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Filipino culture: fiction and nonfiction books for a 6 year old
7 Non-Fiction Books About Filipinx America by Pinoy Writers
Elaine castillo, author of "america is not the heart," recommends books about filipinx american history.
“The supremacy of the United States must and will be enforced throughout every part of the archipelago, and those who resist it can accomplish no end other than their own ruin.”
Issued to the Philippines in 1899, The Proclamation of the U.S. Commission Towards Conciliation and the Establishment of Peace is about as true to its name as Operation Enduring Freedom. The sentence above was the commission’s first principle. Less than a month later, the Philippine-American War began, and that conflict—that insurrection—would irrevocably shape the future of both countries. A definitive record of Filipinos killed during the war is difficult to ascertain; the number ranges anywhere between 200,000 to 1.4 million (the politics of the census are complicated when so many on one side of a war have been massacred). Waterboarding was first used by American soldiers in the Philippines as a form of torture during this period. Even Mark Twain understood that American imperialism in the Philippines was a genocidal project: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.”
This was a war that established America as a global empire—the strategies used on Filipinos had already been implemented to devastating effect on Native American populations during the Plains Indians Wars—and yet somehow it remains a ghostly presence, a blip, in the annals of American history, not to mention mainstream contemporary American memory.
Fiction writers are often expected to address such absences. And while there are wonderful novels and fiction authors who do just that—most notably Gina Apostol in her most recent book, the searing and kaleidoscopic Insurrecto —I know that I’ve also had discussions with fellow fiction writers, especially writers of color and immigrant writers, who often point out the sometimes frustrating consequences of being expected to use your fiction as a platform to educate the wider American public about a historical lacuna.
And I get it: there’s a particular vitality to fiction that makes the past come alive, when an author manages to turn a fact about war into flesh and blood. But sometimes the assumption that we should go to writers of color to learn about forgotten history can often mean we end up instrumentalizing those writers and their art for the ethnographic value they bring to us. The divide often then results in readers going to minority writers to learn the particular, and going to white writers to feel the universal. Certainly many of the literary panels I’ve seen or been on during the year I’ve been on tour have been organized thematically in just this way.
I don’t mean to suggest that writers of color be less politicized in their reception—we’re political, historical and emotional animals and those material facts of our being will inevitably find their way into our fictions. But that logic should be applied equally to all artists. I would love to see a panel about identity consisting of entirely middle-class writers, or a panel about women’s anger in fiction that doesn’t center white women. I would love for readers to expect more white American women writers to write fiction about why so many of them voted Trump into office. I would love a list of fiction recommendations about whiteness, for people who want to “learn more.” (I’d love to write that list, too: George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, one of my favorite books of all time, would definitely be on there, along with maybe Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden ; obviously The Great Gatsby , or what about the entire oeuvre of Marguerite Duras?)
So below are a few of my favorite contemporary Filipinx American critics and historians from whom I, too, have gained a valuable education about the wonders and terrors of American statecraft and its rippling effects around the world, particularly the country my parents immigrated to California from—in the hopes that by expanding the list of people from whom we learn our history, we can also expand the list of people from whom we experience our art.
Suspended Apocalypse, Genocide, and the Filipino Condition by Dylan Rodriguez
This book should be required reading in American schools. It’s a rigorous and searing work of critical history, in which Rodriguez shows us how contemporary American identity and statecraft as we know it was constructed by its relationship to the Philippines—and vice versa. It connects American anti-blackness and indigenous genocide with its similar policies in the archipelago, and extrapolates that history to the modern day, with a virtuosic chapter on race and natural disaster that compares the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines. Often shocking, utterly indispensable.
Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History by Catherine Ceniza Choy
Another absolute classic: chances are, if have ever been to a hospital of any kind, you’ve benefited from the care of a Filipinx nurse. Maybe it was my mom, or one of my aunts or cousins. Catherine Ceniza Choy traces the long history of that labor back to, you guessed it, the American colonization of the Philippines, which makes this book a vital work of American history as much as it is a cornerstone of Filipinx history, labor history, and feminist history.
Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora by Martin F. Manalansan IV
Growing up, I had a godfather who was also sometimes my godmother. The way he liked to be addressed—he usually used masculine pronouns even when referring to himself as a woman, in a way that was both true to him and also indicative of the fact that gendered pronouns do not exist in Tagalog, and thus he was dealing with both gender and grammar in a second, lesser language—was akin to calling someone Uncle Jessica. Queerness in my family was present, protected, often unremarkable, and yet went hand in hand with an underlying structure of patriarchal machismo, misogyny and homophobia. How those two things could live together, often in one person, I still find difficult to articulate, even (maybe especially) as a bi woman. Books like Manalansan IV’s book help: another long-time staple that delves into the lived specifics of a subset of Filipinx queerness (in particular bakla identity; the book doesn’t focus on queer women), while also thinking through the ways race and prejudice inform and deform our desires.
Puro Arte: Filipinos on the Stages of Empire by Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns
Chances are, if you’ve ever watched The Voice or American Idol, you’ve encountered a Filipinx performer—usually singing a pitch-perfect cover of a torch song, in the vein of Celine Dion or Boyz II Men or a classic musical. Puro Arte explores the long history of Filipinx performance and connects it to the formation of Filipinx identity under U.S. imperialism—more specifically, what the book calls “imperial amnesia.” From white mobs chasing Filipino men in the 1920s era of taxi dance halls (and the accompanying fear-mongering around miscegenation and hypersexuality that historically differentiates the treatment of Filipinos from other Asian groups in America) to the phenomena of Filipina actresses starring as the Vietnamese character Kim in Miss Saigon, Puro Arte will deepen your understanding of the politics of performance—and maybe even ensure you never look at performers like Bruno Mars the same way again.
Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina by Denise Cruz
A GOAT work of scholarship and criticism, with a staggeringly wide historical scope and a generous, approachable readability. Denise Cruz brings us from the colonial era to the Cold War, and gives us a much-needed feminist historicist approach to thinking about everything from national heroism, to class, colorism, and the ways in which the costs of war and empire are often borne on the bodies of women.
Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon
Mabalon’s sudden passing in 2018 dealt a tremendous blow to the Filipinx American community. Little Manila Is in the Heart is a much-loved masterpiece of ethnography, history and activism all at once, centering on the titular Little Manila of downtown Stockton, California. Mabalon’s writing is as sharp as it is loving and accessible, and the way she traces the community’s origins to its contemporary struggles against gentrification could be fruitfully linked to similar struggles around the country, particularly the rapidly changing Bay Area. Rest in power, Dawn.
Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (Sexual Cultures) by Karen Tongson
I’m a bi suburban kid of Filipinx immigrants, and though Tongson’s book mostly covers the queer suburban imaginaries of southern California, I still feel like I recognize traces of the Bay Area I grew out of in the pages of this deeply felt work of criticism as love letter. The attention to and love for queer suburban life (and the particularities of, for example, suburban gentrification and displacement and its effects on queer lives) is what makes the work shine: it’s a much-needed antidote to both art and criticism’s focus on narratives of queer urbanity. The writing itself is elegant and singing with emotion, and Tongson understands beautifully that there is as much history (American, global, colonial, interethnic) in our strip malls as in our libraries; as much global epic drama in our garages as in our grandest theaters.
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Must-Read Books by Filipino and Filipino American Authors
From imaginative cozy mysteries to politically-motivated fiction to moving short stories to joyful romances, these books by filipino authors and authors of filipino descent span the vast experience of the people of the philippines. discover more books by asian american and native hawaiian/pacific islander authors and share these incredible narratives year-round using the hashtag #representasianstories..
By geena rocero, hardcover $28.00, buy from other retailers:.
Chloe and the Kaishao Boys
By mae coyiuto, hardcover $18.99.
Blackmail and Bibingka
By mia p. manansala, paperback $17.00.
A Career in Books
By kate gavino, hardcover $20.00.
In the Country
By mia alvar, paperback $17.95.
Cinder & Glass
By melissa de la cruz.
Cook Real Hawai’i
By sheldon simeon and garrett snyder, hardcover $35.00.
By kerby rosanes, paperback $15.00.
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
By jose rizal, paperback $19.00.
Patron Saints of Nothing
By randy ribay, paperback $12.99.
by Jessica Hagedorn
The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic
By nick joaquin.
I Was Their American Dream
By malaka gharib, paperback $16.99.
by Joanne Ramos
By sarah echavarre smith, paperback $18.00.
When the Elephants Dance
By tess uriza holthe, paperback $16.00.
The Holiday Switch
By tif marcelo, paperback $10.99.
Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club
By roselle lim.
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Filipino American History Month 2021 - NonFiction
16 Books By Filipina Authors You Should Read
Learn more about the philippines and filipino culture through the stories of 16 filipina authors..
For the majority of my life, books have provided an instant escape whenever I wanted to travel to faraway places. However, the lack of representation on library and bookstore shelves left me feeling disconnected to stories with predominantly white characters and Westernized lived experiences. With the recent onslaught of Asian American/Pacific Islander hate crimes in the USA and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month on the horizon in May , I wanted to compile a reading list that not only highlights Asian literary excellence, but also amplifies the voices of primarily Filipina/x authors. The 16 books listed here are a return to roots, providing a sense of belonging to the marginalized and also help to decolonize the mind. All the Filipina authors featured reflect a variety of experiences: they are immigrants, migrant workers, first/second/third generation, biracial, (former) illegal aliens, albino, and LGBTQIA+ identifying, and many of these books are their literary debuts. A combination of personal narratives, educational text, and creative writing, these pieces touch upon themes of femininity, race, class, spirituality, privilege, beauty, and identity. Many of the suggested books have been written for a Filipino audience first and foremost, but also deepen understanding of Filipino culture and values among unfamiliar audiences. Special thanks to @pinaylit on Instagram for introducing me to many of these titles. From this large selection, you’ll find that not all immigrant stories are the same. Scroll through the whole list or click on the title of the book to jump to its synopsis:
America Is Not The Heart – Elaine Castillo (Fiction, Contemporary)
In The Country – Mia Alvar (Fiction, Short Stories)
Arsenic And Adobo – Mia P. Manansala (Fiction, Cozy Mystery)
The Farm – Joanne Ramos (Science Fiction)
Once Upon A Sunset – Tif Marcelo (Fiction, Romance)
Something In Between – Melissa de la Cruz (Fiction, Young Adult)
When The Elephants Dance – Tess Uriza Hoelthe (Historical Fiction)
I Was Their American Dream – Malaka Gharib (Memoir, Graphic Novel)
Babaylan: Filipinos and The Call of the Indigenous – Leny Mendoza Strobel (Indigenous Studies)
Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living With War – M. Evelina Galang (History, Interviews)
The Body Papers – Grace Talusan (Memoir)
Malaya: Essays on Freedom – Cinelle Barnes (Memoir, Essays)
Fairest – Meredith Talusan (Memoir)
Somewhere In The Middle – Deborah Francisco Douglas (Memoir)
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion – Jia Tolentino (Essays)
Letters To A Young Brown Girl – Barbara Jane Reyes (Poetry)
FICTION BY FILIPINA AUTHORS
America Is Not The Heart
By elaine castillo.
Author Elaine Castillo presents the paradox of The American Dream through the family of protagonist, Hero De Vera. As a new immigrant to the USA housed by her beloved uncle, Pol, his wife Paz, and her young cousin Roni, Hero must find a way to reconcile her painful past in order to move forward with her life in America. Woven into this delicately-crafted family saga are untranslated Tagalog, Pangasinan, and Ilocano words, displaying all the hidden histories living inside each newcomer to the USA. The title of this novel is a spin on one of the first Filipino-American classics, America Is In The Heart by Carlos Bulosan.
In The Country
By mia alvar.
In The Country is a stunning, lyrical work of fiction presented in the form of nine short stories. In 2016, Mia Alvar put contemporary Filipina authors on the map with her first published piece, giving voice to Filipino men and women in the diaspora. Her short stories about emigrants, wanderers, exiles, and expats across the globe expertly distinguishes the Philippine experience for each protagonist, while upholding the universal likeness of all Filipinos around the world and “in the country.” The tales of a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia, the sighting of a “ White Lady ,” and a New York pharmacist smuggling drugs to his sickly father in Manila will illicit nostalgia for many Filipinos looking for glimpses of home.
Arsenic and Adobo
By mia p. manansala.
Out this May and available for pre-order, Adobo and Arsenic, the first installment in Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries is layered with romance, comedy, murder, and all the servings of Filipino food you could want in one light, enjoyable read. This cozy mystery (ie. a mystery sub-genre involving an amateur female sleuth) will have your mouth watering as you try to solve this classic case of “whodunnnit” with heroine, Lila Macapagal, being framed for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, a food critic, all while trying to save her Tita Rosie’s restaurant from closure.
by Joanne Ramos
A dystopian novel about Golden Oaks, a luxury retreat nestled in New York’s posh Hudson Valley, with every amenity under the sun provided to its residents, including a large pay-off. For Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, the trade-off of being a surrogate mother for nine months at Golden Oaks seems too good of an opportunity to pass up. However, life on “The Farm” as Jane soon finds out, is less idyllic than it seems. A thought-provoking exploration of economic disparity, motherhood, and ethics.
Once Upon a Sunset
By tif marcelo.
A high-powered OB/GYN, Diana Gallagher-Cary, finds herself at a crossroads after a series of unfortunate events in her life. But when she uncovers a box of letters from her supposedly dead grandfather to her grandmother in their youth, she sojourns to the Philippines to reconnect with her long-lost family members. Along the way, she contends with her identity, her definition of family, while finding love in the unlikeliest of places.
Something in Between
By melissa de la cruz.
One of the USA’s most celebrated Filipina authors, Melissa de la Cruz is back with a young adult story about high schooler, Jasmine de los Santos. Jasmine has met every expectation laid out by her hardworking Filipino parents and with a full college scholarship within reach, everything is perfect. But in the shocking wake of her parents’ expired immigration status, life as Jasmine knows it comes to a startling halt. With the threat of deportation looming overhead, Jasmine rebels to make time for the things she never experienced as an adolescent fixated on the future.
When The Elephants Dance
By tess uriza holthe.
Set in World War II Philippines, the fictional Karangalan family hunker down in their cellar with neighbors, consoling each other with stories of their homeland as the war rages overhead. These stories of family and community blend folklore, history, and magic, alluding to the mystical and comforting quality of storytelling as a means of survival and a tool to inspire hope in a time of devastation and violence. Trigger warning: rape, wartime atrocities.
NONFICTION BY FILIPINA AUTHORS
I Was Their American Dream
By malaka gharib.
A heartwarming debut from NPR correspondent and cartoonist, Malaka Gharib, as she captures her complex upbringing as a Filipino-Egyptian growing up in the USA. This coming-of-age-story is an endearing entry among the collection of modern immigrant stories, exploring common motifs about identity, culture, and belonging, all through an illustrated, interactive storyline. I was especially fond of Malaka’s presentation on the code-switching skills individuals with straddled identities must master in order to accommodate their dueling realities.
Babaylan: Filipinos and The Call of the Indigenous
Edited by leny mendoza strobel.
In pre-colonial Philippines, Babaylans communed with spirits of nature and the world beyond. These revered shamans were almost always women or feminized men, becoming a modern symbol for non-conforming gender. In this anthology, decolonizing scholars, artists, poets, cultural theorists, and anthropologists offer insights as to how to call back the healing spirit and wisdom of the Babayalan. The tome is rich in spiritual and cultural capital and provides a framework to tap into Kapwa psychology, the fundamental Filipino belief that all Filipinos share kinship as human beings.
Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living With War
By m. evelina galang.
A heartbreaking history lesson on the violence perpetuated by the Japanese in The Philippines during World War II. Galang recounts the sorrows of sixteen surviving Filipino “comfort women” who were among more than one thousand Filipinas kidnapped, tortured, and defiled by the Imperial Japanese Army during their Philippine occupation. Lola’s House illuminates with sensitivity, the legacy of wartime horror and the impossible courage it took to survive. Their testimonies are huwes de kutsilyo —justice by knife. By reading this book, you are a witness to both the trauma and resilience endured by the female body. Trigger warning: rape, wartime atrocities.
The Body Papers
By grace talusan.
Winner of The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, The Body Papers is a written and visual catalog of Grace Talusan’s life in suburban New England, with family photos, medical records, and government papers to supplement her recollections. As a young brown child in majority white school, Grace grappled with racism, as well as sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather. In her teenage years, she learns of the turbulence of her family’ legal status in the USA. The trauma of her childhood and adolescence take root in her body in the form of cancer, forcing Grace to explore invasive surgeries as a preventative measure. Amid all the suffering, Grace finds a way to persevere and eventually finds love and catharsis in a return to the homeland. Trigger warning: childhood sexual abuse, animal cruelty, life-threatening illness.
Malaya: Essays on Freedom
By cinelle barnes.
A rich memoir declaring the triumphs of Cinelle Barnes who immigrated to New York illegally and the challenges she encountered along the way. From under-the-table jobs evading authorities, to finding love with a Southern white man; from motherhood without a support system, to the PTSD she faced from her compounded experiences, these essays are about self-preservation and the resolve to overcome adversity against all odds as a brown Filipino woman in a white American world.
by Meredith Talusan
Fairest stands apart from the other memoirs by Filipina authors on this reading list as it explores intersectionality and creates dialogue around colorism, privilege, gender, race, and sexuality. Meredith was born as an albino male in the Philippines, being treated like a spectacle most of her childhood, but was given the opportunity to immigrate to the USA as a teen. She immediately is perceived as “white” upon arrival and navigates new waters of acceptance among her American peers while battling with her shifting gender boundaries, transitioning from male to female in her college years. A formidable voice providing refreshing nuance to the immigrant narrative.
Somewhere in the Middle
By deborah francisco douglas.
Growing up biracially, Deborah Francisco Douglas wanted to know more about her Filipino heritage. So on the fateful day she was assigned to the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she packed up her bags hurriedly to connect with her Filipino side. But what welcomes Douglas in the small mountain town of Baguio City is a humbling lesson on belonging, that community is not an automatic but something earned. A homecoming tale to a home never visited, but always residing within, Douglas reflects on the ordinary ways we arrive to inclusion and inspires those looking to volunteer abroad with her descriptive account on her time overseas.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
By jia tolentino.
Hailed one of 2020’s Best Books of The Year by The New York Times Book Review, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror is a provocative social commentary running adjacent to a psychiatric evaluation, as Jia explores her own psyche in relation to the climate of the times. Her cerebral prose on pop culture themes such the punitive nature of optimization, the glorification of scammers as an American ideal, and our (de)construction of self on the internet, requires critical analysis from readers without compromising the entertainment factor. Trigger warning: rape.
Letters To A Young Brown Girl
By barbara jane reyes.
A riveting collection of poems that speak to the anger and difficulty of being a young brown girl, directed towards non-BIPOCs who have contributed to the harmful degradation of brown peoples’ worth. Reyes is unshakeable, spilling verses that read like thoughts, capturing the oppression of brown girls with a graceful balance of ferocity and empathy. She is raw and unabashed as she unpacks all her indignation against “othering,” but simultaneously, gives necessary affirmations for brown beauty in her reproach of western beauty standards.
Join the Filipina Authors Book Club
If you’re looking to build community and are seeking accountability in your reading journey as a Filipino/a/x reader or ally, join the Filipina Authors Book Club on Facebook ! With over 600 members, monthly discussions, and engaging community threads, this is a safe space for those interested in learning about Filipino culture without a patriarchial POV.
DISCLAIMER: Please support local, independent book retailers at this time. We invite you to purchase your books from independent Filipino books retailer, Arkipelago Books , or Bookshop.org , the largest inventory of independent bookstores..
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👉 If you have any other Filipina authors I should know about, I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section!
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Filipina-American Millette Stambaugh is a thirty-something former expat who has traded her nomadic ways for Philadelphia living. Corporate worker by day, content creator by night, Millette specializes in visual storytelling and joyful journeys and wants to help others find their "next somewheres." Follow her escapades on Instagram, Youtube, and Tiktok @thenextsomewhere.
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Thank you SO much for posting this! I look forward to what we choose next within the Book Club, and am ecstatic that there are so many books to look forward to reading, even if they’re not chosen!
My absolute pleasure! Loved seeing the wealth of reads out there but thinking that there still could be more. I hope you get to read the books we don’t end up choosing regardless 🙂
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