Post-Election Bibliotherapy: Five Books of Struggle & Resilience

With Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, it can be easy to believe that while elections are temporary, dystopia is forever.

Trump’s campaign was rife with the kind of rhetoric that so many people have been fighting against for decades: the struggle against racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy — the struggle to defend and uplift our humanity.

Like so many progressives in the country side-eyeing Hillary Clinton, I filled the box next to her name because I just can’t stomach Trump’s rhetoric and the kind of response he incites from his supporters. That even though I am ashamed of America’s imperialism and will struggle to fight it on all fronts, I am also beginning to confront what it means to be on this stolen land.

While there have been so many reports and accounts of outright racism in different parts of the country (even in California!) since Trump’s election, I have been inspired by the ways that our communities have shown up for each other. Whether it’s resources like this, or the many forms of protest people have been engaging in, what gives me hope at the end of the day is that we are a resilient people.

An offering from my blog: a post-election bibliotherapy which features books I’ve read and written about on Libromance. These books confront different kinds of tension, conflict and contradictions but what they share as a common thread is the ability to understand that the most tender parts of ourselves are also deep wells of strength and resilience.


BAYI: Stories of Lumád Women from Lumad Women You Need to Know

An excerpt from the post:

At 92 years old, Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay‘s strength and courage has been a constant source of inspiration for many. She is a bibiyaon, a female Lumád tribal chieftain in a culture that is traditionally patriarchal. In the 90’s, she joined a tribal war to fight the logging company Alcantara & Sons (ALSONS).

Night Sky with Exit Wounds from The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

An excerpt from the post:

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Known and Strange Things from Looking with the Eyes of Teju Cole

An excerpt from the post:

He takes us beyond what most would not publicly acknowledge, in spite of the increasing and damning evidence. Complicated as he is, Obama is still, for many folks, a symbol of racial progress in the country. Perhaps it is the experience and the perspective of an internationalist such as Teju, can one then really see the implications and reverberations of a messed-up foreign policy.

The Underground Railroad from A Lifetime of Remembering with Colson Whitehead

An excerpt from the post:

This is America. I think about how a queer, brown Filipino immigrant reads a book about slavery and the black folk’s struggle for liberation. I think about how easy it is to forget sometimes, that sometimes the kind of narrative that arrests our attention is beguiled by the media. Whatever makes a quick buck, as long as it turns the viewership up. How easy it is for Filipinos back home to vote for the son of the country’s former dictator, how easy it is to bury the memory of struggle, how easy it is to pull a trigger.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist from The Courage it Takes with Sunil Yapa

An excerpt from the post:

I am a Third World woman living in the First World. And I am both proud and ashamed of the glaring fact that I live on U.S. soil enjoying the benefits of the imperialist machinery but also fully aware that here, in the belly of the beast, are prime opportunities for change.

At that moment in the book, I felt like I was the protester and Charles at the same time. I’m in a Third World body with a mind that is increasingly adapting to the First World and at my core I am scared of losing grasp of my Third World-ness, the identity that I am proud of, all the wounds and the scars on my back, the struggles that have defined my existence, of what makes me stand up in the streets.

I remember writing The Courage it Takes, with Sunil Yapa earlier this year, when I was in an entirely different place. I was tired and burnt out but I knew that I had to keep on going. When I was reading Ocean’s poetry, I was reminded of the intimacy of personal and political work and the endless fusion of the two. I learned how to look and make connections from Teju, as I pored over his essays on politics and literature. In Colson’s book, I learned the face of imperialism, how liberty is reserved for other people. Last but not the least, I was inspired by the stories of the Lumád women as they continue to fight for their ancestral lands.

From this point, it is going to be a long and rough journey. But we’ll get there. It will take a lot of willpower, focus and love to overcome what we are facing, but again, we are a resilient people. Let the words of Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay, one of the Lumad women, continue to inspire us:

If we continue to struggle just as we are doing now, tomorrow is ours. The struggle must be continued by the future generations. What we are doing now, even if we die, we will die contented if our children, our grandchildren and the future generations will continue what we are doing. We know we can do and achieve many things. The unity that we have achieved now, can also be accomplished by future generations, even more.


#ElectionDay2016: No Such Thing As The Right Hands

Source: MiCDaily

White supremacy, or white feminism? I left my local polling place thinking about this, even after turning my ballot in.

In an interview with the Boston Review, Junot Díaz spoke about global and critical dystopias and the future of literature. The past few months have been riddled with political discourse so disheartening that for the first time in recent years, 81% of Americans wished for this election to be over.

Still, I can’t tear myself away from it all, in spite of the hypocrisy, the deception, the bigotry, for reasons that Díaz points out in the interview.

“This is of extraordinary importance, because what we bring—our critique of the present, our understanding of the present—is absolutely essential to produce a future. Our lack of presence in these areas, or our small numbers in these areas, problematically guarantee that in the future the toxic present may continue itself. We have got to chase these regimes everywhere they go, whether they imagine and re-imagine and re-create themselves in a past, whether they imagine, re-imagine, or re-create themselves in a fantastic other-space, or whether they are attempting to colonize the future. We need to go there and defend humanity, defend our humanity.”

Defending our humanity comes in the form of different things, whether it’s showing up to the Republican National Convention wearing a “Make America Read Again” hat the same way this librarian did, writing letters to the future president, or by standing with other writers to unequivocally oppose, as a matter of conscience, the presidency of one candidate.

The soul can become weary, and I have a stack of books at my disposal, with other worlds to explore. There are also lists like this, recommendations of books to read after the election.

In the end, we’re still stuck with the same system, no matter who wins. Teju Cole got it right, in this interview with poet Adam Fitzgerald:

“Not talking about Trump now…I thought the Snowden revelations were very deeply consequential, and people were like ‘Eh… you know. It’s Obama. He’s not gonna do anything bad with it.’ This fundamental undermining of what it’s fair to call a sacred principle: it would be easy to say that in the wrong hands, the effect could be devastating. But what I actually want to say is that there’s no such thing as the right hands.”

No such thing as the right hands because no matter who wins, we’re still caught in the same system where we have to continuously defend our humanity.

Still here, still breathing, still struggling.

Self-Deception in the Age of Trump and Clinton, with R.K. Narayan

Dismayed by the current political climate? Finding yourself saying #IGuessImWithHer as opposed to a candidate who seems to be trolling all of us? I guess it was timely that I started reading R.K. Narayan’s book The Guide this way, so I can reflect on the concepts of deception and self-deception.

I mean, I struggled with this book to be honest, just as I am struggling to accept Hillary. I will never vote for a Republican, so Trump is out of the question. What I want to delve into are actually the stories we tell ourselves about which candidate deserves our vote. The book was a timely tool, a way to see things behind the scenes.


Narayan’s The Guide follows the story of a Raju from the fictional town of Malgudi in India. Fresh out of prison with nowhere to go and no one to come home to, he set up camp at an old temple by the river. Slowly, locals started coming to seek his guidance as though he was a monk or a swami sent from the heavens. His disposition, his clothes and even his appearance started earning him the trust of the closest village folks who came bearing gifts and food. His thoughts became teachings, and he continued to keep this up for the purpose of survival.

He spoke to them on godliness, cleanliness, spoke on Ramayana, the characters in the epics; he addressed them on all kinds of things. He was hypnotized by his own voice; he felt himself growing in stature as he the upturned faces of the children shining in the half-light when he spoke. No one was more impressed with the grandeur of the whole thing than Raju himself.

But Raju was no monk, nor was he a yogi. Having brought up by the railways of Malgudi where his father’s business once was, he sought to make a name for himself by delving into different kinds of businesses. His father had a small convenience store and after his death, Raju took over. But he was smart, observant and knew when opportunities came up. He discovered that: 1) he could diversify his business by responding to the needs of travelers (he started selling books and other printed materials) and 2) he could capitalize on tourism (he became known as “Railway Raju” to many).


I read stuff that interested me, bored me, baffled me, and dozed off in my seat. I read stuff that pricked up a noble thought, a philosophy that appealed, I gazed on pictures of old temples and ruins and new buildings and battleships, and soldiers and pretty girls around whom my thoughts lingered. I learned much from scrap.

Continue reading “Self-Deception in the Age of Trump and Clinton, with R.K. Narayan”

Sunday Spotlight: State of the Nation

The rhetoric of politics can be draining: it is a roller-coaster ride of hope, repudiation, alarm, back to hope, at times inspiration, and then it’s back to more repudiation, more alarm, until your realize your mind becomes a pestle, your heart an unduly mortar.

No wonder so many people are apathetic about politics, even if their own lives and their interests are at stake. What does it take to keep engaging?

This is even more compounded for folks like me, a wild-eyed child of the (queer) Filipino diaspora, perpetually straddling two worlds. The flourishing of one requires the sacrifice of the other. If it isn’t taken, it is forced out. One is oil, the other, water.

The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons

In the past two weeks, I’ve been a witness to three major speeches: two American presidential nominees in their respective party conventions and the first State of the Nation Address of the Philippines’s president.

From “I alone can fix it” to “We’ll fix it together,” coverage of both the Democratic and Republican conventions was nonstop. My inbox reeks of “Breaking News” alerts every time someone says something to counter the other. I’ve never been more dismayed, disillusioned with the state of party politics.

I was never for Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact that I am a fervent women’s rights activist. What matters to me, more than her gender identity, are her political views, accomplishments and perspectives. And while her stance on social issues like abortion, immigration and access to healthcare are liberal, it’s her economic agenda that rattles, unsettles me. What do you call someone who would rather free the money, not the people?

A neoliberal.

Celebration of income inequality? Lower corporate taxes? Labor deregulation? Weakening of trade unions? Privatization of public goods and services?

And it’s no secret that whatever economic agenda the U.S. sets, it reaches the farthest corners of the world. If Hillary wins, the Trans Pacific Agreement might survive Obama’s lame duck moment of crisis.

Voting for Trump is a no-brainer, although I’m convinced he’s really just trolling all of us (h/t to Katchingles for this one) but what choice do I have?


Back in the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte gave his first State of the Nation Address which elicited high hopes for a better government, the resumption of peace talks in the country (finally!), reforms in taxation and social services, with a few chuckles here and there. He also reiterated his crusade against the drug trade, the most recurring theme of his presidency so far.

He made me tear up when he talked of a permanent and lasting peace before his term ends as his goal, as his dream. I laughed when he called out members of the Congress, when he commented on the inefficiencies of public agencies. While #SONA2016 was charming, rousing at times, with a this-is-your-good-ol-uncle-giving-you-a-talk feel to it, it was also exasperating as this article points out.


He announced a unilateral ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, of which he rescinded a week later after Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit. Go figure.

I was skeptical of Duterte while he was campaigning, but upon his election and subsequent appointment of progressive forces in his Cabinet I started to pay more attention.

After #SONA2016, the Center for Women’s Resources came out with a 100-Day Challenge to his administration. Filipinos like me in the diaspora are watching his administration closely, in support of his pro-people policies. He must be accountable to his promises, he must serve his people genuinely.

* * * 

My nose is usually buried in books, and I know that my Sunday Spotlight usually features literary musings. I can’t help but focus on political discourse for today’s post, specially at this time, when folks teeter on extremism or worse, political apathy.

In the end, while we are at the mercy of the media, while we are lambasted with senseless political prose, while we are offered promises that at times ring hollow, we should not be deterred.

Indignation must always be the answer to indignity. Reality is not destiny.

– Eduardo Galeano

Make America Read Again

What’s red and blue and *hella* white in Cleveland  (which has also seen an influx of Craigslist hook-up ads)? It could only be one thing: the Republican National Convention.

I usually don’t follow the RNC but it’s pretty hard to ignore when you’re bombarded by clips, photos, headlines and punditry by both traditional and new media.

What I enjoyed finding out about though is this librarian braving the streets of Cleveland:


Harris, a branch manager for Portage County District Library, has been handing out books to protestors and RNC attendees alike since Monday. He is doing so not to support any candidate, but to promote the importance of public funding for libraries (and literacy, of course).


He could’ve given a book or two to Melania Trump while he was at it, following Mrs. Trump’s plagiarism controversy. Her speechwriter Meredith McIver has come out and apologized for the blunder, but what’s really interesting is that McIver nearly co-wrote all of Donald Trump’s books. I think the only appropriate response to this is one of #FamousMelaniaTrumpQuotes: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” 

There’s a book on that too: Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artistof which I featured on a “Creating as a Must” post along with other great titles that spur creativity. And speaking of titles, The Millions has a piece on the most anticipated nonfiction books coming out for the second-half of 2016.


I’m looking at Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time, Robert Gottlieb’s Avid Reader: A Life, David Hadju’s Love for Sale and of course, Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things: Essays. I’m a big fan of Teju’s work — his photography, his writing, his projects, his perspective of the world really — so much so that I pre-ordered his new book back in March.

Something to add to this wonderful list: the Great Thinkers book from The School of Life which is “a collection of some of the most important ideas of Eastern and Western culture – drawn from the works of those philosophers, political theorists, sociologists, artists and novelists whom we believe have the most to offer to us today.”

If none of these titles excited you at all and you’d rather go Pokémon-hunting, fear not: the Internet has made it easier for you with #PokémonABook.

Now go out and make America read again! 

#GetLit: Of Presidentiables, Of Writers

I’m straddling two political worlds, a Filipina immigrant in the Bay Area. I am shaped by my history, seventeen years of molding in a province north of Manila. I am also shaping a story of survival, twelve years in the making in the land of milk and honey.

Central to my identities is what I do with my hands: I write. Writing has always been a medium of personal and political expression, my words weighted by the struggle of a queer immigrant woman.

And as a writer living at this time, I am aware of the shifting political landscapes around me — both in the Philippines and in the United States.

The Philippines just had the most bizarre election season, wherein a mayor from Davao (in the Southern part of the Philippines) known for his vigilante-style tactics of fighting crime emerged as the winner.

Here in the U.S., Donald Trump’s popularity continues to rise as he racks up delegates across the country. His rhetoric reeks of misogyny, racism and xenophobia, reigniting the bigoted sentiments of conservatives.

While the presence of liberal pundits and progressive activists are to be expected, the situations in both countries have also given rise to another unlikely group: writers.

Banding together as vanguards of free speech and democracy, Filipino/Filipino-American writers have signed on to A Manifesto Against Silence, spearheaded by writer Miguel Syjuco.

A Manifesto

I am a Filipino writer.

I am one among journalists, fictionists, poets, essayists, bloggers, screenwriters, graphic storytellers, copywriters, playwrights, editors… Citizens, all—in a perilous place to wield a pen.

I stand for unfettered expression—to discuss, dispute, debate, dissent. For democracy is respectful disagreement—change persuaded, never imposed. And freedom cannot be dictated, for the right to speech empowers all others: to worship, and participate in society, to cry against injustice, and call for what is just. Speaking responsibly is my responsibility—but expression remains unconditional, essential to equality and universal liberty: To each citizen, a free vote; to every citizen, a free voice.

(To read the rest of the manifesto and its Tagalog version, go here.)

* * *

And just this week, I came across a petition of writers on Trump, opposing his candidacy. The petition has been signed by 450 U.S. writers including Junot Díaz, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers and Tracy K. Smith.

Writers on Trump

Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response;

For all these reasons, we, the undersigned, as a matter of conscience, oppose, unequivocally, the candidacy of Donald J. Trump for the Presidency of the United States.

(To read the rest of the petition and sign on, go here.)

* * *

These two pieces, albeit different in intention, reaffirm the role of writers regardless of the political landscape.

The manifesto above is rightful in its claim:  that writers shall not be silent, and that they cannot be silenced. Write on, friends!