Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations 5

You can find previous recommendations here: List 1 | List 2 | List 3 | List 4.

It goes without saying. I am a professor of Filipina American Literature, and thus my work entails reading, teaching, and digging for Filipina American Literature. There are lots of Filipina American literary authors, some less known than others. Most often, Filipina American authors find themselves subsumed and/or marginalized by larger groups which claim them when convenient, and which forget and erase them when inconvenient. Sometimes, I find these amazing gems, deep cuts many of us would otherwise not know existed. I say all this now because as with any damn thing on social media, there is push back. Enough, some are saying.

Really? Enough what?

That said, as I am a busy person (I have three jobs), I have called for reinforcements, fellow Filipina American authors, Arlene Biala and Veronica Montes.

Virginia Cerenio, Trespassing Innocence.

I have written about this book before. Here is what I said: “This is a very important collection that often is omitted from discussions on Filipina poetry in this country. These are poems of cultural and political awakening. A second generation Filipina American, the speaker of these poems has come of age, and continues to find her voice in a very turbulent time.” I have always loved this collection. I realize it’s now stereotypical to call a work “gritty,” when it comes from the “grassroots community.” I mean it as a compliment. It’s urban, in which I mean specifically, San Francisco I-Hotel second generation Pinay, circa 1970s-1980s, so it is indeed “street,” activist; it’s got a Flip politic and aesthetic, and a genuine empathy for her elders’ now aging generation of labor. The emotional tone of this work is appropriately poignant and defiant.

Sasha Pimentel Chacon, Insides She Swallowed.

Insides She Swallowed received the American Book Award in 2011. Recommended by Arlene Biala, Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County. This is stunning work, poems that hit you from all sides. Chacon’s poem “Blood, Sister” is to me a revelation in fate, family and diaspora. The articulation and distillation of objects and seemingly simple actions explored to create weaving and fluid talk story, deep honor songs, is what I love about her poetry. So looking forward to her upcoming book “For Want of Water” which was just selected for the 2016 National Poetry Series Open Competition to be published by Beacon Press.

Barbara Jane Reyes, To Love as Aswang.

Recommended by Arlene Biala. Barbara Jane Reyes’ To Love as Aswang (PAWA, Inc. Publications, 2015) is an invocation to all women, particularly to Pinays. The work as a whole is informed by many Pinay narratives and composed into a mantra that resonates deeply within the body. This mantra is a Lola’s heartbeat and lullaby, it is full of longing, pain, rage, power, reckoning and resistance.

This work is essential to our narrative. For instance, the poems about “Sweetie” described as “a digital decoy designed to trick perverts into thinking they’re having webcam sessions with a real live 10-year-old Filipina.” (Jezebel.com, November 5, 2013). As difficult as these poems are to take in, the rhythm that is felt throughout the entire book acts as an amulet that protects us from becoming despondent, guiding us instead toward empowerment. The collection is a catalog of the many stories that make it necessary for us “to love as Aswang” if we are to rise above daily human suffering and injustice.

Marianne Villanueva, Mayor of the Roses.

Recommended by Veronica Montes. Marianne Villanueva’s prose is precise and unflinching, often eliciting a gasp from this reader. In these stories we hear the first-person voices of several middle-aged pinays, women who are becoming increasingly invisible to those around them, and even to themselves. “Sometimes, because I’d lived apart so long,” says the narrator in the title story, “I couldn’t quite be sure of who I was.” Many of these characters move through their lives as acute observers rather than full participants. We recognize fragments of ourselves here, but Villanueva’s work also creates a sense of space that invites us to imagine agency and the possibility of change.

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