Category Archives: Filipino/a American

People Are Strange: Stories by Eric Gamalinda

Eric Gamalinda and I overlapped in New York City in the 1990s, when I knew (of) him more as a poet. I should know better (blame it on youth!) than to label him by genre, because clearly Gamalinda is a multi-faceted writer (as well as a playwright, filmmaker, photographer, and more): he was shortlisted for the big-deal 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel The Descartes Highlands (which doesn’t seem to be available Stateside), and won the Philippine Centennial Literary Prize (which, according to his bio, is “the highest award ever given to a Filipino writer”), as well as the Philippine National Book Award. Gamalinda’s new collection makes a complementary companion to Lysley Tenorio‘s remarkable debut, Monstress, which hit shelves in February; both offer eight contemporary stories that draw on the authors’ shared Filipino heritage and their hybrid identities as foreign-born writers living and creating on the other side of the world.

Out this month, People Are Strange includes six stories which have been previously published elsewhere. The oldest (publication history-wise) is the bittersweet “Fear of Heights,” which appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1995, about a fortune-teller who shares “a few trade secrets,” crashing puns intended. The most recent is the entertainingly ironic “Famous Literary Frauds” which ran in the winter/spring 2011 issue of the Asian American Literary Reviewin which a Filipino writer can only get published in the guise of his beautiful, young student who becomes a high-wattage literary celebrity with the writer’s works.

Of the two unpublished-before stories, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” – which is the collection’s final and most personal piece – focuses on the history of a familial Jesus, Gamalinda’s grandfather, who died more than three decades before Gamalinda was born. [For some reason, I felt compelled to google my way through the story: I admit knowing the 'real'-ness of Gamalinda's relatives, his grandfather's Philippines Supreme Court Justice-mentor, his grandfather's law firm, etc. added a satisfying poignancy.] Through the “pleasure of storytelling,” Gamalinda reconstructs the personal story of a man he never knew – and the other-worldly pact he made with two close friends before he died.

Gamalinda’s ‘strange people’ – an adopted Marcos “son,” a dead man sending emails to his ex-wife, the Elvis of Manila, a fictional Eric Gamalinda who can change skin color at will, a murderous fly-killer – are all feats of imaginative invention, albeit with varying degrees of curious behaviors, characteristics, choices. Their strangeness ultimately makes them more uniquely human, each searching for connection in a disjointed, scattered world.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Filipino/a, Filipino/a American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

Monstress: Stories by Lysley Tenorio

Sometimes I need three major reminders to get me to open a book I’ve been anxiously waiting to read. Who knows why, but I admit to being lost and misdirected often! So first the inimitable Mz. Jessica Hagedorn had to tell me (almost a year ago!) how “fabulous” and “original” this collection is, then a most literary friend had to actually send me the galley with the note “I think you’re going to LOVE this!” tucked into it, and then I realized APA Heritage Month is imminent and I better be ready to post some appropriate titles!

Ah, well … great things come to those who wait, because finally reading Lysley Tenorio‘s debut was a remarkable gift indeed. Of the eight stories that comprise Monstress, the eponymous opener throws together foreign cult horror flicks, a has-been (or two), and Hollywood wannbe-antics – and out of that chaos emerges a heartfelt love story of loss and (almost) redemption. Did I mention transformative?

Other standouts include “The Brothers,” in which an older brother only truly begins to understand his unconventionally rebellious younger sibling after his death; “Felix Starro,” which achingly follows a young man’s realizations about his grandfather’s ‘faithful’ business; and “The View from Culion,” about two Americans being cared for on a leper colony and the stories they carefully choose to reveal about their lives to one another. The penultimate story, “Save the I-Hotel,” gets the personal favorite nod: on the eve of the forced closing of the legendary I-Hotel in what was once San Francisco’s Manilatown, two old-timers recall their many intertwined decades together, and the secrets and regrets they never shared even now at the twilight of their lives.

Tenorio is both a fierce and gentle storyteller. Each of his eight stories here deal with betrayal and humiliation, and yet his ability to show unguarded, vulnerable moments of humanity are insistent reminders of our deep relationships with one another; even when those bonds are trampled and wounded, connections linger and never fully disappear. In spite of the monster/monstress in us all, even the most tenuous links with lovers, parents, siblings, friends, strangers, eventually (hopefully) bring us back to our humanity.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Toxicology by Jessica Hagedorn + Author Interview [in Our Own Voice]

Eight years have passed (far too quickly) since I last saw the inimitable Jessica Hagedorn. Her 2003 novel, Dream Jungle, was about to come out and we were in desperate search of boba tea in New York’s East Village. Faced with a closed tea salon (one of her favorites), Hagedorn met my disappointment with a comforting hug and we settled instead on a nearby Japanese restaurant. Noshing with a legend, I can’t remember a thing I ate … it was all about the stellar company, after all.

Born and raised in the Philippines, arriving in the United States in her early teens, Hagedorn entered the literary world fully formed: her now-classic coming-of-age debut novel, Dogeaters, garnered a highly coveted National Book Award nomination in 1990. In the two decades since, Hagedorn has been recognized as both a leader and a mentor at the forefront of Asian Pacific America with her compilation of Asian Pacific American writings, Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction and Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, both of which she edited, in addition to her various other novels, poetry, films, plays, multimedia performance pieces, and a musical.

Eight years after Dream Jungle—in which Hagedorn intertwines the alleged discovery of an ancient “lost tribe” in the remote hills of the Philippines with the problematic filming of Apocalypse Now – Hagedorn’s much-awaited new novel, Toxicology, hit shelves earlier this year in April. Populated with her usual cast of unpredictable characters, Toxicology opens with the spectacular death of a beloved young actor. Separately joining the multiplying crowd of shocked mourners outside the actor’s apartment are Mimi Smith – a filmmaker with a minor cult slasher hit who is suffering through a rough patch both creatively and personally – and her estranged, 14-year-old daughter Violet. Across the East River, Mimi’s older brother Melo is trying to stay sober, and is convinced that their cousin Agnes has met a sinister end at the hands of her wealthy New Jersey employers. Down the hall from Mimi, her neighbor Eleanor Delacroix – once a famous writer, now an eccentric octogenarian addicted to cocaine and alcohol – has effectively shut herself in while mourning the death of her long-time lover and partner, the renowned artist Yvonne Wilder. Brought together by loneliness—not to mention the flowing booze and drugs – Mimi and Eleanor’s disparate lives dovetail one into the other, as both find a strange comfort in their acerbic exchanges and desperate binges.

Always fascinated by Hagedorn’s writing, I recently caught up with her by phone (“some things never change,” she assures me about her phone number). We laughed, sighed, cackled, debated, and generally plotted to take over the universe … [... click here for more]

Author Interview: “Jessica Hagedorn,” Our Own Voice Literary eZine: Filipinos in the Diaspora, September 2011

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011

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Author Interview: Jessica Hagedorn [in Bookslut]

When I first met the inimitable Jessica Hagedorn eight years ago – her 2003 novel Dream Jungle, in which Hagedorn intertwines the alleged discovery of an ancient “lost tribe” in the remote hills of the Philippines with the problematic filming of Apocalypse Now, was just about to come out – we bonded over fiery bums. I confessed to her how my mother always told me that my backend was on fire because I did too many things at the same time, her warning that I would burn out and die young. Hagedorn – who remains eternal – admitted that she, too, thought she might die young, “but it’s all turned out fine,” she assured me, “I had nurturing people who took care of me along the way.” She also wisely cautioned, “…that urge – to have your bum on fire – it never ends. That fire never goes out.”

Hagedorn’s personal flame has certainly kept her creatively fueled, involved in countless projects in various media. She entered the literary world fully formed: her now-classic coming-of-age debut novel, Dogeaters, garnered a highly coveted National Book Award nomination in 1990. In the two decades since, Hagedorn has been recognized as both a leader and a mentor at the forefront of Asian Pacific America (she was born and raised in the Philippines and arrived in the United States in her early teens) with her compilation of Asian Pacific American writings, Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction and Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction, both of which she edited, in addition to her various other novels, poetry, films, plays, multimedia performance pieces, and a musical.

Eight years after Dream Jungle, Hagedorn’s much-awaited new novel, Toxicology, hit shelves earlier this year in April. Populated with her usual cast of unpredictable characters, Toxicology opens with the spectacular death of a beloved young actor. Separately joining the multiplying crowd of shocked mourners outside the actor’s apartment are Mimi Smith, a filmmaker with a minor cult slasher hit who is suffering through a rough patch both creatively and personally, and her estranged 14-year-old daughter Violet. Across the East River, Mimi’s older brother Melo is trying to stay sober, and is convinced that their cousin Agnes has met a sinister end at the hands of her wealthy New Jersey employers. Down the hall from Mimi, her neighbor Eleanor Delacroix, once a famous writer, now an eccentric octogenarian addicted to cocaine and alcohol, has effectively shut herself in while mourning the death of her long-time lover and partner, the renowned artist Yvonne Wilder. Brought together by loneliness – not to mention the flowing booze and drugs – Mimi and Eleanor’s disparate lives dovetail one into the other, as both find a strange comfort in their acerbic exchanges and desperate binges.

Always fascinated by Hagedorn’s writing, I recently caught up with her by phone (“some things never change,” she assures me about her phone number). We laughed, sighed, cackled, debated, and generally plotted to take over the universe…

Of course, I have so much to ask you, but we’ll start with Toxicology. We always have to start with a book! In the last couple of your major works, a factual death sparked your fiction: the passing of Manuel Elizalde Jr. for Dream Jungle, then Andrew Cunanan’s multiple murders and suicide for your musical Most Wanted. Toxicology also opens with death, the possible suicide or accidental overdose of a bad-boy Hollywood star. Dare I say, Heath Ledger came immediately to mind. Any chance that this “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” event ignited what became Toxicology?

I so remember that day [Ledger's death] happened, how fascinating it was that such a wide range of people were affected by his passing. For a lot of us, he wasn’t just another movie or pop star who died too young. Something about Heath Ledger and his vulnerability and great talent moved people. That day, I heard from writer friends who only watch artsy fartsy movies, from my kids and my colleagues at work, a really wide range of people, and the solemn mood was the same for all. The country was already in a deep funk over dirty politics, dirty wars, the recession, and all that, and this sudden, intimate, human tragedy seemed to bring folks together. It was also a very New York City event. And yes, Ledger’s unfortunate death jumpstarted the opening chapter to Toxicology. [... click here for more]

Author interview: Feature: “An Interview with Jessica Hagedorn,” Bookslut.com, September 2011

Readers: Adult

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Leaving Yesler by Peter Bacho + Author Interview

On Old-Timers, Boxing, and Lots of Sex (mostly off the page …)

Next April, if you happen to be in the DC area, you might be lucky enough to meet Peter Bacho at the Smithsonian as he presents Leaving Yesler, his first foray into the young adult readers market which debuts late March 2010 from Pleasure Boat Studio out of New York. “I’ll read for food,” Bacho promises.

Bacho’s been here at the Smithsonian before, back in December 2006, as a panelist for “Filipino American Literary Writers,” together with M. Evelina Galang, Marianne Villanueva, and Luis Francia. Truth be told, he and Villanueva had the audience giggling and occasionally wide-eyed with shocked surprise. Model minorities don’t say those things.

In spite of his immigrant roots (Bacho’s parents are both from Cebu, Philippines, although his Wikipedia entry erroneously claims him to be half-Filipino and half-Yakima Indian), his summa cum laude undergraduate degree from Seattle University, his JD and LLD from the University of Washington, his experience in Seattle’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and his various professor-ships in Washington universities and colleges, Bacho is anything but model minority, truth be told … nor are his characters, thank goodness!

His first book, Cebu (1991), about a Filipino American priest who arrives in the Philippines to bury his mother in her homeland, won him an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He won both a Washington Governor’s Writers Award (renamed the Washington State Book Award) and The Murray Morgan Prize for his collection of short stories, A Dark Blue Suit (1997). Then he did a children’s title, Boxing in Black and White (1999), which got him on the Center for Children’s Books Best Books List. Next came Nelson’s Run (2002), about an oversexed young man who travels to the Philippines after the accidental death of his father, followed by my personal favorite, Entrys (2005), about a teenaged Filipino Native American hapa Vietnam War veteran’s challenging attempts to re-enter civilian life.

Leaving Yesler definitely treads on familiar Bacho territory: religion, boxing, immigration, and – of course – lots of sex (“mostly off the page,” Bacho insists in this case for the sake of younger readers, ahem!). Bobby Vicente is five months shy of turning 18. His family has just shrunk by half, after losing his mother to cancer and his older brother to Vietnam. His father, Antonio, an old-timer Filipino American immigrant who once had a glorious boxing past, is determined that his only family will not only avoid war, but somehow make it out their Yesler housing project in Seattle. Antonio doesn’t have a whole lot of time left to both educate and train sweet, kind-hearted Bobby. What happens in that fast-forward week before Bobby takes his GED – from falling in love, to having conversations with a dead brother not to mention a martyred saint, to witnessing murder – will literally determine the rest of Bobby’s life.

“The kid survives,” Bacho quips. “Gotta give the little kiddies hope and all!”

I have to ask … now that you’re moving into the young adult market … do you have kids yourself?
Yes, one daughter [now 27 years old] from a former marriage. I like to say I’ve been married 35 years – if I put them all together, that is.

Why write for young adults now?
Why not? It’s getting increasingly edgier and, I think, more interesting. I mean, Yesler is a Filipino American novel without a Filipino protagonist.

Oh, no … you can’t give TOO much away … besides, culturally, that protagonist is all Filipino American!
True. For some Filipinos, especially those arriving after 1968, there’s almost a racial and linguistic purity – stuff we never bothered with.

Purity … that’s ironic, given the tragic history of Filipino colonialism, no?
It is that, but it’s expected because colonized people imitate the colonizer. …[click here for more]

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2010

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Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Cora Cooks PancitYoung Cora is tired of just licking the spoons and not being able to really help in the kitchen. One day when her four older siblings are all out of the house, Cora sees her chance to make something special with her mother, just them two. She dons on the magical red apron that once belonged to her Lolo, her grandfather, a Filipino American pioneer who cooked for the Filipino farmworkers decades ago, who not only fed the workers’ tummies with but filled their hearts and memories with stories about their native Philippines. Together, Mama and Cora create a toothsome Filipino meal, complete with a huge bowl of perfect pancit [rice noodles with vegetables and chicken] that tastes just like Lolo’s, the best compliment of all.

Gilmore, who grew up in a Filipino Italian kitchen, tells a heartwarming tale that illustrator Valiant captures with the perfect combination of whimsy and action. You can actually feel Cora’s longing as she watches her siblings in the kitchen, her wonder as she listens to Mama’s stories about Lolo, her worry that her pancit might disappoint, and her beaming pride when the whole family enjoys the meal she so lovingly helped to create. This is one treasure of a family book. Delicious, too!

Readers: Children

Published: 2009

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Forgery by Sabina Murray + Author Interview

forgeryRuffling Feathers: An Interview with Novelist Sabina Murray

Sabina Murray’s published output over the past five years has been substantial by anyone’s standards: three books, five screenplays, umpteen short stories, and winning the prestigious 2003 PEN/Faulkner Award. [Click here to see earlier article in The Bloomsbury Review, January/February 2004.] All that on top of teaching graduate students how to write well (including directing some eight theses every year, although this year it was 12), balanced with raising two small kids with her poet husband, John Hennessy (who just debuted with his collection Bridge and Tunnel, from Turning Point Books).

Murray swears she doesn’t get writer’s block. She’s got time management down so well that she can work minor miracles in scattered 20-minute snippets during her day. “There’s no other choice,” she says matter-of-factly. “You just keep going and you get things done. I’m not a procrastinator. I pack everything in.”

That is, until you get Murray to Greece and suddenly everything changes. Absolutely nothing gets done. Something just shuts off, she confesses, and she’s able to achieve an enviable state of do-nothingness. She’s been there six times already. “Mostly, I wade into that shimmering blue water, about knee high. My jaw goes slack. I think about nothing. As my body is digesting the too-big lunch I ate with the two glasses of wine I downed, I wait for the fishes to jump and just watch the horizon,” she laughs.

In this blissful state, Murray somehow managed to formulate her latest book, an enticing, slyly entertaining novel called Forgery. Rupert Brigg, an overprivileged New Yorker who knows a little something about art, mourns silently. As an antidote to his sadness, his uncle William insists he go to Greece to find more treasures that will further enhance William’s art collection. It’s the summer of 1963; the islands are gorgeous, the wine flowing, the water warm and beckoning. Lost and searching souls gather, hoping someone else will be interested enough to share their secrets and offer a few new ones in trade. …[click here for more]

Author interview: The Bloomsbury Review, September/October 2007

Tidbit: The inventive Sabina Murray, together with the wonderful Jessica Hagedorn and Helen Zia, was a guest for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program‘s “Contemporary Asian American Writers” public program on September 29, 2004.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007

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San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement by Estella Habal

san-franciscos-international-hotel

This is not a spoiler: Estella Habal’s San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement is a story with a happy ending. Proof positive is the 2-year-old International Hotel, which stands proudly at Kearny and Jackson streets in downtown San Francisco where the city’s Financial District and Chinatown meet. Topped with 14 stories of apartments, including some designated for low- income seniors, the building today also houses the International Hotel Manilatown Center on the ground floor, which holds more than a century of Filipino American history.

The original International Hotel, intended as a luxury destination for wealthy travelers, was built on Jackson Street in 1854, moved to its 848 Kearny St. location in 1873 and was rebuilt in 1907 after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. By the 1920s, the International Hotel, known locally as the I-Hotel, found itself squarely in the middle of a 10-block Filipino American enclave along Kearny Street known as Manilatown, the first Filipino American community in San Francisco, and one of the first (and few) across the country. …[click here for more]

Review: San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2007

Reader: Adult

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Filipino/a American, Southeast Asian American

Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel by Anthony Robles, illustrated by Carl Angel

lakas-and-the-makibaka-hotelMakibaka means ‘struggle’ – the struggle of Filipino Americans who survived great hardships to become Americans. Young Lakas inspires the inhabitants of the Makibaka Hotel to fight the building owner’s attempts to force the tenants from their home.

Reviews: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, some new and notable books,” Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2006

“In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2006

Readers: Children

Published: 2006

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Entrys by Peter Bacho

EntrysA must-read novel about a Filipino Native American hapa Vietnam War veteran whose disturbing journal “entrys” are juxtaposed with more reliable, objective narration. How the story plays out keeps you on the edge of your seat, book glued in hand.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, September 8, 2005

Tidbit: Hey … look at this … my review is on the Barnes & Noble site: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Entrys/Peter-Bacho/e/9780824829452/?itm=1! Bacho was one of our entertaining Smithsonian APA Program guests for “Filipino American Literary Writers” on December 8, 2006.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2005

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Filipino/a American, Hapa, Native American, Southeast Asian American