In honor of Pilipino American History Month, I compiled a list of books written by Pilipino and Pilipino American writers that I plan on reading throughout the month. If you’re interested in learning more about Pilipino American history and heritage, hopefully this list provides you with the resources to do so.
Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal
Most of my family grew up in the Philippines and they all were required to read Jose Rizal’s work in school. But since I grew up in the states, I hadn’t been exposed to his work, though I vaguely knew about him and his heroism. Widely known for inspiring Pilipino national identity and unity against Spanish colonial rule, these are perhaps the most significant novels in Pilipino history and therefore essential to this list.
America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan
Published in 1946, this semi-autobiographical novel follows the journey of Carlos Bulosan from his childhood in Pangasinan and the socioeconomic struggles his family endured to his immigration to the United States in search for a better life. It’s similar to many immigrant stories in that way, but it touches upon the unique experiences of Pilipino Americans in the early half of the 20th century, particularly the anti-Pilipino sentiments he faced as a migratory worker along the West Coast. Despite the bitterness in his recounting the hate crimes and overall xenophobia, Bulosan ends the book with hope for the future of America and its potential for improvement. It’s one of my favorite books and one I think we can learn from in light of the current sociopolitical climate.
Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California by Dawn Mabalon
This book focuses on the history of Pilipino Americans in Stockton, California, fondly known as Little Manila, a cultural hub that was once the largest Pilipino community outside of the Philippines. As a descendant of early Pilipino immigrants in Stockton, Mabalon goes through the collective Pilipino American experience of immigration, farm work, racial animosity, preservation of heritage, the rise of new cultural practices, the creation and destruction of Little Manila and recent efforts to preserve it. I was assigned to read this in one of my Asian American Studies courses, but, admittedly, I only skimmed through the first few chapters. Now without the pressure of school, I hope to finally read this book from start to finish and fully appreciate its contents.
The Bread of Salt and Other Stories by N.V.M. Gonzalez
Titled after the English translation of pan de sal, this book is a collection of 16 short stories written in English yet centered on native Pilipino life. Gonzalez has been acknowledged as the “dean of modern Philippine literature,” but he writes in the preface that, “It was in America that I began to recognize my involvement in the process of becoming a new person . . . of trying to shed my skin as a colonial.”
The following are books I haven’t gotten my hands on yet, but I’m hoping to read soon.
In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar
Similar to The Bread of Salt, this is a collection of short stories. However, they are more modern, focusing on Pilipino diaspora. Following men and women of different backgrounds, Alvar explores “the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined.”
Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans by Leny Mendoza Strobel
According to the summary on Amazon, Coming Full Circle discusses the
recovery and re-imagination of Filipino identity and culture. It is about the emergence from the ‘culture of silence’ to critical consciousness that is able to develop new conceptualizations and frameworks about the Filipino American experience. Decolonization is a psychological process that enables the colonized to understand and overcome the depths of alienation and marginalization caused by the psychic and epistemic violence of colonization. Decolonization transforms the consciousness of the colonized through the reclamation of the Filipino cultural self and makes space for the recovery and healing of traumatic memory, and healing leading to different forms of activism. It is an open-ended process. It is a new way of seeing. As a way of healing, it is also a promise and a hope.
It was only in the past couple of years that I really began to understand the effects of Spanish and American colonization on Pilipino American psyche, so I’m interested to see what this book has to offer in my personal process of decolonization.
Pinay Power: Peminist Critical Theory by Melinda L. De Jesus
The summary on Amazon states that this book brings together “critical work by Pinays of different generations and varying political and personal perspectives to chart the history of the Filipina experience.” As a Pilipina, I’m curious to learn about the theoretical foundation of our collective experience as well as the stories of Pilipinas from various backgrounds.
The Decolonized Eye: Filipino American Art and Performance by Sarita Echavez See
Focusing on the late twentieth century to the present, See writes about Pilipino American artists in a variety of fields such as painting, film, comedy, and sculpting. They explore how the artists’ Pilipino culture and ties to U.S. colonialism account for “overlapping artistic and aesthetic practices and concerns.” I find the incorporation of art and activism fascinating, so this seems like the perfect book to get that kind of fix.
Have you read these books before, or are you planning on reading any of them? Let me know in the comments below, along with any Pilipino/Pilipino American book recommendations!