What I’m Reading / Thinking / Feeling this February

#GetLit, Soul + Spirit

Fresh off of a trip from New York City and I’m feeling all sorts of inspired + excited for this year’s opportunities and gifts!

I just wrote a piece on Hella Pinay about making 2018 the year of emergence, along with a couple of book recommendations that I hope can guide and enlighten. You can check out the full piece here, and share with a friend or two.

February is probably one of my favorite months, in anticipation of March (my birth month) where for the past couple of years, a lot of life-changing things have been happening. It’s also usually Chinese New Year (I’m not Chinese but have reverence for the occasion), Black History Month and duh, Valentines Day (which is always a good time to challenge/recreate/celebrate the different ways we love).

I know we’re almost halfway into the month already, but I’ve got a few more literary-ish things I’m hoping to publish in addition to weekly book reviews. I’m reading a bit slower than usual though, and usually I would berate myself for not keeping on track with my reading/publishing schedule but I learned a lot of good but hard lessons last year.

A few things coming up your way is a V-day special, books to celebrate Black History month and this month’s reading of course! I just finished Tom Hanks’s book of short stories An Unncommon Type and unexpectedly loved it. I’m about to dive into another set of short stories by Susan Sontag, so watch out for reviews of both of these. This week also, my review for Ana Simo’s Heartland will be out!

As I continue to open myself up to new experiences and things that make me want to cower in bed and hide, I find myself feeling lighter and expansive at the same time, each day a wave of goodness (even on the bad days). I can say that for the first time in my existence, I feel at peace with what I have, what I’m doing, what I’m feeling. Is this what being in your 30s feel like?!

Navigating a tumultuous political and economic reality can wear even the strongest spirit down, so for the past few months, I’ve been focused on nourishing my mental, emotional and physical health. And it’s worked wonders! Apart from living within the books I devour, I’ve also learned how to truly live in this world–to be ever present. At the end of the day, knowing that everything I chose to say yes and no to feels good in my heart (and gut!) gives me a sense of power and agency I’ve never really felt before.

This, in spite of continued attacks on women from heads of state (Trump & Duterte) — u got a domestic violence apologist/misogynist for your adoptive country with a macho-fascist for your homeland. Talk about being a Filipino-American queer woman at this time!

Still, we resist. We create. We thrive and continue to exist. I am grateful to feel rooted, grounded and centered like never before and it is my wish that every single one feels the same way. We need all of our strength and resilience as we fight to make our way in this planet, as we make room for many more. I love how I’ve been able to connect with so many folks through this Libromance and as always, thank you for supporting me and my blog! 🖤

#GetLit: Kazuo Ishiguro & #FilBookFest

#GetLit

Me and my boots at the Color Factory in San Francisco, CA 

My current mood is perfectly depicted in the photo above. The world is wearing me out, tbvfh. In the past week, almost 60 people were killed as a gunman peppered attendees of a country music festival with bullets. Hundred were injured. In the past weeks, hurricanes ravaged Texas and Puerto Rico, while earthquakes killed many in Mexico.

To make matters worse, the presidency has proven itself to be even worse than anticipated, with Trump mouthing off the most ridiculous things to have ever been uttered by anyone, ever. There’s blatant corruption, no sign of compassion or empathy but rather strong displays of bigotry, misogyny and racism. It seems like we’re regressing further into the abyss, with the rollback of DACA, numerous attempts of overturning Obamacare, the reinstatement of the Muslim Ban, a tax proposal which prioritizes the wealthiest and so many more.

And so I hide. I hide in my books, in the small (yet grand in many ways) comforts of arts and music, in the day-to-day moments of wonder I’ve been able to grasp. I find hope in literature, as a means to ground myself in the lessons of the past, what we’re dealing in the future, and what the future could look like as we shape it. I feel a certain type of restlessness, so I wander, reveling in new places and new faces. At the same time, I also turn inwards, finding solitude more and more nourishing.

It may just be a change of season, the wind blowing in a different direction. A few days ago, I woke up to news of British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

I thought of Haruki Murakami right away, the other famed Japanese novelist, whose books I never really liked. I’ve never read any of Ishiguro’s work before so I can’t say I’m familiar with his work, but pieces like this — first reviews of every Ishiguro novel — certainly help. And as if I needed another nod to make my way to Green Apple Books this weekend for copies of Ishiguro’s books, I came across this:

pico

Oh, Pico.

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In other news, I’ve been slowly cranking out book reviews so if you’re looking for your next best read, here are some links to help you out:

Loving in Ireland, with John Boyne (A Book Review of The Heart’s Invisible Furies)

On Separation, Family and Revolution, with Derek Palacio (A Book Review of The Mortifications)

This Body Is, with Roxane Gay (A Book Review of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body)

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Five Books You Should Read This Year

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Lastly, the Filipino Book Festival is happening this weekend in San Francisco — let me know if you will be too, let’s link up! In the meantime, happy reading!

Filipina in México: Drug Wars & Duterte

Sunday Spotlight

It felt good to say peace out to the U.S. for about a week, as I flew across and past the southern border of the country.

México was the closest thing to home for a Filipina who grew up in the tropics, transplanted in the foggy coast of the Bay Area. I yearned to be away from the toxic rhetoric that Trump spewed 24/7, and I wanted to put as much distance as I could between white supremacists and my queer, brown body.

As the plane made its way to the Yucatán Peninsula, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the irony. Just a few days before I left the Bay was when I first found out about Kian Loyd Delos Santos. The 17-year old from Caloocan City in the Philippines was murdered by the police, on accounts of being a drug pusher/courier/runner. President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal “War on Drugs” has claimed 12,000 lives, with the number of extrajudicial killings rising every day.

So there I was, heading to a country whose people Trump and his supporters have vowed to build a wall against, a country which has also been fighting its own drug war.

What’s a Filipino living in America to do?

The sun was high up as I stepped out of the airport. The heat and humidity felt familiar. On a ferry to Isla Mujeres, I sought to shake Trump off my mind as my senses drank in the beauty of the ocean, a glistening blue that lulled you. Surprisingly, that sentiment was affirmed by souvenirs and wares sold on sidewalk stalls: trucker hats with the words “F*ck Trump” on them, the ultimate anti-MAGA dad hats.

While Trump was fading in my mind, Kian was becoming more and more prominent. I was physically away from the States but my social media feeds and timelines weren’t.   There were many stories and articles about Kian’s death, whose mother was an overseas Filipino worker forced to come home to his son’s funeral. There were many speculations, as many as the number of Duterte’s opposition who kept showing up at Kian’s wake.

I found it interesting that just about a year ago, I read a story online that featured two books Duterte was reading: a nonfiction title about Southeast Asia and what do you know — El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Amazon | Indiebound) by Ioan Grillo. I don’t know much about the book, but I hope he realizes that the drug war he’s created and the level of impunity he’s unleashed is not the solution.

Whenever I think of the Mexican drug war, I remember what former President Vicente Fox said when I met him back in 2010: aren’t the customers from up north, the Americans? While the situations aren’t entirely similar, the viewpoint of crushing drug peddlers — usually poor people and worse, minors, women and children — does little to end the toxic industry. 

It’s a struggle to be a Filipino-American these days, y’all.

And although I still balk at calling myself “Fil-Am,” I feel the struggle both ways, in all its multiplicity.

The Philippines seems to be at the mercy of a perplexing president whose politics are at best confounding. Following his declaration of martial law in Mindanao (southern part of the Philippines), he also withdraw from ongoing peace talks with the revolutionary (and underground) government of the country (strongest in the countryside).

And then there’s Trump. Following his announcement to pull the U.S. out the Paris Climate Agreements, the easier option is to throw your hands up and lose yourself in moments like “covfefe.”

Maybe my trip to Mexico City in the next few days is good timing, as all of these things can wear a Pisces down. I’m bringing Rosario Castellanos and Octavio Paz with me, two noted Mexican writers whose work has inspired me. Last night, I was leafing through Paz’s A Tree Within (Amazon | Indiebound) and came across this:

Mis sentidos en guerra con el mundo: fue frágil armisticio la lectura.

(My feelings at war with the world: reading was a fragile truce.)

paz

Reading as a truce, reading as a tool — that’s what this blog has always stood for. I’ve compiled books to help us through these times, like this list of reading for resistanceI also just reviewed a book on tyranny and offered up my response, based on my experience as an activist. As a Filipino in the face of martial law, here’s my blog’s literary antidote.

Even more timely is an exploration of Alexander Von Humboldt’s life, possibly the very first man to confirm man-made climate change.

In spite of this, I come back to a Alain de Botton on his book about Proust. In one of the chapters, they talk about books and reading. And as much as I love both, for as long as I am tethered to words, I recognize both their beauty and fallibility:

We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off and we would like him to provide us with answers when all that he is able to do is provide desires… That is the value of reading and is also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement.

–Marcel Proust

Reading as an incitement, a tool to spur us to action. I think I like that better.

#GetLit: Reading in the Midst of Crisis

#GetLit

May’s Reading List

Call to Action, Fiction, Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

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!

#SavetheNEA: A Campaign to Save the Arts

Art + Creativity, Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

As the plane touched down in SFO from Manila on the eve of March 16th, not only did I step out of the plane with a heavy heart, I was also dumbfounded with recent news. Being away from the States gave me the false idea that for a second, I can get away from Trump. But there I was, waiting in line at the immigration kiosk, reading about the orange bloviator’s latest move: eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies.

I was jetlagged, already homesick but most of all, I was angry.

NDT

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what all of this means. As Trump moves to present his federal budget, he has chosen to eliminate what constitutes 0.002% of the $1.1 trillion budget. While it may seem inconsequential, losing $300 million is a huge blow to folks, programs and projects which have been traditionally underfunded: artists, writers, magazines, libraries, local television stations, radio programs and other projects.

According to the American for the Arts Action Fund:

1) The NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in America. NEA grants help leverage more than a 9 to 1 match in private charitable gifts and other state and local public funding.

2) The NEA also has an exemplary partnership with the states, with 40 percent of program funds distributed through state arts agencies.

3) With only a $148 million annual budget, the NEA investments in the arts helps contribute to a $730 billion economic arts and culture economic industry, including 4.2 percent of the annual GDP and supporting 4.8 million jobs that yields a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.

4) For more than 50 years, the NEA has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in your congressional district and throughout all 50 states and U.S. Territories.

5) NEA funding reaches small, rural towns through its “Our Town” grants and specifically helps our wounded soldiers and veterans with effective arts therapy.

And it’s not only the arts that’s losing funding but also a milieu of other agencies as he, unsurprisingly, increases the budget for defense. John Oliver takes a jab:

As a queer Filipino immigrant writer in the Bay Area, this hits close to home. Not only will opportunities be taken away at expanding the arts and uplifting the voices of marginalized communities, it also has far-reaching consequences across the globe. Case in point: my homeland, the Philippines.

Trump’s proposed increase in military spending comes at the heels of a recent allegation concerning US naval officers in the country:

On March 15, 2017, Admiral Loveless, four retired Navy captains and a retired Marine colonel were charged with corruption and other offenses [in the Philippines]. Among the charges includes accounts of “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes” and accepting bribes from Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis in the form of gifts, luxury hotel stays and prostitutes. “Fat Leonard” is a Singapore-based defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.

GABRIELA USA

So what can we do at this point? The most important thing is to 1) reach out to your local representatives, express your outrage/concern and urge them to fight against Trump’s budget and 2) spread the word by telling your friends/family/neighbor/crush/ex-lovers/others and blast it on your all your social media profiles.

After all, John Keating/Robert Williams (RIP) said it best:

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Read more:

14 Authors on the Life-Changing Impact of the NEA (Electric Literature)
Laura Callanan on Inequality and Art
Fighting to Give Everyone Access to Arts and Culture (KQED)
Mike Huckabee: A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts (The Washington Post)

No Ban, No Wall

Sunday Spotlight

I was going to publish a post today about how I was looking for a reader-inchief at the White House, but things have just gotten way too messy in the country to even focus on literature at this minute.

Source: Design Action Collective

For the past two days, I’ve been protesting Trump’s Muslim Ban executive order at San Francisco International Airport, where people from seven Muslim-majority countries are being detained. This executive order suspends the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days with exceptions; suspends the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely; and suspends the entry of lawful permanent residents, refugees and nonimmigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. Xenophobia and Islamophobia in this country has reached new, horrendous heights and we can not idly stand by.

Instead of my usual posts about books and literature, I’m reposting a list of things to keep in mind created by Prerna Lal, a queer Indo-Fijian lawyer in the U.S.

1. If detained at a CA airport under Executive Order, call the local ACLU hotline:

SFO 415-621-2488
LAX 213-977-5245

2. A federal district judge in New York has stayed the Executive Order. The stay is temporary but effective immediately and nationwide, and is an order to CBP to not remove people under the Executive Order (and should also extend to those who are trying to enter the U.S.). If your non-citizen family or friends are traveling from countries that have been designated on the list (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen), tell them to print out a copy of the stay order and carry it on them: http://documents.latimes.com/deportations-stay-trump/.

If non-citizens continue to be harassed, detained, interrogated, tell them to make copious notes and get names and details of how long they waited, what happened, who they spoke to and precisely what was said. Keep demanding access to counsel and not sign anything.

Lawyers for other families who are detained can use the pleadings filed in the New York case so they do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Additional orders issued by judges:

Washington, D.C.
U.S. District Court in Massachusetts

3. Anyone who holds a passport from a designated country is considered as being “from” the designated country. This includes dual citizens who hold passports from a designated country, as well as a non-designated country.

4. For lawful permanent residents, DHS is admitting people on a case by case basis, following additional and invasive screenings. Any green card holders from designated countries should make sure not to sign the I-407/Record of abandonment of lawful permanent residence. CBP officers often coerce and deceive people into doing this as a condition of release from detention. If detained for extended periods, people should similarly, take notes, take names, ask for their lawyer, ask to speak to the Congressional representative, and demand to see an immigration judge.

5. People from designated countries, even dual nationals, should try to not travel abroad at this time, unless one absolutely must. Reports indicate that people abroad are not being allowed to board airplanes (even with visas) and even visa interviews for citizens of these countries have been canceled (with the exception of those who hold diplomatic visas).

6Contact your Congressperson:

If you know who your representative is but you are unable to contact them using their contact form, the Clerk of the House maintains addresses and phone numbers of all House members and Committees, or you may call (202) 225-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator.

7. For those persecuted in their home countries or fear of persecution in countries CBP would return them to, individuals should speak to their lawyers to discuss claims to asylum and demand a credible fear interview at ports of entry.

8. There are some rumors that USCIS will stop processing applications for naturalization, work permits, travel permits, green card renewals, and other immigration benefits for people from these designated countries. We are waiting for an official announcement. This is very clearly outside the scope of Presidential authority and the executive order, and will lead to many more lawsuits.

9. Media:

NY Times.  If you have been impacted by this Executive Order, willing to share your story with the media and public, the New York Times is asking for those stories to be shared with them via email to immigration@nytimes.com.

There are many other outlets looking for stories of people who have been impacted.

10. For everyone else, see you at the airports!

Reading for Resistance

Book Reviews

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.

— James Baldwin

On Trump’s inauguration day, we filled the streets in protest. The following day, we marched with an estimated 3 million women around the country. While there are no protests or marches happening today, the writing on the wall is apparent: now is the time to organize and mobilize against Trump, against fascism, against U.S. imperialism.

My feet are still aching but my heart is achingly fully. Two marches in two days is a new record for me but I intend to keep on going, for as long as the world I live in resembles the oppressive reality of the present. Today, an offering: reading for resistance.

Recent acquisitions: a lot of classics (that I should’ve read a long time ago), a book on mindfulness and a relatively new novel.

I’m finishing up Juan Felipe Herrera’s Notes on the Assemblage (Amazon | Indie Bound) and it couldn’t be more timely as he writes about the struggles of black and brown folks through poetry. He writes poems about immigrants and workers, odes to working-class heroes, and letters to intimate figures in a way that commemorates and affirms their work and influence.

Doing the work that’s needed at this critical time can only be strengthened by reading the kind of literature that aids the struggle for justice and liberation. Books that expand our consciousness, drawing from important lessons of the past.

To survive, democracy needs a truly radical, truly independent press more than ever before. We need to create a culture in this country in which reading and resistance go hand-in-hand.

— Howard Zinn

Haymarket Books compiled a list of books to make 2017 a year of resistance and it includes revolutionary literature that would continue to inspire us in the struggle. Here’s a few from the list:

Literary Hub also came out with a list of recommended reading by writers for the next four years, with recommendations from poets like Ocean Luong and Eileen Myles.

A local bookstore in San Francisco, City Lights Bookstore, also came out with their own pedagogies of resistance. What I love about this list is that it is more inclusive, with resources for organizing in the queer community.

I’m thinking of compiling all these resources in the blog at some point and make it an evolving list. The next four years is going to be a rough one, and we’ll need all the help we can get. If you have other resources, leave them in the comments below!

For now, read and resist!

“Donald John Trump has placed his hand on two Bibles and taken the oath of office. He is now the 45th president of the United States.”

— The New York Times Breaking News, 1/20/17 12:01 PM EST

I’m letting that sink in for a bit.

I’ve been trying to avoid the coverage of Trump’s inauguration but of course, it’s everywhere. My only saving grace has been the number of people protesting what he represents, what he’s been doing and in all sincerity, how he intends to lead the country.

There are protests all over the country as I write this and tomorrow, there will be a wave of Women’s Marches in different states and cities. Mao Zedong once said that “Women hold up half the sky” — the assault and misogyny Trump has continuously inflicted towards women is unacceptable and needs to be halted. The last thing we need in the government is another misogynist and racist white man who sees and treats women, people of color, Muslims and immigrants as lesser beings. But of course, this is what now have.

Tomorrow, I’m marching with GABRIELA USA to rise against fascism, resist militarization and unite for liberation along with other immigrant and people of color-led organizations in Oakland, California. Check out the nearest women’s march near you and organize and mobilize with the people!

As Assata Shakur of the Black Panthers once said:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata: An Autobiography (Amazon | Indie Bound)

980x7All artwork can be found here.

Gearing up for Women’s March

Sunday Spotlight