Saturday, April 27, 2024


The Halo-Halo Review is pleased to interview authors in the aftermath of their books' releases. This issue's featured authors include Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio.

What is your most recent book?


As the founder of Filipino Talks, I work as a school board consultant specializing in the Filipino community. I've surveyed over 1200 students in Canada and created programs for Filipino youth, their parents, and their school staff in order to build bridges. Doing this work is so rewarding, but in school after school, the main problem that I saw was Filipino families struggling with the impacts of reunification after years apart. 


This inspired me to write my debut novel, Reuniting with Strangers. It's a collection of linked short stories about Filipino-Canadian families and their experiences with reunification, and it talks about the cultural legacy of grandparents left behind in the Philippines, transnational custody battles between siblings, anti-Black racism, non-binary youth, and so much more. My main goal was to build empathy in our diaspora and beyond.

The stories are all connected by the journey of a young, non-verbal caregiver’s son during his first Canadian winter. And they're written in a variety of everyday formats, like a self-help guide, an instruction manual, a kundiman songbook, and a series of resumes. I loved playing with the ways I could tell these stories to ensure that they had a mix of humour and heart.



Who published and when was it released?


It was published by Douglas & McIntyre in Canada in September 2023, and it was released in the US on April 16, 2024. I’m so excited to be able to bring Filipino-Canadian stories across borders!



What has been the response/what has surprised you most about the response?


I’m so grateful that this book has been embraced by so many people. It was a finalist for the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Authors Award, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) featured it on their Best Books in Canada list, and it was longlisted for Canada Reads 2024, which is a competition broadcast on Canadian TV to celebrate the literary community's impact on society.


And although I live in Toronto, I really wanted to show how much family reunification has impacted our community beyond this city.


I had international audiences in mind when I decided on the settings of the stories. I know that many people think of Canada as a barren land of snow and ice, but they don't realize how geographically diverse we are. The stories go from the Toronto suburbs to the desert of Osoyoos, the Arctic world of Iqaluit, Sarnia's Chemical Valley, Montréal’s Côte-des-Neiges, North York's Little Manila, and more. 


This has meant that since the book has come out, I've been receiving so many messages from readers in these places, and also far-away towns that I haven't even heard of before. I'm thrilled that it's resonating with people across the Filipino diaspora-- that's all I ever wanted!



Tell me something not obvious or known about the book.


In the Philippines, the main character, young Monolith, is taken care of by his Tita Sora. My intention was to name her after Tandang Sora, who was considered to be the Mother of the Philippine Revolution. 


This is because I wanted to send the subliminal message that in this book, Monolith is the revolution. Although he's only five years old and he's non-verbal, he's able to help people see things in a different light by appearing at moments of change.



What are you working on right now?


I’ve just returned from the Philippines, where I was researching my next novel. I’m planning on intertwining timelines featuring two Filipina coming-of-age stories: one in 1960s Manila and one in 2010s Toronto. 


Since many of us in the diaspora grew up with our grandparents in the Philippines, we didn’t have the luxury of forming a close relationship with them, hearing their stories, or asking them for advice. 


So as I craft my manuscript, I have one central question: “At a time in your life when you needed it most, what if you had the guidance of a grandparent figure— and what if they were the same age as you?” 





Jennilee Austria is a Filipina-Canadian author, community researcher, public speaker, and founder of Filipino Talks—a  program that builds bridges between educators and Filipino newcomer students. Her work with newcomers inspired her debut novel, Reuniting with Strangers (Douglas & McIntyre), which was longlisted for Canada Reads 2024, named one of CBC's Best Books of 2023, and was a finalist for the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award. Her stories have been published in Geist, Magdaragat: An Anthology of Filipino-Canadian Writing (Cormorant Books), Changing the Face of Canadian Literature (Guernica Editions), TAYO Literary Magazine, and more. She is a founding member of Salaysay, a collective of local Filipino authors in Toronto.


More information on her writing, community building, and public speaking can be found at



No comments:

Post a Comment