Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fiction "Vigan" by Cecilia Brainard

I'm sharing a short story that's part of two books: my third short collection, Vigan and Other Stories, and the anthology Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults

by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

When I was ten, a year after my father died, my mother decided to return to Vigan, back to her grandmother who had raised her after her parents died. We left Manila for the sleepy town with crumbling stone houses, cobbled streets, watchtowers, and other vestiges of colonial days. Vigan boasted of having been founded in the sixteenth century by Juan Salcedo, the Spanish conquistador who conquered Manila. In its heyday, it was the port of entry of the Spanish galleons coming from China and headed for the Walled City of Intramuros. The ships sailed up the river and moored at the edge of Old Town, near the Cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace. The merchants’ houses and warehouses clustered near the river. Here, traders exchanged items such as indigo, cotton, silk, pearls, tobacco, porcelain, hemp, for silver and gold.

Our family house sat in the middle of a row of ancient merchant houses, crumbling relics of limestone blocks and wood. Our house had massive wooden double doors fronting the street, which my great-grandmother said allowed carriages in and out of the family compound during Spanish times. The lower portion of our house had a shed with two pigs, four chickens, and one mean-spirited goat. A section in the back served as the servants’ quarters, but since my great-grandmother had only one servant who slept upstairs, this section was unoccupied and was in total disarray. An elaborate staircase led to the second floor, which had the kitchen, dining room, living room or sala, the music room, library, a verandah, and bedrooms. There were four bedrooms, but huge, with high-ceilings that allowed the air to circulate thus cutting the oppressive tropical heat. Except for the room occupied by my great-grandmother, the other bedrooms had several four-poster beds, lined up dormitory-style, and covered by yellowing crocheted bedspreads.

I’d only heard about this house from my mother. We had never visited it when Papa was alive. So even though I was unhappy about our move, I was impressed by the surprises the house offered. The walls of the rooms, for instance, had hand-painted murals: musical instruments were painted all around the music room, the dining room had a border of grapes on a vine with a hunting scene on the wall nearest the dining table, and the bedroom my mother and I shared had a picture of Cupid sitting on a cloud and shooting his arrow at a young woman in a forest. Although the paintings were flaking and faded, my great-grandmother, whom my mother and I called Lola, was very proud of them.

What interested me most was the coffin at the foot of the stairs. An old sheet covered it and on top were all sorts of junk: newspapers, empty glass jars, and a huge vase with dusty fake flowers. I had mistaken the coffin for a table until Lola removed the sheet to reveal a bronze casket with gold decorations. She struck the metal with her fingernail and declared it was our family coffin. Apparently old families in the area kept family coffins, which were used only for the wake. For the actual burial, the corpse was wrapped in an Ilocano woven blanket and buried directly in the family vault. The coffin was cleaned, then stored, in this case at the foot of the stairs, ready for its next temporary occupant.

The idea sent me into hysterics, considering my own father was buried in his own bronze casket — cost had been no object as far as his parents were concerned. He had been their only child.

I asked my great-grandmother what happened when two family members died, like my mother’s parents for instance. She said they lay side by side.

“But what if more than two die?” I persisted.

“It’s never happened,” she said. By that time, she was clearly annoyed with me, and so I kept quiet. Lola had not liked my father and his family, and I suspected that dislike extended to me. People said I looked a lot like my father. He was tall and thin and had a lot of Chinese blood in him, unlike my mother’s family, which had a lot of Spanish blood.

Even though Lola spoke enthusiastically of the house (this remnant of our family’s glorious past), I found it depressing. There were cobwebs everywhere, and at night, I dreaded going to the bathroom because I usually ran into the sticky strands. There was dust all over the old furniture. Ceiling plaster was peeling, the wooden floors creaked, and there was one section near the kitchen with wood rot. I could peer through the holes and look down at the animals. Sometimes I would spit on the goat that had butted me once.

Before we came, Lola’s solitary companion was another old woman named Manang Gloria. I was never sure who took care of whom because half the time, my grandmother was the one in the kitchen cooking bitter ampalaya to strengthen Manang Gloria’s blood. There were men workers who came during the day to take care of the animals and yard, but by late afternoon, they were gone.

By six in the evening, the only sounds you heard were the two old women rattling around in the kitchen, some lonely crickets outside, and my mother sighing by the window. Times like that, I would ache for my father and my old life.


My mother had never worked in her entire life. After college, she’d married Papa and moved into his house. In Vigan, she spent many nights crying, cursing my father for dying, and wondering how she could support the two of us. We had left Manila in the first place because she and my father’s parents did not get along. They disliked her from the start, accusing her of being pretentious. It was true that my mother carried with her an arrogance that old families from Vigan had, even if their ceilings had caved in and their floors rotted. My mother, likewise, scorned my father’s family, calling them “new rich” and accusing them of having no culture. While my father was alive, he kept the two warring parties apart, but after he died, nothing stood between his parents and my mother. Like cats and dogs they went after each other; of course my mother was always on the losing end. After a year of strained silences, sharp words, doors slamming, and countless tears, my mother grew weary of the quarreling, took whatever she could, and we left.

It was Lola who suggested that she open an antique shop downstairs. “Manang Gloria knows some carpenters who can make replicas,” Lola said. “Have them copy our antique furniture. Price them low. City people will buy them.” She was right. Antique dealers traveled far to buy Mama’s bentwood chairs and love seats, drop-leaf tables, armoires, chairs, and wooden statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the cross. The most popular item was the plantation chair, an enormous lounging chair made of mahogany and rattan, that harked back to days of sitting around the verandah, a leg resting on one arm of the chair and a drink in one’s hand.


I hated school. I did not fit. I was used to the stimulating environment of my school in Manila. The school in Vigan was dull and provincial. I spent most of my time in Mama’s antique shop, doing my homework on the table, reading old books from the library, rearranging the display in the showroom, or bothering the workers who were carving the reproductions in the back. “Look at that,” I would say, “antiques made-to-order.”

I was there the afternoon Ramon arrived. He was an antique dealer from Manila. I overheard him ordering a lot of furniture and so I was not surprised when Mama invited him for dinner. Mama’s clients usually lived in one of the four hotels in town, none of which served decent food. When Mama invited clients to dinner, Manang Gloria would come to life and prepare local recipes, crispy mouth-watering bagnets, steamed prawns, fried fish, and that bitter vegetable stew that local folk loved so much.

Ramon praised Manang Gloria’s food, and she giggled like an idiot. She was really quite fresh, behaving more like a peer than our servant. When I tried to put her in her place, Lola always defended her, saying she was the fourth generation to work in our house.

Lola ate and left the dining table early. When she was gone, the conversation between Mama and Ramon livened up. It seemed they had mutual friends in Manila, and they discussed them one by one, Mama gushing over the good fortune of some of them, and clucking at misfortune of others. Later (they must have forgotten I was there) Ramon talked about his wife. He had married his college sweetheart, a journalist who had gotten involved in the anti-Marcos movement. She had written many daring exposes of the oppressive dictatorship. She even wrote articles about the “disappeareds” until one night she herself disappeared. Ramon spent years looking for her until his family convinced him she had been “salvaged” so not a single trace of her body could be found. Ramon had gone into seclusion until Cory Aquino came into power. He said that after the EDSA Revolution, he discovered he was still alive after all. “I found out,” he said, “that I could laugh again.”

My mother grew teary at Ramon’s story, then told Ramon about Papa. She described how Papa started dropping things, that we thought he’d had a stroke, but that it turned out he had brain cancer. The doctors had said he had six months to live, and that they had been right almost to the date. She did not tell Ramon of her quarrel with my paternal grandparents. When he pressed her about why we left Manila, she said Lola needed her.

It was a conversation, nothing more, but I was disturbed by it. I hated how she shared a piece of our lives with him. I hated being reminded of Papa and our old life, and I hated how happy Mama seemed with Ramon.


Ramon would come around every two weeks. He would talk to Mama at great length—“business” they called it. He would dine with us; and sometimes he and Mama would ride off someplace. I would interrogate Mama as to where exactly they went, and reluctantly she would confess they visited the old church and rectory in Santa Maria, or the beach of Vigan, or the Luna Museum in Ilocos Sur, or the open market to buy Ilocano blankets. She said this blithely, as if I should not care. But when I thought of the two of them in these places, I would feel a heaviness in my chest, a sorrow that lingered for days.

Ramon tried to befriend me, bringing me books, which he recognized as my weakness, but even though I hankered to read them, I would deliberately abandon them in the shop, on the same table he had set them on, so he could see, so he could understand that he could never bribe me.

Once he told me, “You are very different from your mother.”

I glared at him. “I am my father’s daughter,” I said, thinking I sounded very smart.

My mother blushed when she heard me, and later that night she scolded me for being rude. I told her I wanted to go home.

“There is no other home,” she replied softly. “This is it. Those people don’t want us. They have cheated us of your father’s inheritance.”

She was crying now. “They are the people who killed Ramon’s wife. They were cronies of Marcos; that was how they made their money. They killed her; and I suppose, we are guilty too.”

Her hair was disheveled; her makeup smeared. I saw how much older she had become since Papa died. I saw how vulnerable she was, how spineless, and I told myself I would never be as weak as she was.


In the middle of that summer when the heat left you breathless, my great-grandmother decided she was going to die soon. She called Manang Gloria and instructed her to have new satin lining made for the family coffin. After inspecting the shiny pink lining and checking the hinges of the coffin, she went back to bed and refused to get up. In a few days her legs started cramping, and it became my job to massage her with Sloan’s Liniment. I would pour the liniment into my palms, vigorously rub my hands together, and massage her spindly legs. That was when I learned about my mother’s bad luck.

Lola said, “There are some people who attract bad luck, and your mother is that way. When your mother was four, her parents died in a car crash on the zig-zag road to Baguio. Then of course your father died. It’s just bad luck, that’s all. There is no other explanation.”

I felt kinder to my mother after that—until I caught her and Ramon kissing. It was afternoon, and Lola had told me to call them to the verandah for merienda. I ran down, paused by the family coffin, and lifted the sheet so I could feel the coolness of the bronze. Then I went to the door of the antique shop. I caught them locked together in a tight embrace—my own mother with this man. Ramon saw me, pushed her away, and cleared his throat. Calmly I told them Lola had hot chocolate and pastries waiting for them.

Mama closed the front door of the shop and headed for the stairs. “Are you coming, Rosario?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I have to finish something. I’ll be there.”

I waited awhile then I opened his briefcase and went through his things, looking for something, I was not sure what for exactly. Just when I was putting his papers back into the briefcase, a picture fluttered out. It was Ramon and Mama standing happily in front of the town plaza. I took it and stuffed it into my pocket.


I had heard Manang Gloria talk of Sylvia, a mangkukulam who lived on the edge of town. When Manang Gloria was twenty, Sylvia had read her cards. The witch had predicted that a man would fall in love with her, but that they would be separated. A young man did come along, and for a long time, Manang Gloria tortured herself by wondering when the man would drop her for another woman. The man, however, was steadfast and asked her to marry him. They picked a date, made preparations; Manang Gloria had her white gown made. The night before their wedding day, the man walked by a sari-sari store where two men were fighting. He tried to stop the fight, but in the scuffle, ended up dead.

Aside from reading cards, Sylvia made potions. The most popular were love potions and potions to exact revenge. She could also cured sick people by catching their illness and transferring it into a rooster whose head she would chop off. If convinced it was right to do so, she could harm people. She could even turn into a ferocious black dog at night, which was why people avoided walking around after dusk.

One Saturday in June, I went to Sylvia’s house. I was afraid; I did not know what to expect. I found her planting seedlings in front of her hut. At first glance, she appeared ordinary-looking, with a simple native dress and her gray hair tied in a knot. When she looked up, I noticed her sad, sad eyes. I told her I knew Manang Gloria. She stared at me, with those sorrowful eyes, until I too felt like crying. I was about to leave when she invited me in.

She led me in front of an altar with numerous statues of saints and burning candles. She took my hand, turned it over so she could see my palm. “One day,” she said, “a man will fall in love with you, but you will be separated.”

This sounded like Manang Gloria’s fortune; I felt disappointed.

“I’m here,” I said, “for my mother.”

She said nothing.

“I have to save her.”

“Ah, does your mother need saving?”

I nodded.

“And whom are you saving her from?”
“From a man. A wicked man. “I have a picture of him. Do you want to see?”

She glanced at the picture. Her eyes became darker and sadder still. “A handsome man. Once, I knew a handsome man…” She trailed off, but then recovered, “Handsome men…well, what can I say? Yes, they can be dangerous. Tell me more.”

“He is hurting her. He is hurting us. I want him to go away. I want him to stop seeing her.”

She sighed. “Your father is dead,” she said. “You miss him.”

This pronouncement impressed me, and I wondered how she divined this truth.

“Everyone talks in this town. You and your mother live in the Pamintuan Mansion, with Doña Epang.”

Again I felt disappointment.

She stared into my eyes until my eyes burned and I felt like blinking.

“I can give you something that will attract good. You can give this to your mother, so only good will go near her. If this man is bad, he will stay away.”

“Mama’s a bad-luck woman. Lola says so. Nothing you can give her will attract good. I need something so he will never come back. He is evil. He has hurt her; he has hurt me.”

She turned her sorrowful eyes to her altar. “All right,” she finally said, “just because of Manang Gloria I will help you.” She went to a corner and returned with a bottle of Coke, only it didn’t have Coca Cola in it, but some amber-colored liquid with herbs and flower petals. “The morning after the full moon, rinse with this. Then go to Mass and pray that he will no longer return. Pray hard, especially when the bells ring at the Consecration.”

“Is that all?” I asked.

“That is all. Leave your money in the pot near the door.”


Back home, I hid the bottle in my closet and left it untouched until the first storm fell. Mama was in bed staring at the Cupid painted on the wall. She whispered, “It is so cold to be alone in bed.”

I found a calendar and figured when the full moon was. I bathed with Sylvia’s water, went to Mass, and prayed as she had taught me. When the bells tinkled at Consecration, I stared hard at the white host and repeated: “God, keep Ramon away from Mama, keep him away from us, drive him far away, separate them, God, please, God, please. You’ve taken my father away, I’m asking you now, God, to keep him away from us. You owe it to me, God, because Papa’s gone and not only have you taken him, you’ve taken me away from my house and planted me in this miserable place, the last place on earth I’d like to live in God. I have no friends, no one, except my Mother. Please God, don’t let her leave me too because when she’s with Ramon, that’s how it feels God, like she’s left me too.”

On and on I rambled, venting my sorrows and miseries, and pinning them all on Ramon, blaming him for them, and wishing for him to disappear from our lives. When I left the Cathedral, my hands were shaking and I felt flushed. My mother and Lola asked me if I was all right. I kept quiet. Something had shifted in me and I knew that things would be different.


It did not happen right away. From the time I saw Sylvia in June until December, Ramon continued to visit Mama every two weeks. When I saw his happy face, my chest would tighten. He would smile, white teeth flashing; and he’d give Lola a box of American chocolates or bag of hot chestnuts, and he would kiss her on both cheeks. And Mama, standing by Lola’s bed, would beam proudly at Ramon as if he were some genius-child who had done his homework right. He would greet me too and give me a book or puzzle. With a stony face I would thank him, then put his gift down and run off to wash my hands, scrubbing them hard until my skin hurt.

When he was around and I felt desperate, I would beg Manang Gloria to tell me the story of her dead lover once again. Other times, I would go to the family coffin, remove the things on top, open it and run my hands on the pink satin lining, feeling its coolness, imagining the dead people that had occupied this coffin, and thinking that one day it would hold Lola, Mama, and even me. Once I climbed into it and lay down as if I were dead, with my eyes closed and my palms together as if in prayer. I was drifting off to sleep when Manang Gloria happened to see me and screamed so loud, Lola ran down the stairs. “You are a strange, strange child,” she said. “You must take after your father’s family.”


And so time passed in Vigan, until finally it happened, in December. Ramon arrived with Christmas gifts. By this time, I had almost forgotten my visit to Sylvia, and I must admit, I’d gotten used to his visits. Lola’s house was so dark and full of decay, and Ramon’s visits added some sparkle to our lives. Manang Gloria would cook; Lola used her Sevres China and Baccarat crystal; and Mama would dress up and look happy and young.

He insisted that we open our gifts immediately: an expensive bottle of French perfume for Lola, a sweater for Manang Gloria, a pearl necklace for Mama, and an antique music box for me. We were like children, fingering our gifts, and I saw him beaming happily that he had found the right gifts for us. Lola and Mama kissed him on the cheek. Manang Gloria kissed his hand, as if he were a “patron” of colonial days. And since everyone was looking my way, I went to him and planted a kiss on his cheek. He looked surprised and stood there for a long time holding his cheek where I had kissed him.

We were happy that night. Lola walked with us to the cathedral for Midnight Mass. Later we had the noche buena meal at home. Numerous carolers stopped by our house, singing about Christ, love, and joy. It was a clear and beautiful night. From the verandah I looked up at the stars, and I could feel my soul expanding. Since Papa died, I had not felt happiness like that.

It was almost dawn when he said he had to drive back to Manila to have Christmas dinner with his parents. After a lengthy farewell to the women, he said goodbye to me. I felt a flutter at the pit of my stomach. “Ramon...” I started, then lost my words. “Merry Christmas,” I finally said.

In bed, I thought of Papa in the hospital and how he struggled to speak but could not. I thought of our big house in Manila. I thought of the malls that my friends and I used to frequent. I remembered my third grade nun who lectured once about charity being the most important virtue of all. I knew that I had done something terribly wrong. I wept silently in bed; even my mother did not hear me.


Years later, my mother blamed herself for Ramon’s death, saying she was bad luck. His car had turned turtle on the highway, heading back to Manila. I did not tell her that in this matter, she was wrong.

Fiction Cecilia Brainard's The Last Moon-Game of Summer

I'm sharing a short story that's part of two books: Vigan and Other Stories, which is my third short story collection, and the collection of stories Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults


Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Summer vacation is ending. While the moon is still large, we decide to play another moon-game, the last this summer. Jorge offers to go to his house to get buckets filled with water. As he's leaving, my cousin shouts, "Go help Jorge!" She’s been teasing me ever since our last moon-game when Jorge held my hand. I'm burning with humiliation, but Jorge simply smiles.

We're walking down the cobble-stoned street when a warm breeze blows stirring up the dry leaves, whipping my long hair around. I reach into my pocket for a rubber band to tie my hair back, confine all that wildness. I'm struggling with my unruly hair, when Jorge stops me. "It's nice like that," he says, taking away the rubber band from my hands. I feel embarrassed; I feel grateful. This attention makes me feel funny, and I start running. He runs after me, and together we race down the street.

Jorge's house is tall and dark, reminding me of an abandoned cemetery. The first floor is made of mossy bricks that need patching so badly. The upstairs is made of wood and the windows are the old-fashioned sliding kind, made of capiz. The white squares of capiz shells give off a strange luminescent glow.

The front doors were originally carriage doors, very wide, with a smaller door cut-out on the one side for people to use. There's an antique brass door knocker colored green from age, which amuses me greatly, I pound it several times until a servant opens the door.

It occurs to me that finally I'll see the inside of his house. It's two blocks away from our house, but until Jorge held my hand, I've dismissed this house as another decrepit mansion in Vigan. These past nights I've slipped away from my bedroom to head for the verandah. Standing on tiptoes, I stared across our neighbor's backyard to study the peak of Jorge's roof. I wondered where his bedroom was, how it looked, if he had a desk with books, or a side table, if he kept his books on the side table as I do mine. And I wondered if he was already asleep, or if he was reading, or if he was thinking of me as I was thinking of him.

When we’re in the house, Jorge's demeanor changes. He becomes solemn and serious, and I wonder if I played with the knocker too long, or if I said anything wrong. He whispers, "Papa is sick."

People in Vigan say his father is a descendant of a man from Canton, China who made a lot of money from cotton. But Jorge's father and his brothers fought over money and inheritance. His father drove away the brothers, and for that, God punished him and he developed a rare disease and has been bedridden for years.

I, too, assume a serious face. Jorge leads the way upstairs. There is a huge living room, which is dreadfully quiet. The windows are shut and the only source of light comes from double doors that are ajar. "Wait here," he says and he disappears behind the doors. The room is really quite dark and I feel frightened.

I see a huge framed picture of a Chinese man in Mandarin garb. The portrait hangs on the wall from a long cord attached to the ceiling. The man has a drooping Fu-Manchu moustache, his eyes are piercing, and his expression so stern that I think this man never laughed. I wonder if this is the man from Canton, Jorge’s ancestor. He reportedly came to Vigan in the late 1700s with a bundle of clothes and his abacus. With the cotton boom, he was able to build this house and marry a Spanish mestiza. His imperial glare makes me sit on the edge of a plantation chair and fold my hands on my lap. I look around at Viennese mirrors, marble-topped tables, and other portraits of people long dead. When Jorge returns, I point at the man's portrait, and he acknowledges he is a great-great-grandfather.

"I'll show you around," Jorge says. He leads me to another sitting room with a grand piano and harp. Pretending I'm a famous harpist, I stand next to the harp, my spine exaggeratedly erect, and with great flare I run my fingers over the strings. "Bravo!" Jorge says, clapping, "You look good doing that." I give a little curtsy and we both laugh.

"I'll show you something," he says. He takes me to the library, which has enclosed lawyer bookcases. He opens a case and pulls out a book. He lays it on a desk and opens it. I catch the title: The Discovery of the Moluccas and the Philippine Islands. Then he points out a date: 1708. I've never seen a book that old. "Can I touch it?" I ask, in great awe. He hands me the book. As I reach for it, our fingers touch. Flustered, I almost drop it.

I remember the night he held my hand. We were playing the moon-game on my aunt’s driveway. We had created a huge circle on the ground, using water. The “It” ran along the circumference and diameter, chasing the others who raced in and out of the circle. I stayed outside the circle, where I felt safe. "Come in," the others shouted in sing-song, "come in. Don’t be afraid," and reluctantly I ran into the circle. I was breathless with laughter and fear that I would be caught. The “It” singled me out in his pursuit. Like tentacles, his long arms waved toward me. My heart knocked against my ribs as I shrank away. The others shouted at me to run out of the circle, but I was afraid I’d get caught. I stood there, paralyzed. Jorge ran back into the circle, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out. He continued holding my hand. We were safe. I was safe.

"It's very old," I say, trying to hide my thoughts from him. I run my fingers over the old parchment paper. Avoiding his eyes, I fix my gaze on the book; I know he's watching me.

"Look at this drawing," he says, his hand brushing mine as he flips the book. He singles out an illustration of some natives next to a tree. He's standing close to me and I can feel the length of his body near mine. Our heads are so close together, I can feel his breath. We continue to pore over the book, but all I'm thinking about is Jorge next to me. I've spent nights dreaming something like this would happen; and now that it's happening all I can do is stare at an old book.

After we've scrutinized all the drawings, he leads me to a chapel full of antique ivory statues. The statues are dead-white with movable glass eyes and dark brown wigs made from human hair. I shiver and tell Jorge I don't like statues and dolls with real hair. He laughs.

"Do you want to see my room?" he asks. Without waiting for my answer, he leads me past the dining room to a room that must have been a smoking room in the past.

While the rest of the house has a dusty and moldy quality, Jorge's room is airy and light.The brightness comes from a wide window that opens out to the upstairs verandah. There's a bed, side tables, large desk, armoire, and cabinet. I walk past his bed and study an oil painting on the wall ― a landscape painting of women threshing rice "It's by Juan Luna," he says. I nod in recognition of the master painter's name. He tells me he used to have another room, beside his parents' bedroom, and that he moved into this room recently.

He sits on his bed and moves over, as if to make room for me. It's a four-poster bed with rich green velvet bedspread. I'm thinking we should hurry back to the park, but it feels right to be with Jorge. I sit beside him. We stare out at the verandah. There's a dry fountain in the middle, and scattered all around the tiled floor are Chinese dragon pots crammed with aloes and sword plants, tenacious plants that need little care.

All this time, we have been talking in whispers, but here in his room, his voice becomes normal again. He tells me about a sparrow who built her nest on the fountain, and how he watched her lay her eggs, how she sat on them until they hatched, took care of her babies until they were old enough to fly. "It was wonderful," he said, "Life just yards away."

And then I do something strange: I throw my head back and laugh.

"Why are you laughing?" he asks.

"It's silly, the bird with her babies, right in the middle of the verandah where everyone could see them," I reply, still laughing. I'm not making sense ― I know that ― and I wonder what's come over me. I look at Jorge wondering if he thinks I'm being foolish, but he takes a strand of my hair and pushes it back. He says, "I like to hear you laugh."

He lies back on his bed, closes his eyes. He's smiling; he appears content. He runs the palms of his hands on the bedspread as if rubbing the fur of an animal. "Of all the colors, I like green," he says. I remain seated although I'm tempted to curl up beside him, rest my head on his chest, listen to his heartbeat.

"Why do you like green?"

"It reminds me of Abra," he says. And he continues to tell me about the forest that he visited when he was seven. The caretaker of their house brought him to the mountaintop of Abra, where the forest was so thick there was hardly any sunlight. I have not been to Abra, but have heard of its remoteness, of its strangeness. Many years ago, the people there were headhunters; I have seen sketches of tattooed warriors holding human heads.

In this perpetual green, he looked around and felt God. "Do you believe in God?" he asks.

I pause, uncertain how to answer him. I hear running water and the rattling of pans from the kitchen. I know what he wants to hear. A part of me says I ought to tell him, yes, and in the Holy Trinity. Be done with all of that. Instead I say, "I'm an atheist." I say this softly, but with some defiance. I'm certain he will find me repulsive; he will never see me again.

He is not shocked. He watches me. "Why not?" There is curiosity in his voice, not judgement.

"I can't say; it's too much to explain."

"You go to St. Catherine's, and I've seen you in church."

"I do all that, but I just do them, I don't believe." I check his face and find a furrow between his brows.

Fingers pressed together as if in prayer, I add, "But I was a good Catholic before my father died. I said all my prayers and went to Mass." I describe the Sacred Heart at the landing of the stairs and Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in the hallway. I tell him about the holy cards I collect, some of which I keep in my missal. Before the First Friday of each month, the nuns herd us to the Redemptorist Church. "I learned to invent sins for some man I couldn't see eye to eye," I tell Jorge.

"Ah, I know about your father," he says, "the plane crash in Mount Manuggal. With President Magsaysay."

I fidget. I don't want to talk about that. It's too difficult to even think about all that. I hear sizzling and smell fried garlic. I didn't cry when the nun told me about the plane crash. I dug my nails deep into my flesh as I clenched my fist. Dear God, I prayed, let there be a mistake, let him have missed the flight. I made deals with God: I'd hear Mass everyday for the next month. But it didn't matter. Pieces of his body were sent to us in a closed coffin. I never saw his body before the burial, never saw what God did to him.

After the funeral, I used to play near the gate with my father's two police dogs.When a car drove by, the dogs barked and we raced to the gate, expecting my father.

"I didn't become an atheist just like that," I explain, snapping my fingers. "I didn't just say, now I no longer believe in God. Things just didn't make sense. The nuns talked about purgatory, which is temporary. Then there's hell, which is forever. Then there's another place called limbo, where unbaptized babies go. I see no justice in placing babies in such a place. Could God be so unfair?"

Jorge sits up. He strokes my hair back. I can feel the warmth from his hand. "You've been hurt," he says. "You're angry at God. One day you will realize that He loves you. And one day, I'll take you to Abra. It was there in Abra, that I knew God exists." Then he adds these words, softly, but I hear him: "I felt it inside, as surely as I know I love you."

He lifts my chin and I let him. My eyes are open; I do not know what to do. He presses his mouth to mine. I am surprised at how soft and moist a mouth is. It makes me think of that green forest in Abra, that mountaintop of Abra where he found God.

It makes me realize that even though we’ll go back and play the moon-game, and later my cousin and I will walk back to our house, and I’ll sleep in the same four-poster bed, and wake up in the morning and do the same things I’ve been doing all summer, that somehow things will never quite be the same ever again.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Book Review Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults, ed Cecilia Brainard

Book Review of Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults
Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

PALH, 2010, softcover, 258 pages ISBN 978-0-9719458-3-8
PALH, 2010, hardcover, 258 pages ISBN 978-0-9719458-2-1

Available in Kindle

Book Review by School Library Journal, 5/1/2010

“This collection of 27 short stories, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Growing Up Filipino (PALH, 2003), reflects the impact of post-9/11 wartime sensibilities among Filipino writers living in the Philippines, the United States, and Canada. Although similar topics of family, memoir, and coming-of-age thread through both collections, the pieces are not grouped by theme, but nevertheless weave a constantly shifting tapestry of Filipino identity. The challenges and conflicts of unique ancestry and struggles for identity provide a rich background for modern urban realism. The brittle memoirs reflected in "Here in the States," "Nurse Rita," and "Hammer Lounge"; original legend in "A Season of 10,000 Noses"; and breathtaking tragedy in "How My Mother Flew," among others, are compelling reading. Some selections have terse, spare language; others are almost commonplace in their apparent simplicity; all capture moments and nuances of the modern Filipino experience that will envelop readers. Brainard has again selected powerful, evocative stories of family: of promises and disappointment, failure and resentment, tenacious and all-consuming love, anxiety and transcendent hope. There is plenty here to stimulate discussion and encourage an appreciation of Filipino writing and culture. This anthology is a worthy successor to the first volume and has appeal to an audience beyond high school literature courses.” (School Library Journal 5/1/2010( 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review Cecilia Brainard's Woman with Horns and Other Stories by World Literature Today

I'm sharing this review of my first short story collection, by Doreen Fernandez published by World Literature Today.

World Literature Today, Spring 1989
Book Review by Doreen G. Fernandez, Ateneo de Manila University

Woman With Horns and Other Stories
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Published by New Day Publishers 1987, softcover, 96 pages

Women are at the center of the twelve stories in Woman with Horns, stories that are linked, occasionally by character or incident, always by sensibility. Hailing from Ubec--Cebu (both island and city) read backward literally, and also in time and memory -- they are women of strength, filled with a native sense of the life-and-death continuum.

Agustina, widowed little more than a year, amazes the also-widowed American doctor with her vitality and life-sense. Trinidad, a foundling, ages in her ache for her parents and is healed by laughter and children. Marta finds a magic spring in the forest as well as an understanding of herself and the Other. The child Milagros feels life in the undercurrents of a household, Remedios in her father's funeral. Ligaya has stopped praying because of wondering how a man's kiss and body would feel. Old Tecla lost her sons and husband in the Japanese war and brings back a miracle while praying for one. Gemma, anxious about looks and crushes in the sixties, find maturity and magic in feeling for another.  In "The Discovery" the first-person narrator weaves understanding from the emotional textures of a homecoming.

Oldest in time are two healers. In 1763, at the time of the British invasion of Manila, Alba succors a woman in childbirth and is cleansed of rancor.  In "1521" Old Healer has a dream of the white men drawing up her people in their fishing nets; she witnesses Lapu-Lapu and his warriors killing Magellan and the armed Spaniards, then honoring them "who after all fought fiercely. This was also proof to the remaining strangers that although islanders were gentle, they knew how to fight." The only story without women is set in 1901, when an old general nearing death and defeat kills an American soldier, who dies exclaiming "Sara!" Thinking of the boy's mother and Sara, he gives the soldier the dignity of a river burial.

The author, through deep woman-knowledge, makes the stories into one web, weaving events (folkloric, historical, contemporary) and people through sensibility rather than structure, drawing the reader into the loom of history and fiction, to read all life as one unity.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Research Paper on Filipino American Women Writers by John Jack Wigley "From Waxing to Waning ..."

Following is Dr. John Jack C. Wigley's Research Paper that analyses work by Filipino American women writers. His paper focuses on writings by Michelle Skinner and Cecilia Brainard.  Thank you, Jack, for the work and for giving me permission to reprint your paper in my blog:

From Waxing to Waning: Women's Psychosexual Development in the Short Fiction of Filipino American Female Writers
Published: Unitas, Quarterly Scholarly Journal of the University of Santo Tomas, Vol 80, No. 4, December 2007

Please click on the images to make them larger.

Research Paper on Cecilia Brainard by John Jack Wigley "Fictionalized Bodies ..."

Following is part of the MA Literature Thesis of Dr. John Jack C. Wigley that analyzes my short stories. Thank you, Jack for your scholarly work and for giving me permission to reprint this in my blog.

Fictionalized Bodies: The Representations of the Female Body in the Short Stories of Cecilia Manguerra-Brainard
by John Jack C. Wigley
("Representations of the Female Body in Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's Fiction." MA Literature Thesis, University of Santo Tomas.)
Published: Unitas, Quarterly Scholarly Journal of the University of Santo Tomas, Vol. 77, No. 3, September 2004

Please click on the images to make them larger.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Review - A La Carte: Food & Fiction, Eds Brainard & Orosa

A Collection of Short Stories Collected and Edited by Cecilia Brainard & Marily Orosa

Review by Anna Barbara L. Lorenzo, Reporter, Business World Weekender, March 2-3,


As if choosing ingredients for a delicate dish, writer Cecilia Manguerra
Brainard and publisher Marily Ysip Orosa went through a meticulous selection
process for their short story collection.

They sent out press releases and invitations through the Internet, reaching
Filipino writers abroad.

"We first selected 12 stories. We were surprised because they were very
serious. I realized that food brings up memories about families and relations and
sometimes these relations can be very complex," Ms. Brainard said in an

When the first batch turned out to be serious stories coming mostly from
female writers, Ms. Brainard said she encouranged more male writers to send
their stories.

"I was really looking for stories with good, strong character development.
And of course, they had to fit the theme. I have no compuctions about
rejecting work that doesn’t fit. Name does not sway me. They know it’s not
personal," Ms. Brainard said.

The stories came in not just from Manila but also from Dumaguete, Cebu,
Davao, Chicago, Singapore, Hawaii and San Francisco.

Hence, the book, A La Carte: Food and Fiction, is a feast of Filipino tales
coming from different perspectives.

Like a full menu, A La Carte first offers breads, appetizers and salad,
followed by soup, rice and main dishes. Stories inspired by desserts come in

The stories kick off with an easy read, a short autobiographical account by
Edna Weisser who serves classic Pinoy snacks with the German flair in
"Merienda Alemania."

Like warm and rich soup served on a cold and rainy day, Susan Evangelista’s
"Pumpkin Soup" and Nadine Sarreal’s "No Salt" offer heart-warming tales
revolving on love, grief, comfort and understanding.

Carlos Cortes tells about his fondness for puso in his story "Hanging Rice"
and his first trip to Manila where the handy packet of rice wrapped in woven
coconut leaves does not exist.

The collection also includes a cute romantic tale of a man who falls in love
with the waitress who serves his chicken inasal in Ian Rosales Casocot’s
"Pedro and the Chickens."

With food and family being associated most of the time, A La Carte also has
stories that involve abuses within members of the family, as found in "Two
Drifters" by Veronica Montes, "The Fish" by Reine Arcache Melvin and "Kitchen
Secrets" by Shirlie Mae Mamaril Choe.

Getting inspiration from Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, A La
Carte has included recipes to go hand-in-hand with the stories in the collection.

This is a nice value-added touch for lovers of literature and culinary arts.
After all, one might just be inspired to make traditional Filipino favorites
like pork adobo after reading Dean Francis Alfar’s "Sabados Con Fray
Villalobos" or lumpia after Jose Dalisay, Jr.’s "Wok Man."


Book Review - Cecilia Brainard's When the Rainbow Goddess Wept by Booklist

Booklist, Sept 1, 1994 v91 n1 p22(1)

by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Review of the Dutton/Penguin Edition
Cecilia Brainard's novel is available from 

University of Michigan Press
Ann Arbor PaperbacksISBN 0472086375
1999, 216 pages

and from Kindle

When the Rainbow Goddess Wept. (book reviews) Kathleen Hughes.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 American Library Association

Yvonne Macairag is a nine-year-old living in the Philippines during World War II. She plays contentedly with her cousin, Esperanza, and spends quiet evenings on the veranda with her grandfather. Her family life is idyllic. All of this is lost when the Japanese invade the Philippines. Yvonne flees to the jungle, where her father joins the resistance movement, the guerilleros. Life is hard in the jungle, and Yvonne is often exposed to the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese soldiers. As the child encounters scenes of wartime horror, she remembers and recites the epic stories of her ancestors. She uses the ancient fables to bolster her courage and to help herself cope with the horrors of the war. Overwhelmed by the superior Japanese firepower, the guerilleros hope the American soldiers will arrive and assist in expelling the Japanese. The American soldiers eventually do, but not before the guerilleros realize that ultimately Filipinos are responsible for the destiny of the Philippines. Like the epic legends, this story tells the tale of the essential courage and wisdom of the Filipinos. A beautifully written novel in which the words flow smoothly across the pages, weaving a story that is half lyrical myth and half brutal reality. Enchanting throughout, this novel will mesmerize the reader right up until its victorious ending.

Review Grade: A

Book Review - Cecilia Brainard's Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America by Harold Augenbraum

Edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Anvil , 1997, softcover, 254 pages
Available in Kindle

Review by Harold Augenbraum
MANOA, Vol. 13, No., 1, Silence to Light: Japan and the Shadows of War (Summer, 2001) pp. 201-203

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, L inda Ty-Casper, and F.Sionil Jose. 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 literary lord, such as Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. The University of Washington Press has loyally for Dogeaters brought some attention to lesser-known Filipino writers toiling in the vineyards of the 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 LindaT y-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 thrived despite the publisher's barely useable design. F rancia'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 grounds even 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 her work.

With its political legacy omitted, the Philippines is neither idealized nor demonized. As an ancestral home, the place of one's consciousness before coming to America, it becomes another "worldly" place: subtly powerful, vivid, and distant. Within the Filipino a nd Filipino American world, trials and tribulations focus the self within a social context, but not on the context. Even in Brainard'cs ontribution, "Flip Gothic," in which an uncontrollable young woman on the verge of
 adulthood is sent by her family in the States to live with her grandmother in Manila, the national culture of the Philippines is subjugated to the household culture, and the homeland is affective, but amorphous.

By pulling these personal, fictional quests together, the reader indeed comes away with a varied portrait of Filipinos in America, not the expression of dark causality present in the earlier generations of writers, such as Bulosan and Santos- those fantastic conjurors of Filipino America n literature - but of people cautiously settling into what they hope will be a comfortable position.

In Veronica Montes's "Of M idgets and Beautiful Cousins," a Filipino American teenager and her sister, visiting their cousins in Manila, are taken to a dance club called "Small World," where the entire staf is made up of midgets.The girl is nervous and edgy. Against a backdrop of raucous eroticism - American soldiers hoot at the torch singer onstage - her cousin introduces her to a friend of his who is a waiter there and who shows an obvious interest in her. This makes her feel even more anxious, and she panics. They leave, and as they walk through the rain to their car, the waiter comes running up with an umbrella to shelter her - a sad ending to a sad evening of Filipinos, Americans, and Filipino Americans.

So many of these stories convey loneliness, disconnectedness, and an inability o form lasting attachments. They are stories rooted in rootlessness. Dizon's "Bride" harkens back to the days before World War II, when Pinoys made up a ood part of the migrant workers on the plantations of Hawai'i, California, and Oregon. Cut off from the women of their homeland, they would troll the streets for hours, seeking companionship, drifting in and out of Chinese bordellos and dance bars - pictures that Bulosan drew with pathos and lyricism. Dizon's Candido has left a family behind in the Philippines; his wife has died and his children moved away. Decades pass. H awai'ii s now a state, the gateway to America. An old man, Candido receives a letter from a cousin. She knows a young woman who might want to marry, w hich Candido recognizesa s an obvious immigration ploy. Despite this, he agrees and they wed. She quickly becomes pregnant, an unexpected event since Candido is in his early seventies. Two months after the birth of their child, she commits suicide.

The well-worn ground of the woman in a sanitarium is Linda Ty-Casper's cenario in "Dark Star/Altered Seeds."F rom a lesser writer, the story might be stale, but Ty-Casper is so deft with language - a fact known to readers of literary magazines and the slim novels she has published with Readers International, Inc. - it seems fresh. The narrator's husband has left her for another woman, but his return does not cure the ills that abandonment has caused: Is she pretty? Was that the question that woke her up? Then why did he leave? Every nameless, faceless woman; every young and jubilant face she meets becomes that woman. She. When he holds her now she becomes her, too. The narrator's own identity has been usurped by her husband's thoughtless exchange of women, and even the reader becomes somewhat confused by the manner in which Ty-Casper has placed her pronouns. This collection abounds with such tension.

Though Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America could benefit from the addition of a bit more humor and a few East Coast writers - such as Rosca, Gamalinda, Hagedorn, and Regie Cabico - these are quibbles. Brainard has done a fine job of bringing many ;ittle-known writers - and the edginess of Filipinos in America - to the fore.



Book Review - Cecilia Brainard's Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories by Isagani R. Cruz

Book Review
Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Review by
Isagani R. Cruz, Critic at Large
Starweek, The Sunday Magazine of the Philippine Star/October 29, 1995


Modern, modernist, postmodern, post-modernist, magic realist, postcolonialist, or simply new fiction has successfully removed many of the traditional restrictions imposed on the short story genre.

Ironically, these restrictions were imposed not by creative writers but by literary critics, not by the producers of the short story but by its consumers. While in other areas of everyday life customers may always be right, they are not always right - and may in fact be incredibly wrong - when it comes to fiction.

For fiction - as Aristotle so wisely saw centuries ago - is not an art of the possible, but may even be an art of the impossible. Even wise old Aristotle, however, did not see (how could he?) that his dead, white, male, two-valued mind was hopelessly limited by temporality, color, biology, and patriarchy, nor could he foretell - despite everything he foretold so well - that fiction would remain unchangingly changing.

Fiction has changed so much in the last century or so that it has finally become recognizable. New fiction - perhaps all fiction - has become, perhaps always was, not an art of the real or - to use the serendipitous word of the Latinate English - of verisimilitude. As critics love to say, poking fun at themselves, fiction is constitutive of reality. Or put it in a shamelessly Derridean way, fiction precedes reality - before there was reality, there was fiction.

Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's stories, collected in Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories (Anvil Publishing, 1995, 157 pages) is a case in print.

Brainard's short stories are refreshingly new, therefore comfortably old-fashioned; they are delightfully conventional, therefore startlingly innovative. They are written according to the strict conventions of new fiction, therefore not conventional or new. Or perhaps more precisely put, they are new fiction, written as though they are old, or old fiction, written as though they were new.

In Brainard's stories, Acapulco and Intramuros are the same, and at the same time, completely different places. Dead characters and live characters talk to each other nonchalantly. A young poor boy falls in love with an older rich woman, and by loving her, kills her. Filipinos find their identity in, of course, San Francisco, but not so ordinarily, in Alaska. The green card - actually blue - spells the difference between authenticity and an authentic life, between dreaming and the American dream.

In Brainard's stories, the mind does wondrous things: aside from creating an Evil-Thing that makes one do good things, for instance, it may recreate good people that spell the difference between good and evil. It may make characters live in worlds they themselves create, distinct from - often destructive of - the world that has created them. A young girl, for instance, may live for the handsome object of her adolescent fantasies, then so suddenly recognize these fantasies as mere "silly daydreams." A very old woman, saving herself for her one and only love, finally surrenders her virtue - and her life - on her death bed, of course to her one and only, now long dead, love,

Needless to say, since Brainard comes from Cebu (although she is, of course, now a leading Los Angeles writer, having had her New Day novel, Song of Yvonne published as When the Rainbow Goddess Wept by Dutton of New York, not to mention her several other publications), she sets many of her stories in Cebu, so transparently respelled as Ubec, so powerfully casting a spell as a place tied to the Cebu of her memory but developed into a Cebu of her imagination. Ubec, like Cebu, is an old and new city - it is modern yet traditional, a large metropolis yet a smal town, a capital that is not a capital. Beside Ubec, Cebu looks unreal, fictional: before Cebu was born, there was Ubec.

Brainard's imagination spans not just the space between Mexico and Manila - a space traversed by galleons two centuries ago - but the time betewen then and now, the time traversed by the Philippines as it moved, moves forward - some say backward - from a postcolonial to a post-colonial societ.

Her book uses sunset in its title, but the sun has never set on Ubec, and perhaps will never set in Cebu either. Only the real sun, so sadly limited by reality, has to set on Cebu's beaches. The unreal, the more real Acapulco-Intramuros sun in Brainard's imagination does not set even on the last page of the book which, predictably, unpredictably talks about history. "I have a history here in Alaska," goes the last sentence of the story that ends the book, echoing the epigram of the story that begins the book: "In 1780, the Filipino Antonio Miranda Rodriguez - nicknamed Chino - joined the Spanish expedition from Mexico headed for Alta California." From 1780 to 1955 is not such a long journey, either through time or space, but in Brainard's Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories, it is a mind-boggling, mind-expanding, instantaneous journey through both time and space, at the same time and in the same space.

~end of excerpt~

Book Review - Cecilia Brainard's Acapulco at Sunset and Other Stories by Les Adler (Pilipinas)

by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Anvil 1995, softcover, 157pages
Pilipinas, No. 26, Spring 1996
by Les Adler

Introducing this collection of seventeen short stories, written over a period of eight years, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, a Cebuana residing in Southern California, hopes readers will "learn something...about Filipinos or about manking in general." Adding to her cast of Filipino characters in Philippine settings during the twentienth century, Brainard includes other nationals, Mexican and American settings, and the eighteenth century to communicate universal and timeless truths. Nonetheless, Filipino experience and the Philippines are palpably on display, since the non-Filipino content is incompletely developed as an arena of forces influencing Filipino thought and action. For instance, American reactions to Filipinos stay at a superficial level: "Great people, Filipinos. I was there during World War II," an employer in "Welcome to America" tells a prospective green-card holder looking for work. This sort of exchange is less than informative of the range of Filipino-non-Filipino interaction outside the Philippines. However, Brainard's treatment of Filipinos and cultural assumptions and social practices regarding men and women, marriage, and social roles and relationships across the life cycle is insightful.

Although writing from outside the Philippines, Brainard uses the Philippines and Filipinos as "either the original or terminal reference point." This narrative strategy, which Oscar Campomanes argues characterizes literature written by Filipinos in the U.S. or Filipino Americans, opposed to "ethnic" literature, which addresses immigration and settlement. It is best described, Campomanes suggests, as a literature of "exile and emergence" (Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Cultures, ed. Vicente L. Rafael.) Brainard enriches the conventional understanding of exile by applying the concept to Filipino experience in the Philipines. She is thereby able to show the cultural and social issues that a Filipino/a faces while in exile are universal Filipino experiences.

This is not a happy book. Exile induces mental suffering, which Brainard's characters experience as nostalgia, bereavement, or grief for relatives, friends, former beaus, language, fragrance, foods: in a word, one's baggage. Typically, they feel their sufferings through memories, dreams, or conversations with the deceased: narrative devices which estrange a character from everyday world, much as exile separates an actor from a familiar environment.

In the opening lines of the tale from which the collection takes its title, the Filipina Maria forbids her gardener from destroying a spider and its web, positioned snugly for two weeks now on her ocean-view verandah in Acapulco. Sitting there, in a light rain waiting for the Manila galleon and its letters and treasures, she shuffles among memories of relatives and old suitor, whom she loved but whose marriage proposal she refused because his prospects for making a secure and comfortable living were poor. She cannot literally visit the past, but neither can she move beyond her memories of home and subversive longings for an erstwhile romance. "I too am creating a web, am I not?" she asks. In both corporeal and mental exile, she spins imaginary nets to savor the past which then leave her "no other place to go" since the present is second-rate.

This view that a life lived in exile is also physhic entrapment is amplified in the fourth and fifth stories, although they are set in the Philippines with Filipino actors, hardly exilic circumstances. Therefore, the focus of the stories shifts to Filipinos concerns in any time or place, lending thematic unity to the collection. In these stories, again, the issue centers on the choices made about appropriate life course pursuits. A culturally based tension surfaces as a central motif:pursue personal desires of sacrifice individual plans to help out with needs of larger social units, like the family or society. In Cebuano Visayan discourse about life's paths, striking out on one's own to advance materially, fulfill career ambitions, or follow love and marry a sweetheart are goals young people are expected or encouraged to fulfill. However, individual wishes are always considered against group needs, and the latter often take priority when the two conflict, necessitating some compromise or surrender of personal goals.

In two psychologically rich tales, "Casa Bonita" and "The Virgin's Last Night," Ricardo and Meding, the respective central characters, have chosen culturally fitting roles but not without psychological and social costs. Since Ricardo's father abused and crippled his mother, the son has "had to take care of her" and manage their store. Unhappy in this role, for he aspired to be a priest, he boils with discontent. As the story unfolds, a new neighbor, attractive and flirtatious, arouses Ricardo's romantic impulses. He realizes he can never express his love because she, unlike him and his mother, is wealthy and socially inaccessible. Blocked not only from achieving his vocational aim, but also from connecting satisfyingly with the neighbor, he grows darkly obsessed, killing her in order to possess and protect her.

In "The Virgin's Last Night," Meding, during her last night alive, is engrossed in conversation with her once and only beau, Mateo, dead now for some time. Clearly still in love but also annoyed with his reputation as a philanderer while married to someone else, she upbraids him. What else, he wonders, could he have done? She refused his proposal for marriage, forcing him to marry someone else whom he did not love. When that "prickly and shrill" marriage failed, he turned to "girlfriends." Meding reminds him she loved him but had to assume responsibility for Petra, her sickly sister, after their parents' death. Morever, she wants him to know her life was not unsatisfactory: "...I've had a good life. Just because you did a fine job messing up yours doesn't mean I wasn't happy. Petra and I have done our part serving the church, society, doing the best we can." Mateo challenges her to explain why she chose not to marry him - for surely they could have accommodated Petra? She breaks down:

The truth of it, Mateo, the real truth, is that I was afraid. I loved you so much, too much, and I was afraid...of being hurt. It seemed to me that love begot pain. And love is terribly unreliable. Papa loved Mama, and she died...You know he died in his mistress's bedroom; the shame of it. Love wasn't real. Pain was, and suffering...Don't protest, Mateo, I've seen it happen too many times, men falling out of love...What would have happened to me?

In this cultural scenario which actors have had to abort personal desires for group demands, the opposition of passionate love and sexuality to marriage as a passionless, sober experience is a favorite Brainard theme. That is, she illustrates the tension between individual and group through discourse on marriage. Throughout most of the stories, being married holds little appeal; relations are cold, emotionless, without passion or joy. Husbands are usually unfaithful while wives/mothers are plaintive and bitter. "All my life I have borne my cross, worked myself to the bone,"Epang, Ricardo's mother, tells her son after the physically appealing neighbor has left their store. Marked a "slut" ("Casa Bonita)" or "an experienced girl ("The Dead Boy"), this other woman stands for the passionaate sexuality and love which are possible outside marriage, much as Meding and Mateo's consummation at the story's end of their first-love courtship, not in marriage but in a dream-like embrace, he from the land of the dead and she about to depart from the living.

Thus marriage and sexuality/love/passion are incompatible. Structurally, marriage is the province of reproduction, material provisioning, and parenting, while sexuality as romance plays a background role. Male sexual activity outside marriage is a foregone conclusion, given the cultural interpretation of male sexuality as naturally insatiable: Ben, telling his first romantic attachment, Lucy, "what it's like to be in an unhappy marraige," reveals to her, "Yes, I have girlfriends. They give me something I don't get at home." Similarly, in "A Very Short Story," everyman cruises hotels for an "afternoon of sad, hot-blooded lovemaking," after which, Brainard narrates, "Face like stone, you tell your wife whom you have long ago stopped loving, that you had a late business meeting..."

In these stories, marriage emerges as the instrument of cultural, social, and biological reproduction, that is, the executor of group interests to which individual desires are subjugated. While marriage is a productive relationship, it also is a form of exile. Listening to Brainard's tired wives/mothers who have exhausted their functions as agents of reproduction, income provision, and parenting, often without male contributions, one is struck by the loneliness and rejection staring them down at the ends of their lives: "Yes, I understand my mother's sorrow, fear and anxieties after Papa's death. And no, I cannot change her, and yes I have my own life. And that life is far away from here, far away from her" (Killing Time" also "Melodee"). Husbands, too, endure a kind of exile, a "muted sorrow and anger." While they are responsible for their own misery, having "stopped loving" their wives, they are also victims of their own sexuality, exiled to a culture of masculinity which leads them toward sexual satisfaction but away from the relationships and "laughter and stories" present when their marriages began ("A Very Short Story").

While men's stories are included, women's lives are more continually in the camera's eye. Evaluating them, women seek to avoid pitfalls their mother's faced as they fashion new lives, living, for instance, without men or children while pouring energy into careers and building economic self-sufficiency. This challenges are faintly drawn, however, for the careerists are depicted in the midst of fresh pursuits and how their lives will take shape is unknown. Indeed, exile generates its own conditions, whether the setting is eighteenth century Acapulco or American in the late twentieth. In both cases, a return to home is impossible, just as integration into the new surroundings is less inviting. And so one is trapped. However, the story is incomplete, since Brainard only tells about exile in relation to home but not exile becoming settlement. It will be interesing to learn whether the dilemmas Filipinos experience in marriage and life cycle roles and relationships are transformed in different environments or whether the logic of exile precludes significant change.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Review of Cecilia's Diary by Erma Cuizon

Bird by bird (Sunstar Weekend)

Cecilia’s Diary
By Erma M Cuizon

When was the (first and/or) last time you read a real-life diary in a book form?

There are memoirs but they are actually written today in retrospect or in retirement. A memoir isn’t what we’re talking about here. Even the Diary of Anne Frank isn’t quite it.

It’s different when the diary has been written by a local girl in a normal time and now she is a novelist. The diary belongs to a Cebuana fictionist Cecilia Manguera Brainard who now lives in California and teaches writing at UCLA. It’s one she first wrote when she was 15.

From the diary, you could see she has been a girl in town, a neighbor, a classmate, part of the gang, so familiar and real as though she were there in your past. As a teener at 18, she had regularly gone to places and times that aren’t there anymore. She went dancing at Sandtrap in Magellan Hotel (where the late pianist Marcial Sanson played), the Discotheque somewhere else, or listened to nightclub singers at Eddie’s Log Cabin and watched the city from a romantic view above the skylines at Diamond Tower. She has gone to all the fun get-together in upper town when parties were held in homes, if not in Casino Espanol only, such as the Bachelor and Fermina annual gigs. There was a drive-in nook called Dairy Queen.

Just off the press, Cecilia’s Diary 1962-1969 (published Anvil), is a memory piece for Cebuanos who grew up in that era. It’s so honest, you feel as though you’ve peeped into a private room. More than that, you’re in the room, the young girl’s distress and joys are yours.

The diary of Cecilia will remain to be a diary of a colegialia, originally written in long hand in 1962. She has hardly changed anything in it except correct some grammar lapses and changed some names.

But more than that, the diary is a look back at a special decade, the 60s. That was a time when young girls wore party dresses made of breathless organdy that went with “flowers, ribbons, pearls, diamonds”. Jack Kennedy was assassinated, Chubby Checker came, interesting Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in town, Birdman of Alcatraz was shown, guileless children played jackstones, the Vietnam was stepped up.

With this as backdrop, Cecilia kept wondering whether she’d become a nun, or get married, or even be a psychiatrist (after watching a crazy woman in Danao).

The diary changes as Cecilia matures, even in the way she wrote then. A 1966 entry says: “Time, what is time— death, bird, growing up, growing old. Just a stupid old cycle. Like water which dries up, gets carried by the soft fluffy clouds, and falls down again to the waiting earth.”

Yes, someone else’s diary could be like your own story.


Book Review of Cecilia Brainard's Growing Up Filipino by Krip Yuson

Growing up & Writing Pinoy
(PHILIPPINE STAR, Lifestyle Feature
April 28, 2003)
by Alfred A. Yuson

A Filipino Authors’ Night was held last Tuesday at Boston College in Massachusetts, featuring a literary reading and discussion to launch the anthology Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, edited by Cecile Manguerra Brainard, and published by the Philippine American Literary House (PALH) early this year.

Linda Ty-Casper, author of over a dozen novels and short story collections, including the acclaimed Ten Thousand Seeds, led the speakers, together with New York-based playwright and former Peso Books publisher Alberto Florentino. Joining them were Fil-Am novelists Grace Talusan and Ricco Villanueva Siasoco. A Tufts professor, Talusan is the recipient of a
2002 Massachusetts Cultural Council artist grant. Siasoco teaches at Boston College.

The exemplary American writer-professor and Filipinist critic Dr. Leonard Casper, who has written so much and so creditably on Philippine literature, was there, too, lending his distinctive presence and acuity.

Only a fortnight ago we received a copy of a talk by Linda on how the history of Philippine-American relations, starting with the war some American archivists still try to label as an insurrection, has not seemed to provide material for literature among American writers. And how it has taken Filipino researchers and writers, like herself, to delve into the narrative truths offered by that conflict.

In a brief digression here’s sharing excerpts from that piece, titled “History’s Memory: Literature’s Memory,” which really ought to be presented in full sometime in a local publication:

“Literature is celebratory in a different sense from history. Rather than showing military and political victories, coming from a different perspective, it celebrates victories of the human spirit, man’s nobility. Not monochromatic, it presents the many conflicts by showing how people faced upheavals, what they became because of the way they lived through
wars and revolutions; confronting themselves.

“… The problematic human being -- with all the complexities, contradictions, uncertainties -- faced with ultimate questions: that is what literature is about. Because literature is about life, and life is sacred, literature could be a sacred text for us, for all of us.”

A day after, we picked up from the flips e-group a couple of accounts on how the reading went. Very successfully, according to Ricco Siasoco, the 31-year-old Fil-Am writer whose story in the collection, “Deaf Mute,” is a powerful rendition anent the dilemmas faced by young, would-be balibayans who ask themselves: “How do we ‘return’ to a place we’ve never seen, much less experienced?”

Ricco offered to meet the septuagenarian yet eternal neoteny specialist Bert Florentino, who came off a 4.5-hour bus ride from the Big Apple.
Hosted the ever-genial memoirist Manong Bert, too, and took him all around the city, inclusive of the hallowed portals of Harvard U. Such that Bert’s
own account includes the fresh claim that “he entered Harvard.”

Recounts Ricco: “It was wonderful to host Bert, Linda, and Grace in Boston last night ... The evening was a success! The Philippine Society was instrumental in drawing a crowd; they made the readers feel welcome with a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant … Bert kept telling me that he was enjoying himself because the food in his senior residence is so bland,
then digging into the fried spring rolls.

“Most of the Filipino students at BC — I’d say 20 or so in attendance — bought a copy of the anthology. How I stressed the importance of supporting Fil-Am literature, and the need to support Fil-Am writing by BUYING FIL-AM BOOKS… I invited friends and students in my writing classes to attend, so over-all there was probably an audience of 50 or so. After
Linda read her story ‘In Place of Trees,’ I heard an audible gasp from the crowd… (S)everal students complimented me afterward on Grace’s riveting voice… I read the first page of Brian’s (Brian Ascalon Roley) epilogue to ‘American Son’ and then the first scene of my own story.

“A really nice evening. Linda and Bert, of course, were gracious and inspiring. The presence of such renowned writers was reiterated by the club's student president Joey, who said, ‘You don't know how inspiring it is for us to have you here.’”

Well, indeed it proved so nice and heartwarming for Bert that his intended stay of a few hours in Boston stretched on to 24 hours, inclusive of an overnight caucus at Ricco’s place, until he was seen off by his hosts at the Greyhound station the day after.

Last Saturday, clear across the American continent, in Berkeley, California, Growing Up Filipino… was launched at Eastwind Books of Berkeley. Some of the West Coast-based contributors to the landmark anthology made themselves available: Marianne Villanueva, Edgar Poma, Veronica Montes, Oscar Peñaranda and Brian Ascalon Roley.

Villanueva recently co-edited the anthology of Filipina writings, Going Home To A Landscape, due out by autumn from Calyx Books. Her first book was Ginseng & Other Tales From Manila.

The short stories of San Francisco native Veronica Montes can be found in the anthology Contemporary Fiction by Filipinos in America, also edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (Anvil, 1997), and in the forthcoming anthology co-edited by Villanueva.

Edgar Poma is a San Francisco-based writer of fiction, plays and poetry about Filipinos in California and Hawaii. He has received a California Arts Council Grant.

Our bosom buddy Oscar Peñaranda has been an educator since 1969, and is one of the founders of Pilipino American Studies at San Francisco State University. He writes poetry, fiction, plays and essays.

Brian Ascalon Roley is the author of American Son (W.W. Norton, 2002), a first novel that made it to the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list, and was a finalist in the prestigious 2002 Kiriyama Prize for books dwelling on the Pacific Rim. Again, only a few days ago, we received word that this book won the Association for Asian American Studies 2003 Prose Award. Congrats to Brian!

Soon we hope to hear as well on what must have been another joyous get-together in Berkeley among our Fil-Am writer-friends. And this Friday, May 2, at 6 p.m., another reading and signing session to promote the book will be held with the same cast, this time at ARKIPELAGO: The Filipino Bookstore, on Mission Street in San Francisco.

Of the 29 contributors to the anthology, ten are Philippine-based writers, namely Gémino H. Abad, Libay Linsangan Cantor, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Rogelio Cruz, Wanggo Gallaga, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Connie Jan Maraan, Marily Ysip Orosa, Anthony L. Tan, and this writer. Thirty-year-old Erwin Cabucos, from North Cotabato, now writes from Sydney, Australia. The rest are in the U.S. Those we haven’t named yet (Editor Brainard also contributes a wonderful story, “The Last Moon-Game of Summer”) are Paula Angeles, Alex Dean Bru, Ruby Enario Carlino, M. Evelina Galang, Vince Gotera, Mar V. Puatu, Ruth T. Sarreal and Joel Barraquiel Tan.

We are particularly pleased that contributions have come from young, upcoming local writers whose work we’re familiar with. These are our godson Wanggo’s “The Purpose of Malls” and our one-time ADMU student Roger Cruz’s “Flooded.”

Brainard sounded the call for contributions last year, and we were among those who responded. We don’t think it has been a full year since that e-mail posting, but with the help of Vince Gotera -- a poet, editor and literature professor at the University of Northern Iowa, as well as the founder and maintainer of the flips e-group -- Brainard and her PAWWA (Philippine America Women Writers and Artists) colleague Susan Montepio, who designed the book, soon had it rolling off the press. (We believe Marily Orosa’s Makati outfit Studio 5 had a hand in the cover design.)

Such are the wondrous benefits of Internet collaboration among Fil-Am and “Fil-Fil” writers and editors who find themselves in various cities, including those “back home.” Conceiving, collating, editing, designing and publishing anthologies has become so much easier with the help of cybernetic channels of communication. And it is one other manifestation that there exists no divide at all between us, nor between our materials, themes and concerns.

As Rocio G. Davis writes in her percipient Introduction, “The collection represents the scope and diversity –- and, importantly, suggests renewed possibilities and an auspicious future –- for Filipino/America writing today.”

She comments further: “Moreover, to publish writing by Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the same volume stresses the continuity of Filipino writing in English, and the emergence of mutually enhancing forms of discerning and articulating the Filipino experience. “… The stories in Brainard’s anthology are not only about ‘growing up,’ but also importantly engage the process of ‘growing into’ Filipino-ness, ‘growing with’ Filipinos, and ‘growing in’ or ‘growing away’ from the Philippines…

“In diverse ways, the stories in this collection dialogue with Ricardo M. de Ungria’s sentiments in his poem ‘Room for Time Passing’ (written when De Ungria was pursuing his MFA in St.Louis; now he’s Chancellor of UP in Mindanao): “Whichever side of the ocean I’m on/ completeness will seek me and the world exceed/ the surprises I spring on it with these same words.’”

Until copies of the book make their way here on a commercial basis, it may be ordered online at or by email at, by phone at (510) 548-2350 and by fax at (510) 548-3697.

Preliminary reviews of the collection have hailed Brainard’s effort. Roger N. Buckley, Professor of History and Director of the Asian American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, wrote:

"Editor Cecilia Manguerra Brainard has collected a dazzling and impressive array of 29 stories about the saga of what it means to be young and Filipino. The authors make the experiences of ordinary young people come alive for us.

"But don't be taken in by the simplicity of the title. This volume is indeed about magic, mysteries, sadness, time, family, fear, and happiness of young adult Filipinos. In exploring these arenas the authors, each a born storyteller and philosopher, collectively capture the natural and social tapestry of the Philippines and Filipino culture and those forces that influence it. Their use of the language with all its idioms, narrative intervals and cadences leaves no doubt about the complexities of the historical, social, cultural, gender and racial terrain of modern
Filipino culture.

"Despite the book's sub-title, this is also a book for adults. They too will profit from what is a truthful, passionate, hopeful -- and ultimately -- a very wise book.

"Kudos to Brainard and the other writers for this important contribution to Filipino/Filipino-American history and culture. This is a powerfully achieved and memorable book by authors who know their craft, and who also have a profound understanding and love for the Philippines and things Filipino."

We can only concur with Prof. Buckley’s kind words.

Congratulations to Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Susan Montepio, and PALH for this inevitably seminal collection.

Book Review of Cecilia Brainard's Growing Up Filipino by School Library Journal

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up-These 29 short stories offer a highly textured portrait of Filipino youth and an excellent sampling of creative writing. Thematically arranged, most of the pieces have been written since the turn of the 21st century. Each story is introduced by a thumbnail sketch of the author and a paragraph or two about some element of Filipino culture or history that is relevant to the story. Authors include those born and continuing to live in the Philippines, emigres, and American-born Filipinos. Tough but relevant topics addressed include a gay youth's affection for his supportive mother, the role of religious didacticism in the formation of a childhood perception, consumer culture as it is experienced by modern teens in Manila, and coping with bullies of all ages and stations in life. While the introduction seems more appropriate to graduate school than high school students, and the layout and book design are not attractive, there is much here to merit consideration. There are more Filipinos living in the U.S. than most people realize, but finding literature reflective of their experiences is difficult. The high caliber and broad but wholly accessible range of this collection, however, makes this title a solid purchase for multiple reasons.

Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.