Friday, December 14, 2018



The Pilipinx Radical Imagination Reader edited by Melissa-Ann Nievera-Lozano and Anthony Abulencia Santa Ana
(Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., San Francisco, 2018)

The first thing you should know about The Pilipinx Radical Imagination Reader is that it is deceptively slim. Don’t let the silhouette fool you: there’s plenty going on in this collection, and it will take the average reader (that’s me!) lots of time to explore all that it has to offer. The work of more than 30 writers, poets, academics, and artists appears here in a variety of forms. Poetry and essays are represented, of course, but you’ll also find rap lyrics, visual art, comics, academic writing, and even a short play.

Editors Melissa-Ann Nievera-Lozano and Anthony Abulencia Santa Ana have organized the book into five sections, making it simple to dive into your area(s) of interest. In the first section, “Cutting Out a Space: Diaspora & Memory,” I was particularly moved by Nicole Gervacio’s series “Paintings From Memory,” where the limbs of ghost-like figures are blurred or non-existent. Vague facial details, and the complete absence of background and/or setting leave the viewer visually unmoored. How much can we ever truly know about the family who came before us, and how much must we piece together from the snippets we hear through the years? How do we approach the question of who we are? I love the way these portraits sit in contrast to “A Reunion of Strangers,” an essay in which Oscar PeƱaranda reveals the story of how one of his own family mysteries is solved when an heirloom comes full circle.

The second section, “To Breathe: Health & Well Being,” opens with Trinidad Escobar’s comic/poem “A Geography of My Own.” This is a new and intriguing medium for me, and I’m inspired to search out more of Escobar’s work. Here she explores themes of sisterhood, belonging, memory, and the meaning of home. Ultimately Escobar’s protagonist arrives at a truth that will sound familiar to many Filipino Americans: “…I can live in more than one home / and still have a geography of my own.” The poetry, plays, and essays in this section pose questions to make us think about what we need, physically and spiritually, to ensure our wellness. Food takes center stage here, both literally and as a metaphor. In her essay “Sinangag and Tostones in West Harlem,” Leah K. Sicat notes that her culinary reflections are not just about consumption, but about “how to create, cook up, or remix circumstances that we encounter and how to sustain ourselves and each other.” The importance of decolonization runs like a thread through this book, and it naturally makes an appearance in this section when poet Eileen Tabios skillfully links the appearance of tech-enhanced flower pots in city landscapes to the constant work Filipinos do to…how should I put this…become ourselves? Tabios writes: “The path to decolonization / requires nature.”    

In the compelling narratives of section three—“Suturing Our Split Selves: On Intersectionality”— writers address the challenges that arise when trying to reconcile different aspects of themselves. Adam Rabuy Crayne chronicles a history of abuse that he must confront before arriving at a place of self-acceptance. In “All You Ever Needed: A Queer History of you,” he describes his feelings as he makes a turning-point decision to flee an unhealthy relationship: “With every heartbeat, you feel a bitter memory lodged in your bones dissipating to make room for a new dream. This is the strongest you have ever felt.” In this section we also hear from mixed heritage Pinays who grapple with feelings of isolation, frustration, and belonging. In “What You Just Call Me??!! Challenging Forced Labels on Filipin@s of Mixed Heritage,” Maharaj “Raju” Desai writes about how important it is “to find and name [our] communities in order to build, heal, and grow.” I think it would be wonderful to expand this section with even more voices. Older members of our community, for example, trans writers, writers with disabilities, and others who navigate multiple spaces.    

We move from the individual to the collective with “Cause a Stir: Coalitional Consciousness & Organizing.” The writers in this section call us to action in this age of Trump and Duterte, pointing out the violence and corruption in and around our communities. In “What stands the test of time?” poet Janice Sapigao worries about her mother’s trip home to the Philippines:

She is leaving Trump’s fascist America to travel to her first home, now Duterte’s corrupt and dictatorial Philippines. She first left during Marcos’s reign in the middle of martial law, and now what is the difference. 1978 and 2017. My mom won’t be traveling back or to any time. They are the same.

Also included is “Thinking About Philippine Studies in the United States in the 21st Century” by Lily Ann B. Villaraza, Ph.D., Erina Alejo, Oliver Mangibin, Klaine Justo, and EdianBlair Schoefield. This essay helps to ground the other works and encourages readers to think about the connections that may exist between Philippine Studies and what we can accomplish collectively.

The revolution, as the editors remind us in their introduction, begins at home. “How to Make Home: Family and Radical Parenting,” then, is the perfect way to close out this reader. The conversation between “motherscholars” Maria J. Ferrera and Cecily Relucio Hensler, who are both raising biracial daughters, was full of insight. I especially appreciated the part of their discussion that revolves around what our daughters can teach us about what it means to be Pinay. Dr. Roderick Daus-Magbual and Dr. Arlene Daus-Magbual are educators and parents to a son and daughter. In their essay “Raising Revolution: Critical Pin@y Parenting,” they share their perspective on how being members of a “conscious and politically engaged community” shapes the way they choose to parent. As with section three, I would have liked an additional voice or two from those who live in nontraditional family structures, but there is plenty of valuable information here for anyone who plays a part in the lives of our kids. I wish I’d had it on-hand when I was a new parent.

The Pilipinx Radical Imagination Reader is a rich, ambitious collection. As I worked my way through the book, it occurred to me that this project could easily have taken an awkward turn and ended up much like an overcrowded elevator where no one wants to make eye contact. Instead, it feels expansive and welcoming. Yes, there are many, many writers included here, but the options make it easy for the reader to find a space in which to situate their own narrative, their own radical imagination.


Veronica Montes is the author of Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Connect with her at

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