Book review of Hanggang sa Muli: Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul

When a Filipino comes home: New anthology opens door to understanding Fil-Ams

BOOK REVIEW

 
Title: Hanggang sa Muli: Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul
Editor: Reni R. Roxas
Publisher: Tahanan Books
Details: Anthology (memoirs, poems, short stories, essays by Filipino writers about
coming home), 252 pages
More information: reni@tahananbooks.com, (425) 773-7465
 
Hanggang sa Muli.jpg
 
Filipinos around the world will agree that there’s nothing quite like coming home. Nothing is as poignant or downright sad or joyful than when a Filipino, after spending years overseas, returns to the homeland.
 
A new book offers fresh testimony to that. Hanggang sa Muli: Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, edited by Reni Roxas, gathers some of the most memorable essays and personal narratives, along with some short stories and poems, written by Filipino writers on the subject of homecoming.
 
The experience is portrayed in the book as in reality: always memorable, sometimes funny, but often heart-wrenching.
 
What could be more heart-wrenching, for example, than losing a loved one back home when you are halfway around the world? San Diego, Calif.-based fictionist Marivi Soliven Blanco, in “Mourning Flight,” writes of the time she returned to the Philippines—only a few years after moving to the U.S.—to bury her father. Perhaps no other experience, for an immigrant, could be as painful as that, imbued as it is not only by a profound loss—
which everyone, after all, feels—but also by, as Blanco explains, the guilt of not being there as her father passed on.
 
The book also tells the stories of those who cannot go home at all. The Filipino farmer in Bienvenido Santos’ short story “Scent of Apples,” set in the U.S. Midwest, remains perhaps one of the loneliest characters in all of Philippine literature. Settled in a life as an apple grower, the story’s protagonist, a Filipino immigrant, is unable to return to his Philippine hometown, for reasons he leaves untold. Rather his only connection to
home is the rare time he attends a lecture in town by a Filipino writer or scholar stopping by. Also somewhere in his house, he keeps an outdated photograph of a Filipina in traditional Philippine dress. He doesn’t even have an idea who she is. But he keeps her photograph around, a sad homage to the motherland.
 
But if you think Hanggang sa Muli is all about heartache you would be wrong. Many of the pieces in the book also illustrate the amusing and humorous cultural clashes that are part of any balikbayan’s adventure.
 
In “Legacy,” an excerpt from Pati Navalta Poblete‘s memoir, The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America, the U.S.-born Filipina writer recounts the confusion she and members of her family had over the word “plaza.” Any Filipino with a Tagalog connection would know that “plaza” is often how the town square is referred to. But in suburban America, it could easily be the name of a mall. So when Poblete and the other balikbayan members of her family are told they are going to the “plaza,” they all get dolled up for what they imagine to be a night out in the town. Imagine then their surprise
when they find out they are merely going to the inuman sa kanto, where already their uncles are drunk.
 
Also in Hanggang sa Muli is Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s well-known lighthearted essay, “Where’s the Patis?” where she posits that no matter where Filipinos go, regardless of the worldly trappings they may adapt, they will always betray their roots with their penchant for the homeland’s good old-fashioned fish sauce, or patis.
 
But what Philippine readers perhaps will appreciate in Hanggang sa Muli is the alternative picture it presents of balikbayans, especially those who were born in the U.S. or those who were brought there when they were very young. These Filipinos are often seen in the Philippines as little more than cultural curiosities—if not athletes, for example, then as potential movie stars (artistahins) or, these days, “American Idol” contestants—and are often also denoted pejoratively as a “coconut”—brown on the outside, but white inside.
 
That would be a great disservice to some of the writers represented in this book.
 
Readers will meet people like Dorothy Cordova, who despite being born in the U.S. and never having been to the Philippines until her later years, considers herself very much a Filipina. Cordova, with her husband Fred Cordova, are the founders of the Filipino American National Historical Society, and their work as historians and advocates for the
Filipino-American community is unparalleled.
 
Dorothy Cordova is the perfect example of a person who, as some would say, is “more Filipino than some Filipinos.” Cordova affectionately recounts her first trip to the Philippines (when she was 64 years old)—and her lifelong journey—in an essay called “The Soil of My Roots.”
 
There is also the inspiring story of Dale Asis, a Filipino brought to the U.S. as a child who, largely because of his homecoming at age 40, began a life of philanthropy to help the impoverished people in his parents’ hometown.
 
Other stories showing an alternative picture of foreign-born or foreign-bred Filipinos include those of a young poet in search of his roots and a Filipina adoptee who returns to visit the orphanage where she was picked up by her American parents.
 
These selections and the others will go far in dispelling prevailing stereotypes of Filipinos living in the U.S. But readers everywhere will appreciate Hanggang sa Muli for covering the full breadth of the homecoming experience by featuring the perspective of different
Filipino returnees. Homecoming, though the feelings associated with it may be universal, is ultimately a different experience each time. What Hanggang sa Muli has done is to open a window to that experience. And the reader looking out now has a clearer view, not only of home, but also of the Filipino’s soul.
 
Hanggang sa Muli will be launched on May 3 at the Philippine Center, 445-477 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94108. Program starts at 6:15 p.m. and is open to the public.
 
For more information, contact Reni Roxas at reni@tahananbooks.com or (425) 773-7465.
__________________________________
 
Note: “Hanggang sa muli,” literally “until next time,” is a traditional Filipino way of saying goodbye and is no longer widely used.
 
The reviewer, Lorenzo Paran III (aka Pinoy in America), writes about the Filipino-American life on his blog, http://pinoyinamerica.blogspot.com.