Sunday, November 29, 2020

THE HALO-HALO REVIEW's Mangozine--Issue 10

In addition to aggregating reviews from the internet, THE HALO-HALO REVIEW presents The Mangozine which features new reviews and serves as the online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions) published in print but not yet available within the internet.  Other features, including author interviews and reader testimonials, also will be presented. The following presents a Table of Contents for Issue 10 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

(December 2020)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the 10th issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-PilipinZ literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers, artists, and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 

Submission deadline for the 11th issue has been set at April 15, 2021 (though I will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).


MARCELINA: a meditation on the murder of Cecilia "Celing" Navarro by Jean Vengua (Paloma Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

INSURRECTO by Gina Apostol (1) (SoHo Press, 2018)

Engaged by Michael Caylo Baradi 


INSURRECTO by Gina Apostol (2) (SoHo Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Joanna Anabo

PAGPAG: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

The Filipino Cookbook by Miki Garcia and Luca Invernizzi Tettoni (Tuttle Publishing, 2010)

Engaged by Jack Villanueva

THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING by Veronica Montes (1) (Black Lawrence Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Melinda Luisa de Jesus

THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING by Veronica Montes (2) (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) 

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

Woman With Horns & Other Stories and Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories, both by Cecilia Brainard (U.S. Edition, Philippine American Literary House, 2020; Philippine Edition, Anvil, 1995)

Reviewed by Herminia Menez Coben

Letters to a Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes (BOA Editions, 2020)
Reviewed by Ella Decastro Baron

OF COLOR: POETS' WAYS OF MAKING edited by Amanda Galvan Huynh & Luisa A. Igloria (1)(The Operating System, 2019)

Reviewed by Karen Llagas

OF COLOR: POETS' WAYS OF MAKING edited by Amanda Galvan Huynh & Luisa A. Igloria 
(2) (The Operating System, 2019)

Reviewed by Niccolo Rocamora Vitug

A Kinder Way: Poems by Niccolo Rocamora Vitug (Self-published, 2020); REQUIEM: Poems by Rodrigo Dela Pena, Jr., with illustrations by Josephine Roxanne Perez (self-published, 2015); and Humanity in Predicaments by Hans Lawrence V. Malgapu (self-published, 2020)
Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan



Kimberly Alidio: once teeth bones coral : and why letter ellipses

Veronica Montes / The Conquered Sits on the Bus Stop, Waiting
Jean VenguaMarcelina: a
 meditation on the murder of Cecilia “Celing” Navarro


Go HERE to read:

Eileen Tabios on Luisa A. Igloria

Cynthia T. Buiza on Angela Manalang Gloria
Mary Zambales on #romanceclass, Six de los Reyes, Brigitte Bautista, and K.S. Villoso

Karen Llagas on Angela Narciso Torres

Glynda T. Velasco on Eileen R. Tabios



From Books: Introductions, Prefaces, Forewords, Afterwords and Author's Notes

Rene Navarro presents Introduction to Ascension and Return: Poetry of a Village Daoist by Rene J. Navarro (Tambuli Media, 2020)


Shiju Pallithazheth presents Foreword to Scentsibility edited by Ayo Gutierrez and Edentu Oroso (GMGA Publishing and Pixel and Feather Printing & Digital Services, 2020)



Wednesday, November 25, 2020


Welcome to the tenth issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW / The Mangozine where we provide engagements with Filipino-Pilipinz literature and authors through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings.

The Mangozine's Review Copy information is HERE! Submission deadline for the tenth issue has been set at April 15, 2021 (though I will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

As well, send me links to reviews/engagements with Filipino literature! These links will be aggregated in various genre categories displayed HERE. Updating the genre categories with links will occur as information is received.

An interesting feature of The Mangozine is its putting online various Introductions, Prefaces, Afterwords and Authors' Notes to published books. The presented essays to date  corroborate the need for a journal like THE HALO-HALO REVIEW -- they highlight the uniqueness of English-language Filipino literature that cannot be subsumed in other categories like "Asian American" or "People of Color" literature. Feel free to suggest other books which may offer useful contributions that deserve to be republished online.

I also call out to readers to SHOW SOME LOVE TO A FILIPINO AUTHOR(S) by sharing statements as to why they love their writing.  All writing styles. You can focus on authors dead or alive, send as many statements as you are moved to write.  You can praise authors not already mentioned or still to be mentioned. You need not be a critic, writer, scholar or teacher (though all are welcome). You need only be a Reader. (Examples are available at all at the issues below).

The Mangozine is possible not only due to the volunteer efforts of our reviewers but  to readers who choose to share their love. 

All Best,

Eileen R. Tabios
Contact: galateaten at gmail dot com

Index (May it Grow!):
ISSUE 1, September 2015
ISSUE 2, February 2016
ISSUE 3, August 2016
ISSUE 4, February 2017
ISSUE 5, December 2017
ISSUE 6, June 2018
ISSUE 7, December 2018
ISSUE 8, November 2019
ISSUE 9, April 2020
ISSUE 10, November 2020



MARCELINA: A meditation on the murder of Cecilia “Celing” Navarro by Jean Vengua 

(Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2020)




Whispers of hauntings always bring back stories of near-forgotten suffering, trauma buried deep into a community’s collective memory. Jean Vengua’s chapbook, Marcelina: A Meditation on the Murder of Cecilia “Celing” Navarro,” is the vessel of remembering for a new generation of Filipino-Americans to revisit an agonizing chapter in our history. 

In 1932, Marcelina Navarro was 26 years old when she was brutally murdered – reportedly buried alive – by fellow Filipinos for the alleged crime of adultery.  Celine’s murder was sensationalized by local and national media, with white journalists frothing at the mouth to depict the barbaric “voodoo rites” of a primitive Brown people living and working in the San Joaquin River Delta. 

Vengua’s long poem was written during the author’s visits to California’s Central Valley, the site of a burgeoning Filipino community in the 1930s and tragically, Celine’s burial grounds. The poem was first published in a poetry anthology more than 20 years ago. Renewed interest in the case of Celine is fueled by a documentary film The Celine Archives by film scholar and filmmaker Dr. Celine Shimizu Parrenas.

Cecile, Celina, Celing, Marcelina: she went by many names, perhaps an indication of dehumanization. In Vengua’s poem, the story of Celine’s life and death is told in a soul-stirring mood, as the poem mixes personal reflections, news clips and Celing’s voice to depict an atmosphere of hazy yet steady revelation of facts, memory and imagination. Vengua brings together divergent narratives to tell a story of betrayal, jealousy, and suffering. While dates are listed, the news accounts are not displayed chronologically to create a rigid timeline. Vengua pieces together time, place and occurrences, as she infuses observations of color, of smells, of how the valley feels. In doing so, she evolves the tactics of archive-sleuthing to uncover the desires and frustrations of a homesick Filipina, living among a community of migrant workers. The intensity of Vengua’s words can only come from someone who was present, in the moment, taking in the verdant hues of grass and earth.


There is only one way to experience Vengua’s meditation, breathing in her words on the page, with utmost reverence to early Filipinos who struggled to assert their humanity in an inhospitable land. Belonging and inclusion remained elusive for a community welcomed in the United States to do one thing: to work. Filipinos were at the bottom rung of the labor hierarchy that paid Japanese and Whites significantly more for the same work. The poet’s meditation reveals the texture of Celina’s aspirations as a young woman who planned to send for her parents, even as she struggled to raise young children with little support. The poem offers a glimpse into the lives and hopes of a new community. They found comfort in place names that honored Catholic saints in their new home in California. The Filipino emigres’ affinity with remnants of California’s Spanish colonial history was afforded by three centuries of subjugation under Spanish colonization. Ironically, in Celine’s tragic death, the trauma of othering and torment manifested in the act of interring one of their own, subsumed in the heart of the empire, denied of the dignity of last rites.  




Originally from Sampaloc and TondoMaynila, Maileen Dumelod Hamto works as an equity and inclusion leader in the ancestral lands of the Ute, Arapahoe and Cheyenne. She is pursuing doctoral studies in Leadership for Educational Equity at the University of Colorado Denver, focusing her inquiry on advancing social and organizational change through praxis that centers critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, decoloniality, and liberatory pedagogy. 


Tuesday, November 24, 2020




(Black Lawrence Press, 2020)



Veronica Montes was born in San Francisco and raised in Daly City. Her collection,  Benedicta Takes Wing and Other Stories, was published by Philippine American Literary House in 2018, and her work has appeared in Bamboo RidgePrism InternationalContemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America and Growing Up Filipino as well as many online journals.


Montes’ slim volume of eight flash fiction stories, selected as the winner of the Spring 2019 Black River Chapbook Competition of Black Lawrence Press, packs a satisfying punch that resonates long after one’s finished reading.


The stories here, some a mere paragraph—like the stunning opening piece that gives the volume its title—and others, a few pages long, are snapshots of women in distinct stages of their lives. Drawing upon allusions to fairy tales, myths, and the supernatural, they combine to create a portrait of women navigating their relationships, bodies and sexualities under patriarchy—from resentful, stressed mother and wife (in “Lint Trap”), to a daughter grieving the loss of her father (“Interlude: Ocean of Tears”), to a teen lost to the heady experiment of first love and desire (“Ruby”). 


To my mind, the book tells backwards the story of how an Everywoman, “the Conquered,” ends up at that bus stop, waiting, “covering her eyes.”  In “The Sound of Her Voice,” a modern retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the narrator has lost her voice to a husband who bullies her into silence and reduces her to ridiculous gesturing: “You’re driving me fucking nuts, he said.” Doing a fourth load of her family’s wash, the narrator of “Lint Trap”  ponders the uses of all the lint she’s collected from the dryer: “to muffle her screams, to plug her ears, to cushion her long and graceless fall...” “The Man Who Came from an Island Where Everyone Knows How to Sing” describes a woman confident in her sexual desires but stinging from the loss of her “secret,” “this scratch-and-sniff boy, this all-you-can-eat buffet boy.” In “The 38 Geary Express” Montes creates a harrowing and creepily casual story of a stalker following his young prey through her afternoon. And finally “Ruby” describes a mother watching her teen daughter flirt with her first boyfriend then leave in his car, knowing she has lost her girl to “another creature altogether, blind and groping and fettered to an enormous, feral love.”


The heart of the collection is “Madaling Araw” (Tagalog for dawn), its allegorical and most direct indictment of male power. The story opens with her waking, “unsurprised, on a bed of crushed glass.” The “she” here could be all women, one specific woman, Mother Earth, the motherland herself. As she notes:  They were always doing shit like this. She walks to the lake to cleanse the glass shards from her body, then searches for the herb her mother had shown her to dress her wounds. She admires “her own brown skin, the knots of muscle, every scar and scab,” then stands to face her tormenters triumphantly: “their pale hands flexed, their hearts thrummed with the knowledge of their wrongdoing.” She spits at them, and they flinch, and she, undeterred, continues west, “wondering what they would do tomorrow and the next day and the one after that. Blood trickl[ing] between her shoulder blades.” This direct repudiation of violence against women and Madaling Araw’s fierce resistance embodies on so many levels the struggle for decolonization and power that Pinays historically and throughout the diaspora fight daily. 


Madaling Araw’s triumph and grit, echoed in each of the stories in this potent, lyrical collection, will inspire and haunt you. And that’s a good thing. 




Melinda Luisa de Jesús is Associate Professor of Diversity Studies at California College of the Arts. She writes and teaches about Filipinx American cultural production, girl culture, monsters, and race/ethnicity in the United States. In Spring 2019, she was the 2018-2019 Muriel Gold Senior Visiting Professorship at the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at McGill University in Montreal.She is also a poet, and has published five chapbooks Locofo Chaps/Moria Poetry in 2017: Humpty Drumpfty and Other Poems,  Petty Poetry for Scrotus’ Girls, Defying Trumplandia, Adios, Trumplandia!, and James Brown’s Wig and Other Poems.  Her first collection of poetry, peminology, was published by Paloma Press in 2018.




(Black Lawrence Press, 2020)



When I think of Veronica Montes’ writings, I think of many things. [PAUSE FOR A SLY MOMENT]. I phrased it slyly—“many things”—because I can think of slyness as among the elements which infuse her written works. Anyway, I’m digressing ... because digressing is also something she does effectively in the stories of her THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING, such as the meditations in “Lint Trap” that don’t prepare for its ending. So, when I think of her writings, I think of many things and one of them is how her talent implies she’s a natural poet and yet she utilizes her gift for fiction. 


For instance, the first story in her chapbook and title story is a single paragraph that easily can be considered a poem or prose poem. The protagonist of that story remains a mystery as regards fleshed-out specifics of her life. Though she’s presented as someone who, when younger, was sexually targeted by men, that tendency could fit many women. The power of the writing relies more on the language itself—its evocativeness—including an ending made lovely by words despite its trauma—here’s its last sentence: 


“When you call out, she will cover her eyes as if you are made of sunlight.”




But what I also love about THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING is that there’s sufficient scale there for me to dwell in the writer’s expansive voice—the collection presents an expansive variety despite being made up of only eight stories. As well, while the title story is one paragraph long, and others may be considered flash fiction, “Interlude: An Ocean of Tears” possesses the narrative heft of a non-flash short story. Her deft eye and excellent craft also make her stellar at developing characters: for example, I know I'll find unforgettable how she developed the fertility of children—specifically boys—in her story "Interlude: The Ocean of Tears." What all of the stories share in common is a twist, something unexpected that makes the story memorable, and which is what I had in mind when I thought of the notion of slyness. Indeed, this result is even more accomplished given the discernible grief threading itself through her words. Here’s an example:


“…she places her cheek over her husband’s heart to indicate that she’d welcome some intimacy. She’s surprised to find that his heartbeat feels like a punch, punch, punch…”

—from “The Sound of Her Voice”


I had the joy and privilege of watching Veronica launch her chapbook during a virtual bookfest hosted by Aileen Cassinetto for the Daly City Public Library (with readings by other authors Alan Chazaro, Ricco Siasoco, and Elsa Valmidiano). There, it was interesting how Veronica shared her thought that she has been wondering whether the protagonist in all of the eight stories was the same woman at different points of her life, versus that each story present a different protagonist (which I assume is how she’d initially considered the stories). It’s an interesting layer and only serves to make the character (if single) more intriguing. These stories, in fact, could be sketches leading to a novel.


But back to poetry—what I love most about these stories is their language. Whatever the ultimate (behind-the-scenes) character is or characters are, she/they are more moving and sympathetic because of how they are presented. However, if you consider how the last story, “Ruby” might present the same character at her youngest and the first and title story at her oldest, then Veronica has created a profile of trauma no poetry can remediate. In this sense, too, Veronica shows herself a fiction writer at its purest and if that’s poetry’s loss, that’s also poetry’s reality—sometimes, poetry with its elisions and/or minimalism does not suffice. Sometimes, the story itself must be told.



Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 11 countries and cyberspace. Her 2020 books include a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora; a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; and her third bilingual edition (English/Thai), INCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Covid-19 Poems. In 2021, she releases her first long-form novel: DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. More information is at




WOMAN WITH HORNS AND OTHER STORIES by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

(U.S. Edition PALH 2020, New Day 1987) 



(U.S. Edition PALH 2020, Anvil 1995)




In her debut collection of short stories, WOMAN WITH HORNS, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard launches her mythical Ubec (Cebu) – a historic, cosmopolitan and vibrant city – the setting of many of her short stories, as well as her most recent novel, THE NEWSPAPER WIDOW. 

Ubec is home to the historical figure Lapu-Lapu, portrayed in “1521” not in his role as the legendary defender of the island against Spanish conquistadors but as a new father engulfed with joy at the birth of his first son, only to lose him, soon after, to enemy fire.

In “Black Man in the Forest,” as in “1521,” war serves as the necessary background for highlighting the complex emotional drama that is at the core of the narrative. The Philippine American War situates General Gregorio in a forest, where he has fled with a few of his men to escape the Americans. Confronted by a “black man,” he is wounded in the leg and he fires back, killing the American soldier with his last bullets. In the aftermath, the general reflects on his victim’s death, and with great compassion gives the stranger a river-funeral, saving him from the predation of one of his men, the cannibalistic Liver-Eater.

These and other stories below clearly demonstrate Brainard’s ability to draw the reader into the story by creating characters that are truly believable, whether they are plucked from the pages of history (“1521,” “Chino’s Dream”), drawn from folklore (“Woman with Horns”), or from one’s memory of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. All of them share common human frailties and redeeming virtues, and, always, all are worthy of redemption.

In the title story, Dr. Gerald McCallister, a hollow man, grief-stricken after the death of his beloved wife, assumes the post as Ubec’s American director of a public health program to contain a cholera epidemic. A stranger in a strange land, without any meaningful connection to anyone, he becomes consumed by his work. In the end, an unusually seductive young widow, believed to have been sired by a river spirit, redeems him from a joyless, lonely existence.

In “Woman with Horns,” as well as in other stories in the second collection, beginning with “Acapulco at Sunset,” the characters seem haunted by a sense of displacement, a “feeling of being a stranger” (“Killing Time”), “of not belonging” (“Alaska”) in a country where even the sunsets are never the same as in one’s native land (“Acapulco”). Brainard is a specialist in the psychology of exiles, of alienated immigrants, transplanted to a place they never can quite call home.

Brainard’s prose is lean, sparse, and easy to read, but each story is never simple. If one really pays attention to her storytelling craft, one is rewarded with delightful discoveries, as in “Acapulco.” The opening scene about a spider constantly weaving its web is a recurring metaphor for the heroine herself. “I, too, am creating a web, am I not?” she asks herself. The gossamer web reminds her of her mother’s sinamay weavings and the poverty of her childhood, which she lamentably contrasts with the wealth and comfort her successful husband has given her in her new land. Despite that, she feels “dry and hollow,” like a “floating ghost,” a ghost like Jaime, the love of her life, still hovering in her memory, and resurrected only with the annual letters delivered by the galleon from Manila. At the end, when her husband calls her to join him and their twin daughters, his loud, urgent voice leaves “the spider. . .  cringing in her web.”

A gifted spinner of tales, Brainard can turn a simple event in an ordinary life, like a craving for “Butterscotch Marble Ice Cream” into a heartwarming story about a young wife, pregnant for the first time, contemplating her future in a small rental apartment in San Francisco. Looking out her window, she is perturbed by the scene of a woman hanging out her laundry. Is this what married life is all about, she wonders. Her husband, Mark, a law student, craves for a particular flavor of Swensen’s ice cream and persuades her to go on what turns out to be a quest from one ice cream shoppe to another in the damp and foggy city. Pleased with their success, Mark settles down with the pint of ice cream in front of the television. His wife, by the window, is still thinking of the neighbor and her laundry when the baby gives a kick. Shifting her weight, she catches Mark’s reflection on the glass, happy and content with the butterscotch marble ice cream, and she realizes that “in that reflection (is) my future.”

“Butterscotch” and other stories in these two collections are themselves like reflections on a window pane or like snapshots of a moment in time, which reveal much more than what appears on the surface.

“A Very Short Story” captures a few hours in the life of a married man, on a tryst with a lover at the Hilton. It is very brief, no more than half a page. It is up to the reader to fill in the rest.

Having read most of Brainard’s short fiction, as well as her novels, I think that I can safely say that these stories are some of the best in her extensive repertoire.




Herminia Menez Coben, a retired Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Cal State, Sonoma, is author of EXPLORATIONS IN PHILIPPINE FOLKLORE and VERBAL ARTS IN PHILIPPINE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES: POETICS, SOCIETY, AND HISTORY.

Monday, November 23, 2020



The Filipino Cookbook by Miki Garcia with photographs by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni

(Tuttle Publishing, 2010)

Dear Miki Garcia and Luca Tettoni,

Thank you for The Filipino Cookbook. I borrowed it last April from the library close to our house in Davis. Mama has several cookbooks but yours is the one I like most because I don't have to read a long story just to get to the recipe.

For my 9th birthday dinner in September, I looked through your book and asked Mama to make me Sinangag, Humba, Pancit, and Lumpia. Everything was delicious! It's too bad all my cousins couldn't come to share because of the Corona Virus.

Sinangag, with bacon or ham or SPAM, is my favorite breakfast. I followed your recipe once and now I can make it all by myself.

I also know now know how to make Leche Flan. It's so easy. My aunt, Leche Flan maker for our family parties, gave me all her flan molds and said it is now my turn.

Soon I'll be able to make Humba. Mama said it used to be her favorite when she still lived in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. I like it, too, though I do not see this often at family parties.

I don't want to own a restaurant or work in one. I just like to cook and bake and share with friends because Filipino food is the best food in the whole world! I dream of going back again to the Philippines and eating yummy Filipino food all day, every day.

But now I'm sad because we have to return your book to the library because it's several months overdue and we just received a bill. I'll add your book to my Christmas wish list for Grandma.

Thank you!

Jack Villanueva
Resident Chef, Baker, Tinker, and Avid Reader
The Davis Learning Lab


Jack Villanueva, nine-years-old, is the resident chef, baker, tinker of the Davis Learning Lab. When not tinkering or minecrafting, he can be found wrapped in his fuzzy blanket, reading his current favorite comics, Beginning Pearls.



PAGPAG: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora by Eileen R. Tabios 

(Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2020)




It’s an unfortunate and ugly reality that many people in the homeland are so destitute, so poor, that they make a necessary living out of garbage. The practice of “pagpag” involves going through mountains of trash to salvage food and anything else than can be saved to be resold, reused, or traded for other goods. Eileen Tabios’ explains that her latest short story collection, PAGPAG, is so named to shed light on the ever-increasing economic inequities among the urban poor in the Philippines, casualties of decades-long theft, graft and corruption among elected officials and their cronies. 


The stories in PAGPAG offer insights to the process of reconstituting a salvaged and made-new life after expulsion, making the most out of the refuse of life in the diaspora. In the book’s introduction, Tabios specifically calls out the Marcos dictatorship for the harms caused to Filipinos who fled the country to escape the violence and turmoil of the Martial Law era (1972-1986), as well as the torment endured by millions of Filipinos who had little choice but stay behind. The author was a child when her family escaped the talons of martial law under the Marcos regime. She draws a link between the damages wrought by the Marcos regime to the renewed clamor for strongman-style leadership that led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. The dictator not only ransacked the treasury, he also drove away the collective memory about the painful truths of those difficult and repressive years.


Reading the stories of PAGPAG was a cathartic experience: I was born under Martial Law, and was in elementary school when the first “People Power” toppled the Marcos regime in 1986. My family was among the urban poor in Manila’s working-class section of Sampaloc. I personally observed my parents struggle through finding and keeping jobs. I experienced the ineptitude of government in providing basic needs, such as access to potable water and electricity. Brownouts and water shortages were all-too-common. Criticisms of the government were often shared in hushed tones; one can never be certain about whose ears are listening. 


PAGPAG's stories are important in countering the infuriating and disheartening trend of revisionist history of the Marcos legacy among millennials in the homeland. The author reminds us of a time when the Philippines was the shining star of Asia, when Filipinos and the rest of the world believed that the Philippines would soon rival Japan in economic production and technological prowess. These aspirations were left unrealized due to the true legacy of the Marcoses: driving up international debt for their own gain, looting public coffers, silencing dissent through extrajudicial killings of the administration’s critics. Tabios’ characters embody the near-schizophrenic duality of how Filipinos in exile made sense of the tumultuous Marcos years. We see Marites, a daughter of the country’s elites, nonchalantly brushing off the hardships endured by the common folk, conveniently justifying her family’s focus on continuing to make money, in order to survive. Elmo, on the other hand, risked it all – in his indigenous garb, no less – to take his grievances about the United States’ government complicity in allowing the Marcos dictatorship to flourish despite condemnation from the international community.


Filipinos love a good ghost story, and PAGPAG delivers the frights. Where would we be as a people without messages from beyond the grave, with departed loved ones sending requests on behalf of the living. Yet another distinct characteristic of the Filipino culture is our penchant for humor. There’s plenty of humor and hauntings in PAGPAG's stories; perhaps lightness is necessary to jolt back the reader to a place of hope, family and warmth. Indeed, that’s how many Filipinos survived those ill-fated years of the Marcos regime in the homeland and throughout the diaspora: we relied on family, our love and concern for each other. In PAGPAG, scenes depicting culturally Filipino attitudes toward (sometimes unscrupulous) ways of making a living or helping distant relatives carry the heaviness of guilt, the burden of obligation. Humor and love of each other are what gets us through each moral dilemma.


Originally from Sampaloc and TondoMaynila, Maileen Dumelod Hamto works as an equity and inclusion leader in the ancestral lands of the Ute, Arapahoe and Cheyenne. She is pursuing doctoral studies in Leadership for Educational Equity at the University of Colorado Denver, focusing her inquiry on advancing social and organizational change through praxis that centers critical race theory, critical whiteness studies, decoloniality, and liberatory pedagogy. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020



Letters to a Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes

(BOA Editions, 2020)



            Barbara Jane Reyes’ newest poetry collection, Letters to a Young Brown Girl, had me clicking, “Add to Cart” from  the title alone. I have long-savored Reyes’ butterfly tongued, expertly-carved prose and poetry through the years. Reyes' [brown] body of work is consistently interrogative, liminal, daring, textured, and  wholly satisfying—of mind, body, and spirit. She also gets down, honoring the intrinsic musicality of words like a DJ in a night club, a mixologist of language that warms my insides and zaps me alive. 

            As the book description says, "she's writing through the depths of her "otherness" to find beauty and even grace amidst her rage." By framing these as letters, it is immediately intimate—a kamayan, handfed,  generosity that invites us to do find our own "beauty and grace amidst [our] rage" of being colonized, objectified, minimized and erased.

             I especially raised my eyebrows and mouthed an echoing “YESSS!” reading the piece, “Brown Girl Consumed.” As soon as the letter opens with, “This is just to say, motherfuckers love your food!” the last few years of OMG, and SMHreactions at how certain culinary experts edified Filipino food hummed back in my throat. I growled remembering a thought close to, This is redonkulous! as I read the recipe in Bon Apetit. They dared proclaim "...the latest craze is popcorn and Gummi Bears in your halo-halo…” (15)! I felt the familiar contradiction of pride and frustration as the gutsy and beloved omnivores Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain 'elevated' regional dishes by merely traveling to the Philippines. 

            The letter moves through this ambivalence, time traveling back into childhood memories of being told in every grade, “that you eat dog food, and you didn’t know how to go home and cry to your mom because she was just too busy working—.” This is the "meat" of what turns to stone in our bellies. As Reyes names this pain, it becomes a mutuality and vindication to hear how these “gourmands” will “never know” the “…breaking necks and bleeding, all the flaying and the cutting, in pambahay, tsinelas, gold rings, anting-anting. All this after morning mass, all this before noon” of our family as they still managed to listen to our heartbreak and assure us we are “a good girl” (16).

            Throughout this book, themes of being commodified, objectified, consumed and underestimated by the usual suspects are no longer how the declarative sentences end. Reyes waves us past what we've known, what we are always knowing. She bolsters her readers as she leads us into occupying our own fullness, pagbabalikloob. At the same time, as the book models, we can reach out towards deep interconnectedness with other sisters through time and space, pakikipagkapwa. Reyes' keen imagery,  metaphors, iconography, multilingualism, and lyricism invite us into this ongoing decolonization and re-indigenization of Filipino-ness in, around, and through American-ness.

            Ay sus! I can go on and on! There is so much history, artistry, and wisdom on these pages. I highlighted, smeared my fingerprints onto, and wrote little notes on the pages back to Reyes, to our sisters and daughters, to my younger self. What I didn’t know—but in retrospect am not surprised given Filipino and Filipino American culture—is that I would also dance and sing out of my seat!

            The "Brown Girl Mixtape" section is the first time I have read a poetry collection and straight up had a dance party! I recognized several of the musicians and songs as I flipped through the titles. Then I went back (as I used to do in college when sampling CDs from Columbia House's famous 12 compact discs for a penny deal) and loosened my limbs, hips, and lips by playing the songs on our computer, one at a time. I read Reyes'  responses during or after each song, sometimes more than once out loud. 

             As a Filipina American who grew up in the Bay Area during the same years as Reyes, I was right there with my girlfriends, my barkada, singing through our longings along with Mary J. Blige, Pinay and Jocelyn Enriquez (together and apart), and Erykah Badu. Luckily, I had time to look up several artists and I did not recognize. How ecstasy rippled through me as I discovered more than half of the Mixtape are Filipino artists across generations and genres! 

            One of the most delightful discoveries, thanks to Reyes, is the band Ice Age's, "How to Destroy Angels." Reyes' piece feels like it sings harmony to the song's instrumental plucking and the way it moves in waves. I exhaled when Reyes acknowledged: "We know that to be a brown girl is to call the ocean is call to the self is to know you have to find a way" (33). I remembered, too, admiring South Asian artist M.I.A.'s rap video to "Bad Girls" a decade ago, and how my hope rode shotgun in the cars those brown girls dared to drive in protest to Saudi laws against women driving.

            Lately, I've spent work time sheltering-in-place to Ruby Ibarra playlists. How I swell oceans whenever I hear and behold such power in Pinays: "Sure as islands rise from the floor of our fiery ocean/ As bone shattering heat, as hunger hollering fists...". I get up and square myself, too, believing I can be part of "Us," of these babae dropping, "...lyrics in chorus, in curses, in crescendo..." with "not one smidgen of sorry from this body of bodies,/ sure as our elders' tongues sear into and through us..." (48). Reyes has created a dynamic ethno-auto-discography (is that a word? I think so!) What a syncopated, transcendent eruption of hunger and fulfillment!  

            Mystics sometimes refer to cycles of "order, disorder, and reorder" as part of our existence. It is not linear. Each "state" is happening in some way simultaneously. Imagine this as a sphere, a spherical mandala instead of a straight line or even a flat circle. Barbara Jane Reyes' Letters to a Young Brown Girl is like that. The portals in Reyes’ love letters are non-linear and non-dual. They present antidotes to empire, capitalism, patriarchy, invisibility, and even the ivory tower of writing "poetry" in "proper" English. The timing of this book, in 2020, is also clarified vision we need.  It is not confined to a specific, predictive, chronological instant. It is a kairotic moment, a decisive “now” time love letter that sees, serenades, and soars us.


Ella deCastro Baron is a second generation Filipina American born and raised in the California Bay Area.  She teaches English and Creative Writing at San Diego City College and Brandman University.  Ella’s work appears in different publications, including Anomaly, The Rumpus, Sunshine Noir, and as coeditor of the anthology, Hunger and Thirst. Ella's first book of creative nonfiction is, Itchy, Brown Girl Seeks Employment (City Works Press 2009). She collaborates to produce workshops that aim to reconcile the “whole person” through nourishing acts such as writing, art, movement, food (yes!), and community. Ella hopes to continue being a witness to her ethnic upbringing, whole person storytelling as acts of healing, her interracial family, and how it all may or may not fit together.