by Rose Cruz Churma
This book, which will be released on September 26, 2023, is the latest publication by Filipino American writer, Cindy Fazzi. This book is her first thriller–and her first attempt at writing fiction. The first draft was written in 1995 when she was still a “green card” holder.
For most immigrants, the value of owning a “green card” while in the USA is one of relief, a sense of appreciation for being legally allowed to stay, get a job, and live without fear of deportation. It is the most logical path to citizenship.
Unfortunately, for the tens of millions of undocumented immigrants, the fear of being hunted down by a bounty hunter is a real threat daily. This will continue soon since immigration reform may not happen for a long time, and that so-called reform may be more detrimental to illegals seeking permanent residency in the USA.
This book frames the immigration issues in a fictionalized narrative from the perspective of a bounty hunter named Domingo (called Sunday to his non-Filipino friends and clients). The story begins in the late 1990s when he is hired to detain a young Filipina mestiza who has overstayed her tourist visa.
It turns out that the young biracial woman was the outcome of a romantic liaison between a Vietnam veteran who spent his R&R in the Philippines in the company of a Filipina—pretty typical in the late 1960s to the early 1970s when the Vietnam war was raging and the Philippines still hosted several American bases.
By the late 1990s, her Caucasian father was high up in the Washington D.C. political power structure, and was not keen on accepting a daughter out of wedlock, despite her close resemblance to him—including his fair skin color. She was still tainted with Filipino blood.
Domingo, the bounty hunter, also of Filipino ancestry, was hired to find her—not once, but three times!
The time frame changes in ten-year intervals at each chapter—from 1998 to 2008 and finally to the present—roughly during the 2016-2018 era or during the dark Trumpian America—when immigration policies were at their harshest for illegal immigrants, and when racist talk show hosts became an acceptable norm.
The story of Monica Reed, the illegal immigrant and her life as a TNT (also called tago ng tago in Filipino American circles) was described in flashbacks.
For the bounty hunter, Domingo, he calls his illegals—Multo—or ghost. This an apt name considering that undocumented immigrants want to be faceless, and unnoticed, and prefer to move below the radar of normal, everyday existence.
In the process of telling the story of his search for Monica Reed, we get to meet the other characters—his mother Mamang whose path to acquiring a green card and citizenship, for her and her son, was marrying an American citizen. And then there were the caregivers, mostly Filipino, and Monica’s loyal best friend, Tess. The author was able to capture the social mores and cultural values of these immigrants as they navigate life in their adopted country.
The theme of immigration as a backdrop to the thriller is timely. Unfortunately, the reader never gets to live vicariously the life of an illegal, which I believe would have a greater emotional pull if Monica Reed was allowed to share her thoughts, fears and feelings–except very fleetingly.
Although Domingo, the bounty hunter is an engaging character, it is difficult to understand his motivations (except maybe at the end, but by then, it is too late). Short, brown, and speaking in a heavy Filipino accent, he is a unique protagonist.
Despite the difficulty of following the storyline (for the most part–due to the shifting of time frames), the book is true to its genre. It keeps you glued to reading until the very end.
An intriguing aspect of the book is the meditative essays on immigration that introduce some of the chapters. The author describes the ways one can acquire a green card: through birth, joining the U.S. military, seeking asylum, marrying a U.S. citizen, sponsorship of a blood relative, or a company sponsorship that needs your skills, etc. –serving as a brief on gaining American citizenship.
The author, Cindy Fazzi, was formerly an Associated Press reporter. As a journalist, she has worked in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. This is her first thriller—but she has also written other publications including a historical novel on Douglas MacArthur’s Filipina mistress.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Rose Cruz Churma