store. The best part about it is that you can’t really tell which character is the kontrabida, each with their own ghost from the past.

For years there’d been no question of how much she leaned on me, like any mother on her overseas son. It never dawned on me how much I’d leaned on her: to play her part, stick to the script. Her saintliness was an idea I loved more than I had ever hated him.

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By Jose Ibay

Continue reading

5 Books to Celebrate Filipino-American History Month

“America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities are closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native-born or alien, educated or illiterate – we are America!”
–Carlos Bulosan

October is Filipino American Historical Month (also #FAHM2016), a commemoration of when Filipinos first landed on American soil at Morro Bay, California. That was back in October 18, 1587, about 300 years before I was born! 

So what’s up with Filipino-American history, and how far do we go back? Filipino-American relations have always been contentious, since the U.S. paid $20M to buy the islands from Spain. And then World War II happened, where we first got our “third-world country” designation (along with being slaughtered by the Japanese, and then ‘saved’ by the Americans). Since then, we’ve had our share of being a colony — with military bases and talk of freedom and economic hit men (World Bank, IMF) coupled with presidencies super tight with Washington.

On the first day of the month, Pres. Obama had a special message (a first!) wherein he recognized the contributions of Fil-Am soldiers during World War II. It only took 74 years for the government to finally launch the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program “which enables certain Filipino-American veterans to request that their family members join them in the United States as they wait for their green cards.”

I’m not sure if this message was to fortify the Philippines’s relationship with the U.S., after Pres. Duterte’s remarks of pursuing a foreign policy independent of the latter back in September.

“I am no American puppet. I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people.” 
–Pres. Rodrigo Duterte

This month, I’ve been really thinking long and hard about #FAHM2016 from personal and political perspectives. I could talk about being Filipino in the Bay, about being part of the Asian-American fabric, about being a queer brown immigrant but along with these identities are socioeconomic and political landscapes that I’ve always been a part of.

And as always, I turn to literature for perspectives that continue to enrich the culture of Fil-Ams and at the same time challenge what we know: 
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America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

First published in 1943, this classic memoir by well-known Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan describes his boyhood in the Philippines, his voyage to America, and his years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer following the harvest trail in the rural West.

(It’s a shame that I haven’t read this book yet but it comes as a highly recommended title which speaks of the Filipino migrant’s experience.)

516ljlycykl-_sx324_bo1204203200_The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn

Rocky Rivera arrives in the U.S. from the Philippines the day that Jimi Hendrix dies. So begins a blazing coming-of-age story suffused with the tensions of immigration which finds Rocky moving from the counter-culture in 1960s San Francisco to the extravagant music scene in Manhattan of the 1980s. The Gangster of Love tells the story of the Rivera family as they make their new life in the States all the while haunted by the memory of the father and the homeland they left behind. 

(I read this book in 2014 as I was on my way back to the Philippines for a brief trip and thought — this is everything that I love and detest in a Fil-Am novel!)

51wzfy7vg4l-_sx294_bo1204203200_Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement by Lilia Villanueva

Filipino farmworkers sat down in the grape fields of Delano, California, in 1965 and began the strike that brought about a dramatic turn in the long history of farm labor struggles in California. Their efforts led to the creation of the United Farm Workers union under Cesar Chavez, with Philip Vera Cruz as its vice-president and highest-ranking Filipino officer.

(This is another book I’ve yet to read, but definitely on my next-to-read list.)

41-ie7cypcl Doveglion by José Garcia Villa

Known as the “Pope of Greenwich Village,” José Garcia Villa had a special status as the only Asian poet among a group of modern literary giants in 1940s New York that included W. H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, and a young Gore Vidal. But beyond his exotic ethnicity, Villa was a global poet who was admired for “the reverence, the raptness, the depth of concentration in [his] bravely deep poems” (Marianne Moore). Doveglion (Villa’s pen name for dove, eagle, and lion) contains Villa’s collected poetry, including rare and previously unpublished material.

(On my way to Hawai’i, I was finally introduced to José Garcia Villa’s poetry with this book and boy was it an out-of-this-world experience. Villa’s poems not only transcended form and format but also political and social boundaries.)

41xmvcxul7l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

After thirteen years of living in the U.S., Vince returns to his birthplace, the Philippines. As he ventures into the heat and chaos of the city, he encounters a motley cast of characters, including a renegade nun, a political film director, arrogant hustlers, and the country’s spotlight-driven First Daughter. Haunted by his childhood memories and a troubled family history, Vince unravels the turmoil, beauty, and despair of a life caught between a fractured past and a precarious future.

(Yet another one I’ve missed out on, but of which promises to be the kind of book I’ll find pieces of myself in.)

For a full and glorious list of Fil-Am reads, check out this list on Goodreads.

“You… see us… and you think you know us,
but our outward guise is more deceptive than our history.”
–Carlos Bulosan