Monday, June 25, 2007


The chapel of St. John the Baptist in the Parian District in Cebu City, is small and unimpressive, and so people may disregard it as another community chapel, one of many in the Philippines. What most people do not know is that this chapel sits on land that had belonged to the Jesuits in the 1700s, and in those days a huge church had stood there. It had been a very wealthy church, funded by the wealthy Chinese Filipino merchants who lived in Cebu's Parian District. As it turned out, the Jesuits were driven out of the Philippines, and the Church fell in the hands of the Diocese of Cebu. The church was torn down. Bit by bit the land was taken over the city and by squatters so that now, the land the chapel rests on has been considerably diminished. Unbeknown to many is that in that small chapel there is a cross that dates back to the Jesuit days of the 1700s. It's stands behind the altar.

Yesterday, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, people overflowed outside the chapel of St. John. After Mass, there was a procession. The three Santos images are centenery statues of Christ, St. John the Baptist and a charming dreamy angel that makes me think of a Mexican lass. This year, the confradia of St. John the Baptist, headed by Louie Nacorda, added banners with images depicting various points of St. John's life. There were a number of little girls dressed as angels who were supposed to accompany the banner-carriers, but for some reason, they ended in the back of a van, without any lights nor decoration - the poor girls went unnoticed.

The procession starts from the Chapel, curves around the Heritage Monument, past Val Sandiego's antique house that is all dolled-up, and then it turns right on Lopez Jaena toward the Casa Gorordo. In front of the house, the silver carrosa carrying the images stop, and the members of the Confradia sing some songs. At the same time, some people from the second story of the Casa Gorordo throw calachuchi petals down on the statues. Apparently, in the 1850s, it had been the custom for the procession in front of Bishop Gorordo's house - the Casa Gorordo.

The procession continues, winding its way through the Parian district, and then it returns to the chapel, and the images and silver carrosa are returned to the Casa Gorordo.

Meantime, outside the chapel, there are food vendors selling briskly to the locals; and further down Lopez Jaena, the Confradia hosts a dinner and performance to members and guests. The delightful folk singing and dancing are all courtesy of Val Sandiego's Dance Troupe.

It's a lovely revival of an old tradition, one that Pepit Revilles and Louie Nacorda have resuscitated. They say every year more people show up, and spotted last night were Chinggay Utzurrum, Gavin Bagares, Erma Cuizon, Linda Alburo, Beth Reyes, and some 95 other people.

Thank you Pepit and Louie for this charming tradition!
Photo shows antique Santos statues of St. John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and an Angel
Bottom photo shows Val San Diego's Dance Troupe

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Today, June 24 is the feast day of St. John the Baptist, who happens to be the patron saint of the old section of Cebu City, the Parian District. For the past 9 days, a novena has been said at the Parian Chapel next to the Heritage Center. For the past 3 nights, other devotees to St. John the Baptist, have also been praying at the Casa Gorordo. Louie Nacorda heads the group of 13 devotees to St. John the Baptist. They meet a couple of times a year and are committed to saying prayers to St. John on Thursdays.

The triduum prayers this past 3 nights were held on the lovely verandah of Casa Gorordo, which boasts of tiled floor, wood awning with creeping vines, pleasant breezes, and magnificent view of the garden.

I happen to love Casa Gorordo and have used this as the setting for several of my stories. Built around 1850, the house has airy rooms, tiled roof, and has numerous features unique to the architecture of the area. It is a favorite tourist spot in Cebu City. When I am in the Casa Gorordo, I am back in Old Cebu. In fact, the Parian district, wherein Casa Gorordo lays, brings me way back, to the 1700s when three story mansions owned by wealthy Chinese merchants lived here, and when boats carrying merchant goods sailed up and down the criss-crossing canals.

The Parian district, which is near the famous Santo Nino Basilica, Cathedral, Fort San Pedro, and the Cebu Malacanan Palace, is gentrifying. The area had been the ritziest in Cebu from the 16th century until World War II destroyed many mansions and the old families moved out to more popular subdivisions. Perhaps this has been a blessing-in-disguise, because the resulting stagnation prevented massive demolitions for modern buildings. True, many houses are run down, but the basic features are there, and the roads and bridges are still there.

The Aboitiz Family acquired Casa Gorordo in the 1980s and turned this into a museum. Eventually, they also bought and built the Aboitiz Study Center across the Casa Gorordo. Other develpments in Old Cebu followed: A Heritage Center was built next to the Parian Chapel; the Cathedral convent was restored and recently the Cathedral Museum opened. Val Sandiego also acquired the landmark antique house across the Parian chapel and has been busy restoring it. President Gloria Macapagal built a Cebu Malacanan on the old Post Office next to the sea. The Santo Nino Basilica has undergone restoration and expansion, and is filled with worshippers every day. Historical identifying important landmarks in the area were put up.

There was talk of having an outdoor market next to the Heritage Center, but this idea died. It would be good for Cebu's local government to reconsider this idea because it would stimulate tourism as well as help with Cebu's economy. Close off traffic, have little stalls selling food and souvenir items, and more tourists will come. As it is tourists do visit the area because when you are in Cebu, you must see Magellan's Cross, the Santo Nino, Fort San Pedro, the Cathedral, Casa Gorordo, etc. Cebu's claim to historical fame is that it is where the Spaniards first settled, and that the Portuguese navigator (who sailed for Spain), Ferdinand Magellan, was killed in nearby Mactan.

Indeed the Old Section of Cebu is filled with history - the 1700s Jesuit seminary is still there, although this is now a warehouse. The old bridges that went over the canals, albeit, the canals are dirty.

When I walk around the Old Cebu, I see the great potential in the place. If only the city government would post more police to increase security; if only the city cleaned up canals and roads, if only the city helped people like Val Sandiego and other history lovers who would like to bring to life Old Cebu once again, but who need assistance. I even have a little dream: If only the Aboitiz family would do some development in the area, which might encourage others to do the same.

It can be done. The City of Vigan, Northern Philippines, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for instance restored many of its Spanish colonial houses. In Vigan, the city officials concentrated on developing one street as a showcase area. The surrounding areas went along with the gentrification. Vigan is a favorite tourist spot for international visitors to see Spanish-colonial Philippines.

If only the government of Cebu and the Cebuanos themselves ... if only they could see the great potentional in the Old Section of Cebu City!

Photo Above shows mural of Old Colon Street in Val San Diego's Historic house;
Photo in Middle shows painting of Old Colon Street in my Cebu apartment, with artist of both mural and painting, Chris Almaden

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I was surprised to find new changes in LAX, International airport. Just last January, when you arrived the International Airport, LAX, you had to drag your suitcases to the X-ray line; you had to wait for clearance from the TSA checkers, and then, you had to point out which were your bags, and TSA personnel carted your suitcases to the airline checkin counter; you walked along with him.

Now you proceed to the Airline checkin counter, then airline personnel places the tags on your bags, then you bring your bags to the X-ray section.

It's a lot quicker this way. Last January, we needed 3 hours to get processed; but during this recent trip, I was processed in around 40 minutes.

Here's a tip - don't bring bottled water, but bring an empty bottle so you can refill it in the airport. I paid $2.80 for the smallest bottle of water in LAX, and the Korean checkers took that away from me during my stopover.

Arriving in Cebu is much, much easier than arriving in Manila - it's not crowded at all, and people are friendlier.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

FATHER'S DAY - Mariano Flores Manguerra

Today is Father's Day and I'm remembering my own father, Mariano Flores Manguerra, born March 8, 1894, and died October 29, 1957. He was born in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, son of Pablo Manguerra and Maria Espina Flores. Papa's full-blood siblings were: Pablo Jr., Concepcion, Estefania, and Pura. His father, Pablo, had other children. Papa's mother (Maria Espina Flores) had a brother named Jose Flores, who had a daughter named Mariquita Flores (first cousin of Papa, then). Mariquita married Justice Villamor and they were the parents of the Philippine hero-pilot Jesus Villamor. Papa was a civil engineer. He attended Valparaiso University in Indiana, and when he returned to the Philippines became a professor of Engineering at the University of the Philippines. Papa had a first wife, Catalina Abad Santos, who died; they had no children. 

 Papa's second marriage was to Mama (Concepcion Alesna Cuenco). They had 4 children: Maria Victoria, Mariano Jesus, Ana Maria Teresita, and me (Cecilia Catalina). 

Aside from attending Engineering school in Indiana, he worked there. He also worked in South East Asian countries. During World War II, he was in the guerrilla movement in Mindanao. He brought his wife and 2 children with him to live in places like Malaybalay, in Mindanao. His third child was born in Mindanao; a fourth child (a boy) miscarried during the war. I was born after the war. Aside from being a Professor of Engineering, he worked as a District Engineer in Talisay, Cebu, and later became an independent Contractor building highways in Cebu and in Dumaguete. He had also built buildings in Jaro, Iloilo and Baker's Hall in Los Banos, Manila. The highways and buildings are still there. 

 Papa died of a heart attack while on a holiday in Hong Kong, on October 29, 1957. 

 (Photo l-r: Ana, Mariano, Cecilia, photo taken circa 1956)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

La Vie En Rose - Edith Piaf

We saw the movie, "La Vie En Rose," which is about the life of French singer Edith Piaf.

Generally I find movies about entertainers predictable, because it usually traces the rise of the performer and it's always cliched with the standard divorce and drug addiction. But this movie feels different, no doubt because the setting is France. It's non-linear, flipping back and forth in time, and the performance of the actress Marion Collard was spectacular. By the end of the movie, the audience was in tears.

Edith Piaf grew up dirt-poor in France. Her father was in the military when she was little and the mother abandoned her with the grandmother so she could pursue her singing career, which went nowhere. The maternal grandmother didn't take care of Edith. When the father had a furlough, he found Edith sickly and unkempt; he brought her to his own mother who ran a brothel. The women in the brothel, especially one in particular, took care of Edith. When the father returned, he took Edith away from the brothel and brought her to the circus where he was a contortionist. The father had a disagreement with the circus owner and he and Edith left. It was while they were begging in the streets of Paris when the father forced Edith to sing. It turned out the 9-year old could sing, and she continued singing in the streets of Paris for money. She had a break when a cabaret owner offered her the chance to sing in his cabaret; he was the one who named her "The Sparrow." She later found another mentor who trained her to perform for the music hall. From then on, it was history, with Edith performing not just in Paris, but in New York.

Despite this success, the hungry, frightened, abandoned little girl was always there. She seemed always looking for approval, for love, and performing meant everything to her. Her life was one of loss. She was rejected by her mother; she lost the woman in the brothel who took care of her; she lost the cabaret owner who gave her her first big break; she lost her lover when he died in a plane crash.

She was also a lush, just like her mother whom she despised, Later on Edith became addicted to stronger drugs. She was a broken person by the time she was in her 40s and died when she was only 47.

Here are some thoughts about this movie:

- There is something touching about a broken person, and it was really Edith's brokenness that won me, more than anything else. I was curious about a person who was a basket case, but who had tremendous talented. She didn't seem to be a nice person: when she was famous, she was bossy, and always drunk. But there was always that little girl that stared at the audience after a performance, looking for approval.

- I also wondered about artists who self-destruct. They can be so talented and have so much, and yet, remain quite unhappy.

I also thought about how God dispenses with His gifts liberally - you never know whom God will touch with His gifts.

- Another thought that came to me is that when people have gifts from God, they need to use this for other people, instead of getting caught up in the glamour of things and become greedy for more attention. Things have to be kept in perspective: God is the source of this gift, and this gift must be shared with others. The gift should not be for the person's greater glory, but for God's greater glory.

- Ultimately, a gift from God is also a responsibility.

- Still another thought: it is important always to add spirituality to one's life, whether one is famous or not. Being grounded in God will help people in their journey, whatever it may be.

About the movie "La Vie en Rose" - I highly recommend it.
More Information re Edith Piaf:
Born: December 15, 1915 in Paris, France
Years Active: 30 's, 40 's, 50 's, 60 's
Died: October 11, 1963 in Paris, France
Photo: Album cover of Edith Piaf

Monday, June 11, 2007


I don't have a lot of close friends. I never have. I'm one of those extroverts that get tired when I'm with a lot of people. Introverts are recharged when they're with people. I'm the opposite, I give out energy, so after any social event, I feel depleted.

I don't look like a loner because when I'm with people I'm gregarious, too talkative in fact. And I do enjoy being with other people; it just wears me out. I can be just as happy being by myself, reading a book, writing, gardening, doing one of my many, many projects It's amazing how quickly the day passes.

But I have a few really good friends.

One of them is Marily Ysip Orosa, whose blog site I just visited - Marily's Journey of Faith. She's been blogging the journey she and her husband Joe are going through. Joe is battling cancer and Marily's blog records all of this. Marily is a Christian and her reports are upbeat and cheerful, even if frank. She doesn't flinch about writing about colostomy bags, and platelets, and the audacity of hope, and faith, and love.

Let me reminisce here and recall when Marily and I first became friends, and that was when we were at Maryknoll College, Quezon City. We were both Communication Arts majors. For high school she had attended St. Theresa's College, Quezon City; I had attended St. Theresa's College, San Marcelino. We were educated by the same Belgian nuns in High School, and American nuns in College.

Marily and I were not the studious types that hung around the library, which did not mean we were not good students, because we always managed to get decent grades. I was even a Dean's Lister. But there were too many other things to do aside from studying! We partied; we had a singing group and actually performed in a couple of Television shows. We called ourselves The Rainmakers. We had endless talks in the famous "lanai" of Maryknoll College. Once we rebelled and started wearing "civilian clothes" instead of our green and white uniform; and we were promptly reprimanded by the nuns.

Marily and I took a class together - it was a 2-unit class called "Rizal" about the Philippine National Hero. It was a Saturday morning class - a real bummer. On the very first day, the professor announced that we didn't have to attend class, that we could do all our other work and that would be fine. Marily and I took one look at each other and didn't show up in that class until finals. We were shocked and incensed that we got C's; we thought we deserved As.

I mention this incident because Marily went on to publish an award winning coffee table book about Jose Rizal, titled In Excelsis, published by Studio 5, Marily's publishing house. It is an absolutely handsome and intelligent book. Marily is a publisher of coffee table books, aside from doing public relations work. The irony of this didn't escape us and we both had some laughs when In Excelsis won several Philippine National Book Awards.

Marily is one person who has always supported me, especially in the Philippines. Our other friend, Brenda Arroyo, calls her the opposite of a Fair Weather Friend, because when things are okay in your life, she doesn't bother calling etc. as she is busy herself. But when you need help, she will drop everything and run to your side. That's a good friend
I have some other dear friends, and I'll remember them some other time, but tonight I want to remember Marily and Joe and wish them the very best in this journey they're in.
Photo 1-top -l-r: Marily, Cecilia, Lauren.
Photo 2 - Taken at the book launch of Behind the Walls which Marily and I co-edited. Our college heroine, Gemma Cruz, who won Miss Universe in 1964, is in the picture; she's second from the right.
Photo 3 - Taken at the book launch, guest, Marily, and Cecilia

Sunday, June 10, 2007


FOR BEGINNING WRITERS AND/OR THOSE WHO WISH TO GATHER DRAFTS - I have some creative writing classes coming up at UCLA Extension's Writers' Program and I'm posting information here. Contact UCLA Extension's Writers' Program, 310-825-9415 for more information. I conduct my classes in a supportive atmosphere so the students can focus on learning. I know it's stressful to write and share your work, and critiquing/feedback is done in an encouraging positive way. After 6 weeks, many of my students are writing stories/personal essays. I'm also pasting below "Inspirational Quotes" which encouraged me when I was a beginning writer.

Summer Quarter - Starts 8/8/2007
The Essential Beginnings: An Introductory Creative Writing Workshop (Online) Many aspire to write creatively, but few know how to get started. For those who wish to write for personal or professional satisfaction, this supportive online workshop provides many fundamental techniques--from journal writing to imaginative in-class exercises--all geared to motivate and cultivate the beginning creative writer. Topics include writing from observation and experience, creating dynamic characters, developing points of view, and writing dialogue. By the course's completion, students should have a series of short sketches or a draft of a story. For technical requirements.

Fall Quarter: Starts 10/30/2007
The Writer's Sketchbook: Learning to Train Your Writer's Eye Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, it is important to train yourself to write in a "sensual" way--that is, to make your readers see, hear, feel, smell, taste, touch. Designed for beginning writers, as well as experienced ones who wish to infuse their writing with new power, this course sharpens your senses through the use of the writer's sketchbook. The course offers writing exercises that inspire you to create in a more vivid and more detailed way, and with a stronger voice. There is ample time for in-class exercises, allowing those with hectic schedules the opportunity to write or journal in a safe environment.


Fyodor Dostoevsky: “I can never control my material. Whenever I write a novel, I crowd it with a lot of separate stories and episodes; therefore the whole lacks proportion and harmony … how frightfully I have always suffered from it, for I have always been aware it was so.”

John Steinbeck re Grapes of Wrath: “The saddest thing is that this was the best I could do.”

Vladimir Nabokov re Lolita: “The book developed slowly with many interruptions and asides. It had taken me some forty years to invent Russia and Western Europe. And now I was faced by the task of inventing America…Once or twice I was on the point of burning the unfinished draft.”

Henry James: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?... It is an incident for a woman to stand up with her hand resting on a table and look out at you in a certain way; or if it be not an incident, I think it will be hard to say what it is. At the same time, it is an expression of character.”

About Gustave Flauvert, author of Madame Bovary: “In 1851, following a trip to Egypt, Palestine, and Greece, Flaubert penned the first draft of “The Temptations of St. Anthony.” Upon its completion, he sent for his two closest friends, Maxine du Camp, editor of the Revue de Paris, and Louis Bouilhet, a shy peasant poet. Flaubert told them that he was going to read to them from the manuscript of his newest work. For almost 4 days, reading aloud 8 hours a day, Flaubert went through “The Temptation.” He completed his reading on a midnight, and waited for the verdict. One of his listeners said bluntly, “We think you ought to throw it in the fire and not speak of it again.”

Melinda Jaeb, Editor: “Many of the stories I published were rejected the first time around. Sometimes rejections are due to tons of unnecessary words, poor dialogues and grammar, and undeveloped scenes. If there is potential, I make suggestions for a rewrite specifying cuts here and there. Then, after the writer has done a rewrite and sends it back, the piece is often acceptable. With the help of feedback, the story can evolve into its best possible form.”

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Just got back from the Banquet dinner of Buklod Ng Pagkakaisa, in Lancaster, California. It was part of a week-long celebration of Filipino Week, as proclaimed by the city officials of Lancaster. I wrote my speech down - see below - but in fact I did not read it, and so the actual talk came out slightly different. It was a well-attended event, with almost 150 guests, including State Senator George Runner and his wife Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, Mayor Bishop Henry W. Hearns, and Vice Mayor Andy Visokey. The event ran smoothly, thanks to the organizers, including Dante Gilhang, Armand Rivera, Ray Childs, Susan Bernardo, Medelin Webb, Emerita Ross, Robert Resurreccion, Gina Gilhang, Pacita Alarcon, Carlos Alarcon, Dory Quiambao, and Socrates Oberes. It was a very pleasant event, with food, dancing (folk and modern), a few speeches, and a lot of nice people and dedicated people around. I might add that Mayor Hearns was most charming to me and my son. He had a lengthy talk with my civil engineer son; apparently Mayor Hearns was himself a civil engineer.

This service group does a lot of good work and should be congratulated.

Talk Given to the Filipino Week Banquet and Dinner Dance of Buklod ng Pagkakaisa (Bond of Unity) – Saturday, June 9, 2007, 7-midnight, Lancaster Room, Esssex House, 44916 N. 10th St. West Lancaster, CA 93534

Good evening – my husband could not be here; he had to go to Wisconsin, consequently my youngest son Andrew is here to accompany me. When you see him, please thank him for sacrificing his Saturday night, to be able to drive me here.

Before my husband left, I was thinking aloud about what I should say to you, and my husband said, “Crack a joke.” I wondered what I could share with you and the only one I could think off was the one that involves Filipinos in Daley City near San Francisco. It goes: Why is it very foggy in Daley City? The answer is because all the rice cookers are on.

I would like to thank Pacita Alarcon for inviting me. I am honored to be here with you. Pacita sent me a copy of your January Induction Ball program and I noted that you have programs to feed the homeless, you give scholarships, you have established the celebration of Filipino week in June, and have gotten a Proclamation of Filipino Week from your city officials since 1994. I was particularly impressed with your seniors program and looked at the pictures of the May-June senior Prince and Princesses celebrating their birthdays at your Lunch-Bingo hour. I understand that aside from the Lunch-Bingo hour, there is also a social hour, with dancing . . . and food – I am certain of it. I cannot imagine any Filipino event without food.

These senior get-togethers are very important, especially because many of our older folk feel lonely and misplaced here in America – and so these get-togethers where they meet other Filipinos is psychologically significant.

The mother of my friend Susan, who lives in Norwalk, was a widow and for the longest time since she immigrated to America, she felt lonely and abandoned until she found a Filipino senior’s group. She blossomed. Instead of moping around looking depressed, she had her hair fixed and nails done, and in the middle of the day, she would put on a terno or saya for a senior’s event. In fact, my friend Susan told me of how her mother couldn’t wait to go to the senior’s events. And then, Susan said, there were numerous phone calls and her mother always rushed to the phone to answer it, followed by mysterious whisperings. It turned out her mother found a boyfriend, a Filipino veteran. All of her 6 or 7 children were in uproar and didn’t know what to do with the situation. In time, what I heard was that the boyfriend got sick, and at that point Susan’s mom dropped him, because she was afraid she’d end up taking care of him. She had taken care of her husband and she was not sure she wanted to take care of another man.

Even though this love story didn’t have a happy ending, it shows that these Filipino seniors social activities pull people out of their homes, their depressions, and brings them together to laugh, have fun, sometimes fall in love too.

Pacita asked me to talk to you about my work.

I am a writer and editor. I have written and edited around 13 books: two novels, 2 short story collections, 1 collection of essays, and 1 collection of my high school diary. I have also published books; I sell books; and I also teach. I currently teach creative writing at the UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program. I wear many hats, but what got me involved in editing, publishing, selling, and teaching, was writing in the first place.

My love for writing started early. After my father died when I was nine, I used to write him to update him of my life. I kept a diary; and for some reason I even named my diary Sharon – I have forgotten why I did that; I think I was imitating Anne Frank who wrote to Kitty in her Diary. I later dropped writing "Dear Sharon," and just went on journal writing, which I continue to do today.

When I arrived in this country back in 1969, I was a student in film making at UCLA, but I didn’t really enjoy that very much. At the time, it was a very difficult field for a woman, and a foreigner at that. The other thing I noticed was that film making is very collaborative and my initial concept of the project ended up very differently by the time the cameraman, actors, editor had given their input.

I had meant to return to the Philippines, but as Life would have it, I married a Peace Corp Volunteer whom I had first met in Cebu, my home town. While he was a law student and early in his law career I had to work. I worked as a secretary, as an Adminstrative Assistant, and as a PR/Fund raiser in a non-profit for years. By the time I had three sons, it became difficult to juggle work and driving them back and forth to school, doctor’s and dentists offices, and I stayed home to take care of them. This was during the Women’s Lib era when it was embarrassing to say, “I’m a housewife.” I decided to do something else with myself and I arranged with Philippine American News to write a weekly column; Filipina American Perspective was the name.

Meantime I had a story that kept running through my head and I just couldn’t write it properly. I finally took a Creative Writing class at UCLA Extension where I now teach. I picked up a lot of skills and learned how and where to submit my stories. Bit by bit I got my stories published. There were a lot of rejections and difficulties, and I’m fast-forwarding here, I went on to write a novel, which was published by a big New York publisher in 1994. When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, which is about a coming of age of a young girl in the Philippines during World War II, is still available in paperback by the University of Michigan Press.

I went on and wrote my other books, many of which are still in print, mainly because educators use them in their classrooms. One of the most popular books I have edited and published is Growing Up Filipino Stories for Young Adults, which is available both in the US and the Philippines. The reason for its popularity, aside from the fact that the stories included are very good, is the fact that there are few books for young adults, that is between the ages of 11-21. There is a new book that I co-edited, Ala Carte Food & Fiction which is a collection of 29 stories and Filipino recipes, which has just been released and which should do all right.

While this talk may make it seem it has all been easy for me as a Filipino writer here in America – let me make clear right now that it has not been easy at all. If I have accomplished some things, it has been with a lot of energy and persistent, a bull-headedness that if my husband where here, he could attest to.

When I started writing here in California in the 1980s, there were very few Filipino American writers to speak off. Carlos Bulosan, our most famous writer, had been dead for almost 20 years, and the only other Filipino writers spoken off were: Jose Garcia Villa, a poet living in New York; Ben Santos, teaching in Kansas; N.V.M. Gonzalez, teaching in the Bay Area. There were other Filipino writers in America off course, but I didn’t know of them because I couldn’t get hold of their publications. I recall going to libraries to look for books, stories by Filipino/Filipino-American writers, and I found some books by Jose Rizal, and a book by Ninotchka Rosca – and that was it. Early on, I realized that there was little or no distribution of Filipino/Filipino-American books in this country; and even libraries did not have books by these authors. It was as if Filipinos in America did not have a literary voice, as if we barely existed.

My first book, a collection of short stories entitled Woman With Horns and Other Stories, was published by New Day Publisher in Quezon City. Mrs. Rodriguez, the acting Manager, loved my work and went on to publish a collection of essays, my first novel, and she approved my proposal to do a collection of short stories by Filipino Americans. This book was published in 1993 and is entitled Fiction by Filipinos in America. I followed this with another collection entitled, Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America. My attempt in these collections was to document some of the writings or our Filipino writers in America. It was as if I wanted to preserve the voice of these writers, to make sure we have our say in America, and not be non-existent or voiceless.

My work expanded to include book selling because I also discovered that it was impossible to find Filipino Filipino/American books, especially in the 1980s-1990s. My friend Susan Montepio and I had founded Philippine American Literary House and we sold select Filipino books here in America. We also got involved in publishing several books – two children’s books, 1 anthology of historical essays, and 1 collection of short stories.

There have been great changes these past 10 years. The internet has made Filipino books more accessible all over the world. You still can’t walk into a Barnes and Noble and find Filipino books, but you can go online and find them.

Whereas there used to be just 3-4 Filipino American writers published mainstream, now there are more, such as Brian Roley, Noel Alumit, Tess Holthe, and many other writers.

The internet also offers our Filipino American writers a voice – so it is quite easy to find a blog for instance of a Filipino American poet, whereas it had been impossible 20 years ago.

But even though there have been improvements in the literary scene of Filipino Americans, there is still room for improvement.

I was in Janelle So’s program, Kababayan LA, just last May 24, and Janelle mentioned the low literacy rate of Filipinos and she asked me what I thought of that. I had no time to think about her question and I went on to talk about how Filipinos have an oral culture. If there had been time to discuss the issue more carefully, I think the difference between literary and reading may have come up – literacy being a level of competence, and reading a skill. One can be literate but not read. In fact Filipinos have a high literacy rate, but they generally do not read. For instance Filipinos prefer getting their news from TV and radio, not from magazines and newspapers. While I respect the Filipino love for oral tradition, I think that we should do something to make our population a reading one.

I would like to suggest that your group get involved in a book program. Perhaps you can send books to libraries and schools to the Philippines. It is easy to find inexpensive books here.

In the mid-1990s, I participated in a PEN writers’ conference in Barcelona, Spain. I met some Catalan and Kurdish writers who talked about their work in publishing books in their own language. They were very serious about making sure their writers and poets were published in their own native tongue, that their works were preserved in libraries and read by their people. It was not enough for them to have an oral tradition; they wanted documentation, hard copy. I was very impressed by this. In fact, at that time in Barcelona, it was St. George’s Day – and people in the Catalan region celebrated this day by giving books to one another. It was part of their cultural tradition; for no other reason than that it was St. George’s day, people bought books and gave books to one another. Their love and respect for books were made clear to me then.

It would be nice if we follow this tradition and give books as gifts for birthdays and Christmas and other special events. It is important to develop a love and respect for books. I was in Costa Rica recently, and it has a literacy rate of 99%. It is one of the most progressive countries in Central America, which proves to me that there is a connection between a country's literacy rate and its level of development.

It is important for our young people to be readers. We need to give our children books so they develop a love for these early in their lives. When we buy books, the publishers of these books make enough to continue to publish more books which are written by our own writers, who after tell our stories. And ultimately it is important for us to preserve our stories, otherwise we will seem voiceless, non-existent, forgotten.

Photo 1(top) - l-r: State Senator George Runner (17th District), Assembly Woman Sharon Runner (36th District), Andrew Brainard, Cecilia Brainard, Mayor Hearns, and Vice Mayor Andy Visokey.
Photo 2- l-r: Andrew Brainard and Lancaster City Mayor Bishop Henry W. Hearns.
Photo 3 - Members of Buklod ng Pagkakaisa doing a Filipino dance.
Photo 3 - l-r: Cecilia Brainard, Mayor Hearns, Susan Bernardo, Vice Mayor Andy Visokey, and Buklod President Dante Gilhang

Friday, June 8, 2007


First, let me talk about this blog. I made a half-hearted start at blogging a few years ago, but didn't follow it up. Then I had the brilliant idea of posting my essays in the blog - most of them are travel essays about India, Cambodia, Peru, other places my husband and I have visited. The essays were written for publication, with some degree of formality, an attempt for perfection (if there's such a thing); and then I don't know exactly what happened, I felt like journaling.

I started looking at how other bloggers did theirs and realized they have thousands of hits! Thousands, and I barely had visitors to my blog, a realization which was very humbling.

So I tried to figure out how people got such large hits. I noticed that some bloggers have registered with Blog Catalogue, so I did this. Now suddenly I'm getting a lot of bloggers inviting me to be their "friend" or to be in their list. I have no idea how to respond to these invitations, and maybe someone kind and knowledgeable out there will inform me. And maybe someone can also explain how those counters work, and what's a hit exactly, and are viewers counted? I have no idea.

And while we're figuring these out, maybe someone out there can tell me what could possibly be wrong with my printer. I had to unplug it because I moved things around my office, and when I plugged it back it, it refused to work. It scans all right, but it's not getting messages from two computers. Initial research leads me to Port Drives - where is the port drive? Is that in my computer? Or is that in the printer? Or it that a soft ware? Any way, if any one reads this who's got ideas, let me know -

Aside from that, I've had a busy day. This morning Jonathan Lorenzo and Jacob Rippens from the Filipino American Library in Los Angeles stopped by to get ideas about a literary journal they are considering. It's certainly a great idea. As far as I know there is only one Filipino American literary journal - Maganda - coming from the Bay Area. There's a journal, Pilipinas, but it's not exclusively about Filipino American issues. So, as far as I know, for 2.5 million Filipinos in America, there is one literary journal. Pretty pathetic, isn't it?

My cat just wandered in - she's an old tuxedo cat named Kiki, around 13 years old, and in her old age, she's developed allergies, of all things to fleas. One bite from a flea and she itches like crazy. She came in last night, scratching and as miserable as good be. I shampooed her, squirted some anti-itch stuff on her, and vowed she'd be an indoor cat from now on. But somehow today, what with the housekeeper and Jonathan and Jacob, and grandson Luke around, Kiki managed to escape. And after hours of being out there, where there are no doubt fleas, has returned, and I just swore under my breath that I'm not going to wash her again for this dermatitis.

I've discovered that B12 alleviates her itching, but it's difficult to give her the pill. I have to pry open her mouth and shove the little pink pill deep into her gullet so she can't regurgitate. Not a very pretty picture.

I'm going to look for the picture of Kiki with the TV clicker, post that, and I'm done blogging for the day.
(Photo below shows Kiki the cat beside Lauren, and she's holding the TV clicker

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I thought I'd write about the bees dying. My friend, Elizabeth Allen, was the first to mention this to me. Elizabeth is interested in psychic matters, hangs out with neo-shamans ... so when she mentioned that the bees are dying, I thought it was some New Age thing, like the time New Age-people talked about the end of "the world," i.e. end of an era, and then 9/11 happened, so well, they were right, weren't they, that an era had ended?

I did a little research and learned that indeed there is a phenomenon going on called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which simply means a large population of bees have died. Many bee hives have been abandoned. The figures vary, sometimes newspapers say 50% of bees have died, other accounts say 70% have died. I find this alarming, but the world seems to go blithely on. It's as if the world is confident that the bees will return next year and everything will be fine. It's the same way with Global Warming, Tsunamis, Hurricanes, which we get excited about for a short spell, then quickly forget.

Something serious is happening in this Earth of ours. I've been to Alaska and to Patagonia and to the French Alps and have seen how large portions of glaciers have melted. Instead of white pristeen ice, there is black gray gravelly muck. (Take a look at the photo with Lauren, see the background, note the black foreground of the glacier) And still we continue living the way we do, paying a bit more for gasoline, feeling the pinch a bit, but still managing.

I have a Republican friend who said Al Gore invented Global Warming, that there is no such thing. She said a friend of hers in the Philippines complained that there was a cold spell there last December. If there's Global Warming, why did they have a cold spell in the Philippines, she asked, pleased with her logic.

I told her it meant there are changes in this earth: spring has started early in Japan for instance, so that Cherry Blossoms were blooming weeks before they usually do. And in some other place I'd read that the eggs of some birds had hatched early, but the problem was that the caterpillars that the baby chicks usually eat were not yet around, so there was a problem there. There are all sorts of inconsistencies, now, a lack of coordination if you will. Have you been hearing about the drought in Africa? And there's a serious drought brewing in California right now.

Elizabeth and I have discussed Global Warming and we agree that some of this is cyclical, but that we - mankind that is - have an obligation not to aggravate the situation.

I've asked myself what I can do about the matter, and here are some things I'll try do:

1. Conserve water - this is to address the drought in California. I will not hose down walkways. I will take shorter showers. (I'm even tempted to do it the Filipino way, with a bucket and cup - but Lauren can't go for that). I'll turn off the faucet when I'm brushing my teeth. I just will not let the faucets run for no reason at all.

2. Conserve energy - I'll wear a sweater, instead of have the heater on high; turn off lights and appliances that are unused.

3. I will replace my plants bit by bit with California native plants which do not need a lot of water. In fact I do have some - mantilla poppies for instance, the problem is they tend to take over and I've had to "hold them" back.

4. The car - hmmm, the car is a problem because I drive a Mercedes Benz wagon that is a gas guzzler, and it even wants premium, the gas hog! Maybe I should learn to take the bus around Santa Monica and take more walks too. One of my students was taking the bus to school even though he has a car because he is very conscious about this gas/oil problem.

5. I will continue my mini-composting - that is I save eggshells, vegetable matter in a bowl and I go to my rose garden and dig a hole and bury that. My roses have greatly improved ever since I started doing this, at the suggestion of my friend, Linda Ross.

6. For the bees and other little creatures of God - I will stop spraying my roses with insecticide and too bad if the plants have yellow leaves and don't look terrific; at least I won't be contributing to killing the bees and other insects.
Let me digress here: there is a folk saying in Cebu where I grew up that a house with living things was a good luck house. Living things included everything - snakes, termites, bugs, creatures that we don't normally like. My mother explained that if these creatures liked living in your house, then it's a good place. Now I see what she means.

And now I'm remembering how, many years ago, some bees built a hive above our front door - overnight it seemed. We didn't want a hive right above the front door, or any where near our house, and - God forgive me - we sprayed the hive with some bug killer - and the bees left and never came back.

Maybe that is what we have done in this world - we have sprayed bug killer all over the place so that the air is no good, and we are running out of water, and everything is a mess, and the bees have said, "Good bye, this is not a good place for us any more."
(Photo shows Lauren Brainard in South America)

UCLA WRITERS' PROGRAM Publication Party, and Other matters

Great publication party as usual. Linda Venis, Director of the Writers' Program at UCLA Extension always throws the best pub parties. Tonight 18 writers launched their books/journals. In order of appearance: Philomene Long, Rob Roberge, Aimee Liu, Linda Palmer, Andrea Seigel, Christopher Meeks, Dinah Lenny, Mark Haskell Smith, Jessica Barksdale Inclan, Laurel Ann Bogen, Bruce Bauman, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (moi), Samantha Dunn, Mary Otis, Lou Mathews, Tod Goldberg, and Suzanne Lummis. This year's publication party was dedicated to poet Philomene Long who is retiring after 16 years of teaching at the Writers' Program. The party was held at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Visitors included Wanda Coleman and Austin Strauss, whom I haven't seen in years. I particulary enjoyed seeing Lou Mathews, Philomene, Aimee, Suzanne, and Lauren Ann Bogen again. Some former students showed up Ben, Ken, Emily, and Beverly. Actually it was fun to watch my students be entertained and dazzled by the event. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 300 people; I'd say around 250 were there.

UCLA Extension's Writers' Program under the leadership of Linda Venis has been excellent in creating a literary community among its writer/teachers and students. I took writing classes at the Writers' Program before Linda, and I know about the wonderful changes and growth Linda has initiated.

And the poets - how I love their uniqueness, their lonely yet persistent voices.

Dutton's Brentwood sold copies of the book. PE was supposed to provide copies of Ala Carte Food & Fiction to Dutton's but in the last minute I got a phone call from Dutton's that PE couldn't and they asked if I had personal copies. I gave Dutton's copies with an invoice. I had books on consignment at Dutton's Brentwood in the past and they didn't pay for all. So this time I was prepared with the invoice.

Philomene Long and I recalled where we first met, and that was at the First Annual Publication Party in 1994, held at the UCLA Extension facilities in the Santa Monica Mall. I told Philomene my grandmother's name was Filomena, and we went on to talk about St. Philomene. I just learned tonight that Philomene had been a nun. Here's how Linda Venis described her:

"Philomene Long - poet, filmmaker, devoted wife to legendary Venice poet John Thoma, former nun, Zen Buddhist, and Beat Queen of Venice..."

A small wrinkle about the reading: despite firm instructions for the readers not exceed 5 minutes - and in fact, some poor staff member had to sit in back of the auditorium to time everyone and flash a laser beam at 4 minutes, and again at 5 - some people still exceeded their alloted time. I wondered if perhaps they thought one page equals one minute reading time. But the fact is they were unprepared. They had not timed themselves; they had not worked on their excerpt beforehand.

It's thoughtless of course. I practise and time myself, making sure I do not exceed my alloted time, and also so I can do a decent presentation. Some writers rush and try to squeeze as much as they can, which of course is disastrous because the audience can barely understand them. Fortunately 5 minutes per reader is short enough so the audience can tolerate just about anything. But it's just too bad that writers don't realize that it's infinitely better if they slow down, pace their work, let the words, phrases, and sentences breathe.

I remember how the actress Jude Narita worked with me for a reading many years ago. She took the story and underlined words that should be emphasized. She analyzed each sentence as to it's emotional content, and she also taught me how to look at the audience at the back rows - I think the reason for this was so people could see your eyes. Jude would go, "Is it, 'We ate greasy HAMBURGERS? or is it We ate GREASY hamburgers?'" I've always remembered what Jude taught me about performances.

All for now. This blog is morphing into something else. I had envisioned it to be a collection of essays - and now it's getting to be ... well ... a blog ... I guess that's okay.

(Old photo showing Jude Narita, standing left, some other writers at a reading, and Cecilia Brainard, bottom right.)