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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 201-203

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Book Review

Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America

Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America. Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, 1997. 254 pages, paper $22.95.

A couple of years ago, I asked a colleague of mine who was preparing a comprehensive anthology of world literature which Filipino writers he was going to include. He wasn't aware of any, he replied, adding that they probably hadn't been translated yet.

I explained that many of the best Filipino writers in the Philippines wrote in English, a legacy of American colonialism from 1898 to 1946. With great enthusiasm and some hope, I mentioned a half dozen that he might want to consider, including N. V. M. Gonzalez, Linda Ty-Casper, and F. Sionil José. I wasn't surprised, however, when the anthology appeared without a one.

In the United States, the Philippines has always been esteemed for its strategic importance while Filipino culture has been almost invisible. The truth is that the Philippines has a rich literary heritage, extending from the archipelago to the various other countries in which Filipinos have settled, including former colonial masters Spain and the United States. The writers who have made a name for themselves in the States--Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos, Linda Ty-Casper, Ninotchka Rosca, perhaps Nick Carbo, and certainly Jessica Hagedorn--are few, though their writing is powerful and consistently good. Hagedorn is the most honored: her nomination for the National Book Award for Dogeaters brought some attention to lesser-known Filipino writers toiling in the vineyards of the literary lord, such as Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. The University of Washington Press has loyally kept Santos and Bulosan in print, as well as brought Gonzalez to the attention of the American public--about as much as a small university house can do for these writers.

The anthologies of Filipino and Filipino American writing published in the States have also appeared infrequently. In 1966, Leonard Casper, a prominent critic and the husband of Linda Ty-Casper, compiled an extraordinary collection called New Writing from the Philippines. A few Filipino American pieces were included in the seminal 1974 Asian American anthology Aiieee! though the vastly different experiences of Filipinos in the States, and a wholly different literary tradition, resulted in two separate introductions to the book: one for Chinese and Japanese Americans; the other for Filipino Americans.

In 1992, Luis Francia edited the marvelous Brown River, White Ocean, which [End Page 201] thrived despite the publisher's barely useable design. Francia's next contribution was 1996's Flippin': Filipinos on America, which he and Eric Gamalinda edited for the Asian American Writers' Workshop, based in New York. A writer's book, composed half of poetry and half of prose, it is filled with the sheer pleasure of literary achievement and remains the best Filipino American anthology available today.

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's 1993 anthology, Fiction by Filipinos in America, was a low-budget collection published by New Day Publishers in Quezon City, Philippines. For it she collected a good cross-section of Filipino writers, from the little known to the more accomplished, producing a good introduction to Filipino writing in America. Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, also published in the Philippines, covers some of the same ground: seven of the twenty-five contributors were included in the earlier collection, though it is comforting to see Gonzalez and Ty-Casper again.

Since the late nineteenth century, the Philippines has been wracked by political difficulties: its revolt against Spain in 1898, American domination, a Japanese invasion, and the Marcos plutocracy. Yet except for the hints of this situation in Gonzalez's story "Confessions of a Dawn Person," and the migrant background in Alma Jill Dizon's promising "Bride," the stories in Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America focus little, if at all, on the history of the Filipino experience in the Philippines. This is a favorite theme of at least one u.s.-resident writer who is not included here, Ninotchka Rosca, who weaves that history into the fabric of...


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