by Rose Churma
This book is a compilation of essays on Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who have put the arts at the center of their existence and made it their life’s mission to help others achieve their goals in different artistic fields.
It attempts to share the stories of exceptional individuals who took the extra mile to show their commitment to the arts against all odds.
The book consists of six chapters, with each chapter featuring individuals in various fields of art—from theater and film to art and design, with most of the featured artists falling under Chapter 3—Music.
In the first chapter, one of the artists featured is Ted Benito, considered a cultural visionary.
He is credited with bringing the manongs’ story into the theater and raising awareness of the sacrifices of Filipinos in America from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Ted’s vision for The Romance of Magno Rubio was to expose the audience to a different experience and subject matter.
The play ran for six weeks at the Ford Theater in Hollywood where over 1,600 people saw it in its English, Tagalog and Spanish versions.
This was the first time that Filipinos came in droves to see the play—since Filipinos were never “identified as lovers of theater or the performing arts.”
In Chapter 2—Photography, the artist Hydee Ursolino-Abrahan stands out as one who takes photographs with a “perfect triangulation of emotion, timing and moment,” where can capture the emotional peak of the moment. In each shot, she attempts to tell a story without the use of words.
There were 15 artists featured in the chapter on Music, and the most visible, or most known is Ryan Cayabyab who is associated with the history of OPM or Original Pilipino Music. He is credited with developing 23 film scores, 15 OPM songs and several albums.
In addition, he is the author of 11 musicals and produced albums for artists such as Smokey Mountain, a singing group consisting of teenaged performers back in the 90s—such as Geneva Cruz, Lea Salonga and Julio Iglesias.
He also had a television show for years called Ryan Ryan Musikahan which garnered various awards. Despite his staggering output, he makes time to teach young people, going around the country and giving workshops in songwriting.
Chapter 4 is devoted to the culinary arts and Chef Romy Dorotan is one of the culinary artists featured. Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa used to own Cendrillon located in SoHo in New York.
Eventually, the owners closed the restaurant and opened Purple Yam in Brooklyn, which was named one of Michelin’s Best 133 New York restaurants in 2016. Purple Yam, which has a minimalist interior design uses touches of bamboo throughout the restaurant, complementing its Filipino-inspired food.
In the field of literary arts, the writer NVM Gonzales is one of two artists featured in Chapter 5.
When asked the question: “How do you write”? He answered, “Write like a lover, but edit like a serial killer.”
The author, who was his student during his days in the US describes him as “an 83-year-old literary icon who has written 14 books and has significantly influenced the lives of Fil-Am youth in their search of identity.”
A distinguished scholar, NVM Gonzalez is one of the central figures of Philippine literature. His works have been translated into several languages and are recognized internationally.
Benedicto Reyes Cabrera, also known as BenCab, is one of the featured artists in Chapter 6—Art & Design.
He has built a museum in Baguio to house his eclectic collection of indigenous art. He also advocates for the preservation of the Cordilleras and the environment.
The land area around the museum is planted with vegetables that are served in Sabel Cafe located within the museum. He also grows his own coffee, raises ducks and chickens and has created a haven that integrates art and nature.
The author, Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, writes feature stories and a weekly column for Asian Journal and is also a contributor for Balikbayan Magazine. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of the Philippines and a law degree from Whittier College of Law in California.
An interesting collection of interviews, the anthology provides a window to the minds and hearts of artists of Filipino ancestry.
It is a timely book about artists and the processes they adapt in creating their art. It is also a testimonial to the creative spirit of the Filipino.
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.
by Rose Churma