Latest Stories

Kris Aquino as Massacre Queen and other 1990s Philippine inside jokes in Linmark’s new novel, ‘Leche’


The winner of the Mr. Pogi Hawaii 1991 finds the opportunity to visit the Filipino communities in the United States mainland.

But Vincent “Vince” de los Reyes, the first runner-up and an honors graduate of University of Hawaii in Manoa, gets to visit the Philippines for a week, including a live interview with Kris Aquino.

De los Reyes’ return to his homeland after 13 years takes place in 1991, when the country is beset with power blackouts, the specter of the return of Marcos, and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo after 600 years.

“Leche” is Vince’s account of his stay in the Philippines at that time, complete with tourist tips, snippets from a book (“Decolonization for Beginners: A Filipino Glossary,” written by his UH teacher Bonifacio Dumpit), his bangungot journal and vintage postcards bought from National Bookworm.

The novel “Leche” (355 pages, published by Coffee House Press) is by Filipino-American R. Zamora Linmark, who holds a dual citizenship. It is a fitting follow-up to “Rolling the R’s,” his 1997 novel about the young Vince, his siblings and classmates as they adapt to Hawaii after living in a town in the North. Now Vince has gone out of the closet and supposedly wizened up to the world. But not Manila, as Vince’s misadventures will show us in the novel.

“Leche” has been described as “quirky and funny” (Publisher’s Weekly), written “with the incandescent irreverence of a papal heretic” (Chris Abani, author of “Graceland”), “hilarious and relentlessly seductive” (Sabina Murray, author of “The Caprices”) and “a lively satiric return to early ’90s Manila” (Kirkus).

It was a finalist of the Lambda Literary Awards and is required reading in many Asian American writing classes.

Largely unknown

But “Leche” is largely unknown in the Philippines as it was published by a small American publishing house and local publishers are afraid to touch it (“Maybe because of Kris Aquino,” Linmark told me). But that may change as Anvil Publishing has finally decided to carry and distribute it.

Which is a good thing, because Linmark is an astute social observer and sponge and a very entertaining and enlightening tour guide. He tells us about balikbayan boxes, bangungot, Dovie Beams (excerpted from “Mondo Marcos”) and other B-movie starlets, signs of the times, Santacruzin’ and Leche, an old church turned martial-law museum and gay bar.

There are inside jokes that foreigners would have to Google.

“His grandfather used to say it all the time. ‘Leche,’ he’d say, the word leaving his body like a switchblade—small, beautiful, deadly. His voice deceptively dulce so that one never knew what he is thinking or feeling, if he were angry or sad or remembering, just like the word that has come to mean different things to different people. Leche. ‘Milk’ in Spanish. But to Filipinos, ‘Damn You.’”

“Leche” is also about Kris Aquino—then the Massacre Queen of the Movies turned Oprah Winfrey of Philippine TV—whose omniscience and omnipotence in the novel gives Vince the shivers. She is the only one bravely identified in the novel, something that will create a buzz once Anvil brings the book out.

Whirlwind trip

Otherwise, the book also talks about the bold star turned crusading nun; an award-winning director; a taxi driver turned “fubu”; the drag queen owner of Leche; and other characters out to drive Vince to the edge.

Vince is taken out from his comfort zone in Honolulu and into a whirlwind trip to the heart of darkness. From the constricting and secret fraternities of gays in Honolulu to the chaotic fiesta of Malate. From the airport to Manila and finally back to his hometown in San Vicente, aboard Philippine Airlines, crazy taxis and Killer Pogi, a minibus he took on his way home. Like Linmark, Vince confronts his being a Filipino, Fil-Am and American.

“That’s right, I’m a zebronkey,” Vince says to Kris about his mixed heritage.

“Oh, zebronkeys. I miss them,” answers Kris.

It is also a long history trip as Vince passes by the airport, CCP and Clark Air Base, remembering the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and Martial Law from the stories of his father and grandfather, even as he fights his own internal wars throughout that one-week trip.

In the end, he comes home to an empty ancestral house, a fitting metaphor for the exilic life.

“Fighting off tears, and with a heart that doesn’t know when to give up hope, he searches room after room, wall after wall, for holes punctured by nails upon which used to hang gilt-edged picture frames,” Linmark writes toward the end.

And as it was, it’s the postcards we send each other, the photos and home movies we share, and the words we write that become our home. And for Vince, “Leche” is a home worth returning to.

“Leche” is available in National Book Store and PowerBooks.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Books , Kris Aquino , Leche , Lifestyle , Zamora Linmark

  • WeAry_Bat

    In the end, he comes home to an empty ancestral house, a fitting metaphor for the exilic life.

    “Fighting off tears, and with a heart that
    doesn’t know when to give up hope, he searches room after room, wall
    after wall, for holes punctured by nails upon which used to hang
    gilt-edged picture frames,” 

    With the tacit approval of the remaining siblings, our lola’s house in the province was demolished.  How will I ever tell my baby girl of the ancient house, whose rooms and layout I could draw and perhaps to scale. 

    Her life would be of condos and subdivisions, beach hotels and farm tours.  The commoditization of residential and leisure life, just as they had commoditized transportation routes.  One day, Filipinos will wake up to realize everything they have has been metered like power and water.

    • imnotoverityet

      the musings of an over privileged woman without a sense of border less vision of the outside world…what a farce

      • WeAry_Bat

        dear tsimay, kahit umi-ingles ka lumalabas pa rin yung baho mo.

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  5. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. This is not just a farm
  8. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  9. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  10. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Grenade explodes outside MPD Station 1
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors
  • [VIDEO] No assurances on Janet Lim-Napoles’ bid to become state witness
  • South Sudan president fires long-time army leader
  • 25 cops ordered relieved over links to drugs
  • Sports

  • Pacquiao can dodge tax issues
  • F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejects bribery charges
  • Big Chill freezes Cafe France to arrest skid
  • Pacquiao has to go through PBA Rookie draft
  • Guiao summoned by PBA for name-calling incident
  • Lifestyle

  • Gongs and southern dances star in a workshop at San Francisco Bayanihan Center
  • This woman ate what?
  • Photos explore dynamics of youths’ sexual identity
  • 12th Philippine Food Expo set at the World Trade Center
  • No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  • Entertainment

  • Smithsonian wants photos, videos for ‘Day in the Life of Asian Pacific Americans’
  • What Garcia Marquez left behind
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • Sony developing live-action Barbie comedy
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Business

  • Metro Pacific acquires stake in Victorias
  • How ‘one percent’ economic elite was uncovered
  • Facebook profits triple as mobile soars
  • Insular Honors Sales Performers at Testimonial Rites
  • Apple increases stock buyback, will split stock
  • Technology

  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • Obama to visit Filipino soldiers in Fort Bonifacio
  • Fil-Am youth conferences unite under one theme
  • Embassy advisory: Filipinos still need visas to enter US
  • No travel restriction to Mideast, DFA clarifies
  • PH-HK relations repaired, but families of victims still being courted