Monday, November 27, 2023




 The Beginning of Leaving by Elsa Valmidiano

(Querencia Press, 2023)




Ilocana-American essayist, poet, and author of We Are No Longer Babaylan Elsa Valmidiano has birthed yet another child of the Philippine Diaspora with The Beginning of Leaving, a collection which honors the oral tradition of Philippine peoples while creating something altogether new.

The Beginning of Leaving pays homage to the game of telephone our Philippine ancestors played when they told stories by the fire at night, or while they kept the bedside of a deceased loved one, or while they waded through rice paddies in the hot sun. Each telling of a familiar story promised something different and new. Our ancestors recognized that stories were living beings and they summoned them to aid us in our self-understanding. Valmidiano uses this technique in her collection to dive into the contexts of what it means to be a Diasporic people on settled lands. 

In “Last Three Days in Twentynine Palms” she weaves the story of her sister’s move into her own experiences growing up in foreign lands all while analyzing the relationship between genocide, displacement, and modern-day colonialism.


… the coincidences of where we lived and where we find ourselves no matter how short of a time, in the land of ‘little springs and much grass’ wherever we are in the Diaspora, in Ubbog, in Lapog, in Suangna, in Mar-rah, in another’s land that was stolen by settlers of the same white skin who stole our archipelago for four hundred and twenty-five years, who stole the continent we now live on, and the legacy and ignorance of it still ongoing…


The medicine here, should Filipino Americans be willing to take it, comes as an invitation to ask bigger questions about what it means to be a Filipino in the Diaspora. Whether we are born in the motherland and carried away, haven’t yet set foot there, or only have one Filipino parent- our contexts affect our existence and the way we fit within our people.

She takes this theme of narration and analysis further in “Aswang Hunger” when she postulates about a new aswang born from modernity and centuries of colonization. She speaks about the rice paddies that are no longer in Cubao and the “industrial hunger” that has since replaced them: “As laughter and stories boom from every corner of the house, it feels as if everyone is looking at me and my siblings, their eyes sunken in from hard work and hunger, an aswang hunger that starves for our sweet American blood one last time.

Her juxtaposition of aswang and the American Diaspora paints a painful picture of our relationship to our people in the Motherland and begs the question: who are the real aswang? Perhaps it is the Diaspora. We who don’t quite belong. We who are a living reminder of great atrocities and simultaneously a beacon of hope. Perhaps it is our people left behind in the Motherland, locked in the kind of survival that comes from living for hundreds of years on lands heavily exploited. Perhaps we are all aswang.

Valmidiano’s collection is a meditation on the Diasporic oscillation between existential dread and belonging and as such acts as both surgery and salve. She is knitting together multiple timelines and invoking our painful histories as an invitation to process trauma. In her final piece “The Leaving” she ruminates,


When my sixteen-month-old self had left my Motherland, I wouldn’t say I left.

I was carried to whatever land I was brought to. There were no explanations. No apologies. Whether my parents’ reasons were for the betterment of our lives and our future, it wasn’t my choice.

But in Murujuga is the first time I left. I. Left.

…Murujuga had marked the beginning of leaving. And when it comes to leaving, we have to start somewhere.


In an age where all the medicine people are in hiding the Diaspora has been forced to reinvent our medicines. If I had access to books like this growing up it would have changed the entire trajectory of my life. Assimilated amongst non-Filipinos with a mixed-race identity and no way of understanding who I was, I was nearly lost.

It took me a long time to get through The Beginning of Leaving only because I had to pause to cry, to rage, to sit with my desire to never come back. It was surprising to me that though Valmidiano and I don’t look the same and didn’t grow up in the same city with the same experiences I felt seen by her stories.

Her ability to weave analysis and narrative has created room for the liminal space where conversation and communion collide- with The Beginning of Leaving she has effectively reconstructed the birthing floor of our oral tradition and created a bridge for our ancestors to reach their descendants- wherever in the world we may be.




Morgan Hoffman is of mixed heritage where her Philippine ancestral roots are Ilocano from Agoo and Masbateño from Monreal, Ticao. Her German ancestral roots are from Baden-Württemberg. She currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her works have appeared in online publications Anti-Heroin Chic and Pearl Press.



No comments:

Post a Comment