There is something about short stories that pack a punch. The author has to calculate just the right formula of brevity to move you like a punch in the gut. “Growing Up Filipino 3: New Stories for Young Adults” stirs you in such a way. The collection presents vignettes of the Philippine and Filipino-American experiences. With a vague sense of the biographical, the stories could be fiction but resonate in a way true-to-life. The book is the third edition anthology of the same name published in 2003 and 2010. Previous editions have received critical acclaim from Booklist, School Library Journal, Bookbird Journal International, and other review publications. With a feature in the National Geographic 2020 Summer Reading List, it appears like many of the stories are on their way to becoming required reading in classrooms.
Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, co-founder of the Philippine American Women Writers and Artists, she introduces the twenty-five stories as an “exploration of culture, society, politics and other nuances”. The contributors bare their souls and make hard-hitting commentaries. While the title reads “New Stories for Young Adults” the stories appeal to readers of any age. It would be a loss for older audiences to miss the writing seasoned with wisdom from experience. Bookworms will encounter an exciting variety of styles, forthright quotes, and thought-provoking turns of phrase, as each re-telling transports to a different time and place.
It is undeniable that there are socio-political undertones. The first story opens with “Tall Woman from Leyte” by acclaimed Filipina, New York-based writer Gina Apostol. Set during the Marcos era, we follow the viewpoint of a naughty little girl and her run-in with Imelda (Look out for the gaudily vibrant umbrella). Immediately followed by “Let Me Tell You About My Aunt Edelweiss”, Kannika Peña recounts the life of an aunt and her connection to the extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.
Although many of the stories take a lighthearted tone. The lovechild in John Jack Wrigley’s “The Fancy Dancer” takes us on a musical spin around the “honky-tonk” area in the Clark Air Force Base in Angeles. While another young character, a Filipino Farrah-Fawcet wannabee, charms all the way from Hawaii in R. Zamora Linmark’s “Kalihi in Farrah”. Some immigrant stories include a depiction of “the historic first Filipinx American communities that were systemically constrained” in Alquizola’s “It’s Cold in America!!”, as well as a personal experience applying for US citizenship in Patrick Caoile’s “Dress Down Day”.
You can also find ghost stories. Eileen Tabios’ “Negros”, mainly set in Baguio, is both eerie and comical. Originally written in 1995, it started as a protest story against the Marcos dictatorship, with subtext reminding readers to stay vigilant. Dominic Sy’s “Then Cruel Quiet” describes an encounter with a boisterous uncle who left for America during the Martial Law era, zoning in on the moment of silence after a dinner table debate. The heated conservation mentions a sister teaching in Dubai to pay for a brother’s education – touching on the sacrifice of the OFWs who make up so much of the Philippine diaspora today.
Conscious of cultural mores, some narratives dissect social disparity. Go for a joyride in a 1976 “Mr. Slim” Mercedes Benz with Angelo Lacuesta. The Palanca and NVM Gonzalez Award recipient gets up close with lovable bodyguard Moroy and the provocative Yaya “Nilda”. In an exceptional first-published work, emerging author Patricia Manuel Go mesmerizes readers in “Pig”. A pig named Pompeo takes center stage in a family wrought with issues of abuse and separation within a gated community. Despite the difficult situation, the author writes in a way that engages with a sense of fun and amusement.
You can detect the efforts of the editor to arrange the stories intuitively. I first started chronologically, then skipped forward and backward. The gist of each story is presented in a short paragraph, which can act as a guide according to what you’re in the mood to read. Marianne Villanueva’s “Narisa” is the kind of tale you have to read slowly. More than a travelogue, it chronicles the painful experience of losing a friend as close as a sister. Rear yourself for Veronica Montes’ “Beauty Queens” where a young girl tells off a predatory uncle. You can delve more into the immigrant experience of Filipinos in America in “Refugees” “Happy” “The Secret” and “Pigeons for Ethel”. There are twenty-five stories in the book to unravel, some darker in tone or about memory, all the while examining the roots of hailing from the Philippines.
Whether a research fellow, freelancer, or writing from the motherland or abroad, a common thread runs throughout. One thing in common among the writers is a sure grip on the English language, coupled with an acute understanding of culture. Could it be the “3rd culture individual” (3CI) phenomenon, that calls for increased empathy? My close friend Miko recently left Manila to return to New York. After oscillating back and forth for over a decade, he expresses how it “never gets easy when home is everywhere and nowhere all at once. But then again home is always where the heart is, and home will always be in your heart.” Immersed in family, aunts and uncles pass by in the background with quiet mention. Or blustering mothers and machismo fathers lord over the young children in a cloud of chaos. The characters come of age with a tone of uncertainty. They ask questions about “belonging” in their surroundings. You may ask your own questions about diaspora and social disparity. Some Filipino readers may find it comforting to interact with familiar society on the page, where the world-building of a sala or a pandesal-laden breakfast table speaks for itself. Despite underlying tensions, the stories are stoic. The tones avoid sappiness, being forlorn, or “whingeing” – a current buzzword. The authors tread lightly, feeling “lightly even though you’re feeling deeply”, as Aldous Huxley wrote. “Growing up Filipino 3” covers serious subject matter and raises significant issues. Yet the collection reads with a sense of joy that urges a kind of growing up with hope.
Catch the “Growing Up Filipino 3” book launch with readings by ten authors, a Q&A, and a book signing! Happening on Saturday, January 28, 2023, from 6 to 8 PM in Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street BGC.