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The Artist Abroad

In our own write

/ 01:42 AM October 14, 2015

NEW YORK CITY—The beginning of October saw the third biannual edition of the Filipino American International Book Festival take place in San Francisco, titled “Bukás na Bukas: An Open Tomorrow.” I had attended the initial edition in 2011, which also took place at the beginning of October, designated nationally as Filipino American History Month.

Organized by the Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), this festival, as with the first, was a huge success, unfolding over a weekend at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, a stone’s throw from the Mission district.


It was evident that the festival committee worked tirelessly to put this undertaking together, in particular its director, Edwin Lozada, PAWA’S indefatigable, patient and resourceful president. Lozada is one of those people with the seeming ability of being in several places at the same time, his feathers rarely, if ever, ruffled.

I have been involved in similar undertakings, and believe me, it is thankless work, especially when dealing with egos of varying sizes: from big to immense. The only real reward is in seeing the enterprise proceed as smoothly as possible, with audiences and participants truly engaged and worthwhile issues pondered and discussed.


There were writers and artists from the U.S., of course—from New York, Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado and, mainly, from the Bay Area—as well as from Canada, Great Britain and the Philippines. Two and a half days of panels and readings, with a large room where books on display (and on sale) represented a large cross-section of literary Filipino America, as well as a fair sampling of works from the archipelago.

Among those invited from Manila were Dean and Nikki Alfar, husband and wife authors well-known for their speculative fiction, scholar and writer Nicanor Tiongson and the well-known designer Patis Tesoro. The latter was there for a display of native cloth at the Asian Art Museum, Piña: An Enduring Fabric, organized by the museum and PAWA’s Hinabi Project.

Dr. Tiongson, an old friend and cograduate from the Ateneo and now a professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines, was on hand for the screening of “The Women of Malolos.” He wrote the script, styled zarzuela fashion based on his book of the same title, and directed by Sari Dalena and Kiri Dalena. Nic is descended from the Tiongson women, the bulwark of those spirited and independent Pinays from his hometown who in 1888 had requested of the town’s friar a school where they could learn Spanish. The cleric’s refusal and the women’s stubbornness and the ensuing brouhaha got the attention of Jose Rizal, who wrote his now famous letter to them, praising their steadfastness and heroism.

The panels and talks covered a diverse array of topics, from Filipino American history to literary translators, from the writings of Fil-Am Pinay writers to Filipino arts and literature. There were poetry slams by Bay Area spoken-word artists and readings by writers familiar (Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Barbara Jane Reyes, Eileen Tabios, Tony Robles) and new (Erin Entrada Kelly, Mg Roberts, Jaime Alonso Yrastorza). One book whose publication I anticipate eagerly is Rick Rocamora’s Blood, Sweat, Hope, and Quiapo: Rodallie S. Mosende’s Story—black-and-white photographs taken by Rocamora over the years of the lives of people living on the streets in and around Quiapo, that quintessential Manila neighborhood, particularly of a young woman earning her college degree and still essentially homeless.

I was a part of two panels, the first centering on the future of Philippine-American literature in the 21st century, the second examining the Filipino diaspora and its political role, in relation to politics both in the Philippines and the U.S. Two common observations by those in the first panel—that works by Filipino/Filipino-American writers often lack distribution and that Filipinos in the U.S. do not patronize their own—we all had heard before but they were worth repeating. With three million or more Pinoys and Pinays (and growing) as a sizeable market, both problematic areas could easily be resolved. Oh well. One can hope, can’t one?

The panel on the diaspora included two of my colleagues at the Inquirer, Rene Ciria Cruz (acting as moderator) and Benjamin Pimentel, and scholars Jay Gonzales and Lily Ann Villaraza. The issues we attempted to grapple with reflected the complexity of envisioning the role of the global Pinoy/Pinay abroad and his or her relevance to the political scene whether in Manila or Washington. What are the implications and responsibilities of Filipinos with dual citizenship being able now to vote in either country?

The disadvantage of being on a panel is that you can’t attend another one going on simultaneously, as was the case with the panel discussing—and celebrating—the reprint of the Flips anthology, first issued in 1971. The group gathered included literary stalwarts from San Francisco: Oscar Peñaranda, Sam Tagatac, Lou Syquia, Juanita Tamayo Lott, and Emilya Cacaphero. This sort of “dilemma” is a testament to the breadth and depth of this festival. May it have many more editions!


Copyright L.H. Francia 2015

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TAGS: “The Women of Malolos, ” Rick Rocamora’s Blood, and Quiapo: Rodallie S. Mosende’s Story, Barbara Jane Reyes, Benjamin Pimentel, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Edwin Lozada, Eileen Tabios, Filipino American book festival San Francisco, Filipino American History Month, Filipino American International Book Festival, Hope, Nicanor Tiongson, Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), San Francisco Main Library, Sweat, Tony Robles Rene Ciria Cruz
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