Sunday, November 26, 2023



Wildflowers by Beverly Parayno

(Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2023)


The Women Will Be Alright: On Beverly Parayno’s Wildflowers

If I had to choose the one scene that best represents Beverly Parayno’s collection of short stories, it is the last scene in “Rescue,” when Cherry finally leaves her commitment-phobic boyfriend. “She climbed into the driver’s seat. She put the car in reverse, inched forward, reversed, inched forward, many times over until she got herself out of the tight spot.” This is essentially what all the women protagonists do. And though Parayno leaves us at the end of most of her stories with women who seem like they have utterly failed or have been beaten down for good, I don’t despair. Their stories contain reasons to hope that they will be alright.


In the opening story, “Saviour,” we meet the child Lourdes whose father physically and verbally abuses her. Lourdes’ mother, grandparents, and even the cops who go to their house in response to a call from the neighbors, could not save Lourdes from her abusive father.  Yet, despite the bleakness of the situation, Parayno gives us hope. Violence festers behind closed doors. But if Lourdes keeps the windows wide open, “someone out there would be listening”, neighbors bearing witness, keeping perpetrators accountable. For Lourdes’ sake, I hope she keeps her windows open. 


In “Housecleaning,” Crescencia is raped by her employer who later murders his wife. At the end of the story, cameramen shout at Crescencia for her testimony.  We don’t know what she will say. Will she tell her truth? Will anyone believe her? But these are not what concern Crescencia most. Instead, she worries about where to find another job to feed herself. As in “Saviour,” it seems that Parayno once again leaves the protagonist in a dire spot. But again, as in “Saviour,” there is hope, there is something that might allow Crescencia to rise out of this bad spot. And it is the same something that previously brought her work when she was fired from her job: the network of domestic helpers who band together and who lend other domestic helpers a hand. For Crescencia’s sake, I hope the network of domestic helpers will once again take her in. 


We see a similar source of collective help in “Surrender.” Christine meets a group of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) during her stay in Cork for her graduate degree. Christine feels she does not belong in the academic setting, and she experiences outright exotification and anti-Asian racist treatment. Her one hope of belonging is to host the OFWs for a boisterous dinner at her flat. And though this never happens, at least she recognizes the medicine in this hope. For Christine’s sake, I hope one day she will host fellow Filipinas, maybe not in Cork but somewhere else, and feel that sense of belonging.


In “Balikbayan,” Jacqueline helps her aging father sell his ancestral land in the Philippines. The transaction is fraught with issues about ancestral ties. In the end, the sale goes through and though we regret the family’s loss of connections to the land, there is hope that connection can still happen through the renewed relationships between Jacqueline and her cousins. For Jacqueline’s sake, I hope she continues to reconnect with her cousins.


In “Wildflowers,” the heart of this collection, we see Ruth at her low point, anxiously waiting for a phone call from her on and off boyfriend. We sense her drudgery, her surrender to her lackluster pursuit of money and stability, her disconnect from fellow beings and the world. But then she meets the elderly artist who led quite a life out of the ordinary. We find out that Ruth, herself, has an unexplored passion for art, paint, color, images, and creating something on the canvas. “What she really wanted to do, without knowing how to articulate it or even admit to herself, was paint. Her fear of exposure had led her to do everything but paint: study other artists, subscribe to art magazines, go to museums, interview other artists.” For Ruth’s sake, I hope she will eventually come to her art and reconnect with the beauty around her.


All these women are in the driver’s seat, navigating that space in the middle of reversing and inching forward. There is hope for all of them, for all of us!, if we are related to a collective—the neighbors, the helper network, the OFW group, the cousins, and the extended family—and if we have art in our lives. The women will be alright. We will be alright.



Justine Villanueva traces her ancestral roots to Bukidnon, Philippines where she was raised until she immigrated to the United States when she was 17. She now lives in the Patwin-Wintun homeland (Davis, California) with her husband and two sons. Justine's creative work focuses on decolonization, social justice, and connecting with the living Earth. She writes children's books and is the founder of Sawaga River Press, a nonprofit press that publishes children's books featuring Filipino children and their experiences in the diaspora. She runs her own law and real estate office. She loves to dance.

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