Review: An Exploration of What Haunts us in “MUMU”

This review was originally published on


“We all have ghosts.”

The neon red sign on the facade of Bindlestiff Studio on 6th St. beckoned from afar. A huddle of black-clad figures hovered by the entrance, while a sudden chill breezes through. Past nights have been unusually warm but that Friday night, it felt as if the city joined in. The faces in the dim light all looked eager. And then the doors opened.

One of the markers of the fall season has always been Halloween and after a few years of staying in the country, I finally acclimated to the festivities towards the end of October. It hasn’t always been like that. Where I’m from, we never really celebrated October 31st or Halloween the same way. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic culture, what we celebrated was November 1st and 2nd, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – “Undas.” And instead of wearing costumes, going trick-or-treating and indulging in good ol’ Halloween debauchery, we stopped to honor the dead.

As early as three in the afternoon, my family and I would start heading towards the PUBLIC cemetery in our small town in Pampanga, Philippines. We would bring food in Tupperware containers, flowers and candles. At the gate of the cemetery, vendors selling strands of sampaguita and candles would come up to us to try to sell some of their goods. The fishball vendors have set up their stands on the side, with jars of assorted sauces ready for dipping.

We make our way through a tiny city of tombs, past makeshift karaoke machines and groups of people either praying, laughing or eating. Most of the tombs are laid atop of each other, structures of solid cement. We find my grandparents’ tomb and already there are candles and wreaths of flowers. We pray, we eat, we tell stories. We honor, we celebrate. In the tiny city of tombs, we need not don masks or costumes because we are in the company of ghosts, of spirits.

I recall all of these things when I first started seeing photos for the MUMU show on Instagram. Along with rituals and traditions I grew up with, there were also ghost stories, sentinel spirits and the infamous “White Lady” apparitions I was familiar with. As spooky as this photo looked, it also felt strangely familiar:

Source: Susmaryosep & Co.

Borne out of longing to tell the stories they heard from their grandmothers as kids, long-time friends and creative partners Irene Faye Duller and Julie Rosete Munsayac dreamed of turning these stories into an experiential project. MUMU was born, a multisensory, art-theater experience, a celebration of death and a meditation of darker selves.

“Mumu” is the Tagalog derivative of the word for ghost (multo) coupled with the Filipino’s linguistic penchant of repeating the first syllable of certain words (usually used on names i.e. Junjun, Tintin, Lotlot but also for other words that may be deemed “uncouth”). Mumu is ghost, spirit, anything haunted.

I was psyched. As a Pinay thousands of miles away from the homeland, this was the closest thing to the traditional Undas I grew up with.  Continue reading “Review: An Exploration of What Haunts us in “MUMU””


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.

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?

Source: Arkipelago Books (Facebook)


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

A QPOC Guide to the 2016 Litquake Festival


Literature lovers, unite!

Starting this week, the Bay Area will be home to various literary events as the 2016 Litquake Festival launches. Originally created as a one-day reading series at Golden Gate Park, it has evolved to be a multi-day affair filled with workshops, youth programs, speaker events and more with local authors and writers from around the world.

With 50+ events, my book-loving, queer heart had to look through the list and narrow it down to events that would speak to the fellow QPOC minds and hearts. Here’s what I came up:

LGBTQ Spotlight: Litquake in the Castro

Outstanding writers from the LGBTQ community present their work outdoors in the heart of the world’s gay mecca: Rabih Alameddine, Meliza Bañales, Julie Blair, Roberto F. Santiago, James Siegel, and Willy Wilkinson. Wine reception and book sales follows at Dog Eared Books, 489 Castro St. FREE 

RADAR Queer Reading Series at the Library

RADAR Productions gives voice to innovative queer and outsider writers and artists whose work authentically reflects the LGBTQA community’s diverse experiences. This Litquake edition spotlights four incredible artists, hosted by RADAR artistic director Juliana Delgado Lopera, and followed by audience discussion and cookies. FREE 

Yaa Gyasi at The Octopus

Yaa Gyasi discusses and reads from her new book Homegoing, a story of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana, and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. FREE

American Lyric: Claudia Rankine in Conversation

Litquake welcomes Claudia Rankine, an award-winning, genre-defying, groundbreaking American writer and author of the New York Times bestselling Citizen: An American Lyric (“…the best note in the wrong song that is America. Its various realities—’mistaken’ identity, social racism, the whole fabric of urban and suburban life—are almost too much to bear, but you bear them, because it’s the truth” —Hilton Als). In conversation with author/professor Sarah Ladipo Manyika. $15 advance or at the door

Global Fiction: Litquake’s International Night

Amidst an increased climate for international fiction, whether translated or originally in English, Litquake convenes this stellar selection of authors from Australia, Ecuador, France, and Romania, to discuss and read from their latest works. Moderated by Transit Books publisher Adam Z. Levy. Seating is limited. Doors open at 6 pm for pre-show reception. FREE

Arisa White and Robin Coste Lewis in Conversation

Award-winning poet and teacher Arisa White, author of the new collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, discusses poetry, race, and the body politic with National Book Award recipient Robin Coste Lewis (Voyage of the Sable Venus). FREE

Writing Indigenous Experiences

Indigenous, First Nations, Native Americans, or American Indian—whichever words you use, a new wave of literature is bringing their issues to the forefront. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Alison Owings, Kim Shuck, Lindsie Bear, and Greg Sarris discuss the unique challenges faced by writers who communicate indigenous realities for a wider audience. $10 

Mission Bookstores: United We Stand

A words-and-music celebration hosted by the independent bookstore coalition working to preserve and serve the longstanding community and creative interests of the historic Latino Cultural District. Adobe Books, Alley Cat Books, Dog Eared Books, and Modern Times Bookstore Collective join to honor the authors, poets, musicians, and activists who make their culturally diverse spaces hum. Hosted by Denise Sullivan and Kate Rosenberger. Music by Preston Swirnoff and special guest. Scheduled to appear: Ian Brennan, MK Chavez, Freddy Gutierrez, Victor Krummenacher, Alejandro Murguía, Natasha Muse, Po Poets, Kate Schatz, Miriam Klein Stahl, David Talbot, and Katie Tomzynski. $5-10 sliding scale

See you in the streets / bookstores / cafes / readings!

Bars, Baths & Butches

I remember picking up Michelle Tea’s book Valencia back when I was 18, reading about a queer San Francisco that seemed worlds away from a small apartment in Daly City. I had to wrap my head around the fact that Mission St. in Daly City led straight to the legendary Mission district where the queer population of the City congregated.

I thought about those times as I drove to the mission yesterday a little after noon, excited for Radar Production’s Bars, Baths & Butches: A Queer Historical Tour of Valencia & 16th. A friend invited me to join the tour and it never occurred to me that such a thing even existed, a decade into staying in the Bay Area.

The sun was high up Saturday noon, as the walls of the Women’s Building on 18th St. glistened in the October sun. Folks young and old were slowly milling on the alley way that served as the meeting spot for the tour, as my friend and I took the last drags of our cigarettes, prepared to join the group.

I looked at the faces around me — mostly white, older lesbians — and silently wished for more queer people of color. The first time I visited the Women’s Building was when I was 17, as a young immigrant baby dyke eager to learn about queer sexuality. I think it was right after reading Valencia too. The Building was holding a free class and I remember feeling queasy and extremely intimidated by the three other white butches in the room in their leather jackets and shaved heads. I never went back to the class but it was enough of an experience for me at that time, utterly confused but feeling like I was onto something I should further investigate.

A few minutes later, the tour’s organizers welcomed everyone. There were folks from Radar Productions, a San Francisco-based non-profit that organizes and produces literary events in the Bay Area, and from the GLBT Historical Society which collects, preserves and interprets the history of GLBT people and the communities that support them.

 In addition to the Women’s Building, the group made stops at the Lexington Club, Amelia’s and Esta Noche, historical queer spaces that have been shut down and replaced. there were performances in each stop: a poem to commemorate the Lex, the only lesbian club in the City which closed in April 2015, another poem to remember Amelia’s where Lynn Breedlove performed with their punk band, and Esta Noche on 16th St., where Persia performed to commemorate the space where drag queens once held shows. My heart, disculpe. 

And then it hit me: while national conversations around gender identity and sexuality are becoming more mainstream, the reality is that physical spaces have vanished in San Francisco. Of course Castro remains, but it has always been the haven of white gay men. Places for queer women, specially for queer women of color, are simply gone.

While part of me feels the loss of these spaces, I also know that queer folks have made our own ways of creating safe spaces for ourselves where we can celebrate each other, honor the ways we’ve learned how to survive. While we cannot reclaim past sites of intimacy, we’ve been able to recreate spaces of love and community. We’ve seen and felt the destruction of toxic heteronormativity, and how we’ve always responded with resilience.

Though we tremble before uncertain futures
may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength
may we dance in the face of our fears.

– Gloria  E. Anzaldúa 

#GetLit: Bay Area Lit Festivals

Literary heads in the Bay Area, rejoice!

I know most of us would rather curl up with a book on the weekend, avoid the crowds, be content with the company of a warm cup of coffee, a book in hand. Or maybe that’s just me. Weekend plans aside, the Bay has been blessed with some serious lit action happening soon (as in this month!) that I personally choose not to miss.

Oakland Book Festival (May 22, 2016)


On its second year, the Oakland Book Festival aims to “serve the reading public, to encourage debate and celebrate the City of Oakland.” The festival program features panels on incarceration, workers’ issues, struggles of farm workers, on #BlackLivesMatter and many others that I’m looking forward to participating in. For the full program lineup, click here.

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Bay Area Book Festival (June 4 & 5, 2016)


The Bay Area Book Festival is an indoor and outdoor festival to be held at downtown Berkeley in June. With the San Francisco Chronicle, the festival features a whopping 120 literary sessions (panels, interviews, etc.) – it’s almost like a literary Coachella! Spoken word artist Saul Williams will also open the festival with a performance on June 2nd, with Black Spirituals and Chinaka Hodge. For the full schedule, click here.

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Litquake (October 7-15, 2016)


Ah, Litquake. Even though I’ve been living in the Bay Area for about 10 years now, I haven’t been able to participate because of, well, life. This year will be different though, because I’ve got my eyes (and reading glasses!) on the week-long event. Litquake “seeks to foster interest in literature for people of all ages, perpetuate a sense of literary community, and provide a vibrant forum for writing from the Bay Area and beyond as a complement to the city’s music, film, and cultural festivals.” Full lineup here.

Hope to see you in one, or all!

L’intimité de la vie quotidienne, with Adam Gopnik and Pierre Bonnard

I visited the Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia exhibit over the weekend, at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. I have never heard of Bonnard nor seen any of his works before, but as of late anything French has been a keen interest. The second part of the exhibit, curated by Esther Bell features the artist’s intimisme, painted works which detail domestic interiors with an intimate subject matter. He depicted scenes at the breakfast table, women reading the newspaper awashed in morning light, tables laden with food. What Bonnard does is capture these moments tenderly, reminiscent of the way the writer Marcel Proust proposed a different way of looking in Alain de Botton’s How Marcel Proust Can Change Your Life.

The Breakfast Table (ca. 1925, Oil on Canvas)

The effect of these painted works on me was heightened, with Adam Gopnik’s book Paris to the Moon fresh on my mind. I got a used copy at the SF Big Book Sale in April, after seeing Alain de Botton’s (again) praise on the cover. I picked up it in a hurry without reading what it was about, and the book proved to be an exercise in good judgment.

Paris to the Moon details Gopnik’s move to Paris with his wife Martha and his son Luke from New York in 1995. He talks briefly about his childhood, blithely recounting the cardboard Parisian policeman he once had, family vacations in Europe to meeting Martha, who loved Paris as much as he did. I had to heave several sighs of wistful longing. After Luke was born, the family made its way to across the Atlantic to an apartment on the Left Bank street, second floor.

The odd thing in making a big move is the knowledge that your life will be composed of hundreds of small things that you will arrive at only by trial and error, and that for all the strikes and seminars you attend, the real flavor of life will be determined, shaped by these things.


My fascination with Paris, and France in general, started with literature (as do other things in my life). It wasn’t too long ago when I regarded France with a bat of the hand, scrunching up the side of my face after rolling my eyes and mouthing “colonizer.” But James Baldwin changed all of that.

When I read one of his books, Giovanni’s Room, I was glued to the characters of David and Giovanni’s lives in the tiny room that was ‘theirs.’  I started reading more about Baldwin after that, wanting to understand why France was ideal for him. When you hail from a Third World Country, it is usually the American Dream that permeates your ancestral and personal ideal. In an interview with The Paris Review, Baldwin states: It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. 

Nevertheless, France became a refuge for the writer, while I joined the nameless group of writers who think of France as a sort of literary mecca. While I have never been to the country, I think Gopnik summarizes what draws the Francophile in:

It is not an old or antiquated Paris that we love, but the persistent, modern material Paris, carrying on in a time of postmodern immateriality, when everything seems about to dissolve into pixels. We love Paris not out of “nostalgia” but because we love the look of light on things, as opposed to the look of light from things, the world reduced to images radiating from screens. Paris was the site of the most beautiful commonplace civilization there has ever been: cafes, brasseries, parks, lemons on trays, dappled light on bourgeois boulevards, department stores with skylights, and windows like doors everywhere you look.


The Cafe “Au Petit Pucet,” Place Clichy in the Evening (1928, Oil on Canvas)
La Place Clichy (1912, Oil on Canvas)

Continue reading “L’intimité de la vie quotidienne, with Adam Gopnik and Pierre Bonnard”

#GetLit: April 30 is Indie #BookstoreDay!


April 30 (Saturday) is Independent #BoosktoreDay, the third year of celebrating independent book stores that have withstood time (and e-readers), and have weathered the shifts in the publishing industry (and

According to the American Booksellers Association, independent bookstores have gone up from 1,651 in 2009 to 2, 227 in 2015. That is major cause for celebration. This year, the event features 16 exclusive books and art pieces only available at participating bookstores, like the delightful Neil Gaiman Coloring book. Or a stencil featuring Fran Lebowitz. Literary tea towels. All the good stuff.


I am lucky to work in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco where two bookstores are within a mile radius — Green Apple Books on Clement St. and Books Inc. on California St. I’ve been going to both bookstores for ten years now, and there’s quite nothing like being in the refuge of these places.

On #BookstoreDay, the following bookstores in San Francisco are hosting various fun activities like the “Silent Book Club,” onsite puppy adoptions (!), as well as book signings:

For a list of all participating locations, check out the event’s official website here.

See you at the nearest independent bookstore!

Sunday Spotlight: San Francisco’s Big Book Sale 

San Francisco Big Book Sale, Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason

It’s that time again for one of my favorite sale events in the Bay — the San Francisco Big Book Sale! This bi-annual event is put together by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library around Spring time and in the Fall, wherein donated books and media are sold for $1-$3 each.

My first BBS was back in 2011 and I came on the last day of the sale where coincidentally, all books were on (an even bigger) sale for $1 each. I was so overwhelmed with the quantity and accessibility of the sale that I must have bought around 50+ titles. Bibliophile gone wild.

I admit that I haven’t been able to go through all of those books and I’ve also donated most of them. This time however, I planned on being more intentional.

Hello warehouse of my dreams.



Continue reading “Sunday Spotlight: San Francisco’s Big Book Sale “