REVIEW GROWING UP FILIPINO: PHILIPPINES LITERATURE

Growing up & writing Pinoy               
(PHILIPPINE STAR, Lifestyle Feature
April 28, 2003)
by Alfred A. Yuson


A Filipino Authors’ Night was held last Tuesday at Boston College in Massachusetts, featuring a literary reading and discussion to launch the anthology Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, edited by Cecile Manguerra Brainard, and published by the Philippine American Literary House (PALH) early this year. 

Linda Ty-Casper, author of over a dozen novels and short story collections, including the acclaimed Ten Thousand Seeds, led the speakers, together with New York-based playwright and former Peso Books publisher Alberto Florentino. Joining them were Fil-Am novelists Grace Talusan and Ricco Villanueva Siasoco. A Tufts professor, Talusan is the recipient of a
2002 Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant. Siasoco teaches at Boston College.

The exemplary American writer-professor and Filipinist critic Dr. Leonard Casper, who has written so much and so creditably on Philippine literature, was there, too, lending his distinctive presence and acuity.

Only a fortnight ago we received a copy of a talk by Linda on how the history of Philippine-American relations, starting with the war some American archivists still try to label as an insurrection, has not seemed to provide material for literature among American writers. And how it has taken Filipino researchers and writers, like herself, to delve into the narrative truths offered by that conflict.

In a brief digression here’s sharing excerpts from that piece, titled “History’s Memory: Literature’s Memory,” which really ought to be presented in full sometime in a local publication:

 “Literature is celebratory in a different sense from history. Rather than showing military and political victories, coming from a different perspective, it celebrates victories of the human spirit, man’s nobility. Not monochromatic, it presents the many conflicts by showing how people faced upheavals, what they became because of the way they lived through
wars and revolutions; confronting themselves.

“… The problematic human being -- with all the complexities, contradictions, uncertainties --  faced with ultimate questions: that is what literature is about. Because literature is about life, and life is sacred, literature could be a sacred text for us, for all of us.”

A day after, we picked up from the flips e-group a couple of accounts on how the reading went. Very successfully, according to Ricco Siasoco, the 31-year-old Fil-Am writer whose story in the collection, “Deaf Mute,” is a powerful rendition anent the dilemmas faced by young, would-be balibayans who ask themselves: “How do we ‘return’ to a place we’ve never seen, much less experienced?”

Ricco offered to meet the septuagenarian yet eternal neoteny specialist Bert Florentino, who came off a 4.5-hour bus ride from the Big Apple.
Hosted the ever-genial memoirist Manong Bert, too, and took him all around the city, inclusive of the hallowed portals of Harvard U. Such that Bert’s
own account includes the fresh claim that “he entered Harvard.”

Recounts Ricco: “It was wonderful to host Bert, Linda, and Grace in Boston last night ... The evening was a success! The Philippine Society was instrumental in drawing a crowd; they made the readers feel welcome with a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant … Bert kept telling me that he was enjoying himself because the food in his senior residence is so bland,
then digging into the fried spring rolls.

“Most of the Filipino students at BC — I’d say 20 or so in attendance — bought a copy of the anthology. How I stressed the importance of supporting Fil-Am literature, and the need to support Fil-Am writing by BUYING FIL-AM BOOKS… I invited friends and students in my writing classes to attend, so over-all there was probably an audience of 50 or so. After
Linda read her story ‘In Place of Trees,’ I heard an audible gasp from the crowd… (S)everal students complimented me afterward on Grace’s riveting voice… I read the first page of Brian’s (Brian Ascalon Roley) epilogue to ‘American Son’ and then the first scene of my own story.

“A really nice evening. Linda and Bert, of course, were gracious and inspiring. The presence of such renowned writers was reiterated by the club's student president Joey, who said, ‘You don't know how inspiring it is for us to have you here.’”

Well, indeed it proved so nice and heartwarming for Bert that his intended stay of a few hours in Boston stretched on to 24 hours, inclusive of an overnight caucus at Ricco’s place, until he was seen off by his hosts at the Greyhound station the day after.

Last Saturday, clear across the American continent, in Berkeley, California, Growing Up Filipino… was launched at Eastwind Books of Berkeley.  Some of the West Coast-based contributors to the landmark anthology made themselves available: Marianne Villanueva, Edgar Poma, Veronica Montes, Oscar Peñaranda and Brian Ascalon Roley.

Villanueva recently co-edited the anthology of Filipina writings, Going Home To A Landscape, due out by autumn from Calyx Books. Her first book was Ginseng & Other Tales From Manila.

The short stories of San Francisco native Veronica Montes can be found in the anthology Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, also edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (Anvil, 1997),  and in the forthcoming anthology co-edited by Villanueva.

Edgar Poma is a San Francisco-based writer of fiction, plays and poetry about Filipinos in California and Hawaii. He has received a California Arts Council Grant.

Our bosom buddy Oscar Peñaranda has been an educator since 1969, and is one of the founders of Pilipino American Studies at San Francisco State University. He writes poetry, fiction, plays and essays.

Brian Ascalon Roley is the author of American Son (W.W. Norton, 2002), a first novel that made it to the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list, and was a finalist in the prestigious 2002 Kiriyama Prize for books dwelling on the Pacific Rim. Again, only a few days ago, we received word that this book won the Association for Asian American Studies 2003 Prose Award. Congrats to Brian!

Soon we hope to hear as well on what must have been another joyous get-together in Berkeley among our Fil-Am writer-friends. And this Friday, May 2,  at 6 p.m., another reading and signing session to promote the book will be held with the same cast, this time at ARKIPELAGO: The Filipino Bookstore, on Mission Street in San Francisco.

Of the 29 contributors to the anthology, ten are Philippine-based writers, namely Gémino H. Abad, Libay Linsangan Cantor, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Rogelio Cruz, Wanggo Gallaga, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Connie Jan Maraan, Marily Ysip Orosa, Anthony L. Tan, and this writer. Thirty-year-old Erwin Cabucos, from North Cotabato, now writes from Sydney, Australia. The rest are in the U.S. Those we haven’t named yet (Editor Brainard also contributes a wonderful story, “The Last Moon-Game of Summer”) are Paula Angeles, Alex Dean Bru, Ruby Enario Carlino, M. Evelina Galang, Vince Gotera, Mar V. Puatu, Ruth T. Sarreal and Joel Barraquiel Tan.

We are particularly pleased that contributions have come from young, upcoming local writers whose work we’re familiar with. These are our godson Wanggo’s “Th Purpose of Malls” and our one-time ADMU student Roger Cruz’s “Flooded.”

Brainard sounded the call for contributions last year, and we were among those who responded. We don’t think it has been a full year since that e-mail posting, but with the help of Vince Gotera -- a poet, editor and literature professor at the University of Northern Iowa, as well as the founder and maintainer of the flips e-group -- Brainard and her PAWWA (Philippine America Women Writers and Artists) colleague Susan Montepio, who designed the book, soon had it rolling off the press. (We believe Marily Orosa’s Makati outfit Studio 5 had a hand in the cover design.)

Such are the wondrous benefits of Internet collaboration among Fil-Am and “Fil-Fil” writers and editors who find themselves in various cities, including those “back home.” Conceiving, collating, editing, designing and publishing anthologies has become so much easier with the help of cybernetic channels of communication. And it is one other manifestation that there exists no divide at all between us, nor between our materials, themes and concerns.

As Rocio G. Davis writes in her percipient Introduction, “The collection represents the scope and diversity –- and, importantly, suggests renewed possibilities and an auspicious future –- for Filipino/America writing today.”

She comments further: “Moreover, to publish writing by Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the same volume stresses the continuity of Filipino writing in English, and the emergence of mutually enhancing forms of discerning and articulating the Filipino experience.  “… The stories in Brainard’s anthology are not only about ‘growing up,’ but also importantly engage the process of ‘growing into’ Filipino-ness, ‘growing with’ Filipinos, and ‘growing in’ or ‘growing away’ from the Philippines…

“In diverse ways, the stories in this collection dialogue with Ricardo M. de Ungria’s sentiments in his poem ‘Room for Time Passing’ (written when De Ungria was pursuing his MFA in St.Louis; now he’s Chancellor of UP in Mindanao): “Whichever side of the ocean I’m on/ completeness will seek me and the world exceed/ the surprises I spring on it with these same words.’”

Until copies of the book make their way here on a commercial basis, it may be ordered online at http://www.ewbb.com or by email at books@ewbb.com, by phone at (510) 548-2350 and by fax at    (510) 548-3697.

Preliminary reviews of the collection have hailed Brainard’s effort. Roger N. Buckley, Professor of History and Director of the Asian American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, wrote:

"Editor Cecilia Manguerra Brainard has collected a dazzling and impressive array of 29 stories about the saga of what it means to be young and Filipino. The authors make the experiences of ordinary young people come alive for us.

"But don't be taken in by the simplicity of the title. This volume is indeed about magic, mysteries, sadness, time, family, fear, and happiness of young adult Filipinos. In exploring these arenas the authors, each a born storyteller and philosopher, collectively capture the natural and social tapestry of the Philippines and Filipino culture and those forces that influence it. Their use of the language with all its idioms, narrative intervals and cadences leaves no doubt about the complexities of the historical, social, cultural, gender and racial terrain of modern
Filipino culture.

"Despite the book's sub-title, this is also a book for adults. They too will profit from what is a truthful, passionate, hopeful -- and ultimately -- a very wise book.

"Kudos to Brainard and the other writers for this important contribution to Filipino/Filipino-American history and culture. This is a powerfully achieved and memorable book by authors who know their craft, and who also have a profound understanding and love for the Philippines and things Filipino."

We can only concur with Prof. Buckley’s kind words.

Congratulations to Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Susan Montepio, and PALH for this inevitably seminal collection.


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