In mid-September, Grace Talusan, Fulbright Scholar, English professor at Tufts University in Boston, and winner of the 2017 New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction by Restless Books, contacted me to let me know that the Boston Filipino-American Club (BFAB) was going to be reading my novel, A Village in the Fields, for the month of October. Grace, whose memoir, The Body Papers, will be published in the Fall of 2018, asked if I would be willing to Skype with the members at their October 29th meeting following their traditional brunch. Absolutely, I let her and book club founder and artist Bren Bataclan know.
Ethnic studies may be effective because it is an unusually intensive and at-scale social-psychological intervention.
– Thomas S. Dee, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, director at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, and co-author of the report The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper
The University of California at Davis is my alma mater, and while I was an English major, I was one class shy of having a minor in Asian American Studies. So I was very excited to have the opportunity to do a talk for Professor Robyn Magalit Rodriguez’s Asian American Studies class 150: the Filipino American Experience this past Thursday, April 27th.
Professor Rodriguez showed Marissa Aroy’s documentary, The Delano Manongs: the Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement. Then I read an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields. Afterwards, we did a Q&A session, which included my talking about the importance of Asian American Studies in my life – personally and with my writing. Professor Rodriguez and I both stressed the importance of recording the stories of our families, and emphasizing the value to our parents and grandparents of their stories. They need validation of the importance of their stories.
I had the opportunity to talk with a number of students after the class. I am uplifted every time I spent time with college students, especially those in Asian American Studies. I was energized by their passion and commitment to AAS and the history of Filipino Americans.
On Wednesday, March 29th, I was the guest speaker at a lunchtime event sponsored by the Latino Staff Association/Asian Pacific Islander Association affinity groups at the University of California, Office of the President (UCOP). The event, entitled, “When Mexicans and Filipinos Join Together: The Farmworker Movement and Unity in the Making,” was in celebration of Cesar Chavez Day. After reading an excerpt from my novel, A Village in the Fields, I sat down with Belinda Vea, Policy and Program Analyst in Student Affairs for UCOP who did her graduate work on Filipino literature, in an “in conversation” question-and-answer session. Belinda is also co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Association.
Among other topics, Belinda asked me about the research process and my family’s story within the novel. The floor was opened up to questions from the audience, which numbered between 45 and 50, which was really nice to see. It was gratifying not only to respond to such thoughtful questions, but to see the interest in people’s faces. In addition to UCOP employees, the event was also advertised to employees from Kaiser Permanente, whose building was across the street in downtown Oakland.
I’m posting photos taken of the event, with gratitude to the photographers, Juliann Martinez, Employee Relations Specialist and chair of the Latino Staff Association, who kindly extended the invitation to speak, Alina Tejera, Pamela Palpallatoc, and Ben Tsai, co-chair with Belinda of the APIA.
The origin of the name remains unknown, though there are legends that describe the derivation of the city’s name. The most popular legend explains that the daughter of a Native American chief from Moxie ran away breaking tribal rules and settled on the Yakima River. In this legend the name Yakima means “runaway.” Another derivation of the name is what the Native Americans used to refer to Yakima as, “Beginning of Life, Big Belly, and Bountiful.”
– Yakima Valley Museum
The last leg of my Seattle book tour, along with Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy, was in Yakima Valley. Our tour was sponsored by numerous generous organizations, including Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (KWEKA), Alaskero Foundation, El Centro de la Raza, the Meaningful Movies Project, Filipino American Students Association (FASA) of the University of Washington, 4 Culture, Office of Arts & Culture (Seattle), Filipino American Community of Greater Yakima Valley, Imperial Gardens, Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Chapter 26, and the FANHS National Office.
Maria Batayola served as our wonderful host for our book tour. She showed me a side of Seattle I had never seen (see my two previous news posts “Seattle book tour in review: Parts 1 and 2”), and for that, I am deeply grateful. On Saturday morning, October 22nd, my good friend John, who, along with his partner Kris, had welcomed me into their home for my stay in Seattle, dropped me off in Factoria, Wash., where I met up with Maria and Marissa, and away we drove to eastern Washington.
I’ve visited Seattle a number of times, but I’ve never been to the eastern part of the state. I had read David Guterson’s 1999 novel, East of the Mountains, and understood that where Seattle was lush, the eastern part of the state was arid. However, I was also told that the region would remind me of California’s Central Valley because it was rural farming land dotted with small communities.
The drive took some two and a half hours. Along the way, we saw some amazing landscape – clear streams meandering through different varieties of trees in spectacular gold, orange, and red. Bodies of water were low enough to reveal stumps of trees. And then we entered vast farmlands and signs for Honeycrisp apples. While Yakima Valley is the bread basket for numerous fruits and vegetables, the region is well known for its apples. Eastern Washington is home to more than 175,000 acres of apple orchards, with Yakima Valley being the largest apple-producing region in the state.
We stopped for lunch at this charming and popular restaurant called The Yellow Church Cafe (111 S. Pearl Street, Ellensburg, Wash. 98926, 509.933.2233), which, as you can guess, is a converted church. The food is heavenly, no pun intended. Whenever a BLT appears on the menu, that’s what I order. What was special about this BLT is that it made with their special bread, which tastes like a fluffy asiago cheese bagel, and instead of the tired mayonnaise, it had an aioli sauce. The chai latte was not overly sweet. The place was hopping. Afterwards, we wandered over to a brightly decorated house a few blocks down inhabited by happy artists. Ellensburg proved to be a quaint and beautiful town.
When we arrived in the town of Wapato, we were first met by Kuya Ray Pasqua, president of the Filipino American Community of Yakima Valley (FACYV). Kuya Ray is a leader in the community, but he also worked with Filipino American labor leader Larry Itliong during the years of the Delano Grape Strike and the United Farm Workers Union. It was an honor to meet him and to hear his stories of those difficult but very important times. FACYV’s Filipino Hall in Wapato, Wash., is the first Filipino Hall built in the United States. FACYV was preparing for its 60th anniversary the following evening, which is a big event that was anticipated to feed some 600 members of the community. It was too bad that Marissa and I would be leaving for home the following morning.
The Saturday evening event comprised a short reading from my novel, the screening of Marissa’s documentary, Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement, and a panel discussion with Kuya Ray, Marissa, Maria and me, moderated by local reporter Ryan Yadao. Although attendance was light, the community members who showed up were very engaged in the subject and some had been involved in the farm labor movement, which was great to learn about and to meet them after the event. I can’t say it enough: It was an honor for me to hear of their sacrifices in the fields and across the country in the name of social justice for farm workers.
After the Q&A and book and DVD signing, we were invited to the home of FACYV members Fred Fontanilla, who is a retired chemist, and Bob Plummer, retired professor at Heritage University, for a wonderful dinner, which included great conversation among the 12 of us. And then FANHS Chapter 26 members Dori Peralta Baker and her husband Geoff Baker hosted us for the night. In the morning, we were treated to gorgeous views of Yakima Valley. Dori related the activity of casually counting the bald eagles and salmon in the streams, and how the hills are covered in snow in the wintertime. Dori had put together a display of local Filipino Americans who served in the Vietnam War. She told us the sobering news that Yakima Valley bearing the burden of being the region in the country with the most soldiers of color who fought in the Vietnam War. I should not be surprised, but I was still shocked by the fact that the high school counselors advised the Native American, Filipino American, and Mexican American boys to join the armed forces and serve in Vietnam War because they were not college material. I’m sure this practice was rampant across high schools in America at the time and to this day, but to have your home region bear that awful distinction is heartbreaking.
We left Yakima Valley early Sunday morning to return home. I learned so much while on this book tour and I met so many wonderful, giving people. And I saw another beautiful part of Washington State. I hope to return to Seattle and Yakima Valley in the near future – to this wonderful community that I now claim as part of my Filipino American home.
Seattle, the mild green queen: wet and willing, cedar-scented, and crowned with slough grass, her toadstool scepter tilted toward Asia, her face turned ever upward in the rain…
– Tom Robbins, American author, from Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life
Back in early spring, Alan Lau, Arts Editor for the International Examiner, “Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander newspaper for over 42 years,” contacted Eastwind Books of Berkeley to let my publisher know that my novel had just been reviewed. He asked if I had any book readings in Seattle, as he would publish the review in tandem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any readings scheduled, although I had reached out to local bookstores when my book was published in September 2015.
Alan proved to be a big-hearted champion and a model of persistence – in response, he put me in touch with local Filipino American groups to coordinate and sponsor a few events. Maria Batayola, who is a well-known leader in numerous organizations in the Seattle and greater Seattle area – including Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) – emerged as our main contact person and champion of the arts.
Working with a number of organizations, Maria helped to coordinate what evolved into the themed “tour” of the Delano manongs and the Delano grape strike of 1965, which comprised screening Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Marissa Aroy’s 2014 documentary Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers Movement, which was nominated for a Northern California Emmy, and a reading of my novel. Obviously, Marissa’s documentary and my historical novel complement one another. Thus, began our tour.
New favorite Seattle bookstore
Third Place Books, Seward Park (5041 Wilson Avenue South, Seattle) opened up the first event of our tour on Thursday evening, October 20th. Before the reading, Maria hosted dinner for us at Raconteur. The building formerly housed a local co-op grocery store. Third Place Books, which has three locations (6504 20th Avenue NE, 101 S. Main Street, and 17171 Bothell Way NE) opened a fourth location in Seward Park and partnered with Raconteur, which comprises a restaurant and espresso bar on the main floor and a full bar downstairs. The property also boasts outdoor seating. It was a lively scene at both the bookstore and restaurant for a Thursday evening, with families with young children and friends meeting after work for dinner and book lovers.
A little bit more about Third Place Books. It is the “deliberate and intentional creation of a community around books and the ideas inside of them.” The bookstore got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenberg, who suggested that “each of us needs three places: first is the home, second is the workplace or school; and beyond lies the place where people from all walks of life interact, experiencing and celebrating their commonality as well as their diversity. It is a third place. In his celebrated book, The Great Good Place, Oldenberg discusses how the cafes, pubs, town squares, and other gathering places make a community stronger and bring people together.” I want to give a shout out to the folks at Third Place Books: Wendy Ceballos, Director of Events and Marketing, Kalani Kapahua, Events Coordinator, and our evening host Michelle provided us with a lovely experience, from their interest in my book with the initial inquiry to the enthusiasm and warmth given to us that Thursday evening.
Marissa and I were honored to be joined by local poet and playwright Robert (Bob) Francis Flor, who recently published chapbook of poems, Alaskero Memories, chronicling his coming of age during the 1960s summers he worked in the Alaska canneries. Devin Israel Cabanilla, who had conducted a session on geneology at the FANHS National Conference in New York City this past June and is an active member of the FANHS Greater Seattle chapter, served as our master of ceremonies.
I read a scene in which my main character, Fausto Empleo, meets other pinoy immigrants on the ship that was bound for Seattle. I let the small but appreciative crowd know that my father had landed in Seattle in 1926 and spent some time working in a lumber mill in Cosmopolis, Wash., located about 110 miles southwest of Seattle. Marissa shared the beginning of her documentary after my reading, and Bob followed her screening with reading a handful of his poems. Afterwards, Devin kicked off the Q&A session with his own questions and then opened it up to the audience. When someone asked what our current projects are, I was excited to hear that Marissa is working on a documentary on the Philippine-American War, which is also the subject of my novel-in-progress. I’m looking forward to sharing sources with Marissa.
One of my best friends from high school and one of my careful readers of A Village in the Fields (from draft to near-finished product – covering some 16 years off and on), Kathy Brackett, and her husband, Peter Verschoor, made it to my reading, so we had a mini – albeit short – reunion. And my hosts and dear friends, John Buettner – groomsman at David’s and my wedding 18 years ago and godfather to our son, Jacob, and Kris Kingsley, supported me, as well, by their attendance. I enjoyed meeting people at the book signing. I met writer Donna Miscolta, who heritage is Filipino and Latino. She is the author of a new collection of short stories, Hola and Goodbye, which will be released November 1st. Her name and her face were familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her until I discovered that she is an alum of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. A father wearing a UC Davis shirt let me know that his daughter had attended Davis on a rowing scholarship. In UW Husky territory, I was excited to see an Aggie shirt.
Most touching was meeting Devin’s eight-year-old daughter, Vita, who asked me to autograph her book – her first signed book and her first encounter with an author! She asked me what my book was about, and I stumbled a bit because I was trying to shape it in a way that she would appreciate and understand. I believe I said that it was about a farm worker who came from the Philippines to America with high hopes; while he had a difficult life that he was at first unprepared for, he lived a good life in the end. I wish I had added that he found family and community, which gave him hope when there was no hope, and how we should all be there for our family and community. Next time! Vita informed me that she and her dad were going to read my book and learn new words. I thought about the scenes that weren’t appropriate! Luckily, the following day, I bumped into Devin and he assured me he would censor inappropriate-for-children scenes! I hadn’t given a bookstore reading in about a year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Happily, I was pleasantly surprised, seeing old friends and meeting new ones in what turned out to be a great, invigorating evening.
(To be continued….)
The FANHS Museum tells the rich, diverse story of Filipino Americans throughout the United States. Filipino Americans have been making American history since a group of Luzones Indios landed in what is now Morro Bay, California, on a Spanish Galleon in October 1587. The story of Filipinos in the Americas begins with them.
– FANHS National Museum brochure
On October 8, 2016, the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) opened the doors of its National Museum in Stockton, Calif. (337 E. Weber Avenue, 209.932.9037). The Stockton chapter of FANHS was instrumental in realizing this dream, which has taken some 20 years to come to fruition. More than 400 people came on opening day. I was among the hungry and excited.
Stockton was chosen as the museum site because many Filipinos came to this farming town to work, and at one time the city boasted the most Filipinos outside of the Philippines. Stockton was the natural choice. One of the prominent exhibits included Filipino American farm workers.
I congratulated Anita Bautista and Letty Perez, two visionary and hardworking Filipinas who are long-time members of the Stockton chapter. I also finally met in person Peter Jamaro, author of Growing Up Brown and Vanishing Filipino Americans.
The museum features “Singgalot: The Ties that Bind, Filipinos in America, from Colonial Subjects to Citizens,” which was a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution. Eighteen of the 30 panels were on display at the FANHS National Museum. Other exhibits included Filipino American farm workers. Below are my photos from my first (of many to come) visits to the museum.
And just for fun, a souvenir license plate holder that I didn’t get:
On a more serious note, this museum is important and must be sustained. It’s a part of U.S. history, so everyone should visit and learn about the Filipino American story. For Filipino Americans, a trek to the FANHS National Museum in Stockton is an important pilgrimage to make.