Filipino American Writer

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Journalist casts expert eyes on Filipinos in Hollywood

BOOK REVIEW

My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood
Author: Ruben V. Nepales
Publisher: Anvil
Details: Collection of author’s column pieces in the Philippine Daily Inquirer; 115 pages

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.

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When a Filipino comes home: New anthology opens door to understanding Fil-Ams

BOOK REVIEW


Title: Hanggang sa Muli: Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul
Editor: Reni R. Roxas
Publisher: Tahanan Books
Details: Anthology (memoirs, poems, short stories, essays by Filipino writers about coming home), 252 pages
More information: reni@tahananbooks.com, (425) 773-7465

By Lorenzo Paran III

Filipinos around the world will agree that there’s nothing quite like coming home. Nothing is as poignant or downright sad or joyful than when a Filipino, after spending years overseas, returns to the homeland.

A new book offers fresh testimony to that. Hanggang sa Muli: Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, edited by Reni Roxas, gathers some of the most memorable essays and personal narratives, along with some short stories and poems, written by Filipino writers on the subject of homecoming.

The experience is portrayed in the book as in reality: always memorable, sometimes funny, but often heart-wrenching.
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SILENT NO MORE: Book gives voice to Filipino-American ‘bridge’ generation

BOOK REVIEW

Title: Vanishing Filipino Americans: The Bridge Generation
Author: Peter Jamero
Publisher: University Press of America, 2011
Available at: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc., University Press of America, Amazon
Details: History, 122 pages
More information here.
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By Lorenzo Paran III

Any Filipino-American worth his salt can tell you about the manong generation, the group of mostly single Filipino males that in the 1920s and 30s began the great wave of Filipino immigration into the U.S. in the 20th century. But, chances are, he would be unable to tell you about the generation that came next, composed of the manongs’ children, who would help bring about the acceptance of Filipinos into mainstream American society.

But anyone can be forgiven for not knowing much about—or even being aware of—these Filipino-Americans (indeed they were the first Filipino-Americans) because they have largely been ignored by historians. That is, until now.
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‘Fil-Im’ writer offers an honest look at ‘Fil-Am’ life

BOOK REVIEW

Title: Pareng Barack: Filipinos in Obama’s America
Author: Benjamin Pimentel
Publisher: Anvil Publishing, 2008
Details: Nonfiction, 157 pages
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By Lorenzo Paran III

If Filipino Americans had a sin, perhaps it’s that some of them are prejudiced against blacks. Filipinos living in the U.S. know only too well the ease with which some of their own family members often make sweeping and negative statements about African Americans.
This form of racism is well described in Pareng Barack: Filipinos in Obama’s America by Benjamin Pimentel. The book, written from the perspective of a Filipino born in the Philippines who now lives in the U.S., gives an overview of the history of racial politics in the U.S. using as a backdrop the rise of Barack Obama, an African American, to the presidency.

BENJAMIN PIMENTEL


But the casual reader may appreciate the insights the book provides into the everyday lives of Filipino Americans vis-a-vis race—including a well-known prejudice against blacks. Pimentel recounts, for instance, one Filipina’s reaction when asked why she wouldn’t vote for a black candidate.

“I don’t trust (blacks). Di ba sila ‘yung laging naggugulo? Aren’t they the troublemakers? They’re so violent,” she says.

Another example that Pimentel shares is the experience of Prosy Abarquez Delacruz, a leader in the Filipino-American community in the Los Angeles-area, who was told by her father: “You’re not going to marry a black person…. Just don’t. They’re up to no good.”

I myself can easily recount similar comments I have heard at family gatherings.

So why are some Filipino Americans racist?
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Immigrant Story unfolds and delights in Donna Miscolta’s debut novel

BOOK REVIEW

Title: When the de la Cruz Family Danced
Author: Donna Miscolta
Publisher: Signal8 Press, 2011
Available at: Signal8 Press, Amazon
Details: 342 pages, fiction, available as eBook
Watch the book trailer here.
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By Ticiang Diangson

I loved When the de la Cruz Family Danced. There, I’ve erased any semblance of objectivity. Donna Miscolta’s first novel is set in San Diego, but it could be Seattle—or Chicago (where I grew up). It’s a page turner with a strong story line that grows and surprises. I know Johnny de la Cruz’s family or folks an awful lot like them: unpredictable, many-layered and as intriguing in their own way as anybody in our celebrity cult culture.

Reading it was a relief and a reminder of how mundane and bizarre we all are; I didn’t want to put it down and I didn’t want it to end. Immigrant parents, American-born children—all the cross-cultural mishaps of trying to fit in, to keep up with the Cordovas, the class fissures, the “moving up.” Part grit and part sharp, witty commentary, Miscolta tells the story of three intertwining families, with different immigration and intermarriage histories. It’s about the familiar and fascinating ways we survive.

DONNA MISCOLTA

I talked with Miscolta in lobby chairs at Seattle City Hall; she works for the county and I work for the city and we’ve been in meetings together over the years. I asked her lots of questions about how autobiographical the novel was, how she wrote it while being a full-time government worker, wife and mother, who her favorite writers were and what her writer’s life was like.
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Book brings to life the history of Filipinos in the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy

BOOK REVIEW


Title: Pinoy Stewards in the U.S. Sea Services: Seizing Marginal Opportunity
Author: Ray L. Burdeos
Publisher: AuthorHouse, 2010
Available at: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, AuthorHouse
Details: 211 pages, nonfiction
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By Allen Gaborro

Former U.S. Navy and Coast Guard steward and now-author Ray L. Burdeos is so calculatedly detailed and prolific in his portrayals and reminiscences of his days in the service that he appears to find it easier to describe the faraway past rather than bring attention to the contiguous present. Even in those relatively few times when the present leaps out in Burdeos’s thoughts, the past invariably creeps in as subjective footnotes and as applicative historical material.

Burdeos’s newest addendum of his time as a steward in the U.S. Navy during the 1950’s and 60’s, titled “Pinoy Stewards in the U.S. Sea Services: Seizing Marginal Opportunity,” invokes the memories of those Filipino seamen, including himself, who emigrated to a new world, a world that perhaps they had emigrated to without fully realizing what was in store for them as foreigners in an intolerant atmosphere.

The history of Filipino stewards in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard is not exactly well-known. Burdeos, whose authority on this subject is very personal and reinforced by his impressive memory, addresses how Filipinos came to enter the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard in the first place. He writes how the departure of African Americans from the US Navy’s and Coast Guard’s staff of stewards from the 1950’s up to the 1990’s made positions available for Filipinos in the two services.

Burdeos preserves the history of the Filipino stewards by boiling down his text into a register of personal narratives that are ascribed to individual stewards. Burdeos engrossingly records his memory of these fellow Filipinos who were friends and colleagues of his. In joining the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, these Filipinos were obliged, in Burdeos’s view, to begin building their new lives by confronting and absorbing the alien American culture in which they found themselves: “Filipinos had to assimilate to the American way as much as possible to be understood and accepted. Since they were the newcomers, it was just proper that they had to adapt the American way of doing things.”

In the chapter on United States Coast Guard Commander Zacarias S. Chavez Jr., the commander’s daughter Christine acknowledges her father’s sacrifice and hard work in realizing his ambition to live in America. Christine gives credit to her father for what he accomplished in the Coast Guard and for impressing upon her and her siblings the value of discipline and of having “the competitive spirit” that would be an essential cornerstone for securing a bright and prosperous future.

Not easily given to the perfect image attributed by many Filipinos to Americans, Burdeos does a short chapter on Master Chief Quartermaster Rogelio L. Reyes palpably racist experiences in the US Navy. In Reyes’s words: “The whites generally didn’t want to associate with Filipinos. They always gave the impression that they were superior…they kept a distance from us.” With African American servicemen, it was something of a different story for Reyes. For him, they “had their own problems with the white superiority.” Yet Filipinos somehow “found ways to get along with blacks.”

Ultimately, what did it mean for these Filipinos to be able to serve in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard? Largely, it meant being able to go and stake their claim in the land of opportunity. With clear notions of financial advancement and stability as the connective thread, most of these Filipinos, along with Burdeos, stayed in the U.S. after their service ended and eventually became American citizens.

Years from now, as new chapters of the history of the Filipinos in America are written, the story of Filipinos in the U.S. sea services in particular will have been inextricably woven into that history. And no one is more qualified to tell that history than Ray Burdeos whose literary publications have become indispensable contributions to the understanding of Filipino American history.
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This review first appeared in the FilAm Star (Dec. 10-16, 2010). The reviewer, Allen Gaborro, writes about historical, cultural and political issues in his bi-monthly column in the FilAm Star . He is also an international affairs writer for an English language publication in Japan. He is at work on a novel. Follow his blog, Narratives of Resistance.

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