June 9, 2014

Mabuhay! A Celebration of Filipino Culture in Literature

A few months ago, Rachel & I were chatting (as we do most days) when we started thinking about the one quality that tied us together when we first met (apart from books, of course): being Filipino. Since the Philippine Independence Day is right around the corner on June 12, we thought it'd be fitting to host a celebration of Filipino culture (particularly in books).

Mabuhay actually means "Welcome!" in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. It is the most fitting title we could have come up with for this event! We've noticed that there's a lack of attention and representation of our culture in the kind of books we love. That doesn't mean there aren't a few books that fit the bill out there though -- and we want to try to share a few with you! Plus, we wanted to share our personal experiences, and opinions from other Filipino authors and bloggers.

So, we invite you to come and join us in our celebration of Filipino culture this week! Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog post on Hello, Chelly, where we get a little personal and share our own experiences.

We asked a couple authors to share their thoughts on Filipino culture in literature and posed the following question to them: 

As authors who have written about the Philippines or Filipino culture in your books,
what is it about Filipino culture that is special or inspirational to you?

Most of the books I've written feature Filipino characters. It's not just the convenience of knowing who they are because I'm Filipino too, and in theory know what I am talking about. What I am, really, is proud of who we are, quirks and all, and I try to place "easter eggs" in my work to celebrate these things.

For example: In one of my books, the main character is five years older than her boyfriend, but their personalities match because she's a "bunso" (youngest in the family) and he's a "panganay" (eldest). Which sort of cancels out the age diff. That strange stereotype based on your birth order is something that many Pinoys seem to understand and even believe, and it was fun for me to actually try to explain it to readers who might not have grown up with it. 

Doesn't that just sound so weird, but also so us? I write this in because I don't think it's "only in the Philippines" (ugh I hate that). I think even in quirks there's something that other cultures will relate to, and understand. I love writing them into my work because I love it when a non-Pinoy reader tells me "Oh it's like this thing we have but we call it something else." Because we're all writing about love and life anyway, just different shades and flavors of it. 

The protagonist of my book There Will Come a Time, Mark, is a seventeen year old Filipino skater, bass playing guy from Eagle Rock, CA. I partly based him off of a former student and a kid that used to skate down my street, both of whom happened to be Filipino. I actually live in Eagle Rock, an area of LA that feels like a small town, meaning you see people you know from the neighborhood all the time. It also contains a large Filipino population. Our local mall is lovingly referred to as a "Little Manila." Many of my kids' friends are Filipino. My friends and neighbors are Filipino. So what inspired me to write a Filipino character was very organic. I just took a snapshot of my life and rotated it a bit. I was intentional about Mark being Filipino because of two reasons: first that's how I imagined him and second I didn't know of a single American YA book that had a Filipino protagonist. I was determined to change that. Now I know of one.


  1. This is a great feature! I am always eager to find out about books that feature cultures that I haven't had as much exposure to. Thanks for doing this!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  2. Wow, Filipino pride :)
    It surprises me whenever foreign authors took notice of our country and try to put diversity in their books by using not just Filipino characters but also some other Asian characters.

    Ella @ The Filipina Booknote

  3. I LOVE this feature! I've learned so much already in this one post. Thanks for celebrating your culture and for sharing it with us.

  4. Thank you for sharing your post!! My husband is Filipino and I've been learning some Tagalog phrases from my in-laws. I even tried making my first Filipino Dish this year, Chicken Adobo, which was a hit with my hubby!

    I am always on the lookout for Filipino authors to read. To date, I've read three novels by Filippina writer Jessica Hagedorn. http://www.jessicahagedorn.net/

  5. Alexa, thank you for inviting me to participate! The very first international book I'd read that had a Filipino main character was "Language of Love" (from the Love Stories YA series) and it was novel if a bit cliche. (Lea Salonga was mentioned! Which was awesome but also so obvious at the time haha.)

    I'm happy that there's more of Filipino culture in books available in the world. Thanks for the chance to share!

  6. I love this! As soon as I saw the opening, I wanted to recommend There Will Come a Time but I see you already have that covered (-; I can't wait to see the future posts!

  7. I love that you guys are highlighting Filipino fiction!


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