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Tales from the Filipino diaspora

/ 03:59 PM June 09, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—A century ago, Filipinos were a small, vulnerable community in the United States.

The latest US census paints a different picture. Filipinos are now one of the fastest growing communities in the US. That’s why it’s not surprising that more books are coming out exploring the story of the Filipino journey in America.

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“Hanggang Sa Muli: Homecoming stories for the Filipino soul,” edited by Reni Roxas, features stories, poems and essays by Filipino writers of different generations.
Roxas, who is based in Seattle, was the founder of Tahanan Books in Manila.

The collection was a product of her emotional struggles as a Filipino expatriate in the United States. She writes of “sacred ritual” on Saturday mornings when she would find herself walking into a nondescript store in the Woodside district of Queens, New York.

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“Once inside surrounded by familiar aromas and brightly colored food labels, I’d find what I had come for: pan de sal.” Those visits to the store, she writes, “were small celebrations of ‘coming home’ for me.”

Eventually, however, the sweet aroma of pan de sal in that small Queens store was not enough. “With each passing year, despite eating the pan de sal that warmed my tummy and soothed my soul, my malaise only grew worse.  So after nine years, I went home. But what was home? Where is home? Two decades later, I’m still trying to find the answer.”

And this collection is part of that search for an answer, tapping the works of such well-known writers as Bienvenido Santos, F. Sionil Jose and Jessica Hagedorn.

And, of course, no anthology on the Filipino American experience can be complete without Carlos Bulosan.

Hanggang Sa Muli includes his short story, ‘The Laughter of My Father’ and an excerpt from the classic, ‘America Is In the Heart.’

The first offers a glimpse of rural life in pre-World War II Philippines, and the quirky machismo that forces a young man to flee to the US. The second is about Bulosan’s struggle to adapt to a new country where he and others like him weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

There are newer voices, like that of my friend, Pati Poblete whose wonderful memoir, ‘The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America’ is required reading in many high schools and colleges in the US.

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Her contribution to the collection is an essay titled ‘Legacy,’ a moving account of one of her visits to the Philippines. It’s a scene familiar to many Filipinos affected by our American diaspora — those who moved to the US, those who grew up there, and those who stayed back in the homeland.

Pati is getting ready to return to the US and it’s time to say goodbye. But it’ not that easy to say goodbye one of her lolas who tells her, “Maybe I will not be here anymore. Maybe your grandpa will send for me.”

Pati promises she will be back. (I can totally relate to this scene because my mother and father also do this to me everytime I return home. “This may be the last time we will see each other again…”)

Pati writes:

“Grandma sat up and put her arms around my neck. She was fragile, but she wasn’t broken. ‘I will wait, if you promise to come back,’ she cried.

“‘I promise,’ I said, wishing that I could stay behind and shed my American life.’”
Of course, she can’t really do that. In the same way, she and the immigrants and US-born can’t easily totally shed their Filipino selves.

Pati grew up in the US in a Filipino household where her grandparents and other relatives constantly reminded her of her roots which she at times resented, but eventually found comforting and uplifting.

This is evident in the scene with which she ends her essay. She leaves her grandma after saying goodbye and finds her aunts preparing the family’s next meals.

“The heap of long Chinese green beans were stacked on the ground, plastic-covered table. One by one, they snapped, providing a familiar rhythm that soothed my soul and saw me safely back home.”

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel

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TAGS: book, diaspora, Filipino, Migration, United States, US
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