12219432_10153700467033554_4483489832847095320_nTITLE: CONTEMPORARY FICTION BY FILIPINOS IN AMERICA

AUTHOR: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

PUBLISHER: Anvil Publishing, 1997, 254 pages

REVIEW PUBLISHED IN: MANOA, Vol. 13, No., 1, Silence to Light: Japan and the Shadows of War (Summer, 2001) pp. 201-203 by Harold Augenbraum

A couple of years ago, I asked a colleague of mine who was preparing a comprehensive
anthology of world literature which Filipino writers he was going to
include.He wasn’t aware of any, he replied, adding that they probably hadn’t been
translated yet.

I explained that many of the best Filipino writers in the Philippines wrote in
English, a legacy of American colonialism from 1898 to 1946. With great enthusiasm
and some hope, I mentioned a half dozen that he might want to consider,
including N .V. M. Gonzalez, Linda Ty-Casper, and F.Sionil Jose. I wasn’t surprised,
however, when the anthology appeared without a one.

In the United States, the Philippines has always been esteemed for its strategic
importance while Filipino culture has been almost invisible.The truth is that the
Philippines has a rich literary heritage, extending from the archipelago to the various
other countries in which Filipinos have settled, including former colonial
masters Spain and the United States.The writers who have made a name for themselves
in the States–Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos, Linda Ty-Casper,
Ninotchka Rosca, perhaps Nick Carbo, and certainly Jessica Hagedorn — are few,
though their writing is powerful and consistently good. Hagedorn is the most
honored: her nomination for the National Book Award for Dogeaters brought
some attention to lesser-known Filipino writers toiling in the vineyards of the literary
lord, such as Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. The University of Washington
Press has loyally kept Santos and Bulosan in print, as well as brought Gonzalez to
the attention of the American public — about as much as a small university house
can do for these writers.

The anthologies of Filipino and Filipino American writing published in the
States have also appeared infrequently. In 1966, Leonard Casper, a prominent
critic and the husband of Linda Ty-Casper, compiled an extraordinary collection
called New Writing from the Philippines. A few Filipino American pieces were
included in the seminal 1974 Asian American anthology Aiieee! though the vastly
different experiences of Filipinos in the States, and a wholly different literary tradition,
resulted in two separate introductions to the book: one for Chinese and
Japanese Americans; the other for Filipino Americans.

In 1992, Luis Francia edited the marvelous Brown River,White Ocean, which
thrived despite the publisher’s barely useable design. Francia’s next contribution
was 1996’s Flippin’ Filipinos on America, which he and Eric Gamalinda edited for
the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, based in New York. A writer’s book,
composed half of poetry and half of prose, it is filled with the sheer pleasure of literary
achievement and remains the best Filipino American anthology available

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard’s 1993 anthology, Fiction by Filipinos in America,
was a low-budget collection published by New Day Publishers in Quezon City,
Philippines. For it she collected a good cross-section of Filipino writers, from the
little known to the more accomplished, producing a good introduction to Filipino
writing in America. Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, also published
in the Philippines, covers some of the same grounds even of the twenty-five contributors
were included in the earlier collection, though it is comforting to see
Gonzalez and Ty-Casper again.

Since the late nineteenth century, the Philippines has been wracked by political
difficulties: its revolt against Spain in 1898, American domination, a Japanese
invasion,and the Marcos plutocracy. Yet except for the hints of this situation in
Gonzalez’s story “Confessions of a Dawn Person,” and the migrant background in
Alma Jill Dizon’s promising “Bride,” the stories in Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos
in America focus little, if at all, on the history of the Filipino experience in
the Philippines. This is a favorite theme of at least one U.S..–resident writer who is
not included here, Ninotchka Rosca, who weaves that history into the fabric of her

With its political legacy omitted, the Philippines is neither idealized nor demonized.
As an ancestral home, the place of one’s consciousness before coming to
America, it becomes another “worldly” place: subtly powerful, vivid, and distant.
Within the Filipino and Filipino American world, trials and tribulations focus the
self within a social context, but not on the context. Even in Brainard’s contribution,
” Flip Gothic,” in which an uncontrollable young woman on the verge of
adulthood is sent by her family in the States to live with her grandmother in
Manila, the national culture of the Philippines is subjugated to the household culture,
and the homeland is effective, but amorphous.

By pulling these personal, fictional quests together, the reader indeed comes
away with a varied portrait of Filipinos in America, not the expression of dark
causality present in the earlier generations of writers, such as Bulosan and Santos-
those fantastic conjurers of Filipino American literature — but of people cautiously
settling into what they hope will be a comfortable position.

Veronica Montes

In Veronica Montes’s “Of Midgets and Beautiful Cousins,” a Filipino American
teenager and her sister, visiting their cousins in Manila, are taken to a dance club
called “Small World,” where the entire staff is made up of midgets.The girl is nervous
and edgy. Against a backdrop of raucous eroticism — American soldiers hoot
at the torch singer onstage — her cousin introduces her to a friend of his who is a
waiter there and who shows an obvious interest in her. This makes her feel even
more anxious, and she panics. They leave, and as they walk through the rain to
their car, the waiter comes running up with an umbrella to shelter her — a sad ending
to a sad evening of Filipinos, Americans, and Filipino Americans.

So many of these stories convey loneliness, disconnectedness, and an inability
to form lasting attachments. They are stories rooted in rootlessness. Dizon’s
“Bride” harkens back to the days before World War II, when Pinoys made up a
good part of the migrant workers on the plantations of Hawai’i, California, and
Oregon. Cut off from the women of their homeland, they would troll the streets
for hours, seeking companionship, drifting in and out of Chinese bordellos and
dance bars — pictures that Bulosan drew with pathos and lyricism. Dizon’s Candido
has left a family behind in the Philippines; his wife has died and his children
moved away. Decades pass. Hawai’ii s now a state, the gateway to America. An old
man, Candido receives a letter from a cousin. She knows a young woman who
might want to marry, which Candido recognizes as an obvious immigration ploy.
Despite this, he agrees and they wed. She quickly becomes pregnant, an unexpected
event since Candido is in his early seventies. Two months after the birth of
their child, she commits suicide.

The well-worn ground of the woman in a sanitarium is LindaT y-Casper’s scenario in “Dark Star/Altered Seeds.”From a lesser writer, the story might be stale, but Ty-Casper is so deft with language — a fact known to readers of literary magazines and the slim novels she has published with Readers International, Inc. — it
seems fresh. The narrator’s husband has left her for another woman, but his
return does not cure the ills that abandonment has caused:
Is she pretty? Was that the question that woke her up? Then why did he leave?
Every nameless, faceless woman; every young and jubilant face she meets
becomes that woman. She. When he holds her now she becomes her, too.
The narrator’s own identity has been usurped by her husband’s thoughtless
exchange of women, and even the reader becomes somewhat confused by the
manner in which Ty-Casper has placed her pronouns. This collection abounds
with such tension.

Though Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America could benefit from the
addition of a bit more humor and a few East Coast writers — such as Rosca, Gamalinda,
Hagedorn, and Regie Cabico — these are quibbles. Brainard has done a fine
job of bringing many little-known writers — and the edginess of Filipinos in America —
to the fore.

Gun Dealers’ Daughter

TITLE: Gun Dealers’ Daughter, A Novel

AUTHOR: Gina Apostol

PUBLISHER: W. W. Norton Company

294 pages

historical fiction


Gina Apostol’s Gun Dealers’ Daughter, a stunning novel of the Marcos-era Philippines, is a story of politics and passion, of insurrection and rebellion, of growing up and the consequences of childhood naïvete. When Soleded Soliman (Sol) leaves home for university in Manila, she finds herself swept up in the Communist fervor on campus. But, as the daughter of prominent gun dealers, she is a part of what is being rebelled against. Then again, perhaps all that matters is her crush on Jed, the ringleader of the pack, and perhaps she is really nothing but a useful fool in the rebellion.

“Words are all we have to save us,” her doctors tell her years later, “but at the same time, they are not enough to make us whole.” This proves to be the paradox of Sol’s life, as she tells her story in a desperate attempt to find out who she was–and therefore, who she is–but in doing so, only rediscovers how little she understands. Her telling and retelling and editing and tweaking of her own history feels disjointed in the opening chapters, but ultimately proves to be one of the most successful aspects of Apostol’s creation; the technique invites readers into the very core of Sol’s experiences, accompanying her on her journey of self-understanding–and, perhaps more importantly, self-acceptance. In the end, Sol is left with as many questions as she has answers, but readers are treated to a captivating look into this period of Philippine history and the gripping story of one girl’s struggles to find her place in the world. –Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

A stunning novel of the Marcos-era Philippines, and one girl’s struggles to find her place in the world.

More on Gina Apostol and Gun Dealers’ Daughter:

Gina Apostol
Publishers Weekly                                                                                                          Largehearted Boy: Book Notes

Waiting for General MacArthur

TITLE:  Waiting for General MacArthur

AUTHOR: Virgilio Gonzales

PUBLISHER: Rosedog Books


REVIEW PUBLISHED IN DANBURY NEWS TIMES (July 21, 2012)  By Jacqueline Smith

Virgilio’s Story Had to be Told

The time had come when Virgilio Gonzales just had to tell his story. It could wait no longer.

Time had not softened the memories of his youth, when the Japanese occupied the Philippines, his native country, during World War II.

The story, as all powerful stories, had to come out into words that would last. And so the now-80-year-old Danbury resident sat down to write.

It took four years to complete and publish “Waiting for General MacArthur.” Virgilio can now hold the softcover book in his hands.

On Dec. 8, 1941, only 10 hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked Manila.

Virgilio remembers it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and an attack was unexpected.

“The Japanese planes emerged from a bank of clouds, glistening in the sun like a school of bangus (milk fish) in the sky. The anti-aircraft guns around Manila opened up in a deafening barrage. The air raid sirens screamed and went on screaming like the world had gone crazy.”

For the 9-year-old boy, it had.

From the point of view of a child named Carlos, who, of course, is Virgilio, the scene unfolds in rich detail.
“Darkness invaded Manila. Total blackout was enforced for the first time. The children stayed in their room, quiet as mice. They had not recovered from the air raid, they sat down on the floor, their back against the wall.
“Whatever they were thinking, they kept to themselves. The house was still and quiet. The only light in the house came from the votive oil lamp on the wall altar of the Virgin Mary.”

That night his brother, Rey, left his engineering studies at the University of the Philippines to join the military and went off to war with three cans of Libby’s Pork and Beans.

Two days later, when the Japanese bombed and obliterated the U.S. naval yard where Virgilio’s father, Arsenio, worked, the family with nine children fled Manila.

Over the course of three years they would move from place to place, seeking safety and hoping MacArthur would hold true to his promise — “I shall return.”

Virgilio’s story holds tender moments and descriptive details, from the fright of a family trying to survive to eating fried crickets for the first time. (“They were crunchy like cheese curls…”)

The story holds tragedy. Virgilio’s father joined the underground and was executed by the Japanese. Virgilio’s future father-in-law, Capt. Sofronio Jimenea, also died in the war.

When MacArthur returns and liberation finally occurs, the relief and joy come through the pages.

Years later, Virgilio received a chemistry degree from the University of the Philippines and married a fellow chemist, Maria Corazon Jimenea, who everyone calls Baby. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1978.

Why they came to Danbury, and what it was like to establish themselves in a new country, would make another interesting story.

For now, Virgilio is pleased that his family and others can read his words.

“Waiting for General MacArthur” was self-published through Rosedog Books in Pittsburgh and sells for $16.

Virgilio will be the first to tell you that the book has typos. He has macular degeneration, which affects his vision.
“The book with all its flaws is dear to me,” he said to me in an email. “It is better for a book to see the light of print than gather dust on my dust.”

I, for one, am glad he sat down four years ago to finally tell his story.

Everyone, actually, has a story inside.

Don Jose, An American Soldier’s Courage and Faith in Japanese Captivity

TITLE:  Don Jose, An American Soldier’s Courage and Faith in Japanese Captivity

AUTHOR:  Ezequiel L. Ortiz, James A. McClure

PUBLISHER:  Sunstone Press (2012)

Binding: Paperback, 176 pages



Author’s Summary

In 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines with overwhelming force and forced the surrender of American troops at Bataan and Corregidor. Prisoners of war were subjected to brutal captivity and thousands did not survive. This is the story of an American soldier who survived and became a hero. When American troops liberated the Niigata POW camp after the Japanese surrender, Corporal Joseph O. Quintero greeted them with a homemade American flag that had been sewn together in secrecy. The son of Mexican immigrants, Joseph Quintero grew up in a converted railroad caboose in Fort Worth, Texas, and joined the Army to get $21 a month and three meals a day. He manned a machine gun in the defense of Corregidor before his unit was captured by the Japanese. When prisoners of war were transported to Japan, Joseph survived a razor-blade appendectomy on the ”hell ship” voyage. In the prison camp he cared for his fellow prisoners as a medic and came to be known as Don Jose. Joseph’s narrative is an enlisted man’s view of the war with first-hand descriptions of conditions in the POW camps and personal glimpses of what he and his buddies did, endured and talked about. The authors have drawn on other histories and official documents to put his story into perspective and focus on a little-known chapter of World War II.

MWSA Review

Ortiz and McClure honor an old friend’s wish to be remembered in this stirring biography of Joseph Quintero, US Army private and Japanese POW. They mix a standard biographical narrative with Joseph’s own accounts of his experiences. The result is a highly readable story of a soldier’s struggles to survive under the most horrendous of conditions, with bravery, honor, and compassion.

Joseph Quintero possessed the ability to love and serve others, traits handed down to him by his deeply religious and affectionate mother, Lorenza. A first generation American born to Mexican immigrants in Texas, young Joseph helped his father support his family of nine children by going to work at age thirteen. As these were the depression years, his variety of jobs at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Fort Worth, including ambulance assistant, paid little. Joseph therefore decided to enlist in the Army along with some friends. Because he was undersize, the recruiters rejected him. Joseph’s friends told them either he went or they’d walk out. Joseph was allowed to enlist.

Throughout Joseph’s wartime experiences, his attention to his fellow soldiers’ needs and sufferings led them to warmly reciprocate. He utilized the basic medic skills he’d learned in Fort Worth during the Japanese siege of Corregidor. Afterwards, from prison camp to prison camp: Bilibid and Cabanatuan in the Philippines, then at the infamous Niigata Labor Camp in Japan, where he remained until the end of the war.

Along the way, Joseph underwent an appendectomy in the cramped hold of the POW transport, Taga Maru, in semi-darkness with Major Keggie operating with a razor. The surgeon attempted the impossible because of his high regard for Joseph. Perhaps the Almighty, hearing Joseph’s repeated prayer, “I believe in God. I believe I will live,” and knowing his passion for helping other, assisted.

The Taga Maru passage showcases Ortiz and McClure’s talent for using Joseph’s words together with excerpts from other published accounts of the affair, both at the time and later. The authors repeatedly corroborate their story with such inclusions. Indeed, three of their four appendices provide meticulous details of the 60th Coast Artillery, Joseph’s unit, at Corregidor. Such touches help further round out his story.

Joseph’s story is recommended reading for anyone who wishes to pay honor, like the authors, to a vanishing generation of soldiers.

My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood

TITLE:  My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywoood

AUTHOR:  Ruben V. Nepales



REVIEW PUBLISHED IN Philippine News June 2012, Journalist casts expert eyes on Filipinos in Hollywood by Lorenzo Paran III

If you wondered, while watching the animated film “Finding Nemo,” what a bahay kubo was doing in the fish tank, the answer is simple. Filipinos played a crucial role in the creation of the film.

That tidbit on Filipinos who work in U.S. animated film studios is just one of many that readers will discover in My Filipino Collection: The Philippines in Hollywood by Ruben Nepales. The book, published by Anvil, gathers Nepales’ pieces in “Only in Hollywood,” his popular entertainment column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Nepales, based in Los Angeles, has taken it upon himself to be the go-to reporter for Hollywood’s Filipino newsmakers—from actors and actresses to singers to film professionals—and, true enough, over the years his column has provided his readers with a Hollywood insider’s perspective with a focus on, and from the angle of, the Pinoy.

This, along with Nepales’ fine journalism skills, makes The Philippines in Hollywood a source of solid reportage that Filipino readers, whether in the Philippines, the U.S. or other parts of the world, will not find anywhere else.

There are many stars in the book. Readers perhaps will be drawn first to the interviews with well-known names such as “Sucker Punch” star Vanessa Hudgens, singing sensation Charice, and “True Grit” star Hailee Steinfeld, who all have a connection to the Philippines. (Hudgens’ mom, Gina Guangco, was born and raised in the Philippines, while Steinfeld’s mother is descended from a Filipino from Bohol).

But other pieces stand out for their subjects’ candor, intelligence and wit.

A good example is Nepales’ interview with actor Bernardo Bernardo, who when he was based in Manila was known for his compelling performances in dramatic and comedic roles in film and on TV. Philippine readers will perhaps best remember him as Dolphy’s nemesis in the hit sitcom “Home Along Da Riles.” These days, Bernardo makes a living as marketing director for a medical transport company in L.A., although he still wears his actor’s hat from time to time.

Nepales asks him if he has any regrets after giving up his career in the Philippines and starting over in the U.S.

“No regrets,” Bernardo says. “I took a closer look at wazzup in my life and I decided, in a manner of speaking, that I’d done there, been that. And it was time to do a Matilda. You know, ‘Take the money and run Venezuela!’”

Later Bernardo says, “Struggle is nothing new. I choose to face life smiling, but I’ve struggled most of my life, so hard work is just another stage. It’s like somewhere in the back of my mind, running gaily in a perpetual loop, is that Gloria Gaynor anthem, ‘I will survive!’”

Another piece that would leave an impression on readers is Nepales’ interview with Darren Criss, the Filipino-American actor-singer who starred in “Glee.” Born to a Cebuana mom and an Irish-American father, Criss comes off as a bright and articulate speaker as Nepales talks to him about his artistic training and many projects.

Talking about acting, he says, “It’s a celebration of strangers. It’s giving people a reason to believe in something for a short period of time.” Later the actor, who recently added Broadway to his already extensive artistic resume, says, “All this wonderful stuff that happens as a byproduct of ‘Glee’—that isn’t what success embodies. It’s about working hard, being happy, staying grounded.”

These interviews also point out Nepales’ strength as a journalist. He asks the questions and provides the prompts, but otherwise his subjects do the talking, thus providing countless insights into their professional lives. That’s the greatest pleasure this reader finds in The Philippines in Hollywood.

Nepales’ subjects include both Filipinos who were born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S., either when they were very young or as adults, as well as those who were born in the U.S. They include actors and actresses, singers and musicians and also feature DC Comics illustrator Tony DeZuniga (whose interview with Nepales was one of his last; DeZuniga died in May 2012), a visual effects producer, production supervisor, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, and artists who work for Hollywood’s animated film studios. The last includes a group that’s taken to calling themselves “Pixnoys”—short for “Pinoys who work for Pixar Animation Studios.” One of them, Nelson Bohol, who was a set designer for the film “Finding Nemo,” is to be credited for putting a bahay kubo in Nemo’s fish tank.

Also featured in The Philippines in Hollywood are Luisa Mendez-Marshall, a Tina Turner tribute artist based in Canada; YouTube sensation Mikey Bustos, whose Filipino “tutorial” videos have become a hit; and Cristeta Pasia Comerford, executive chef of the White House, who was born and bred in Sampaloc, Manila. All have interesting stories to tell, and they do—thanks not only to Nepales the insider, but also to Nepales the dedicated and skillful journalist.

The world of Filipino Americans is a rich, vibrant and diverse one, and good reporting that does justice to it is not always easy to come by. But when it comes to the field of entertainment, asThe Philippines in Hollywood proves, Filipinos have their man.


Lorenzo Paran III writes about the Filipino-American life on his blog,

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Tropic Born War Torn

TITLE:  Tropic Born  War Torn

AUTHOR: Susan Vance

PUBLISHER:  Inkwater Press

123 pages


While the scope and horror of war can never be fully realized, personal life stories encourage one to learn history surrounding these events. The author’s mother and grandfather, Gloria Haube Vance and William Haube, were caught up in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II. On the evening of Gloria’s engagement party, December 7, 1941, her life changed direction and she was plunged into survival mode. Reinforcements for the Philippines were diverted to protect Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack, leaving the Philippines to the Japanese. Gloria’s fiancé was captured, endured the Bataan death march — only to die on a Japanese ship bombed by American planes.

“Against these odds you try to survive, always at the mercy of the whims of the invaders.  Failure to carry out their orders offered only the prospect of horrible torture or death. Blanketing all of one’s mental and physical suffering is the endless feeling of fear that you live with 24 hours a day.”

Gloria’s story is augmented by the diary of her father, who managed a mine taken over by the Japanese. The photographs bring authenticity to the straightforward narration. Even though there are hundreds of books about this period of the bloody battle for the Philippines, this compelling story could have been helped along by greater historical context, better maps and reference to the ongoing battles. Since 1521, the Philippines have been colonized and battered by wars. The heroes of the book are the two natives who hide, shelter, and feed the Haube family. The natives and Japanese are referred to by pejoratives commonly used at that time. This book will ultimately lead the reader to an interest in this fascinating part of the world and the rollercoaster ride of war, subjugation, and liberation, along with the nightmares caused by war.