Fil-Am’s debut novel honors a friendship challenged by AIDS
SAN FRANCISCO—Author Julia Estigoy’s debut novel is fictionalized autobiography, but it was a cathartic piece of work.
Estigoy’s self-published “Soulmates” is her tribute to a very dear friend who must live with AIDS. “Soulmates” is about two friends bound by love, compassion and secrets. Upon hearing her best friend is diagnosed with AIDS, Jasmine discovers the meaning of unconditional love.
He pleads with her to not reveal this news to anyone and naturally she holds to her promise. She silently suffers, coping with the inevitable emptiness as she comes to understand there is no one else who can fill the hollowness of what he will leave behind.
Estigoy’s interest in writing developed at a very young age, perhaps 10 or 12 years old. She started to write a lot of poetry, “simple stuff.” She used to dream of working for Hallmark. In high school her poetry became the vehicle for her teenage anguish: Depression, poor body image, shame of being an outsider.
Her writing process involves the unbridled release of emotion. Her emotions give her the fuel to find the words to speak what is in her heart.
Estigoy was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was four years old. Her family first moved to Oakland to stay with relatives as they established themselves in their new home.
After a rough start for Estigoy and her siblings, her parents decided it was time for a change, moved the family to Alameda. It was safer, but Estigoy was not like the other well-to-do kids in her neighborhood.
Childhood for Estigoy was neither ideal nor the childhood most parents hope to give their children.
“By today’s standards medical professionals would have probably put me on medication for depression. We were poor and I was ashamed of it,” said Estigoy. “ My parents struggled to make ends meet, both my mom and dad worked more than one job to feed four kids. Not being well-educated they had to settle for menial work.”
Reading was her escape; it brought her peace. Mysteries were her favorite, and she treasured her prized collection of Agatha Christie novels. In these stories, Estigoy let go of reality and transported into a new world that was focused on the protagonist, doing detective work to figure out the murderer. Poetry and drawing were other ways that calmed her mind and lifted her spirits.
But Estigoy had to be present in the real world. “I remember the day my mom enrolled me in school. We met privately with the principal. I was so terrified I could not speak, wouldn’t even look him in the eye. He tried to ask me questions but I did not answer. Finally, he asked my mom if I was a mute and deaf. It was that experience that I think made me painfully shy growing up.”
Estigoy graduated from San Francisco State with a major in psychology. She selected this school because her brother, one of her biggest role models, had attended this institution as well. She also wanted more diversity in her life after growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. She was finally coming to terms and embracing her heritage. This is notably on of her proudest accomplishments: “I was the first and only one in my family to have graduated and I did it with honors.”
“The Filipino community at large played a very little role in my formative years. Sad to say that growing up in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, there weren’t a lot of Filipinos in the media, in literature, in movies, or in any high profile roles that blazed the way for me,” said Estigoy. “Not even teachers that I could relate to. So my sphere was small, made up of only extended family, and even with them I shared very little of my artistic side.”
At the moment, Estigoy has no plans to write another book. However, that does not mean her creativity is gone. She has been trying out other realms of artistic expression and is interested in songwriting. She has copyrighted her work and is currently enjoying playing them for her friends and family.
“For your readers, it’s important to know that within all of us there is an innate artist. I encourage everyone to let him/her come out and play, whether it’s music, song, dance, painting, knitting, woodwork, cooking, drama, or writing. It is, after all, God’s way of illuminating Himself unto us,” Estigoy concluded.
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