BOOK REVIEW: Mga Gerilya Sa Powell Street

by Rose Cruz Churma

November is the month when we commemorate Veterans Day.  It is just fitting to highlight a book about Filipino veterans and their perseverance in waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

On the book’s back cover, Oscar Penaranda, a poet and writer living in the Bay Area commented:

“I am glad that someone wrote about the Filipino-American experience in Filipino (Tagalog) and a novel to boot!  I think that is pretty historic!”

It is unusual to see a novel set in the United States but written entirely in Tagalog by a writer who typically writes in English. I think it is the right choice—if this was written in a language other than Tagalog, the novel would not be able to capture the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists.

The novel is about five men (Fidel, Ciriaco, Ruben, Badong, and Major) who during their younger days fought the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II.

Now they are old and of retirement age, but they decide to go to the United States, settling in the Bay Area in California—their last mission, so to speak, to ensure that they receive their veteran benefits for their families. But they wait, and wait, and wait some more.

It is at Powell Street in San Francisco where they wait, and in the process suffer homesickness, the cold weather and loneliness as they dream of the days when they could go home.

This is the Filipino veterans’ story of taking risks in America for the sake of their families—like countless others who had travelled to the United States to wait for promises made by their colleagues during the war.

Published in 2007, this book was made into a play and staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The three-hour play can move you to tears but also have you laughing out loud as the performers replicate the antics of the World War II veterans.

There is a quote that notes, “A country that forgets its defenders will soon be forgotten.”

This book ensures that the sacrifices of the veterans are not forgotten and the production staging of Tanghalang Pilipino at the Cultural Center makes sure that the Philippines’ role in that war will not pass into oblivion any time soon. 

By staging Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the sacrifices and the hardships of World War II veterans will continue to live on in the collective memory of Filipinos.

Just like the novel, this three-hour play tackles the musings of Filipino war veterans who live as exiles in San Francisco, California.

They spend their time in a cable car station located on Powell Street, with most of them just waiting for that “long-distance call from heaven.” The novel, as well as the play, is basically about waiting–the veterans wait for the benefits promised to them—and the audience waits along with them.

As the former guerrillas wait, they reminisce about their days and escapades at war, the women who made a difference in their lives, and the family members that they left behind in the Philippines.

The reminiscing comes in various formats—one effective way is through the letters they exchanged with family back home—which was done in the last chapter. They all share a common desire which is to be buried in their homeland.

The author, Benjamin Pimentel is an award-winning writer, newspaper reporter and documentary filmmaker. He was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outfits based in the United States and the Philippines.

He is one of the producers of the documentary film, Toxic Sunset on the bases left behind by the United States military at Clark and Subic in the Philippines.

His book UG: An Underground Tale is about the life of student activist Edgar Jopson, which became a best-seller in Manila in 2006. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Mara Torres and their two children Paolo Lean and Anton Diego. This book is his first novel.

Get the latest stories from Hawaii Filipino Chronicle straight to your inbox! Subscribe to our FREE newsletter here.

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

About Author

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.