Filipino/a/* American History Month (FAHM) Reading List
The Lift Up podcast’s guide to fiction, nonfiction, & poetry by Pilipin* American writers
Since 1992 — when Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) founders, the late Dr. Fred Cordova and his wife Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, first introduced the resolution — October was declared Filipino/a/* American History Month (FAHM) and was officially recognized nationally in 2009. FANHS underscores that FAHM is purposefully history rather than heritage month, since “‘History’ encompasses the experiences and events that have shaped our lives, as well as culture and heritage.”
Today, Pilipin* Americans comprise the second largest Asian American group in the nation and the third largest ethnic group in California. Yet, as Dr. Kevin Nadal and other scholars point out:
American history books have typically glared over any mention of the Philippines.
In addition to this, when the field of Asian American Studies emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, most literature concentrated on the experiences of East Asian Americans (particularly those of Chinese and Japanese descent).
While FAHM is meant to celebrate the many contributions of the Pilipin* American community to this country, we at The Lift Up believe it also is important to learn about and reflect on the intertwined histories of both the Philippines (forced into nation statehood by the Spanish under the eponymous King Philip II) and the US as colonizer, including over the Indigenous peoples of these lands now called the US. With that in mind, we’ve curated a list of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry around time periods, themes, and genres to help illuminate our understanding of an ever-evolving relationship between both countries and peoples (we’ve linked to titles that may purchased through The Lift Up’s shop on bookshop.org and other independent bookstores). Feel free to send us suggestions for books we may have missed through our Instagram page @theliftuppod or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE PHILIPPINE-AMERICAN WAR (1899–1902): After posing as allies to Pilipino revolutionaries fighting for their independence from Spain, the US turned around and purchased the Philippines for $20 million in 1898, concluding the Spanish-American War. Most Americans (even Pilipin* Americans) don’t know about the Pilipinos’ continued struggle for sovereignty against American colonizers in a war where more than 20,000 Pilipino soldiers and guerrillas and more than 200,000 civilians died from direct conflict, as well as from famine and disease.
- Insurrecto by Gina Apostol: While most of the novel takes place in the present-day Philippines under autocratic President Rodrigo Duterte, the pervasive legacies of American imperialism and Pilipino resistance are at its core — juxtaposing dueling film scripts by American filmmaker Chiara Brasi and Pilipin* American translator Magsalin about the 1901 Balangiga massacre during the Philippine-American War. Listen to Episode 2 of The Lift Up, which features this novel, as well as Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview with author Gina Apostol.
- Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay (recommended by listener and friend of the pod Maria): This YA historical novel is set at the turn of the 20th century in Bontoc in the northern Cordillera mountains of the Philippines and is about a ten-year-old indigenous boy’s encounter with “weird-looking men called Americans who bring war and death.” Gourlay was inspired to write the book after seeing photographs of Bontoc boy Antero Cabrera at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair — an exposition of imperial America, commemorating the Centennial of the Louisiana Purchase (French-occupied territory that encompassed the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow, Pawnee, Osage, and Comanche Indigenous nations). Among the most popular exhibits were “human zoos,” which not only put Native American people on display but also Indigenous Pilipinos who were handpicked for the Fair’s “Igorot Village” by Cabrera’s employee, the American anthropologist Albert Jenks. At the time, anthropology and ethnology were helpmeets of imperialism and white supremacy — establishing racial hierarchies based on skin color and misguided notions about unfamiliar types of social organization and cultural practices, which justified the “white man’s burden” to “uplift and civilize” such “wild savages.”
- The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons by Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, and Helen Toribio: In the words of the late historian Howard Zinn, this collection of over 200 political cartoons from 1898 to 1906 “… brings that shameful episode in our history out in the open … The book deserves wide circulation.” It gets its title from a 1900 Chicago Chronicle cartoon, which shows then-President William McKinley putting a lock on a book titled “True History of the War in the Philippines.”
- Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899–1999, edited by Angel Velasco Shaw and Luis H. Francia: This collector-worthy interdisciplinary anthology of essays, poetry, art, and photographs brings to light various dimensions of a little-known war, from Mark Twain’s anti-imperialist essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” to Rene G. Ontal’s essay about Private David Fagen, among the more than 6,000 African American “Buffalo” soldiers deployed in the Philippines, who ended up defecting and fighting alongside Pilipinos.
- Honorable mention: While How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by historian Daniel Immerwahr isn’t written by a Pilipin* American, this well-narrated and accessible academic book exposes the through-line of US exceptionalism and imperialist ambitions — from settler colonialism and the extermination campaign against Indigenous peoples; to Manifest Destiny and an expansionist crusade across the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the Kingdom of Hawaii and the Philippines; to the “pointillist empire” of US military bases, detention facilities, and torture sites that exist around the world today.
COLONIAL MENTALITY AND DECOLONIZATION: Postcolonial scholars, such as Frantz Fanon and Paolo Freire, helped explain the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and mental health issues among formerly colonized peoples through the concept of “colonial mentality” — where the colonized buy into their alleged ethnic and/or cultural inferiority as well as the colonizer’s alleged superiority; reject their own culture and heritage and adapt and assimilate to their colonizers’; and ultimately equate colonization with “civilization” and “progress.”
- Brown Skin, White Minds by E. J. R. David: Have you ever been told to stay out of the sun, so you don’t get “too dark,” or encouraged to use Eskinol or other skin-lightening products (or know others who do)? Do your relatives deride more recently-arrived family members as “fresh-off-the-boats” (FOBs) for speaking in accented English? Have you been discouraged from learning your own history, language(s), and/or cultural practices and instead steered toward white American culture and social networks? If these experiences sound familiar and oppressive to you, and if you’re wondering what’s at the root of these attitudes and behaviors and how you can unlearn and disengage from them, then pick up this book by one of the foremost scholars on Pilipin* American psychology! Also, check out David’s We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet: Letters to My Filipino-Athabascan Family, a more personal exploration of colonialism and intergenerational trauma as it relates to his identity as an immigrant (therefore also a settler on lands violently stolen from his Athabascan family’s ancestors), a husband, and a father within a mixed-race family.
- White Love and Other Events in Filipino History by Vicente L. Rafael: This collection of eloquent academic essays puts a magnifying lens on seemingly innocuous details of Philippine history — the colonial census of 1903–1905, which perpetuated a racialized history and caste system in the Philippines, from the pure “uncivilized” to the Christianized mixed/mestiza(o)s; a trove of colonial ephemera, such as the letters and memoirs of white women and photographs documenting “Our Islands and Their People” as well as piles of the bodies of war dead; the myth-making of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship; and the manifestation of neocolonialism in the diaspora—to interrogate both US imperialism and Philippine “nationalism” in clever and surprising ways.
- Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans by Leny Mendoza Strobel: This is an influential and often-cited study regarding the process of decolonization among 1.5- or 2nd-generation Pilipin* Americans. In Strobel’s words, decolonization is about developing a “historical critical consciousness that challenges the master narratives that have defined the Filipino from the outside” — enabling the reclamation of one’s own personal histories, stories, and cultural practices; ending the intergenerational transfer of colonial mentality; and reimagining and rebuilding the Pilipin* American community from within.
- Pilipinx Radical Imagination Reader edited by Melissa-Ann Nievera-Lozano and Anthony Abulencia Santa Ana: This collection of essays, short stories, poetry, art, and photographs from the Pilipin* diaspora are about self-discovery, becoming, and embodying radical love and joy in relation with the community and the environment.
THE MANONG GENERATION: Manong, Ilokano for “elder brother,” became shorthand for a generation of mostly single Pilipino men in their 20s and 30s (many of them from the agrarian Ilocos region in the northern Philippines) who took advantage of their status as US nationals in the early 1900s and migrated for agricultural and fishery jobs in California, Washington State, Alaska, and Hawaii. With the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, Pilipinos were reclassified as “aliens,” and many of the Manongs who couldn’t afford passage back or who chose not to return to the Philippines became undocumented immigrants. (You can read an essay by The Lift Up co-host Vina Orden about her paternal grandfather, Lolo Pilong, and the Manong Generation in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s Open City magazine.)
- The Third Asiatic Invasion: Migration and Empire in Filipino America, 1898–1946 by Rick Baldoz: Sociologist Baldoz examines how American imperialism, capitalism and the labor market, systemic racism, and policies (e.g. around anti-miscegenation, immigration, and citizenship) shaped the sociopolitical identity and experiences of Pilipino Americans in the first half of the twentieth century.
- America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan: An American literary classic, this semi-autobiographical novel by the writer and labor organizer Carlos Bulosan is a window into the racial discrimination and criminalization experienced by Pilipino migrant workers in California and the Pacific Northwest during The Great Depression.
- Little Manila is in the Heart by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon: In this book, the late Dr. Mabalon — born and raised in Stockton, CA and the descendant of farmworkers — chronicles the development of Stockton as “Little Manila,” where Manongs had lived in hotels; found Pilipino food at lunch counters and grocery stores; entertained in pool halls, dance halls, and barbershops; and grew politically active in union halls. As co-founder of Little Manila Rising in Stockton and a board member and National Scholar of the Filipino American National Historical Society, Dr. Mabalon sought, in her all-too-brief lifetime (she passed away in 2018), to document Little Manila’s history and preserve what little remains of it.
- Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement by Lilia Villanueva and Craig Scharlin: Villanueva and Scharlin assemble this oral history about the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s and the Pilipino workers who started it from interviews with Manong Philip Vera Cruz, the United Farm Workers Union’s first vice-president and its highest-ranking Pilipino officer.
WORLD WAR II AND ITS AFTERMATH: With the entry of the US in WWII, the Philippines, which was then still a US colony, became a major target for Japanese attacks and invasion after Pearl Harbor. Many are unaware that, as US nationals, over 260,000 Pilipinos and Pilipino Americans enlisted to fight with the US Armed Forces and to serve in the Medical and Nurse Corps; not to mention the guerrillas who continued to fight Japanese Occupation after the Allied forces had surrendered the Philippines to Japan in May, 1942, and their leader, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had fled to Australia.
- Lolas’ House: Filipino Women Living with War by M. Evelina Galang: More than a thousand Pilipinas were abducted and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. Through Lolas’ House, a community center in metro Manila, Galang was able to bear witness to sixteen surviving “comfort women,” documenting their stories of survival, as well as their continued activism in demanding an official apology and reparations from the Japanese government for its human rights violations during the war.
- When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe: In this debut novel, Holthe incorporates stories about the war told by her father and lola/grandmother. It is about a community, including guerrilla fighters, working together to survive as Japanese and American bombs torch entire villages and as Japanese Occupiers terrorize innocent civilians, including women and children.
- But for the Lovers by Wilfrido Nolledo: In reissuing Nolledo’s novel, which was largely unknown and not widely read when it was first published in 1970, The Dalkey Archive Press described it as “one of the most remarkable novels about World War II, doing for the Pacific war theater what Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 did for the European one.” The language and style of the book reflects the fragmented, chaotic, and surreal experiences of its many characters, traumatized by wars and multiple colonizations.
- Pinay Guerrilleras: The Unsung Heroics of Filipina Resistance Fighters During the Pacific War by Stacey Salinas: After Allied forces were defeated in the Bataan Peninsula (10,000 Pilipino and American soldiers died on the “Bataan Death March,” when they were forced to walk for 65 miles to the prison camps), the US surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese in May, 1942. This book tells the story of everyday people-turned-guerrillas — specifically, the women guerrilleras who led units and conducted raids and espionage missions on the Kempeitai — who continued to resist Japanese Occupation until Gen. MacArthur belatedly returned with Allied reinforcements to “liberate” the Philippines.
OVERSEAS FOREIGN WORKERS (OFWs): In 1965 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar or Immigration and Nationality Act, which lifted the de facto ban on Southern and Eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans, and other ethnic groups from immigrating to the US. In the decade that followed, 276,000 Pilipinos immigrated to the US. At that time, the Marcos regime and then Labor Secretary Blas Ople also began outsourcing job creation to other countries by creating the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. In contrast to the Manong Generation of mostly male migrant laborers, 2/3 of Pilipin* immigrants since 1965 have been mostly female in the fields of nursing, teaching, hospitality, and domestic work.
- In the Country by Mia Alvar: This short story collection features well-drawn characters, many of them overseas foreign workers throughout the Pilipin* diaspora, giving voice to experiences not often spotlighted in literary fiction.
- Empire of Care by Catherine Ceniza Choy: This is the first book-length study of the history of Pilipino nurses in the United States, starting from the nursing training program instituted during colonial rule, which perpetuated caste, race, and gender hierarchies between white American and Pilipino healthcare workers that persist today; to US and Philippine government policies that shaped contemporary transnational labor markets and migration in the postwar years and beyond.
- Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work
by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas: This academic book, centering the lives of domestic workers in Rome and Los Angeles, tells an empathetic yet deeply disturbing story about globalization and the wealthiest nations’ unremitting demands for caretaking work largely filled by migrant laborers from developing countries. The emotional impact of family separation and the social isolation that workers often face in their host countries comes through so powerfully in Parreñas telling.
- The Farm by Joanne Ramos: The protagonist of this inventive novel, set in the near but recognizable hyper-capitalist future, is a Pilipina immigrant who becomes a surrogate for wealthy clients. The book examines a range of social issues, from a woman’s body autonomy, to the meaning of motherhood, to meritocracy and the American work/prosperity ethic, to the role of race, class, and immigrant status in determining one’s life choices.
WRITER AS REVOLUTIONARY: The conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos spanned two decades, from 1965 to 1986, and was enabled by the US government, from the Johnson to the Reagan administrations, which feared a “domino effect” of Communism spreading across Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Especially during the martial law era in the Philippines (1972–1981), critics of the Marcos regime were unjustly jailed, tortured, and murdered. Yet, in the tradition of José Rizal, Pilipino writers, including those in exile and in the diaspora, continued to challenge and expose the Marcoses’ “Camelot” for the delusion it was.
- Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol: Apostol’s American debut novel is a tragic coming-of-age story about the daughter of wealthy arms dealers during the Marcos era. It’s about two constants in Pilipino society: the oligarchy and patronage systems that have been in place since Spanish colonization and that has ensured in perpetuity vast economic and political disparities; and hope for change in a generation. In this case, the awakening of a radical political consciousness among student youth that made possible the People Power Revolution.
- Eye of the Fish by Luis H. Francia: Prolific poet, playwright, journalist, and nonfiction writer Francia uses geography and places in the Philippines to trigger memories of “home,” an idea that shifts over decades of returning. Many of the encounters related in this memoir are of fellow writers and artists as well as feminists, rebel priests, and revolutionaries in the northern Cordilleras and in Muslim-majority southern Mindanao who all were part of the steady intersectional resistance that ultimately brought down the Marcos dictatorship. You also can read Francia’s protest poems in the collection The Arctic Archipelago and other poems (now out of print but available for purchase second-hand).
- Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn: A Pilipin* American literary classic, the novel is set during the Marcos regime and tells stories of resistance and resilience through a diverse cast of characters, from a former beauty pageant queen-turned-guerrillera, to a queer nightclub DJ who wrestles with his identity as a bastard son of a Black American soldier, to a schoolgirl who immigrates to the US and is homesick for Manila. American movies and popular culture figure significantly in the novel, exploring the complexities of a Pilipin* identity shaped by colonialism and the potential for cultural collisions to also be sites of creation and emergence.
- State of War: A Novel of Life in the Philippines by Ninotchka Rosca: Rosca is a Pilipina writer, feminist, and human rights activist whose work (mostly as an exile in the US), has been informed by her experience as a detainee during the Marcos dictatorship. Her novels State of War as well as Twice Blessed (now out of print but available for purchase second-hand), incisively weave real-life details into satiric allegories of the Philippines under the mythologizing Marcoses.
LGBTQ MUST-READS: For as much as LGBTQ culture has become more mainstream in the US, publishing still has a way to go in terms of promoting LGBTQ stories and writers — let alone BIPOC and Pilipin* American writers — and in its outreach to readers. That said, Pilipin* American writers continue to break through with exciting and important books that should be on everyone’s reading list.
- America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo: The novel’s protagonist is a former political prisoner during the Marcos regime who flees to her relatives in the Bay Area and begins her life as an undocumented immigrant. It’s a poignant story about family and second chances, even in love.
- Threshold by Joseph O. Legaspi: Threshold is an apt title for a collection of poems about moments in between, in transition, on the brink of. They are meditations about immigration, family, loss, love, and queerness, and range in mood from delicate and vulnerable, to tender and beautiful, to hot and sensual, to quiet and contemplative. Legaspi’s writing is accessible in its minimalist clarity, yet his precision in describing an idea or image leaves an impression on readers that reverberates beyond the page.
- Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark: This groundbreaking Pilipin* American YA classic is about a group of friends, first-generation immigrants who grow up in Honolulu. They immerse themselves in American pop culture, while struggling at school, where they’re taught US history and American English pronunciation (their insistence on using Pidgin and “rolling the r’s” could be seen as a form of rebellion against this neocolonialist agenda). Their coming-of-age is further complicated by having to navigate their sexual identities within tradition-oriented, patriarchal households. Also check out Linmark’s most recent YA novel, The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart.
- The Foley Artist: Stories by Ricco Villanueva Siasoco: Characters drive this debut short story collection — from two waitresses at a Chinese restaurant in Des Moines, Viva and Barbarella, “a linebacker of a drag queen”; to Thomas, who fights his attraction to men by asserting his masculinity as a high school wrestling coach; to an English professor George, who’s forced to confront a past violence when a current student and onetime victim, decides to write about it; to Berong, a Foley artist so immersed in his craft that the human voice “would never hold as much resonance as, say, five carefully placed elevator pings” and who eventually walks out on his loved ones. These stories revolve around family but also speak to larger issues, such as transnational migrations and intergenerational traumas.
- ESL or You Weren’t Here by Aldrin Valdez: This debut poetry collection by poet and visual artist Valdez tells a coming-of-age story about a queer Pilipin* immigrant in New York. It’s an interrogation about layers of identity brought on by colonization (both Tagalog and English are present in the poems), Catholicism and patriarchy (threats to the poet’s gender fluid understanding of themselves), and family separation and forced immigration. Much like Valdez’s visual art (the cover art is their own), the poems in the collection are like pieces of a collage, vulnerable fragments that cohere into a powerful image of the self.
- Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan: Award-winning journalist Talusan shares a remarkable story about navigating a complex identity. As an “anak araw” or person with albinism, her fair skin and blonde hair allows her to “pass” and therefore reap the benefits of whiteness, both in the colorist society of the Philippines and a racist one in the US. Yet, the dual erasures of her Pilipin* identity and her womanhood (constrained by gender binary conventions — she first came out as a gay man before transitioning) made her feel like an outcast and inauthentic. This is a powerful memoir about her journey to self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
CONTEMPORARY WRITING ON IMMIGRATION
- Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes: This memoir is about coming-of-age in Manila as Barnes’ family and their fortunes unravel. It’s about absences—a father who walks out on his family, a narcissistic mother who fails to protect her daughter from her abusive boyfriend — and the author’s sheer will to live in spite of her parents’ dereliction, even if it means fleeing to a new country and having to start over as an undocumented immigrant.
- The Galleons: Poems by Rick Barot: This collection by award-winning poet Barot takes its name from imperialist Spain’s war/trading ships. The poems excavate the (political) history of objects that surround the poet, connecting the mundane to the personal and to larger issues such as colonialism, militarism, hypercapitalism, and social injustices.
- I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib: Artist, journalist, and writer Gharib draws from her life experiences — growing up mixed-race with her Pilipino American mother and extended family in California, spending summers with her father’s side in Egypt, and attending a mostly white college in upstate New York — to understand what’s most important to her individual identity and in her relationships with others. That it’s not about choosing to be black/white, either/or, but rather embracing the totality of her cultural and familial inheritances as well as her own dreams.
- Maps for Migrants and Ghosts by Luisa Igloria: In this moving poetry collection, award-winning poet and Virginia’s current poet laureate, Luisa Igloria, writes about the migrant’s state of “in-betweenness,” moving away from and back towards places and times, but also about the possibility of locating “home” through memories, chance encounters, and the archives of one’s personal and collective histories.
- The Body Papers: A Memoir by Grace Talusan: In this brutally honest memoir, Talusan shatters the secrets and silences that her family made her keep in order to reclaim her body, mind, and life.
- The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio: This debut novel explores the often hidden but very real plight of “TNTs” (“Tago Ng Tago,” a term Pilipinos use to refer to undocumented immigrants), who live on the edges of society. It’s also about teenager Excel’s relationship with his grifter of a mother Maxima (the names are fantastic!). But that’s where “the typical immigrant” story ends. Maxima doesn’t fit squarely into a “type,” as a mother, let alone a Pilipina immigrant mother, and neither do the other eccentric characters (especially the females), and Excel’s (mis-)adventures with his girlfriend Sab take surprising turns. Luckily for readers, Tenorio’s masterful short story collection Monstress— also populated with idiosyncratic characters — has been reissued alongside the novel.
- Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas: Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Vargas recounts immigrating to the US as a child only to find out as a teenager that he was undocumented. While Vargas is fortunate to have had advocates, including his editor at The Washington Post who helped ensure he kept his job and could sustain himself, most undocumented immigrants are not so privileged. What Vargas’ memoir lays bare is the arbitrariness and the cruel consequences of immigration policy and law enforcement on the lives of real people.
FOOD IS POETRY IS THE FOOD OF LOVE
- The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Around the Globe edited by Jacqueline Chio-Lauri: Chio-Lauri collects recipes from Pilipin*s across the diaspora, from White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford, to poet and multiple Palanca Award winner Francis Macansantos. These recipes represent the mashup of influences in traditional Pilipino cuisine — with hints of Chinese, Spanish, and other Southeast Asian flavors — but also reflect more novel global influences introduced by these diasporic chefs and home cooks.
- Loves You by Sarah Gambito: There are figurative as well as literal recipes for comfort food in this collection of poems. In fact, the book begins with a recipe for Pilipino ginataang adobo and the exhortation to “Invite at least 15 people. It’s okay if your apartment is small.” Both the recipes and the the poems are an invitation, especially in this increasingly polarized, hostile world, to keep ourselves nourished and in community with others.
- Letters to a Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes: This latest collection from a worldly-wise poet reads in part like tough love, but mostly as an affirmation of being not just comfortable but also assertive in one’s brown skin. While more brown girls and wom*n have been empowered by teachers like Reyes, Dr. Allyson Titiangco-Cubales, JL Umipig, and others, to reclaim the stories of their ancestors while simultaneously interrogating and working toward their own self-knowledge, many Pin*ys still struggle with external and internal expectations borne out of colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, and need new anthems like these to dismantle them.
- My American Kundiman by Patrick Rosal: Kundiman is a form of song in Tagalog, a sentimental love song. However, during the Spanish colonial period, Pilipinos (including the poet revolutionary José Rizal) transformed kundiman into an allegorical ballad and rallying cry for national sovereignty (the love object being the country, but the non-Tagalog-speaking Spanish didn’t catch that). It’s fitting then that Rosal’s collection, which is both a profession of love and resistance toward America and his hybridity as a consequence of colonization, is titled after kundiman. Also check out Rosal’s Uprock Headspin: Scramble and Dive, his debut poetry collection with a title reflective of the rhythms in the work.
- The In(ter)Vention of the Hay(na)Ku: Selected Tercets 1996–2019 by Eileen Tabios: One might say that the prolific and visionary Tabios invented a new recipe for poetry with the hay(na)ku, a tercet-haiku hybrid (and a play on the Tagalog phrase that roughly translates to “Oh, my!”). Tabios’ hay(na)ku has created a global community and practice around the form, with varieties such as Tabios’ own “haybun” version that incorporates prose. This collection includes poems created from computer-generated text, another example of Tabios’ creative innovation. You can learn more about the evolution of the hay(na)ku on Tabios’ website.
- I Am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook by Miguel Trinidad and Nicole Ponseca: Most Pilipin*s, especially those in the NY-NJ-CT tri-state area, are familiar with the restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. For this cookbook, which was a 2019 James Beard Award Finalist, the restaurants’ creator Nicole Ponseca and chef Miguel Trinidad traveled to the Philippines to collect recipes that represent the diversity of culinary traditions across regions of the country. Not only is this a book of recipes but also a story of Pilipino food — about the innovators who drew from multiple colonial influences and their own cooking traditions to create something entirely new, richer, and all their own.
- Doveglion: Collected Poems by José Garcia Villa: Referred to as the “pope of Greenwich Village,” Villa is remarkable for having been met with literary success as a modern poet since moving to the US in the 1930s. On being confidentially solicited for an opinion on Villa’s work by Ben Huebsch (D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce’s American publisher at Viking), E. E. Cummings sardonically replied “I privately do not doubt that Vikings are blueeyed fools if they pass up José Garcia Villa’s cargo.” Villa was an innovator, coming up with the “reversed consonance” rhyming scheme and his “comma poems,” and while he wrote poems that could be described as “spiritual” or “mystical,” he also wrote sensual poems as well — there’s a funny story about him being censured by his dean at the University of the Philippines and fined by a court in Manila for obscenity for publishing a series of erotic poems called “Man Songs.”
BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS* (*We recommend all of the YA titles throughout this list for adults as well!)
- Wicked as You Wish by Rin Chupeco: This is the first book in bestselling YA fantasy author Chupeco’s new series A Hundred Names for Magic. Like most fantasy books, it is grounded in folklore and myths; but Chupeco also brings the real world into the story. For instance, the book is set in Arizona, where The Prince of Avalon, illegally smuggled into the state, is being hunted down by ICE. The novel’s protagonist is half-Pilipin*, half Scot, and its cast of characters are of various ethnicities, gender identities, and abilities. Chupeco sets their adventures in a dazzlingly complex, multi-referential world inspired by the rich mythologies and histories of cultures around the globe.
- Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz: This YA romance novel is about a Pilipin* immigrant who “does all the right things” and gets a full college scholarship … but then, her parents reveal she’s undocumented and can’t accept the award. At the same time, she meets and falls in love with a dyslexic, biracial Mexican-American boy … who happens to be the son of a powerful congressman. While the novel has a feel-good ending that perpetuates the “good immigrant” trope and isn’t reflective of the experiences of many real-life undocumented Dreamers, it does examine internalized oppression (for instance, the protagonist’s discomfort being called an FOB and in her interactions with the Pilipin* domestic worker in her boyfriend’s household); the experience of racism and discrimination faced by immigrants and people of color; the power that comes with privilege and higher social status; as well as the everyday struggles of young adulthood — parental expectations, friendships, being in love.
- My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo: There already is a lot of buzz about this YA debut novel, coming out later this month, by the acclaimed essayist Fantauzzo (she recently wrote this powerful piece about what it’s like living in the police state that is the Philippines during the Covid-19 pandemic). The book is about a Pilipin* American high school girl whose devout Catholic immigrant parents send her to stay with her half-brother in the Philippines after finding out about the romantic feelings she harbors for her female history teacher. There are untranslated Tagalog and Taglish cultural references for readers who can pick up on them (and for those who don’t understand the language, you can enjoy its rhythms and the extra texture it lends to the novel’s landscape … Also, there’s Google translate).
- Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly: This Newbery Medal Award-winning middle grade (5th-6th grade) novel is told from the perspectives of its various characters — a bullied Pilipin* American boy, his Japanese American best friend with psychic abilities, the deaf girl he has a crush on, and his tormenter. It’s what unexpectedly happens when they collide over a prank gone horribly wrong and ultimately is about courage, empathy, and finding friendship.
- Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon with Gayle Romasanta, illustrated by Andre Sibayan (picture book perfect for read-alouds): Most people associate César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and Mexican farmworkers with the Delano Grape Strike. But few realize that Pilipino farmworkers, organized by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) began that strike, and that their leader Larry Itliong had convinced Chávez and Huerta to join the picket line and to merge their two unions into United Farm Workers Union. This is the first nonfiction illustrated children’s book about Pilipino American history and the first book written about Larry Itliong. The publisher Bridge + Delta’s website has a teacher’s guide and other helpful resources. Also, a percentage of proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to the nonprofit organizations Little Manila Rising and the Filipino American National Historical Society.
- Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay: This courageous YA novel is about a mixed-race Pilipin* who decides to spend his spring break in the Philippines to learn the truth about his cousin killed by President Duterte’s national police for alleged drug use. In addition to being a social critique of the extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses happening under the current regime, it’s also a story about the possibility of still strengthening and making meaningful connections with Pilipinos and the Philippines, despite having lost one’s language and so much of one’s culture through assimilation.
- Sari-Sari Storybooks: Graphic designer-turned-publisher Christina Newhard founded Sari-Sari “to change negative attitudes about the Philippines, and to support self-esteem in young Filipinos, by publishing beautiful, multilingual, Filipino children’s books.” Books in four different Pilipino languages have been released: Melo the Umang-Boy: an Ivatan Tale, Kalipay and the Tiniest Tiktik: a Cebuano Tale, Amina and the City of Flowers: a Chavacano Tale, Sandangaw: a Waray Tale. Check out the website for more information about each of these wonderful books, including descriptions about the themes covered — from ocean biodiversity and respect for elders, to Philippine folklore and vegetarianism, to weaving and refugees, to independence and persistence!
A brief explanation of terms and usage: The “F” in Filipino/a/* comes from the Spanish colonial period, when the country was referred to as “Las Islas Felipenas” (or, The Islands of King Felipe II). The “Ph” in Philippine or the Philippines comes from the American colonial period. In an attempt at decolonizing our language, we prefer to use the local term Pilipino when referring to people from the Philippines, since the letter “x” or symbol “*” isn’t used in traditional Pilipino languages. However, we prefer the more contemporary gender-inclusive Pilipin* when referring to those in the US and in the diaspora (unless we know that someone definitely prefers to identify along the male/female binary). Of course, this is all complicated by indexing, so you will see us use the most commonly used term “Filipino” once in awhile (e.g. tags on this post) for that purpose. You may also see the terms Pinoy/Pinay/Pin*y used as shorthand for Pilipin* Americans — it was a term of self-identification coined during the Manong Generation and was reclaimed/politicized during the Civil Rights Era and now by younger generations to show cultural pride. It has also been adopted by the global diasporic community as well as Pilipinos in the Philippines. Decolonization is a difficult, messy and ever-evolving process, and we’ll likely not get things right, but we believe that it’s the effort and commitment that counts!