A Pinay gathering: Celebrating Women’s History Month through Fil-Am women writers and their books

by Heather Domingo / AJPress 

To honor Women’s History Month, a Pinay gathering was celebrated at the Philippine Expressions Bookshop in San Pedro, California on Saturday, March 25.

With about 50 guests in attendance, eight different authors participated in the event, sharing their journeys as Filipino-American women and authors, and the value of their books.

Although this bookshop was established in 1984, this event — hosted by owner Linda Nietes-Little —  is part of over three decades of ongoing community outreach programs to promote books written by Filipino and Fil-Am authors in English and Tagalog for all ages.  Philippine Expressions seeks to inspire Americans of Filipino heritage who want to discover their roots.

Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, editor of the anthology “Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles” featuring 40 contributors, spoke of growing up in the Historic Filipinotown neighborhood of Los Angeles, where her strong paternal genes from her Swedish father forced her to stand out in the neighborhood.

Though she says she does not capture the look of a traditional Filipina and was not born in the Philippines, her heart remains close to her mother’s heritage. Bonnivier spoke fondly of her mother who is “not five feet tall or 100 pounds,” but a gentle, sweet, and tender woman. Capturing daily life in the decades of the 1900s, Bonnivier shares the exciting daily adventures in “Little Manila,” as well as the political struggles Fil-Ams had to endure with the swaying government decisions.  The cover of her book displays artist Eliseo Silva’s famous mural depicting Fil-Am history, which can be found in Unidad Park along Beverly Boulevard.

Herminia Menez Coben, author of “Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities: Poetics, Society, and History” and “Explorations in Philippine Folklore,” was the first Filipino graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s Folklore and Folklife department.  With a humble sense of humor, she said that despite her book being published in 1996, she is surprised to know it is still being widely used and is even “published as an eBook now, whatever that means,” she laughed.  Her book is an analysis of indigenous cultures of the northern Luzon region.

Carmen Davino said her book, “Of Love and Virtue,” is a coming-of-age novel set in the Philippines in the 1970s, teaching young adults to learn to rely on one another and achieve love through a deep respect in self and in others.  She hopes it teaches young adults to wisely mesh East and West cultures, but to be also rooted in traditional values of hope and faith.

Davino was a columnist for the Philippine Times and taught at the International School of Manila.  She received her doctorate from the University of Santo Tomas (UST).  When she came to the United States, she attended the California State University of Northridge to continue her passion for teaching, and retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). During her free time, she writes music, plays the piano and spends time with her grandchildren, teaching them music and painting.

Roselyn Estepa Ibanez, the co-author of “Filipinos in Carson and the South Bay,” said her book highlights local heroes such as Helen Agcaoili Summers Brown (who founded the Filipino American Library in 1985) and Bobby Balcena of San Pedro (the first Filipino to play in Major League Baseball in 1956).

Ibanez is also a public servant, working with the LA City Housing Council to focus on combating the issue of homelessness.  A proud Carson resident, she explained to the audience that the city is politically active and calls for more Fil-Ams to be more engaged.

“Our history needs to be told and our stories need to be written,” she stressed.

“Magdalena,” a novel by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, reveals the journey of three generations of women during the Philippine-American War, World War II, and Vietnam War.  “Magdalena” was picked up by UST in a Tagalog edition as well.  She is now the author and writer of 20 different books.

Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, author of “Forty Years Writing in America,” has lived in the U.S. for 54 years.  A graduate of the University of the Philippines, she also became the first female reporter for the Philippine Times.  Here in the States, she was also a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and the managing editor of the university’s scholarly journal, Sociology and Social Research.

Leslie V. Ryan, author of “I am Flippish,” was inspired to write a children’s book when she overheard another mom tell her son that he wasn’t Irish.  Because her son did not look traditionally Filipino, she wanted her son to understand why he is the way he is and where he “comes from.”

Ryan noticed that there were only a few books written for children explaining multiculturalism.   She proudly exclaimed, “We are all made up of the best parts of our parents.”

She wants her son — and all children — to know that they can equally express gratitude in the varying cultures their parents come from. She says her book hopes to teach tolerance, love, kindness, and acceptance.

Lastly, Lucy Urgello Miller, who was born and raised in Cebu, shared her book, “Glimpses of Old Cebu.”

A postcard collector, her passion started when she saw a postcard of a carabao pulling a native sled, a technique she said her grandparents used to talk about. Although she heard the stories of how they lived, these postcards made those stories alive, giving her a “window to my grandparents’ world.” One day, she put up her postcards in Ayala Mall and now proudly owns the biggest postcard collection from Cebu in the world.

After each author spoke, a group discussion emerged with the audience. With an intimate setting, guests were able to network amongst themselves.

“It’s great to see these women come together to speak of their passions and remind us of the strong Pinays we have. I am thinking about doing my own writing and this has helped me a lot,” said Shalimar Verador, one of the guests.

Dr. Ronald Buenaventura, one of the few male audience members, shared his story of how he encourages young women to partake in their culture. He said that during his time off he trains young women to do Garimot Arnis Training, a type of Filipino martial arts. He does this to “give the kids a sense of family outside their normal school groups, so they understand what it’s truly like to themselves with other Filipinos.”

While the Pinay gathering celebrated these successful women writers, it also called for young Fil-Ams to keep the fire burning in their hearts and represent who they are in a bright and honest way.

The authors and audience members developed a close bond stressing the value of living a humble and honorable way of life through giving back to the community – to the people who brought us to where we are now.

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