Some more notes on these lists. It feels like every Filipino American History Month, I used to get slammed with articles in Filipino American media, about the “fact” that Filipino Americans do not read. I have heard our authors say that when in the process of negotiating book contracts with publishers, statistics would be cited about the book buying habits of our people. These statistics always show how we don’t buy books. And on top of that, we don’t buy one another’s books. I don’t even know where these statistics come from; how does a body go about collecting this data? So the stereotype persists; Filipino Americans allegedly do not buy books. Folks in our community take it a step farther: “Filipinos do not read because Filipinos are visual learners.” You know what, Einstein? TEXT IS VISUAL. So that excuse is bullshit.
That said. More recommendations, including recommendations from Marianne Villanueva and Erin Entrada Kelly.
You didn’t think I was going to not include Jessica Hagedorn on my list, did you. I have read and taught her iconic novel Dogeaters numerous times, and have chosen to recommend The Gangster of Love here instead. Whereas Dogeaters is very much a novel of Manila, The Gangster of Love is definitely American. Not only do we see how members of a broken Filipino American immigrant family can succumb to the poverty, toughness, and difficulty of the American city, we also see how they adapt and survive and make a home and community for themselves in the rough Tenderloin area of San Francisco. And we see that a gritty young Pinay can grab liminality by the reins. We see Rocky Rivera submerge herself in hard and fast American subculture/counterculture. Weren’t we promised sex and drugs and rock and roll in America?
Another poetry chapbook, which is a fantastic venue for any writer, emerging and otherwise. I love poetry chapbooks because they are a focused, “lean and mean” body of an already concentrated/condensed genre. Amalia’s poems here lovely; I think of the healing properties of ampalaya leaves and coconut oil, and how that wisdom comes to us from our foremothers. Perhaps they were never written down, but safeguarded by these matriarchs. But there’s another side to this collection, speaking of foremothers, and it’s the incarcerated women in Hawaii. How does one mother, when behind bars. And how/why did they get there to begin with. So then, it’s an un-romatic or de-romanticized picture of a place and people we mainlanders make it a habit of exoticizing.
This forthcoming debut short story collection is recommended by Marianne Villanueva. “Filipinos are a very socialized people, and Veronica’s stories fully capture that aspect of our personalities. Her stories are family-centered, which means they are relationship-centered: In The Photograph, “Marivic sensed that Josephine thought of her family as a human vacuum.” The inclusive (sometimes suffocating) web of the Filipino family is never depicted as either bad or good, it just is. It’s a complicated world, one where asserting individual freedom or individual happiness can feel like betrayal.”
This forthcoming debut novel is recommended by Erin Entrada Kelly. “The Hour of Daydreams isn’t just a wonderful book—it’s a lyrical and poetic journey, one that’s simultaneously magical, surprising, and mesmerizing. It’s a love story, fable, fairy tale, and contemporary novel woven together with seamless thread, reminiscent of Isabel Allende. A brilliant start to a beautiful literary career.”
Thanks for following these recommendations, and do feel free to pass these along to everyone who’s looking for Filipina Literature!