Saturday, November 2, 2019


This Feature presents readers sharing some love about the talent of Filipino writers and artists. We would welcome your participation. This section is for readers. You don't have to write "like a professional," "like a critic," "like an intellectual," "like a well-rounded reader," etc. Just write honestly about how you were moved. Live writers and artists (let alone the dead) don't get to hear enough from others who engage with their works (some may not even know all who comprise their audience). To know someone read their stories and poems or appreciated their artistry is to receive a gift. Just share from your heart. It will be more than enough. DEADLINE: APRIL 15, 2020 for Issue #9. Duplications of authors/artists and more than one testimonial are fine.

Mangozine's Issue #8 Presents

*     Eileen R. Tabios on Ninotchka Rosca
*     Cristina Querrer on Eileen R. Tabios, Barbara Jane Reyes, Luisa A. Igloria, Tony Robles, Aileen Cassinetto, Iv Alvarez, Marivi Soliven, Rodrigo Dela Peña, Kai Coggin, Monica Macansantos, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Michelle Peñaloza, Jose Padua with Heather Davis, Kay Fabella, Betty Ann Besa-Quirino and Melinda Luisa de Jesús
*     Eileen R. Tabios on Grace Talusan
*     Beverly Parayno on Veronica Montes
*     Vina Orden on Mia Alvar
*     Melinda Luisa de Jesús on Erin Entrada Kelly 
*     Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz on Eileen R. Tabios 
*     Ivy Alvarez on Luisa A. Igloria
*     Beverly Parayno on Tony Robles
*     Eileen R. Tabios on Jose Elvin Bueno
*     Margo Stebbing on Leny M. Strobel 
*     Maileen Dumelod Hamto on Eileen R. Tabios

Eileen R. Tabios on Ninotchka Rosca

I've been aware of Ninotchka Rosca for all of my life as a writer. I certainly believe that all thoughtful Filipinos and not just writers should have her books at home on their bookshelf. And perhaps it's because I've always been aware of her that I came to take her existence, her power, for granted. Today, I'm writing this "love note" because I realized (instead of just took for granted) how unrelenting she is in protesting injustice and specifically those unjust moments unfolding in our shared birth land, the Philippines.

There are many moments I can cite--sadly, many, for such is the state of affairs. But I specifically want to note her recent criticism of "pagpag" as not just its practice but its significance.  I wrote a poem, once, on "Pagpag" as learning about it really shook me -- not just that people are eating garbage but that people have had to normalize the practice due to poverty (and the sources of such poverty). Ninotchka criticized the practice instead of accepting it (as others did and do). While this particular matter is just one of many she critiques through Facebook, she obviously is more than an armchair protester (just check her Wiki page). 

As such, brief though this note is, I wanted to take the time to write it--to say, "Thank you. Maraming Salamat!" from not just me as a writer but from me as a human being. You are inspiration for not just writing well but living well. Indeed, when I think of the women you've helped, I realize: you actually save lives!  Maraming maraming salamat.


Cristina Querrer on the Writers and Artists She's Featured on

To Eileen R. Tabios, I love that you constantly produce great poetry, poetry books and anthologies – such hefty body of work that is so thought-provoking, artfully done, so interdisciplinary that it opens conversations and collaborations with many poets, writers and artists all over the world!  I love that you agreed to be my first featured guest on my podcast:
I love you for your love and passion for tiny books. I cheer you on for each acquisition and for you to continue to add to your collection – and for your desire to have the biggest tiny book library ever!
I finally got a chance to see the Hay(na)ku poetry exhibit, Hay(na)ku, a poetic form you invented and invited poets to participate in the San Francisco Public Library. I love that that you are putting us in library halls and on the map. 
To Barbara Jane Reyes: Thank you for being my second featured guest on Episode 3! I love that you continue to champion Filipino American and Pinays’ work.
To Luisa A. Igloria, thank you for being one of my earlier featured guests, too, on Episode 5!  I owe you many thanks for being such a gracious letter writer and for your writing my book blurb to my full-length collection, “By Astrolabes & Constellations”.  I love your continual support to the Filipino writing community as you continue to produce such exquisite work as well as writing your poem a day for many years now!
To Tony Robles: Thank you for being my featured guest on Episode 6! Although the audio was hard to hear because I interviewed you in a busy café before you headed out to participate in the Al Robles’ Express, but there is always room for more interviews!
To Aileen Cassinetto & Ivy Alvarez:  Thank you for being my featured guests on Episode 11!  I didn’t think I could record two poets from opposite ends of the world, but we did.  It was great seeing you both at the Filbookfest in San Francisco this past October 2019!  
To Marivi Soliven, I love that you shared your process and how you wrote nationally acclaimed  book “Mango Bride” and your activism for Filipino women in domestic violence situations on Episode 14
To Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr. of Episode 15 out there in Singapore: Thank you for sharing with us your exquisite poetry and how you honor the creative process.
To Kai Coggin: I love your enthusiasm and for being guest on Episode 18.  I love how much you have grown artistically since you submitted your poetry years ago to my online literary magazine, “The Manila Envelope”, and after all this time, I didn’t know you were Filipina American!
To Monica Macansantos, I love that you reached out to me from Baguio, Philippines.  Thank you for making me aware that Filipina poets and writers are out there in the wide expanse of the Filipino diaspora doing amazing things on Episode 21
To Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor,  thank you for being my featured guest on Episode 22.  We have indeed known about each other’s work many years now.  Thank you for sharing with us your new poetry collection, “Dancing Between Bamboo Poles” and for educating us on the importance of honoring indigenous cultures. 
To Michelle Peñaloza of Episode 23, thank you for sharing with us the publication of your latest work: “Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire” and that amazing idea of making a “mix-tape” for it!
To Jose Padua & his poet wife, Heather Davis on Episode 30 – Thank you for sharing us your life’s work and that successful couples do exist!
To Kay Fabella of Episode 31 for being the Filipina American creative living and working in Spain, representing!
To Ms. Betty Ann Besa-Quirino of Episode 37, for sharing with us her fabulous Filipino cookbooks, and for sharing with us her memories of the Philippines, and for sending me her cookbooks which I will treasure and have fun making those recipes!

Lastly, up to now, as I am writing this, to Melinda Luisa de Jesús of Episode 38 for being an inspiration, for speaking truth to the Pinay struggles and consciousness in your poetry and art. I love that you also move us with your beautiful voice, literally and figuratively, a true embodiment of "Pinay Power," strength and grace.

And thank you in advance to the other Filipino, Filipino-American poets, writers, creatives, and artists who will be appearing on the podcast to share with us their stories and their work!


Eileen R. Tabios on Grace Talusan

I would have wanted to do a more formal review of Grace Talusan’s courageous memoir, The Body Papersbut I took the reading/engagement experience so personally that I decided to go into the more capacious format of a “love note.” Anyway, by now, Grace’s book also has received such reviews from a number of places ranging from The New York Times to Booklist.  So let me get on with sharing a more personal reaction:

Grace’s book raises often-unraised matters as regards family. For one, Grace suffered from a grandfather who was a pedophile but whose abuse was covered up or dismissed by various relatives. Such can be the dark-side effect of loyalty for and within family. But in the larger setting of Filipino culture, one also can see the debasement of what should be a positive force—family—viz a viz how politics and business are governed by family and clan relations. Simplistically, tribalism has been as much a hindrance as an aid to the Philippines’ overall development. I started writing about this as a political science undergrad in college, which is to say, not much has improved in the past several decades.

There’s long been a conflict of interest in Philippine leadership in that it’s often the economically rich who end up forming the political elite and the latter is supposed to promote the well-being of all of the country’s population—I state this and even feel the statement dates me as what we’ve seen is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Thus, it’s no surprise that Grace’s book inevitably mentions the practice of “pagpag”:

 “… people are collecting discarded food from dumpsters and other trash bins. Fried chicken with only a few bites left on the bones, the last bit of pork adobo from a combo plate, expired frozen meat, slimy vegetables. First they wash the food in boiling water. Then they season these secondhand scraps and eat them. Now they’re spooning the leftover leftovers into clear plastic bags to sell. My father balances a piece of buttered toast on a paper towel, but he has stopped eating. Children the same age as his grandchildren dig through the refuse. An estimated 33% of Filipino children experience malnutrition or stunting according to 2015 data from the Food Nutrition and Research Institute. My father says, ‘Can you imagine? This is how hungry a person can be.’”

“They’re spooning the leftovers into plastic bags to sell”—which is to say, a small industry arises from pagpag. The commercialization isn’t what offends me—it’s the implicit normalization of the practice that comes with businesses arising from the practice. The people are eating garbage—how can this be the case for a country with at least 17 billionaires or where celebrities spend millions on a handbag? So I thought about how family—along with other values—are compromised by politics and elitism to translate into a corruption that limits the country from fulfilling its potential. I’ve long felt the greatness of a country or group depends on how it treats its most fragile and weak—by this measure, much of Philippine leadership (and elsewhere in the world) fails. (I wrote a poem about “PAGPAG”—an exercise that ultimately leaves me dissatisfied because the poem, literary merit (or lack) aside, will not do anything to alleviate the issue.)

Grace's own story is complicated by growing up undocumented here in the U.S. I recently began watching Undocumented on Netflix and can’t keep wondering how our political systems and bureaucracies must erase any place for compassion. Rather than take my word for something that I have not experienced, I can point you to spending some time with “Undocumented.” 

Elsewhere in the book, I read about the brief attempt Grace’s mother made at resuscitating her medical career after she’d given up dreams to be a doctor “to serve her husband and children.”
(click on all images to enlarge)

Unexpectedly, it’s this section that most affected me. It lodges itself in my memory to remain an irritant because it reminds me of my own mother’s attempts to become a lawyer. Apparently, law interested her but her mother—my grandmother—had not approved of her acting in an “unladylike profession.” Shortly after we arrived in the U.S. and with her teaching credentials basically useless as a source of income or from being uncredentialed by U.S. standards, she became a secretary. But she clearly wanted more and thus began “law school” part time. This meant that for certain hours in the evening, she would separate herself from us and study from textbooks. I remember watching her ambition from the side of my eyes, even as I pretended my attention was on my toys or elsewhere. When she stopped being a law student, I—like the relatives in Grace’s family—knew not to ask questions: “we knew not to ask why.”

But, older, I can speculate as to why my mother stopped—exhaustion from having to take care of a family, the second-guessing of whether it’s too late, the need to focus on the short-term pressure of finding a better-paying job, exhaustion, second-guessing, exhaustion, second-guessing, exhaustion.

The book’s ending—which I won’t share as I want you to read the book for yourself—reminds me, too, of my last moments with my father. By my Dad’s deathbed, I had kept whispering to him, “You were the best Dad” over and over as if my repeated mention of the phrase could obviate the years, decades, when I never expressed such a thought to him.

I share these personal responses because part of the power and achievement of Grace’s book is its poetry—how it creates spaces for the readers to inhabit and … personalize. Such an effect is even more impressive when the writing gets almost matter-of fact when it relates pain. Perhaps that’s a way for the writer to be able to write it without being absolutely bludgeoned (e.g. by pedophilia). But perhaps it’s also a way for the reader to read Grace’s book without being absolutely bludgeoned.

So I hope you reading my love note to Grace will next turn to her book. You will learn her story, but also learn something about yours—and that’s one of the greatest gift a writer can give a reader.


Beverly Parayno on Veronica Montes

Last year, Tony Robles recommended I check out Veronica Montes’ work. After getting a copy of her book BENEDICTA TAKES WING AND OTHER STORIES, I reached out to ask Veronica if I could interview her for #allpinayeverything. Here’s what I said in the intro of the interview about her work: Montes’ work is graceful, subtle at times, and also shocking, commanding and authoritative. I want to call her a realist, but she also works in myth and mystery. The fourteen stories in this collection address themes of love, loss, beauty, immigration, disconnection, saving face, silence and violence.

After many months of email correspondence, I finally got to meet Veronica briefly at the Fil Am Book Fest in October and read with her for the first time at the PAWA Lit Crawl event. At the Lit Crawl event, I had the task of juggling a few different roles—serving as the Litquake liaison in my capacity as a member of the Litquake executive committee, hosting the event in my capacity as a board member for PAWA, and also participating as one of six readers. My printer had refused to cooperate with me just before the event, so I was unable to print author bios and the piece I’d planned to read. I worried about keeping to time since Lit Crawl audiences had to make their way to venues in the Mission for the next phase. Too, I worried about getting to my next venue in time, where I’d serve as Litquake liaison. All sorts of thoughts and worries filled me as I sat down to listen to the readers. 

And that’s when Veronica started reading from a flash piece called “The 38 Geary Express.” Told from the point of view of a stalker, we follow his thoughts and moves as he watches in secret over a young girl on the bus. He knows her schedule, gets so close to her on the bus he can smell her soap, thinks about pulling her hair. At that moment, I grew captivated by the scene, by these characters, and forgot about my worries. The man followed the girl off the bus, waited for her while she ate at KFC. I’m immersed in the sinister tone of the story, I forget I’m sitting in Amado’s on Valencia surrounded by good friends and family who’ve come to hear us read. My breathing slows a bit. The story ends with the line, “He knows where she lives.” And then I exhale, suddenly aware of my surroundings again, and so thankful to Veronica for the brief escape from reality. Always a sign of strong writing.

Her chapbook, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, won the Black River Chapbook Competition and is forthcoming in 2020.

You can find my interview with Veronica HERE.


Vina Orden on Mia Alvar

Mia, I don't know you beyond your author photo and the bio on the back flap of a book jacket. We've only met once at your reading at the Asian American Writers' Workshop in New York. You signed my book, "To Vina—Thank you!", when it's really I who should be thanking YOU. Reading your stories made me realize that representation does matter. Not only can I see myself in the everyday Pilipina immigrant characters who populate your stories, I also can trace the arc of my own life's journeys in them. There's the sari-sari store in "The Kontrabida," which reminds me of Cozy Corner, the sari-sari store that my maternal grandmother's eldest sister, Lola Feling, ran in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. Like the women in your stories—the women in my own family are strong and resilient for others in their lives. In your Esmerelda, I see my own mother toiling in solitude in Manhattan, separated for years from her family and never quite finding a home anywhere. Your militant nurse Milagros of "In the Country," reminds me of both my maternal grandmother (also named Milagros) who defied the Japanese soldiers occupying her hometown of Baguio in World War II, and of my mother who was a nursing student at St. Luke's College in Manila and an activist during the Marcos dictatorship. In reading your stories, I'm reminded of all the voices we don't usually get to hear in literature, and as an aspiring writer, I'm heartened that there are still so many stories to tell of the vast diversity of the Pilipinx/Pilipinx-American diasporic experience. So thank you, salamat, and in the language of my ancestors, agyamanak!


Melinda Luisa de Jesús on Erin Entrada Kelly

Dear Erin,

I taught Blackbird, Fly in my Pinay Lit class at McGill University last spring, and it brought us to tears. Students, both enrolled at the university and members of the Montreal Filipina community, spoke of how they could relate deeply to Apple’s identity issues, her struggles with her mom, and her need for music in her life. Many noted how they had never read a book about a Pinay before, which both astounded me and made me very sad because there are tons of Filipino American books available to youth in the US right now.  My kids are 13 and 9 and they both loved Blackbird, Fly. The scholar in me deeply appreciated your laying out the hurdles that kids of color with immigrant parents face in wanting to pursue the arts—I’m a  mezzo-soprano myself, and faced the decision of going on to music school vs pursing my PhdD; it’s not too hard to imagine which choice my parents preferred! My doctoral dissertation was of course about the female artist novel created by feminists of color, but I digress. I would have loved having Blackbird, Fly alongside all the Judy Blume books I devoured back in the day. I’m thankful for your work, both for the young Pinay in me who yearned to see herself represented in YA fiction, and for my kids, who have the privilege of growing up with your words as their normal. Salamat! 


Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz on Eileen R. Tabios

(Eileen R. Tabios' books at MacDowell Colony's James Baldwin Library)

Dear Poet Maxima,
     Thank you for making this world one poem richer as you keep composing. I am in awe of what you do, your work ethic and your considerable output, hence poet maxima.

With awe and respect,
Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D.
Author, Writer, Journalist for Asian Journal Press


Beverly Parayno on Tony Robles

Not that I’m counting, but I met Tony Robles, Friscopino Black Pilipino poet, about one year, two months, and two weeks ago at an event at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. He read beautifully from his work and from the work of his late uncle, Manilatown poet Al Robles. I’ve since seen him read in person or on recordings at several other venues, like at the grave site of Carlos Bulosan, the Ugly Beauty Open Mic in Oakland, and, most recently, at the 5th Filipino American International Book Festival and Lit Crawl. I’m moved and affected by his work, and always feel a bit different, a bit changed, after having heard him read. It’s his warmth, humor, vulnerability, and honesty that comes across for me. Themes on Frisco, where he was born and raised, gentrification, his father, navigating the world as a Black and Brown person, his recent move to North Carolina. 

None of this prepared me for what I witnessed at his children’s reading at the Fil Am Book Fest. We headed over to the children’s section of the SF Public Library where he was scheduled to read from his book LAKAS AND THE MANILATOWN FISH. I’d never read the book so didn’t quite know what to expect. What happened over the next twenty minutes is a performance I won’t soon forget. Tony transformed into a kid himself and brought the audience of toddlers and their parents on a wild journey in search of the elusive Manilatown Fish. There was a manong, missing teeth, fish underwear. Filipino accents and heightened drama through the streets of the city. At some point, Tony grabbed his oversized, bright orange Manilatown Fish puppet and it too got involved in the performance. Every kid in the room, and their parents, fully captivated. Seeing the range of Tony’s performances, from serious to outlandish, made me appreciate him even more for the gifted writer and performer he is.


Ivy Alvarez on Luisa A. Igloria

Dear Luisa Igloria —

Most of what follows I've already said to you in an email written in 2018, but I thought I'd declare it publicly: I would swear fealty to these poems, Luisa. Most of my notes were along the lines of 'beautiful, beautiful', and 'how did she do that?!', several 'wow, what?!'s of astonishment, and occasional appreciative-in-tone swearing. Your final lines were a true delight. Thank you so much for letting me read your book, The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis!

With renewed admiration,
Ivy Alvarez


Eileen R. Tabios on Jose Elvin Bueno

I came to write this "love note" after reading and appreciating Jose Elvin Bueno's novel set in the Philippines, Subversivo, Inc. It's an ever-timely novel given the ongoing or ever-going shenanigans in Philippine politics, well-written with a pace and natural dialogue that make for a smooth (indeed, page-turning) reading, educational as regards how campaign finance helps keep the political playing field corruptly non-level, and admirable for earning every single obscenity written in the novel (well, hey, its topic after all is -- to quote back cover blubber Dean Francis Alfar -- "the Filipino condition" including "power, political inequality, [and] the impact of technology." The latter, in part, references the role of trolls and other internet-based manipulations). In sum, this is a novel that shouldn't languish in Amazon marketplace obscurity--it deserves to be read!

But I also was moved to write this appreciative note because after Bueno's manuscript became the Grand Prize Winner in the Philippines' 63rd Palanca Awards for Literature, the author chose to take control of the novel's publication (or so I am interpreting). He took control by publishing it through the CreateSpace Independent Publishing platform on  One can't view his novel by using "self-publishing" as a criticism when Bueno smartly leveraged off of its Palanca win, as well as garnered favorable blurbs from Alfar, Chris Martinez, and Jose Dalisay, Jr. It's all good -- I much appreciate artists who can take matters in their own hands instead of submitting (pun intended) to the vagaries of the publishing marketplace. So kudos to Jose Elvin Bueno for both content (the novel's tale) and form (the novel's publication methodology). Let us support him by ordering HERE. And, ultimately, his novel will reward your attention.


Margo Stebbing on Leny M. Strobel

Day 1- [On Facebook,] I was challenged to posting 7 books that I love each day. I am going to use this to represent women of color writers to promote & support more literacy equity. 

This first book, GLIMPSES by Leny Mendoza Strobel, is written by a very important woman in my life. She stood at the edge of the forest as I was seeking to re-connect with my Pinay ancestry, with a wide-open heart of grace, telling me it was never too late.

Leny Strobel wrote a poetic memoir that is so intimate, I feel like I have to hold my breath as I enter the interior of her life and recollections. This book holds her rich wisdom as well as Leny's poetic down to earth and up to the sky eloquence. We are lucky to have such a Pilipina/American elder in the diaspora bringing forth her decolonization journey in the brilliant form of a poetic memoir.
I treasure this book. I hope you will too.

Leny Strobel writes from a wizened perspective on Belonging with a hard-won clarity threshed from years of living in the diaspora. Simply, yet with a multi-dimensionality that the subject really needs & deserves in order to understand the layers & shifting landscape of what Belonging means. This one page is the most illuminating thing I have read about Belonging. Here's a taste: "The question of Belonging changes over a lifetime...Find a story big enough to contain your multitudes and paradoxes." From page 93 of GLIMPSES, A Poetic Memoir by Leny Strobel:


Maileen Dumelod Hamto on Eileen R. Tabios

Dear Eileen:

     I first heard of the term “indi-genius” while attending the 2013 international conference of the Center for Babaylan Studies. It was uttered by legendary filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik at the conference that drew hundreds of decolonizing Filipinos to northern California. Bearing witness to the conversations and the soul-searching were thousand-year-old Redwoods, sentinels of the forest, familiar with the genius of indigenous spirit.
     It’s no accident that our collective yearning and learning toward indigeneity surfaced in close proximity to the mountains that fuel your creative pursuits. In an industry known for competition, you set an example for a different way of being: as an indi-genius poet-publisher always on the path of innovation and invention, pakikipagkapwa (finding self in the other) and pakikisama (fellowship) with our Filipino/FilAm community of creatives and artists. 
     You invoke indigenous Filipino values through intentional collaborations with poets, writers, artists and culture bearers across Turtle Island, the homeland and beyond. You shape new opportunities for discourse about issues that bind our shared experiences in the diaspora: reclaiming identity, voice and power; emancipation from oppression; making meaning of our common legacy under colonialism and empire; finding community despite exile and isolation. 
     For always infusing your work with deep love and affection for our people, salamat po, dear Eileen, for your kagandahang-loob (kindness; beauty of will).

Lubos na gumagalang (respectfully),
Maileen Dumelod Hamto

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