Filipino American author Jason Tanamor will discuss his new #ownvoices novel, “Vampires of Portlandia,” with fellow Filipino author, Grace Talusan, in a Zoom In-Conversation on Thursday, January 7, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. PDT. The event is free and will be sponsored by Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland, Oregon.
“Vampires of Portlandia” is about a family of aswangs (shape shifters) that immigrates to Portland, Oregon from the Philippines. Based on Filipino folklore, Tanamor’s work pays homage to his family’s Filipino roots.
Aswang matriarch Marcella Leones’ only wish is to give her grandchildren a peaceful life, far away from the hunters and the Filipino government that attempted to exterminate them. This marks the first story — out of six previous — from Tanamor that deals with Filipino characters.
“For the longest time I wrote white characters,” said Tanamor. “As a young reader, I didn’t see any characters that looked like me. It wasn’t that I’d set out to write white characters; rather I didn’t realize that subconsciously I had assimilated.”
Now, however, Tanamor says it’s important to have Filipino representation in stories. “I don’t speak with an accent and I barely speak Tagalog,” he said. “So, for most of my life, I looked at the world as a ‘white’ person. With ‘Vampires of Portlandia’ I wanted to introduce brown-skinned characters and an underrepresented subject to the mainstream.”
The novel tackles a debatable topic — the aswang, one that some natives believe and others don’t. “I honestly didn’t know anything about aswangs,” said Tanamor. “It wasn’t until I saw it used in an American television show (‘Grimm’) that I called my father and inquired. He said it was a story that his grandparents told him as a child to scare him. After that, I’d decided to look into it.”
With the publishing industry lacking characters of color, Tanamor decided to bring Filipinos into the spotlight by making them protagonists in his stories. That way, other people of color can identify as well.
“It was a struggle for me to accept my culture,” said Tanamor. “Like many American born Asian Americans, I wanted to assimilate as a child. I wanted to fit in. Writing this story was not only rewarding but therapeutic.”
The In-Conversation will discuss the book and the lack of representation in publishing, specifically Filipino characters.
“Vampires of Portlandia” was released on September 29, 2020 by Parliament House Press. It’s currently available in print and digital formats and has been featured in Esquire Philippines and Yahoo!.
Register here for the free online In-Conversation.