Recap of “The Places We Call Home” at Eastwind Books of Berkeley

By Your Salonniere

Thanks to Veronica Montes, Bea & Harvey, Eastwind Books managers, who organized the event taking place Thursday, September 29, 2011, which kicked off the International Filipino Book Festival, where Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Oscar Bermeo, Veronica Montes, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sunny Vergara Jr. and myself read to a packed house.

Bea had a pot of adobo to greet everyone, and the reading commenced with Oscar Bermeo reading from his chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below and To the Break of Dawn. Some lines that struck bone include the following:

…those born near the sea carry a sense of salt…

born near the Pacific Ocean

…mother and aunt clean the ocean harvest…

the Atlantic tried to wash its taste out of me

Cecilia Brainard followed with a tale from her Vigan and Other Stories about a 19 year-old Peruvian girl feeling insecure because her boyfriend had just dumped her. By chance, she ends up meeting Ernesto “Che” Guevara in her hometown Cuzco, Peru. Here’s a taste:

Instead of pointing toward future, dead, gone and academic…the past can teach us something about ourselves…one has to apply knowledge gained. It’s a balancing act.

Your salonniere was honored to be introduced and come after Cecilia. Sharing a non-fiction piece written for a submission call for Doveglion Press, “Barbie’s Gotta Work” elicited laughs from the audience, which was an entirely new experience for this writer. See if you find a sample of the piece tickles a laugh or two from you:

One Christmas, long before I had yet to grapple with my own mixed race confusions as a Chicana Filipina American, or Chicapina as our parents proudly call us, I asked Santa for the Barbie Kitchen Set. The Toys R Us catalog had tempted me well in advance with a four-sided kitchen that included a dishwasher where Miko could load her Barbie-sized plates, and knobs that actually turned at the sink and stovetop. Not to mention every single piece, from muffin tin to refrigerator bin, carried the heavy scent of fresh-baked cookies. The addition would guarantee successful wrap parties, which Miko loved to host after month-long film shoots and stage productions in which she managed to write, direct, and star as lead. Like me, she wanted to devote her life to the Arts. She could have easily followed the writer’s path since I was already familiar with the long hours spent at the desk with pen and paper in hand, but Miko and her friends wanted a more exciting and sociable life, so acting became the career of choice.

Veronica Montes gave a brief plug for one of her most recent publication Angelica’s Daughters: A Dugtungan Novel then shared with us a hot off the press fairytale she’d written for Dean Alfar’s literary journal Philippine Speculative Fiction. Montes’ tale titled “The Left Behind Girl” had some lines that sounded like this:

she hovered in the nowhere place between science…there was a winter when the pear trees grew no fruit…the ladies wearing skirts the color of the ocean…at the moment she was so like her mother that the women wept.

Barbara Jane Reyes stepped to the stage with poems from her Poeta en San Francisco and Diwata. The first poem she read centered around 16th and Valencia where her parents first made their home in the late 60’s. Written in response after “being tired of walking through the Mission and seeing so many broken women,” try a sample of the first poem:

She gathers wind in her skirts

she gathers collateral damage

she does not remain singing

“Aswang” was another poem Reyes read, and an excerpt of it goes something like this:

I am the bad daughter

mushrooms between my toes

I’m the opposite of your blessed womb

I am the inverted mirror

Blame me

Benito Vergara Jr or Sunny rounded out the reading with an excerpt from a true story. The piece revolved around his childhood in the Philippines, which was divided in two parts, indoors and outdoors, and, because Sunny was always indoors, unlike his brothers, his friends, and neighbors, he was considered the “neighborhood invalid.” He spent his days reading constantly. His family would get inquiries about his well-being, while he’d be huddled away indoors with Agatha Christie or Stephen King. His father didn’t give him the same condom talk that his brothers got, but when the time came, he got old copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer:

My brother got a three pack of condoms, and I got a trio of dirty old men.

The crowd included close family and friends, staff and writers from Maganda Magazine, and a dedicated group of High Potential scholars from Saint Mary’s College, who immediately charged the bookshop with spirit and energy, making that late week evening one of the best birthday celebrations your salonniere has enjoyed in years. Many thanks to all who came out and supported the event. You made the evening extraordinary!

For a recap on the Filipino International Book Festival 2011, check out Cecilia Manguerra Brainard’s post here.

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