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

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

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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Libromance

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! 

5 Books to Celebrate Filipino-American History Month

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

“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

The Poetics & Physics of Hugot, with Juan Miguel Severo

Book Reviews

Hugot — a word that has reached critical mass, a Filipino word that connotes emotional vulnerability, a word that directly translates “to pull out” or “to draw out.”

Hugot is undeniable in a culture that upholds the harmony of a group foremost, as opposed to speaking out on things that troubles one’s self. It thrives in societies where it is more acceptable to keep it all in, to hold all of it in — whether it is pain, loss, disappointment or heartache — because to create a ripple on the surface is more embarrassing.

It is drawn deep from the emotional ground of the self, where it is carefully kept, nurtured well by similar experiences. It takes root in the heart, plants itself in the mind, until it becomes one with the body. The body holds it closely.

And then it comes out — in the most inopportune times: while watching a movie, after seeing a happy couple at a park, in the middle of a poem.

It bears the undeniable mark of hurt, usually masked with a joke. With a tinge of nostalgia, or bitterness.

This is where Juan Miguel Severo comes in, touted as the “Hugot Boy” or “Hugot King.” My first introduction to Severo like many, was through a video that went viral: 

This video of Severo performing a spoken word piece in Tagalog is electric. It is fire. It is the first of its kind that I’ve ever seen, as a lover of poetry and an avid fan of spoken word poets like Saul Williams, Aja Monet and Kai Davis.

It is also undoubtedly rife with hugot (hugot lines as many would claim) to which I declare: Wrap me up in all of it, please. I am that tender-hearted Pinay who feels safest/happiest in places where emotions are deep, raw and unbridled.

In his debut collection of poetry Habang Wala Pa Sila: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig, I reveled in the intimacy and vulnerability of poems. The book was a pasalubong (along with other books) from my parents after a trip to the Philippines over the summer.

And it wasn’t until my trip to Puerto Rico on the last week of August that I was finally able to immerse myself in it — at Culebra nonetheless, an island off of the main island of Puerto Rico 17 miles away:

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Playa Flamenco (Culebra, Puerto Rico)

It’s been awhile since I read Filipino literature, and there are only a few poems in Tagalog that I remember clearly: Maria Lorena Barros’s and from a collection of political poems called Poetika/Politika.

May Day: Poetry for the Workers

Poetry, Sunday Spotlight
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Mural in Santa Mesa, Philippines

May 1st is International Workers’ Day, a symbolic day to commemorate, celebrate and continue the struggles of workers around the world. Currently, it is celebrated in 80 countries including Nigeria, Egypt, India and Chile, and it is also celebrated widely in the Philippines where a labor group has named themselves Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1st Labor Movement).

It is not, however, an official holiday in the United States. In fact, Labor Day was moved to September prompting many to call the move a whitewashing. Unbeknownst to many is how the commemoration of the Haymarket Square Riot in Chicago back in 1886 is also central to May 1st:

On May 4, 1886, a labor protest rally near Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned into a riot after someone threw a bomb at police. At least eight people died as a result of the violence that day. Despite a lack of evidence against them, eight radical labor activists were convicted in connection with the bombing. The Haymarket Riot was viewed a setback for the organized labor movement in America, which was fighting for such rights as the eight-hour workday. At the same time, the men convicted in connection with the riot were viewed by many in the labor movement as martyrs. (Source: History.com)

To celebrate and commemorate the rich history of workers who have paved the way for humane working conditions, and for those who are still continuing the struggle, I’ve compiled some poems which offer depth, racial history and perspective of workers then and now.

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The first poem is from a Marxist collection of poetry, an anthology published for The Workers Party of America. I’ve never heard of this party before, although a quick search on Google shows that it was the “legal organization for the Communist Party of the USA.” Communist or not, the collection of poems stirs the reader, evokes strength as they “center upon the life, struggles and revolutionary movement of the working class.”

We Have Fed You All For a Thousand Years
Poem—By an Unknown Proletarian

We have fed you all, for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there’s never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the worker’s dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool.
Then if blood be the price of all your wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in full.

The next poem is by the Black poet Langston Hughes, a Harlem Renaissance figure whose work I’ve come to love. Although his work was deemed by many as controversial, the grit of his poems on workers has contributed to a body of literature that is often missing. He states that his poetry is for “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.

Open Letter to the South
Langston Hughes

White workers of the South
Miners,
Farmers,
Mechanics,
Mill Hands,
Shop girls,
Railway men,
Servants,
Tobacco workers,
Sharecroppers,
GREETINGS!

I am the black worker,
Listen:
That the land might be ours,
And the mines and the factories and the office towers
At Harlan, Richmond, Gastonia, Atlanta, New Orleans;
That the plants and the roads and the tools of power.

The next poem I chose is written by Joseph O. Legaspi, a poet born in the Philippines who migrated to Los Angeles when he was 12. As a Filipino myself, I found this poem of his — its details vivid, its theme familiar — an ode not just for his own mother, but for many immigrant mothers.

The Red Sweater
Joseph O. Legaspi

slides down into my body, soft
lambs wool, what everybody
in school is wearing, and for me
to have it my mother worked twenty
hours at the fast-food joint.
The sweater fits like a lover,
sleeves snug, thin on the waist.
As I run my fingers through the knit,
I see my mother over the hot oil in the fryers
dipping a strainer full of stringed potatoes.
In a twenty hour period my mother waits
on hundreds of customers: she pushes
each order under ninety seconds, slaps
the refried beans she mashed during prep time,
the lull before rush hours, onto steamed tortillas,
the room’s pressing heat melting her make-up.
Every clean strand of weave becomes a question.
How many burritos can one make in a continuous day?
How many pounds of onions, lettuce and tomatoes
pass through the slicer? How do her wrists
sustain the scraping, lifting and flipping
of meat patties?           And twenty

hours are merely links
in the chain of days startlingly similar,
that begin in the blue morning with my mother
putting on her polyester uniform, which,
even when it’s newly-washed, smells
of mashed beans and cooked ground beef.

The final poem featured tells the unfortunate and haunting story of Xu Lizhi, a Chinese factory worker who committed suicide. Lizhi moved from a Chinese province to the city where he worked at Foxconn, the company that manufactures iPhones. The Washington Post states that his poems are “a wrenching echo of the alienation and hardship felt by countless people in modern China and, for that matter, in other parts of the developing world. They lament the grinding ennui of the assembly line, the squalor of a migrant worker’s narrow, frustrated existence.”

(Untitled)
Xu Lizhi

I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
I can’t swallow any more
All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
Into a disgraceful poem.

* * *

Together, these poems weave a historical and contemporary narrative of workers that has continued to transcend borders. Buried by the current political rhetoric and ignored by the loudest media mouthpieces of our time, it is ever more important to pay tribute to their struggles. To honor the workers who have tried to shift the shape of an unjust world for many, for those of us who were raised and taught by their calloused hands, we breathe in their history, and remember their beauty through poetry.

Sunday Spotlight: Filipino Literature

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

The month of April is National Literature Month in the Philippines or #BuwanNgPanitikan and in its honor, I thought of doing this Sunday’s feature on the literary work of Filipinos.

I grew up with mostly American literature and found it incredibly difficult to engage with Filipino lit. Although my first language is Tagalog, it was much easier for me to read and write in English. José Rizal, the journalist/poet/writer and national hero of the Philippines, would’ve surely scoffed at this.

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One cannot omit Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, two important pieces of literature that awakened the country’s consciousness during the Spanish colonization. Both of these were required reading when I was still in school. I have some faint recollection of the texts, mostly remembering the female characters of María Clara and Sisa. The former is the mestiza heroine of Noli Me Tangere, embodying the Filipino “feminine ideals” while the latter embodies the kind of hardships mothers go through for their children.

I was introduced to Jessica Zafra when I was younger, although I can’t remember any of her work. I might have read a book of hers (maybe Twisted?) but I think my mind was stubbornly glued to American lit, finding it more interesting at that time.

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I also vaguely remember reading Andres Cristobal Cruz’s Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din (Even in Tondo There is a Heaven), a Tagalog novel about poverty and violence in one of Manila’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Again, my experience was the same — I found it hard to engage with the text, much less comprehend the essence of the book.

The single piece of literature that spoke to me at that time was a book called Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian, an anthology written by queer Filipino women writers. I was immediately smitten. The stories, essays and poems spoke to me on a personal level. That copy belonged to my English high school teacher and a decade later, I finally got my own.

I am fortunate that in the Bay Area, there are resources that people can turn to for Filipino literature. There’s the Filipino American Center at the San Francisco Public Library with its trove of fiction and nonfiction materials. In the recently established Filipino Cultural Heritage District in the South of Market of San Francisco is also an indie bookstore called Arkipelago. It is a community-based specialty bookshop that I could get lost in for hours. And there’s PAWA, Inc. (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.), a space that encourages Filipino American art and literature.

It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. that I became more interested in Filipino lit. The San Francisco Public Library and Arkipelago aided and nurtured that interest. My politics also influenced the kinds of literature I sought; I stayed with Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution, I was smitten with Bienvenido Lumbrera’s Poetika/politika.

To contribute to the conversation around #BuwanNgPanitikan, here are my own “Pira-pirasong Panitikan” (literary pieces) from Filipino lit I’ve acquired over the years, à la Rappler style (as seen above).

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As this month and the celebration of Filipino lit nears its end, the resolution to keep reading and engaging with it remains. It is a continuous process of deepening one’s self, and a life-long journey that grows one’s roots even further. There are numerous literary greats that are not mentioned here, of which I’ve yet to discover. As Manuel Briones, another Filipino writer states:

The end of the Filipino writer, although he employs foreign materials, should always be to harness and unite these in the native manner so that the resultant piece becomes a perfect work of our own literature; developed in the treasury of the national soul.

Do you have Filipino literature recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!

 

 

Coming Out on Faith with Anne Lamott

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Ash Wednesday came early this year. It was supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of living in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God.

I started reading Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Improbable Moments of Grace a day after Good Friday. The day was “Black Saturday,” a day of mourning for Catholics. It’s that in-between time after the death of Jesus and his resurrection the following day.

The day before, I was still finishing up my post on Ed Catmull’s book and my mom casually asked if I still went to church. I didn’t have a better answer than “I’m not practicing” so that’s what I said. Dammit. That was a lie, followed by Catholic guilt.

For a long time I considered myself an atheist, not believing in God/dess or a higher power. I always questioned his/her/their existence, having witnessed a lot of suffering as I grew up. As I got older I became agnostic and eventually, I turned to Buddhism, finding its teachings and practices a much more suitable fit for the person I want to be. For the person I try to be, instead of feeling bad that I hadn’t followed my parents’ religious footsteps 

I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you’d dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self.