Friday, December 1, 2023


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 16 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

Submission deadline for the 17th issue has been set at April 15, 2024 (though we will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

(December 2023)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the 16th issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-Pilipinz literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews, feature articles, 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. 


Beauty Regimes: A History of Power and Modern Empire in the Philippines, 1898–1941 by Genevieve Alva Clutario (Duke University Press, 2023)

Reviewed by Vicente L. Rafael

Getting to One by Eileen R. Tabios and harry k stammer (Sandy Press, 2023)

Reviewed by Harold Legaspi

The Beginning of Leaving by Elsa Valmidiano (Querencia Press, 2023)

Reviewed by Morgan Hoffman

Open for Interpretation: A Doctor's Journey into Astrology by Alicia Blando, M.D. (She Writes Press, 2023)

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

The Maps of Camarines by Maryanne Moll (Penguin Random House SEA, 2023)

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

A Village in the Fields by Patty Enrado (Eastwind Books, Berkeley, 2015)
Engaged by Rachielle Ragasa Sheffler

Reviewed by Maileen Hamto

Wildflowers by Beverly Parayno (Philippine American Writers and Artists, 2023)
Reviewed by Justine Villanueva

Outlaw Mage :The Dageian Puppetmaster #1 by K.S.Villoso (Vigil Publishing Co., 2023)

Reviewed by Eric Smith

The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019 by Eileen R. Tabios (Marsh Hawk Press, 2019)

Reviewed by Lynn Grow 

FLASH REVIEWS of Mountain Dreaming: New Essays by Gemino Abad (2015, UP Press); The Proxy Eros by Mookie Katigbak Lacuesta (Anvil, 2008); Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres (Scholastica, 2014); October Light by Jeff Tagami (Kearney Street Workshop, 1990)

Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan

Jim Pascual Agustin, Waking Up to the Pattern of a Snail Left Overnight
Danton Remoto, The Heart of Summer: Stories and Tales


Go HERE to read:

Leny Strobel on Eileen R. Tabios and M. Evelina Galang
Dani Magsumbol on Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio
Hilton Obenzinger on Beverly Parayno
Eileen Tabios on Marlon Hacla
Josie Fernandez on Beverly Parayno
Vicente Rafael on Grace Talusan
Eileen Tabios on Nick Carbo
Rashaan Alexis Meneses on Beverly Parayno
Karyn Wergland on Beverly Parayno
Beau Beausoleil on Eileen R. Tabios


From Books: Introductions, Prefaces, Forewords, Afterwords, Author's Notes & Other Prose

Translator's Note by Angela Narcisso Torres for BUM TIYAYA BUM by Rene O. Villanueva (Tahanan Books, 2023)

Preface by Christine Start for Rooted in Practice: Pinays in Law edited by Justine Eva Li Villanueva in collaboration with Pinay Powerhouse (Sawaga River Press, 2022)

Introduction by Justine Eva Li Villanueva for Rooted in Practice: Pinays in Law edited by Justine Eva Li Villanueva in collaboration with Pinay Powerhouse (Sawaga River Press, 2022)

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.





Getting to One: Flash Fictions by Eileen R. Tabios / Art by harry k stammer

(Sandy Press, Santa Barbara/Australia, 2023)



I will begin with a close and plurilingual reading of the title—‘Getting to One’, which had led me to think about language and how inter-woven it can be. The title phrase itself is nested, in that it contains plurilingual words within words—

‘ge’ — 
 — gè from Chinese (Pinyin) to English translates to ‘each, respectively,
every, individually’…

‘ting’ — 
 — tíng from Chinese (Pinyin) to English translates as ‘to stop’ – other possible meanings of ‘ting’ include ‘to listen, to hear, to heed, to obey’, ‘a sound of a bell or a chime’ and ‘graceful’.

‘o o’ from Pilipino to English translates as ‘yes’; a green light to keep going—which contradicts the Chinese ‘ting’ — ‘to stop’.

And ‘One’ is a number loaded with symbolism and meaning; it implies unity, togetherness, but also a sense of isolation, solitude and loneliness, which I believe we all (not only readers and writers) may be familiar with. Which led me to think of the reasons for Eileen Tabios’ purpose to thread the epigraph to the vignettes in the book, and as well, Tabios’ collaboration with the writer/artist and musician, harry k stammer.

On the whole, ‘Getting to One’ implies that one is going somewhere (to oneself perhaps?), and that there is movement. 

Getting To One is a collection of vignettes from Tabios and visual poetry (vispo) from harry k stammer, which traverses highly imaginative themes, quaint characters and interesting facts. I read the book closely and seriously. I am not certain this kind of reading is appropriate for the book, but whether it is or not is not the issue—the fact it is being read at all is really something to be proud of. 

I contemplated upon the part of the epigraph for quite some time: ‘…“One”—a bar where each patron must drink alone…’ (which is from ‘Ghost’, an excerpt from Tabios’ novel-in-progress Clandestine DNA). In Tabios’ writings, this part of epigraph appears in each vignette and linked by the surreal bar—’One’, where ‘each patron must drink alone’ (8). Tabios thus weaves her narratives together—texts within texts. This is most evident in the closing vignette of the book, ‘Recycled Afterthought’, which ‘uses one sentence each from the other flash fictions with most being exactly as they were portrayed in the source material, subject to the persona’s pronoun being changed to “you”’ (51).

I will, however, skip to ‘Silence as Condition Precedent’, where the protagonist is a ‘pretender’—‘He claims to prefer being alone but he needs company to listen to his animal stories’ (37). Perhaps in the bar ‘One’, ‘silence [is] a condition precedent’—and ‘drunks bec[o]me regulars only if they’[ve] lost all appetite to be heard’ (37). I do question the paradox of One’s predication—Wouldn’t the bar need patrons that need to be heard in order to be? Otherwise, why bother with it? Stay home. Stay home in comfort. Be unheard and comfortable. And it is here I arrived at the conclusion that the bar ‘One’ is mythical—it doesn’t exist, never has, never will. 

Perhaps the irony of writing this review for Tabios is the notion of the central ‘place’ where activity derives, being ‘One’—a bar, which is the last place on earth I’d read a book. Further, compound the fact that I don’t drink alcohol nor frequent bars, and one can arrive at the comical effects and affects of writing this review. I’m rather like a vegetarian working at the butchers.

But perhaps why this work of fiction and art resonated with me was in the first story, ‘The End of Sundays’. Having friends and family who are single fathers and mothers, marginalised writers, Othered persons, I caught the notion of the bar—‘One’—as a metaphor for an orphanage, where each patron drinks alone…and ‘each would leave alone’ (9). The bar has become the place for ‘One’s’ who have been abandoned; ‘there [are] so many orphans’; each of them deserved ‘a turn’ (9). The tone of the book is thus melancholy, and this resonates with the art by harry k stammer, whose vispo often contain ‘/’ slash[es]—a punctuation used to represent division and fractions and separation. stammer’s colours are stark, and contrast upon each other, representative of the uniqueness of characters written about in Tabios’ fictions.

In ‘Planet M’, the protagonist is a monk who trips over and smashes his face in the mirror causing him to bleed. Planet M lacks aroma—one presumes the monk is celibate—but the protagonist fails to weep—he has no more tears. While the monk bleeds, one questions whether he is still human. The monk ‘feel[s] the warmth of ichor through [his] veins’ (15)…yet, he is ‘not [a] god[’s]’ (15). Planet M may be thought of as not necessarily a planet per se, but a state of mind, which affects the body and heart; conditions the spirit and soul. Planet M—where ‘M’ may stand for mirror / monk / messiah et al—is one which resonates with my ontology, and is perhaps the story which captivated me the most because it is a clear indication of ‘avatars presented by mirrors’, one which places hope in faith in of our lives—to ‘live happily ever after’ through suffering. 

In ‘Polmost Spirytus Rektyfikowany Vodka’, the protagonist is awoken from a dream, and sees his conflict in that ‘No one ever talks about how much fortitude hope requires’. He drinks as a means to forget (that he lack[s] hope and [is] hopeless’ (19). And he dreams an escapist utopia—he is ‘seasteading’—creating artificial islands. And that island is ‘One,’ a bar where each patron must enter alone, drink alone and leave alone. stammer’s art reflects slashes and backslashes—they are touching—indicative of a kind of utopia or unity. This is against a Maya Blue background, which was employed in Maya visual cultural and religious ceremony to signify the god Chaak, their patron deity of rain and agriculture.

‘The Road to Juliana[’s]’ conflict sees the protagonist looking forward to forgetting about his past—a past wherein he was ‘victim of…[a] field of eating disorders, [which] present[ed] a high burn out rate for dieticians…[who] take on [his] anxiety and trauma’ (29). It is a joy to come to the resolution of this vignette, where the protagonist ‘Learn[s] about dogs, [as] he [had] ordered himself’…discover[ing]…a Great Dane named Juliana…[who] once peed on an incendiary bomb…earning [her] a Blue Cross medal. Hence, human anxieties and trauma are turned to non-human joy and fulfilment. Further, anthropomorphism takes place as Juliana earns a Blue Cross medal. So, the protagonist becomes a friend to animals.

Perhaps then, ‘One,’ is not a ‘bar’ where the Othered drink, but an ‘escapist[s] utopia’, ‘an artificial island’ in our minds and hearts—a bar so personal that it can only be reached by oneself and one’s soul-kin, because unfortunately, one must drink alone. Do Tabios and stammer believe we, humans and non-humans, are in effect dying alone? Tabios’ collaboration with stammer indicates not. Tabios’ oeuvre is impressive and I feel she has written an imaginative, dare I say, conflicted narrative in Getting To One. Her creative persistence to imagine and re-imagine ways show our solitude may be people’d through writing/art and collaboration shows how one can mature as a writer and artist. In storytelling, Tabios has written an aporia prevalent in a writer’s pursuit to be understood; and to consciously (even fictively) express isolation in her characters, to perhaps transcend her own.


Harold Legaspi is an Australian writer born in Manila, Philippines, living in unceded Darug land (Western Sydney, Australia). He holds a Doctor of Arts from University of Sydney. His thesis: "Decolonising Transculturally via José Rizal’s Life and Legacy as Motif," re-remembers and re-imagines the Philippine hero-martyr and reveres plurilingual literatures. Harold’s first book, Letters in Language, was published 2021 in the Flying Islands Pocket Books of Poetry series. Recently published poetry collections Litany, Requiem and Edge of Seas vs Lost Generation can be accessed [here].



Beauty Regimes: A History of Power and Modern Empire in the Philippines, 1898–1941 by Genevieve Alva Clutario

(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2023)


The Empire of Fashion

Roland Barthes once wrote that fashion “is a kind of machine for maintaining meaning without ever fixing it.” Further, that this meaning “is distributed according to a kind of revolutionary grace.”It is this distribution of meaning, always shifting and contingent in the midst of trans-imperial violence, anti- colonial revolution, and war that Genevieve Alva Clutario deftly explores in her deeply researched book, Beauty Regimes. She draws on Barthes’s notion of the fashion system—that is, an understanding of clothing as the production of social meaning and power predicated on networks of labor, goods, and services reliant on infrastructures of transportation, mass media, and commerce. Clutario shows how the ideology and materiality of beauty constitute regimes as well as regimens that were crucial to the formation of U.S. colonial rule and Filipino nationalist responses to it. 

Focusing on the period from the end of Spanish rule to the rise of U.S. hegemony and the beginnings of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines, the author demonstrates how the production of beauty by way of clothing was a means of establishing and policing gendered norms for both U.S. and Filipina women. However, such norms were never settled. They were always in process as fashion became a battleground between imperialist and nationalist notions of what counted as beautiful and therefore civilized. The imbrication of civilization with ideals of beauty brought with it enormous stakes. It shaped both the perceptions and behavior of Americans and Filipinos as they regarded one another across political divides. For the former, it was a way of measuring Filipino abilities for self-government which they found wanting; for the latter, it was a means of judging and often subverting U.S. claims of racial superiority. For example, Clutario relates the stories of U.S. women who accompanied the Taft Commission which traveled all over the archipelago in 1900 to investigate the situation in the country. Along the way, they sought to interview Filipinos, especially those of the wealthier class, about conditions in the country. White women sought to befriend Filipinas but often failed to impress the latter with their simple white clothing. Instead, they found themselves subject to what we might think of as the brown/mestiza gaze and judged as fashionably inept compared to the lavish Parisian fashions that wealthy Filipina women put on display. By exhibiting their sumptuous gowns, jewelry, and other ornaments, wealthy Filipina women accentuated their cosmopolitan difference from Americans, thereby upending the latter’s notions of Filipino backwardness. 

This war of beauty continued during the annual Manila Carnival. Patterned after the American Expositions of the early twentieth century, the Carnival was meant as a counterinsurgent effort that sought to highlight the economic and political progress of colonization amid the backdrop of the Filipino-American war. Begun in 1907 and lasting through the 1930s, the Manila Carnival featured beauty pageants where “queens” were elected to reign over the Carnival’s realm. Newspapers encouraged readers to buy votes for their favorite candidates. The triumphant queens came to be seen as the representatives of the nation. As public figures, they received wide attention for their education and wealth, undermining U.S. stereotypes of Filipinas as ugly, scheming, and unattractive. The beauty pageants thus became an important stage for contesting U.S. imperialist assumptions of Filipino cultural disabilities while forging an imagined community around the spectacular appearance of beauty queens. As in other places (and to this day), women became important icons as well as indices for evoking images of nationalist modernity. In their vivid splendor, they became touchstones for forging an anti-imperialist political aesthetics. 

A crucial part of the fashion system for the production of beauty was native labor. In what is perhaps the most detailed examination of the intersection between the political and symbolic economies of the embroidery industry in the Philippines, Clutario shows how colonial rule relied on the extraction of Filipina labor to make and market embroidered products to supply the growing demand in the U.S. market. Given the shortage of embroidered goods from Europe as a result of World War I and the union organizing among garment workers in the United States, U.S. manufacturers turned to the Philippines as a source of skilled and cheap labor. Sold in major department stores, the undergarments supplied by Filipina workers to American women made for a kind of colonial intimacy among the two groups who never met, and yet whose bodies were brought together through the mediation of commerce and clothes. 

Native workers were recruited from working class and peasant communities whose vulnerability made them available for systematic exploitation. Public schools and women’s prisons became primary sites for the production of embroidered goods, facilitated in 1907 by reorganizing the Bureau of Prisons to become part of the Department of Instruction. Industrial schools along the lines of the Carlisle School emerged to teach “pupil-workers” the basics of embroidery work while women prisoners were organized into factory-like facilities that produced lace and undergarments for export. Officials and teachers used various technologies of discipline and surveillance to govern their conduct and ensure efficiency under the guise of making “good citizens” among students and prisoners. Workers were praised for their skill by advertisers and even exhibited for visiting American tourists. But once the embroidery business lost steam in the later 1920s, they were blamed for their lack of discipline and imagination. Hence they were exploited, then scapegoated, as global conditions demanded. 

By the 1930s, as the Great Depression gripped the world, the Commonwealth government was established in the Philippines in preparation for independence while another possible war loomed on the horizon. Responding to these uncertain times, the fashion system developed the “terno,” the glamourous Philippine gown that became a symbol of national identity among the mestizo elite. A hybrid of Filipino and European styles, the terno projected the image of the modern Filipina, one whose privilege arose from a sense of autonomy from colonial rule as well as their distinction from the rising middle and working classes. The development of the terno coincided with the emergence of “dictatorial modistas,” designers who assumed the power of tastemakers to dictate new styles to reshape elite culture. This reconfiguration of elite culture became more urgent as new forms of the modern woman arose to challenge patriarchal norms: the “flapper” and the “coed.” The former was denounced by critics as the “sinful” aping of Western styles, with dresses that displayed the flesh and sexual desires of young women, while the latter was a source of unease insofar as it threatened to place women in positions of intellectual prominence and driving ambition. The terno was meant to counter these threats, redrawing the line that separated the mestizo female elite from those below. By reinforcing class divisions and gender norms, the fashion system worked to recolonize, as it were, Philippine society even as it broached the promise of a modern nation free from colonial rule. 

Clutario concludes her book with a history of the trade wars that arose between U.S. and Japanese importers of cotton on the eve of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. U.S. manufacturers lobbied the Philippine legislature to set up protections for their cotton, showing how the Japanese-U.S. war was preceded by the trade wars over clothing materials. By the late 1940s, designers and fashion magazines were introducing “designs for evacuation” using khaki as the essential fabric, one that had colonial origins, for anticipating yet another war that would bring about massive social transitions. 

Beauty Regimes is a remarkable book, one that compels us to see U.S. rule and Filipino national history in a new light. By calling attention to the modernizing forces of beauty and fashion, it furnishes us with a way of thinking about the aesthetics and politics of colonialism and anti-colonial resistance and the relations of race, gender, and class they give rise to. 



1. Quoted in Anatole Broyard, “Clothing as Language,” New York Times, July 2, 1983. Diplomatic History, Vol. 00, No. 0 (2023). VThe Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:



Vicente L. Rafael, author of The Sovereign Trickster: Death and Laughter in the Age of Duterte and Professor, University of Washington, Seattle.


Sunday, November 26, 2023




The Maps of Camarines by Maryanne Moll

(Penguin SEA, 2023)



Plot is not the only asset of this novel. Philosophy is also well presented. 


Maryanne Moll’s The Maps of Camarines tells the story and eventual downfall of three powerful and wealthy haciendero clans in a fictional province in the Philippines. That the families’ wealth hides secrets of deceit, greed, and corruption shouldn’t be a surprise—as many sages have noted across the centuries, Power corrupts. In Moll’s debut novel, generations of bad behavior inevitably come to some calamity that harm them as their victims wreak vengeance, but then (depressingly) the cycle just continues. By “continues,” the cycle doesn’t educate the families’ protagonists to behave better because they “chose to favour their warm beds and full stomachs and pleasant conversation over facing the horrors of the past.”


The story is an old one, but refreshed by Moll’s interesting idea of how maps become foretellings, e.g. if a detail on a map disappears, its referenced reality also disappears. 

What elevates this novel is the quality of its writing. It is essayistic and it likely could stand more actual dialogue. But the details are vividly described, thus enhancing the writing’s primary asset: philosophy.


Specifically, I’m a sucker for turning elements of a particular narrative into a generalized observations steeped in wisdom, e.g.

“And that was how, at seven-years-old, at the birth of her very first secret, Assumpta was inducted into the Arguelleses’s long-standing family tenet that secrets were necessary for life and for the world to go on as destined.” (4)


“Choose sadness over pain. Pain makes you ugly, but there can be beauty in sadness.”  (153)

The above statement is followed by another zinger: 

“It was only after her mother had left the bedroom that Esperanza realized that neither of them ever mentioned love.” (153)

The limits of love is a topic that has generated and will continue to generate tomes of musings for as long as humanity exists. Moll explores it with poignancy. Here are some example which are simply delicious:

“… it was Guadalupe who had more wiles, hidden under her apparent piety, and thus had more choices in life open to her, and more power in her hands. / Guadalupe, in her quiet, introspective way, knew this as well. “ (13)


“By virtue of that marriage, Amparo had become a Monsantillo and lived in the Monsantillo house until the very last of her days. / Nothing was known about her happiness.” (41)

Why is the word “happiness” used instead of, say, her “life”? But I like the word choice—it adds a frisson and causes one to pause and wonder.

I was also charmed (perhaps in a perverse way but nonetheless charmed) by the statement

“But in time, as part of its destiny, the once-happy house had been made to witness corruption, and had been thus corrupted against its will.” (25)

Oh, that “house”! It can be replaced, sadly, with too many other words—like “country” or “culture” or, indeed, “family.” The concept can be applied to what afflicts Filipinos, such affliction being part of what the novel addresses—that is, as Filipinos have been forced to witness the acts of despicable politicians, have they (or many among them) been corrupted against their will? Can that effect be seen in how accepted bribes have become a normal part of election campaigns? Or how a majority can deem acceptable assigning the presidency to a member of a dictator's family that had profiteered from the country's assets? Using the novel's characters, the problematic issue is not simply rich, elite families doing what they need to do to hold on to power, but the people accepting they have the right to that power (until, of course, certain sectors of the population rebel). One can go on...


I mentioned the word “poignancy” earlier, and Moll possesses an admirable facility for mining this state. Consider these excerpts:

“‘You need to adjust your dreams to your situation, hija,’ Margarita said gently as she resumed brushing Esperanza’s hair. ‘Shouldn’t it be other way around?’ Esperanza asked plaintively, now looking at her mother through the mirror. ‘Adjust our situation to our dreams?’

‘No,’ Margarita replied firmly. ‘You cannot make your dreams come true unless your entire environment allows it.’”

Here’s another arresting example: 

“She felt a deep sob forming in her chest, which slowly rose into her throat like a giant bubble that felt like it was choking her, and she could not breathe so she inadvertently opened her mouth and grimaced, her face contorting in a pain that wasn’t anywhere in her body but was everywhere in her soul.” (195)

Such fine writing. I hope the writing helps draws attention to and maintains attention to its themes. For while not a feel-good story, it may be—especially for Filipinos—required reading. Oligarchism is one of the world’s great ailments, and the Philippines is not different from other areas of the planet in suffering from it. As The Maps of Camarines bluntly states, “the tradition of these [oligarchical] families who never actually apologize for anything [is to] project their torment on to their houses and their lands.”

However, the oligarchy cannot survive without those propping it up. Life's terrain would improve if, after reading this novel, we redraw the oligarchy's map.


Eileen R. Tabios has released over 70 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In 2023 she released the poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War; an autobiography, The Inventor; and a flash fiction collection collaboration with harry k stammer, Getting To One. Translated into 13 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at



A Village in the Fields by Patty Enrado

(Eastwind Books, Berkeley, 2015)




Return to Terra Bella: A Village in the Fields


Mama asked, "Are you coming to Terra Bella?" 


Terra Bella means "Beautiful Land," but I had failed to see its beauty when I went there thirty-four years ago. Every Labor Day weekend, Mama and her townmates from all over the world gather in California’s Central Valley to recreate the San Esteban fiesta of their youth. Back home in Ilocos Sur, Philippines, St. Stephen’s Day was bigger than Christmas. The carnival, or perya, came to town, and the sounds of squealing children mingled with rondalla music, plays, folk dances, and a pageant. Colorful streamers stretched from the plaza to the churchyard.


When I first visited Terra Bella, I was a new immigrant, having arrived only three months prior. My cousin, brother, and I sat in the back of my uncle’s van and played a silly game. Whoever first heard the sound of a classic VW Beetle called out, "Slug Bug!" and punched the other two.


A blanket of heat greeted us when we arrived. Dust swirled, and I felt my lungs choke with its fine powder. My skin prickled, and a heat rash came on. My skin took the appearance of a freshly plucked chicken. My head throbbed with a pulsating pain.


“Just like San Esteban,” I thought aloud. I recalled that the locals used to call my sisters and me “Rosy Cheeks.”


I spent all my childhood summers in Ilocos with my grandmother, Lola Andang. She used to shake Johnson’s baby powder all over my body to relieve the itch from the heat rash. It took me about two weeks to acclimate to the warmer weather. When I did, I sat under the acacia trees across the Presidencia to cool off, or went to the beach at Pantalan or Apatot. After three months in the lowlands, I was happy to go back to Baguio, amidst the pine trees and the crisp mountain air. The school year ran from June to March, and the cycle resumed. City girl, country girl.


The San Esteban Circle hosted the fiesta, and the program included singing, dancing, speeches, awards, and socialization. My cousins staged a fashion show, and I played a piano piece. The event's highlight was the crowning of Miss San Esteban, awarded to the highest fundraiser. 


In 1988, Mama immigrated and founded the San Esteban Schools Alumni Association. At first, it was met with suspicion, "You are encroaching on our territory,” she heard. 


Never one to back down from a fight, Mama persisted, "I am a native daughter of San Esteban." Eventually, the two organizations worked together to sponsor projects or scholarships. Students who received grants wrote back, thanking them for their assistance in their education.


Apart from the fiesta, my only memory of Terra Bella was the smell of water. At someone's house, someone offered me a glass to drink. It had a vague scent of rotten eggs, like the sulfuric aroma of the hot springs down the village where I grew up. After that first visit, I did not have a great desire to go back to the hundred-degree heat, in the dead of summer. Mama asked year after year, and I kept saying no.


In 2020, I resumed a long-forgotten project, updating our family tree. The Covid pandemic forced me to reflect on the brevity of life. I interviewed relatives in earnest and was surprised at how little I knew of our family’s immigration stories. I learned of the Manongs, farmworkers in California, the Sakadas in Hawai’i, and the Alaskeros who endured dismal conditions in the salmon canneries. I began to pay attention. I began to write again, a childhood dream of mine.


I recalled a picture of the fiesta that Mama posted on Facebook a few years back.


"Mama, who was that author signing books at the Terra Bella Fiesta?"


"Gurka, I'll ask."


I laugh when Mama shortens agurayka. "Ok, I will wait."


A few weeks later, she forwarded an email, "That's Lelang Conching's daughter, Patty Enrado. The book is called A Village in the Fields.”


The main character, Fausto Empleo, intrigued me from page one. In his old age, he lived in the Agbayani Village, which was built for the farm workers, called the Manongs. They had nowhere to go after they retired, for they had lost their family connections, or were kicked out of the camps after the 1965 Delano Grape Strike. 


Fausto's fascination with America started as a young boy in San Esteban. He learned of this promised land from his teacher Miss Arnold, one of the many educators who sailed to the Philippines aboard the USS Thomas. When he arrived, he sought his cousins in Stockton and Los Angeles. Together, they navigated experiences far from their expectations. In America, they were called brown monkeys, they were spat on, beaten, and kicked out. Everywhere, signs made it clear, “Positively no Filipinos allowed,” or “Dogs and Filipinos not allowed.” 


Laws prevented Filipinos from acquiring citizenship, voting, holding office, or marrying white women. Their backs stooped from harvesting asparagus, lettuce, or grapes. What little money they earned, they sent home, sparing a few dollars for entertainment. Some assuaged their homesickness with gambling, and others found solace in the arms of women, either in the brothels or in the taxi dance halls, where a dance cost a dime. 


During World War II, Fausto Empleo and his cousins served in a segregated unit with the US Army. The First Filipino Infantry Regiment fought in New Guinea and in the Philippines. After the war, Fausto and his cousin Benny Edralin returned to the US and settled in Terra Bella, where they bought a home and planted vegetables in their garden. It was a step up from the crowded accommodations at the camp.


The Filipino community in Terra Bella grew. Though largely a bachelor society, a few married and started families. They formed the San Esteban Circle and summoned relatives far and wide for the annual fiesta. In one gathering, the attendees included the Abads, Aysons, Edralins, Ealas, Empleos, Orpillas, and Vergaras. 


I recognized these names from my family tree, and I looked at Fausto with renewed interest.


In 1965, the Manongs joined the strike, with Larry Itliong at the helm. He proposed to Cesar Chavez for the Filipinos and Mexican workers to band together, instead of breaking each other’s strikes. They formed the United Farm Workers, and after many years, they gained contracts and better working conditions.


I began to follow Patty Enrado's work. In a podcast, she and the host reminisced about growing up in Terra Bella. Patty described the book’s journey, taking seventeen years before it saw print. Her persistence paid off, and it was published in 2015, in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike. In one lecture, Patty described the evolution of Filipino American literature in the United States. From that, I discovered more authors of Filipino descent.


I made up my mind and called Mama. She had just turned eighty last year, and she was excited for the fiesta’s resumption after three years of Covid. Two things made Mama happy—anything San Esteban, and her children around her.


Mama, my sister, my brother, and their families filled one vehicle, and I went with a cousin. I did not hear any VW Beetles chugging on the road. The freeway was full of Teslas, including the one I rode in. My nephew sat with me in the back, but he was preoccupied with his phone. Slug Bug was a figment of the past.


The scenery changed after we passed Grapevine. On the way to Terra Bella, we guessed that the trees laden with brown clusters were pistachios. A few signs for Halos helped us identify the citrus plants as California mandarin oranges. Rows upon rows of grapevines alternated with fields of corn, or vast stretches of emptiness dotted with horses or cows. At Bakersfield, oil derricks pumped for oil. The scene was surrealan army of mechanical dinosaurs grazing on a desolate landscape.


We arrived at our destination on Avenue 95. We stepped out, and I was glad that the temperature rose no more than eighty-eight degrees. In Terra Bella, as Patty wrote, “It was so hot that your earwax melted.”


The brick structure was exactly as I remembered it, and as Patty described, “The Veterans Memorial Building was erected after World War II, with a main hall that boasted floor-to-ceiling windows and an elevated stage, a commercial size kitchen, and a banquet room whose walls were lined with photographs of American servicemen. Gamblers set up tables and chairs in the corner of the hall to play rummy and mahjong.”


I felt like stepping into a book and real life at the same time. 


I had asked Patty if she was going to the fiesta, but she had other plans. On her Facebook page, memories of the fiesta popped up, and if no one paid attention to the dates, it seemed that she and I were at the same event, for the pictures were taken in the same hall, and with the same people. San Estebanians have a distinct look. Like my mother and grandmother, many have fair skin, oval faces, prominent cheekbones and high foreheads. They sound the same, speaking Ilocano with a singsong ayog, or accent.


People greeted us, “La, mangankayon,” and led us to the kitchen.


We loaded our plates with dinengdeng, higado, rice, shrimp, and roasted eggplants with fresh cherry tomatoes in bagoong. For dessert, we ate bibingka and biko. I popped freshly picked grapes into my mouth and understood the name, Terra Bella. Only a beautiful earth can produce such sweetness. I was grateful for cold bottled water.


A lady approached me and introduced herself as Manang Nining, and drew a map on a napkin. "This is your Lola’s house, across from Nana Cion's, then the Quebrals. Our house is in the cul-de-sac." 


She cemented our bonds, “The eastern part of town, diyay daya, is owned by the Abad, Ayson, and Benitez families.” My Lola was a Benitez before she married my grandfather, Abdon Eleccion Vergara.


Mama loves to trace relations and knew if someone was our third or fifth cousin, and from what branch. Sometimes, we were related on both sides of her tree. I inherited the love of genealogy from her. Ever the Girl Scout, she had “a place for everything and everything in its place.”


Mama introduced me to the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos, a decree issued in 1849 by Governor General Narciso Claveria. This was done to facilitate taxation for the Spanish colonial government. Also known as the alphabetization decree, it assigned surnames published in the catalog. In the presence of the parish priest and the barangay head, the father from each household chose the family’s last name. Previously, natives named themselves after an attribute, a physical description, an animal, a plant, or a geographical landmark. Only those who proved that they had used a family name for at least four generations were allowed to retain it.


San Esteban was assigned the letter E. Thus, Ea, Eala, Edralin, Empleo, Eleccion, Espejo, Elaydo, Esperanza, and Europa became common last names. In tracing the family tree, Mama showed me how to distinguish San Esteban natives from the dayo, or foreigners such as my father. His hometown in Santa Catalina was assigned the letter R, so my paternal relatives are Ragasas, Refuerzos, Rapacons, Rafanans, Raguntons, and Rabes. My relatives in Tagudin adopted last names starting with the letter L, while my best friend’s family from Narvacan took the letter C.


There were two groups of people at the fiesta – kailians or townmates, and kabagians or relatives. By the end of the evening, Mama traced the lineages and confirmed Manang Nining’s claim, “Basta, agkakabagiantayo amin.” We are all related.


We enjoyed a weekend filled with good food, stories, dances, speeches, and presentations. Pageant candidates danced with their supporters, and they dropped a donation into their fundraising box. My niece made HRH First Princess, happy to do her part for Lola’s hometown. Women paraded a dazzling array of Filipiniana dresses embroidered with intricate designs, while the men sported matching barong tagalogs. 


As we wrapped up, I told my siblings about Patty's book and described how Fausto, in his old age, longed for the pristine white sands of Apatot Beach, and the shade of the giant acacias in the plaza. They smiled in recognition. Though we protested those trips to the province, in hindsight, we agreed with Mama, “San Esteban is a slice of paradise.”


Mama’s hearing has diminished over time, but she perked up and joined our conversation.


"Fausto? Fausto Empleo? Your Lolo’s father is Domingo Empleo Vergara. Fausto is surely our relative."


I opened my mouth, then zipped it. I didn't have the heart to correct her. Who’s to say that Fausto was but a figment of Patty Enrado’s imagination? He could be my cousin’s Lolo, Eustacio Abad, who labored in Terra Bella for many years. Manang Emy told me, “Before Papa came to Canada, he never worked a day in his life. He was spoiled, because Lelong sent dollars from America.”


Fausto Empleo could be another name for Uncle Jim Rafanan. He sheltered newly arrived relatives, professionals who immigrated under the auspices of Hart-Celler, the Immigration Act of 1965. Though his home was simple, it was his crowning achievement, because “Back then, we slept under the trees. We were not allowed to own a home.”


I looked at Mama’s satisfied smile at adding yet another leaf to our family tree. I nodded, "Yes, Mama, Fausto Empleo must be a long-lost Uncle."




Rachielle Ragasa Sheffler is working on a memoir on her family’s immigration, and translating her late father’s Ilocano short stories published in Bannawag in the 1960s to 1970s. She is a member of the International Memoir Writers Association and San Diego Writers, Ink. When not writing, she works as a clinical laboratory scientist in San Diego, CA.