BOOK REVIEW: JOURNEYS: Evolving Values in the Filipino Diaspora
by Rose Churma
This is the second volume on values in the Filipino Diaspora that the FAUW, a Hawaii-based nonprofit organization, has recently published.
Released last December 2022, this book is an anthology of writings by 24 authors who have ventured to different lands—from Europe to the U.S. continent, including Hawai’i. The narratives and poems are about immigration and adaptation, covering universal values but also getting personal akin to mini-memoirs.
As noted in the book’s back cover: “The authors’ journeys tell of family, obligation, pluck, resilience, and determination. Beliefs and values are discarded, modified, and even strengthened as they navigate their life passages.”
In the book’s foreword, editor Virgie Chattergy explains how the book’s concept came about. The organization that initiated this exercise has the mission to “cultivate an understanding of Philippine history and culture.”
And the essence of the Filipino, wherever they are, is best represented by what they value. She continues: “Values provides us with a sense of identity, individually and collectively. They are a source of pride and create for us a social network…connects us with our past, give relevance or meaning to our present, and can help direct us as we move forward.”
Like the process used in the first book — Pinay: Culture Bearers of the Filipino Diaspora —a “call for papers” was sent out to those who have experienced living outside of the homeland, with instructions to contributors to share remembrances of Filipino cultural values, with the hope that the younger generation can be linked to their ancestral heritage.
Interestingly, one of the first submittals we received was from a high school student from Waipahu. AshleyValoissubmitted a short poem with the first lines: “That is not my dream, I say / “Get money. Fast education. Become a nurse.””
And she ends the poem with a fiery: “Ripping away the hand that holds my throat / and say “No.”/ My dream will be my own.”Ashley eventually majored in political science and intends to go to law school.
This topic is picked up in other articles. ElizabethJocson narrates how her dad insisted that she take up nursing—so she enrolled in a nursing course—until she had to assist in surgery that involved stapling the stomach of an obese patient.
In PepiNieva’s “Jo Koy and Me,” she dissects the comedian’s popularity and the themes of his stand-up comedy act that pokes fun at his Pinay mom’s quirks and other Filipino stereotypical propensities.
One of which is why Filipino moms want their kids to be a nurse. In his comedy acts, he would announce: “There are a lot of Filipinos here right now that are nurses. This is a good time to be injured in a show!”Coincidentally, this anthology boasts of several authors who are nurses. Lillian Ponce Manangan’s paternal grandfather was one of Hawaii’s sakadas who used his earnings to buy land and returned to farming in the Philippines.
Although Divina Telan-Robillard is also a nurse, she does not mention this at all in her narrative, but her status as “Mistress, Madrasta, Ina” is also the title of her piece.
Katherine Baltazar’s paternal lineage (her father is Filipino while her mother is Swiss-German) is mostly in the healing field, so it was not surprising that she and her sister became nurses.
Another recurring theme is the Filipina immigrant’s ability to adapt, and even thrive because of their multilingual skills as described by JosephinePablo in her article “Blessed Are the Bilinguals” where she admonishes others to “…Be multilingual and be thankful for your ability to speak two or more languages…for you can have the best of many worlds.”
This is reinforced by MalouSotoReininger, a Filipina who now calls Vienna home. She confesses that she first spoke Tagalog when she was seven, which served her well in her education since English was the Philippines’ medium of instruction. This also helped her learn German—and her multilingual skills were put to good use when then-President Fidel Ramos and his entourage visited Vienna.
Rosemarie Mendoza also relates how she was placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class at Kalakaua Intermediate when she first arrived in Hawaii—an automatic placement if one is an immigrant, even if one is already fluent in English.
In order to be placed in regular English classes, she volunteered to serve as an interpreter and translator—which eventually helped her as a human resources professional in the visitor industry.
FeBaran’s daughter, CatalinaLehrer, on the other hand, lamented the fact that her mom never taught her and her sisters Cebuano or Tagalog. “I would have loved to be brought up bilingual,” she writes, considering that her mom taught English as a second language.
The most memorable piece is the poem by NildaBoland—written with passion and fury after a high-ranking official in the Philippines’ foreign service disparaged the use of Tagalog/Pilipino. Written in the Philippines’ national language, the poem’s English translation is also included.
Two of the writers tackled the issue of “looking different” or the physical features that make it difficult to blend in.
Gloriani “Keeyan” Lontoc, a thirty-something Filipina now based in the UK writes, “My accomplishments, my beauty and successes as a person sat dormant in the shade of the pressure to be light, to be pretty.”
Rene Brock, who was adopted by Caucasian American parents at 13 days old and now lives in suburban New York, describes herself as an American woman in a Filipina body. She recalls being bullied while in school because of her Asian features, and her desire to look like a pretty American girl—blonde and blue-eyed, just like her Barbie doll.
This anthology is an interesting mix from a diverse group of authors. Rolando Santos, the only male in the group summarizes his article thus: “…analyzes with heart and humor the dynamics of the transmission of traditional Filipino values.”
To some degree, this description covers the musings of the other authors whose journey beyond the shores of the motherland had strengthened them and made them appreciate more the threads of their being that are uniquely Filipino.
The book’s cover is local artist EddieJoaquin’s portrait of “Rosa Maria.” It reflects the duality of Filipinos who must adapt to their new lives while holding memories and values of their homeland close to their hearts.
For those interested in meeting the authors, a virtual “meet and greet” event is planned for January 24, Tuesday at 4 p.m. HST or January 25, Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the Philippines. For additional details and Zoom links, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at email@example.com.