“What makes Filipinos so great”– A Recap of the GUFII SF Book Launch

from left to right: Barbara Jane Reyes, Tony Robles, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, and Veronica Montes

Saturday, January 16 at the Bayanihan Community Center in San Francisco, authors, Veronica Montes, Barbara Jane Reyes, Tony Robles, Marianne Villanueva, and your Salonniere launched Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and published by PALH. This event, sponsored and organized by PAWA Inc., started with an excerpt from “Here in the States” by myself. A story about a young Filipina who realizes the sacrifices her family made to immigrate to the United States when she sees her mother in an unexpected light.

Villanueva, lively and funny as ever, opened her piece by first warning all writers in the audience that she had just been named a finalist for the Donald Barthelme Fiction Award but had to withdraw her piece because she had posted parts of it on her blog. Her story, “Black Dog” was composed with a frame within a frame, and, before reading an excerpt, she gave a lovely background account. A young girl listens to her mother’s bedside tales and takes interest in a particularly strange case where a man accused of killing a woman knows that he sacrificed a dog instead. The story takes place on Aklan, an island in the Philippines renowned for its shape-shifting witchcraft, and, unfortunately, the man who thought he was killing a dog to save his sick child, discovers the dog was actually a woman. “Murder is a process” Villanueva explained. Her story is rife with folktales, Filipino justice, and the power of family.

Tony Robles followed and explained his crucial role as copy-editor and contributor to the collection. His autobiographical piece “Son of a Janitor” is a wonderfully witty tribute to his father who worked for twenty years as a a janitor for the San Francisco Opera House until he started his own janitorial business and advertised with a caribou image on his business cards. “The house of a janitor is supposed to be clean” says the narrator, the son of the janitor before he goes on to carefully explain how he’s learned from exceptional tutelage by his father how to perfectly scrub a toilet clean:

My favorite method was “The Beethoven” … because it could be both graceful and rigorous, depending on my state of mind. I would use the toilet brush like the conductor of an orchestra; slow and graceful with a calm rippling effect – etching an invisible melody, which seemed to outshine the other porcelain in the bathroom.

Reyes read an excerpt of Amelia B. Bueno’s “Perla and Her Lovely Barbie,” the story of Hawaiian Pinays who wrestle with the ideals of femininity. Closing the reading, Montes premised her excerpt with an inspiring nod to an article she read from The Nation, “you don’t have to consume culture but we each can shape and make culture.” She thanked PAWA for providing the space for Filipino writers and artists to create and celebrate our culture before reading her story “My Father’s Tattoo” about a Daly City girl whose father has a tattoo of his ex-girlfriend’s name carved onto his arm. His wife, understandably, has serious problems with the tattoo. Montes’ tale is rich with details as this family struggles to make their marriage work. For more coverage on the reading, check out Montes’ post “GUFII Book Launch Report” on her blog, Nesting Ground.

During the Q&A, Dalisay Balunsat asked the readers what made being Filipino “great,” and your Salonniere offered the well acknowledged truth that we’re known for our passionate work ethics. Montes seconded this by relating her last trip back to the islands and how she admired everyone’s graciousness on the job. Each of the Filipinos she encountered in the PI took great pride in their work whether they were working at a bank or bagging groceries. Montes relented the lack of esteem Americans seem to hold here in the work place. Edwin Lozada, President of PAWA, added his admiration for Filipino’s love of song and dance, arguing that the TV show Glee should have Filipino characters because no one can dance and sing like us.

Villanueva concluded that Filipinos are just “cool” all around. She had been interviewed months ago by a Vietnamese writer, who asked her, “Why are Filipinos so cool?” Clearly, the verdict’s in.

Lastly, Reyes pointed an excellent question, raised again on her blog Poeta y Diwata, “Filipino American Young Adult Lit and Mentorship” about the lack of Filipino YA, to which Montes asked if we could consider the two GUFF anthologies and M. Evelina Galang’s One Tribe as YA even though they haven’t officially been marketed as such. Reflecting now about this question, in the fiction world its considered a blessing and a curse to be cast as a YA writer.  On the one hand there’s a thriving market for this genre, but on the other, YA  is not often counted as “Literary” or high-minded enough for the recognition it deserves. This is an ongoing debate. One wonders though about the hesitancy for writers of color to announce themselves as YA writers. Might this be just another label to uncomfortably juggle with and another niche to be shelved in? So many writers struggle simply to be just “A Writer” without having to don any of the other designations and tags that can immediately carve up and exclude audiences or pigeon-hole work into categories that might seem limiting. This inquiry also begs the question, how much of this is an inherent choice authors make as opposed to what their mentors, agents, and editors angle for or against as they volley manuscripts back and forth to different publishing houses? Lastly, and most importantly as Reyes suggests, does this shortfall prove to be a disservice to the communities we presumably write for and about? As always, the Salon is open to discussion.

Veronica Montes reads

The GUFII book launch proved to be a great celebration for a wonderful collection.  PAWA’s next event, “The Ties That Connect Us, Enlaces: El Manton de Manila” will be held on Saturday, February 20, 8pm  at La Pena Cultural Center. The program will highlight  the Philippines as part of the Hispanic culture. With the embroidered silk shawl (manton de Manila) of the Philippines and through story, music, and dance this program will explore in 4 vignettes the cultural links that developed in colonial times of Peru, Mexico, Spain, and the Philippines. This promises to be an exciting and beautiful showcase. Thanks to all who organized and attended the book launch!

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3 Comments

  1. Oh Rashaan, very good post, I am so glad I got to hear you read.

    On the Young Adult question, I was about to put in something but felt everyone had already stated their points so articulately. On that point, I’d just like to add, I found Dickens’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS listed in the “Young Adult” section of my local library. My God, if GREAT EXPECTATIONS can be listed as Young Adult (and it is VERY dark, at least in my humble opinion), then Young Adult is a completely fluid category that can be pulled and shaped to mean whatever the publisher (or teacher) wants.

  2. Marianne, I am so honored to finally have met you after reading your inspiring work. I couldn’t agree more with maintaining fluidity. I hope our paths cross again, soon.

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