Allison's Book Bag

Growing Up Filipino II, Compiled by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

Posted on: June 20, 2014

Growing Up Filipino II is an anthology of twenty-seven stories compiled and edited by Cecilia Brainard. What struck me most is that some of the stories felt distinctly Filipino, while others felt as if they could have happened anywhere to anyone. Moreover, the stories featured young people from a wide range of ages, with the youngest perhaps being eight and the oldest being a single parent. There also seemed to be a reasonably equal proportion of stories told from the male and female point of view. Given all of these factors, the collection should be enjoyable to a wide audience.

Let me start by highlighting those stories that felt most strongly Filipino. One of my favorites is “The Price,” which is about Amador, whose uncle wants help cultivating a piece of land. Everyone else feels that land is worthless, but Amador puts aside his studies to help fulfill a dream. In addition to the storyline, the description of the town, the lifestyles of the townsfolk, and the importance of land all feel unique to the Philippines. Other stories are set elsewhere and as such are instead about the challenges of dealing with a new culture. “Here in the United States” is about Alma, who misses her old life and resents her family for leaving the Philippines. As she watches her mom struggle at her new job, she realizes that perhaps her family is equally disappointed but are trying to make do. “Double Dutch” is about eight-year-old Alicia. Along with her public school friends, she skips rope, braids hair, and rides her bike. When it’s time for Alicia to head home, she’s eager to share her stories from her day but doesn’t get the expected enthusiastic reaction. Instead she is criticized for having a black friend and “trying to be black.” Alicia then recalls an incident from the previous day when a store owner treated her mother as if she were deaf, just because he couldn’t understand her accent. Alicia handles these two sides of racism by trying to become invisible and escape attention.

Now let me turn to stories which felt most strongly universal. One of my favorites is “Period Mark,” which is about a girl named Lili who waits for what feels like forever to get her period. Another story which will resonate with many readers is “Vigan,” which is about ten-year-old Rosario who struggles with grief after her father dies. She hates that her mother would need anyone else in her life and so seeks out a curse to get rid of the new man. I similarly enjoyed “Son of a Janitor”. The narrator manages to finish high school and college, but what he most remembers are the moments of cleaning toilets with his dad. “Outward Journey” is about David, who is orphaned along with his sister at a young age. A pen pal encourages David to date, and serves as a confidant in other troubling matters. When this friend dies and his first girlfriend breaks up with him, David faces the realization of both the brevity and heartache of life. The end of the story is particularly poignant, when he obtains a train ticket for college and notes that it’s the adult fare. In these examples and others, references to Filipino locations, foods, and traditions provide a local flavor.

In trying to write this review, I struggled for various reasons to know what to say. First, an anthology is about how well a group of stories work together more so than about how its literary elements. Although those within Growing Up Filipino II aren’t grouped by theme, they do weave a fascinating tapestry of adolescent life. Second, in being a collection of fiction, there are only a few text features. With regards to the appearance, the anthology suffers in the same regard that most do, of being plain and text-heavy. Novels can look this way too, but have the perk of being about one main character whom we’re pulled to keep reading about. There is an introduction, which left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s scholarly and so will not appeal to young people. On the other hand, it does provide a background to the stories within the collection, which is particularly useful to someone like me who isn’t Filipino and may have otherwise missed out on certain cultural nuances. And there is a Contributors section in the back pages which lists each author’s credits. I would have preferred for each author’s information to precede their story, and for the list of credits to be replaced with insights into their stories.

My final struggle came in how to evaluate Growing Up Filipino II on its merits as a cultural book. What I most appreciate about anthologies are the multiple points of view. And while all of the authors featured in Growing Up Filipino II are, of course, Filipino, they represent a range of experiences. For example, some of the authors live in the Philippines, some emigrated to the United States or Canada, and some were born in the United States or Canada. There is plenty here to stimulate discussion and encourage an appreciation of Filipino writing and culture. However, I’ve also emphasized the universal appeal of the stories because I feel that the collection can also be enjoyed outside the classroom.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

  • You can also catch some of the contributors readings their stories in the anthology at this link: PAHL Books

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