Thursday, August 2, 2018

Book Review of Cecilia Brainard's Growing Up Filipino by Melus

Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults. Edited
by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. Santa Monica,
California: PALH, 2003. 298 pages. $18.95, paper.

Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults
REVIEW BY MELUS, Spring, 2004 by Pearl Ratunil

Growing up is not easy. Adolescence is fraught with misunderstandings, loneliness, feelings of exile, and bad haircuts. In an anthology edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, authors explore numerous facets of this time of life. This alone does not make the collection unique; what does, however, is that all the protagonists in these stories are Filipino or Filipino American. What comes through is that being an adolescent is awful, no matter where or who you are, because adolescence is about awakenings: learning things that one did not want to know and rejecting things one thought one did know.

The anthology is divided into five sections, each with a theme: family, angst, friendship, love, home. While this imposes a kind of order and structure on the stories, it seems unnecessary. What makes the collection compelling is what Rocio Davis calls in the introduction the "multifariousness of the Filipino experience" (ix), and it is this variety which cannot be contained within the five themes. As one reads the stories, one forgets (as one should) that these stories are examples of the theme. Instead the voice of each protagonist and narrator comes through individually, speaking a new idea each time. For example, two stories from the section titled "Family" begin with first sentences describing grandmothers. Paula Angeles starts her story "Lola Sim's Handkerchief" with this: "When my Lola Sim, my mother's mother, died after my sixteenth birthday, no one wanted to open her armoire"(3); while Veronica Montes begins her story "Lolo's Bride," with this: "After my grandmother died, Lolo Ting spent three months blinking" (13). These stories could have repeated each other like bad echoes, but instead they describe two completely different kinds of grief. Angeles' story describes a girl's regret about the relationship with her grandmother: "my teenage years with my grandmother echoed with the volleys of words in our continuous argument game" (4). In contrast, Montes' story is almost humorous in describing a girl watching her mother's on-going self-delusion about her grandfather's new "maid"--in actuality, a much younger wife. So while these stories may be categorized together because of the common feature of the Lola, or grandmother, they are very different from each other. That difference enables the anthology to escape a dull homogeneity.

The anthology's "multifariousness" is heard not only in the voices of the characters but also in the subject of the stories. M. Evelina Galang's "Her Wild American Self" is about a Filipino-American girl in love with her own cousin; Joel Barraquiel Tan writes about a gay man's friendship with his mother, who upon learning her son was gay, responds: "Okay! Good...." (125); Oscar Penaranda in "Day of the Butterfly" writes about migrant workers in the orchards of California. Penaranda's narrator offers an apt description of the experience of reading the anthology itself. As the storyteller, but not the witness to the events of the story, the narrator admits to and describes the challenges of his job. "I had to piece things together, use liberties to fill in gaps, iron out seeming contradictions, and restrain the implausible, to make palatable, to make sense out of the whole fiasco that was the roadside showdown on freeway Interstate 80, about 40 miles northeast of San Francisco where we were all from. And even then it was still open for several interpretations" (89). Here too, the reader of these stories must iron out contradictions. How is it, for instance, that Filipinos can have so many commonalities, and yet be so distinct from each other? Is it plausible that an old man can marry a young woman and pass her off as his maid to his family? Then, how can immigrating for a better life in America turn out to be such a disaster? The challenge of reading and writing Filipino literature is what makes this anthology exciting.

Growing up Filipino is a valuable addition to Asian American literature. One feature of the anthology's title, however, may be misleading. The subtitle "stories for young adults" may direct potential readers away from the anthology, readers who assume (erroneously, perhaps) that the stories are simplistic or are themselves adolescent. They are not. The writing, the characters, and the stories are sophisticated and are appropriate for adult readers as well as young adult readers.

Pearl Ratunil
University of Illinois at Chicago
COPYRIGHT 2004 The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnics Literature of the United States

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