It’s Filipino-American History Month and I’m starting it off by giving away one set of autographed paperpacks of my novels: Tainted Love, The Downward Spiral, and Family Ties. (Scroll to the end if you just want to enter the giveaway) While Tainted Love is the only one that is explicitly about a FilAm, it’s important to remember that it’s because of a gatekeeper that I didn’t mention the race or ethnicity of my main characters in Family Ties and The Downward Spiral.
Gatekeepers are the reason why we didn’t learn about Igorots being kept in human zoos globally, most notably at the St. Louis State Fair in 1904. Or that Larry Itliong and Phillip Vera Cruz were at the center of the Delano Grape Strike, not Cesar Chavez—he wanted to sit it out and they had to talk him into joining them to show a united front of farm workers. It wasn’t until 2013 that Larry Itliong and Phillip Vera Cruz had a school named after them and it was 2019 when Governor Newsom declared October 25th, Larry Itliong Day. Heard of the Watsonville riots? How about Filipino segregation in California?
Our stories haven’t become mainstream because of gatekeepers in publishing and movies/TV. You might see Filipinx and hapa Filipinx on screen a lot, but most of them don’t play Filipinx. Look at Lou Diamond Phillips. He’s been working for decades and he’s never played a Filipino until Prodigal Son and even then they didn’t get to delve into his character’s ethnicity because it was canceled suddenly. Probably our most famous FilAm story within FilAms is the 2000 indie film, The Debut starring Dante Basco and featuring his brothers, Derek, Dionysio, and Darion. Twenty-one years later, the brothers star in Dante’s indie film, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, which is currently on the film festival circuit.
Add in a layer of colonization and you have FilAms who are clueless that we have our own mythology and pantheon, stories that were passed down from one generation to the next until Spain came in and nearly wiped it out as they converted Filipinos to Catholicism. I had no idea about it until several years back when a Filipino artist’s illustrations crossed my Twitter feed and I’ve followed him ever since. I’m still trying to learn the stories, but it’s hard since even if some continued to pass them down, they changed through colonization and decolonizing those stories isn’t easy. I bring this up because while our stories are kept out and we remain unaware of our mythology, it allows haole writers, directors, and producers to appropriate our mythological creatures and whitewash them. If you’ve watched Grimm, you might remember the episode that focused on Sgt. Lee (Reggie Lee is Filipino) and an aswang. Aswang is a classification of creatures, and not one specific creature, much like Russia’s baba yaga. What if I told you another popular show featured a creature from our mythology but it was whitewashed?
From the pronunciation to her appearance to being portrayed as THE batibat, when like aswang, it’s a classification for a specific type of demon. In Philippine mythology, demons are dark-complexioned and harass/terrify the living through nightmares, disease, and other misfortunes. Batibats come from Ilokano folklore (the region my dad, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other relatives immigrated from) and the story of “The Fat Woman in the Post” tells of a boy who fell asleep near a crooked post in which a batibat lived. His mother forgot to move him and the batibat came out and sat on his chest. He had a nightmare of a fat woman, who filled the doorway, coming into his room and sitting on his chest. When he tried to call for his mother and could not speak, he bit down on his thumb. He woke up in a sweat with a bleeding thumb. Maximo D. Ramos writes in The Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology that in the descriptions of batibat he heard as a boy were always vague and while the largeness of batibat was emphasized, he never had the impression that batibats were female.
This is the reality that some of us live with, a history of violence, displacement, and labor exploitation that continues to this day, and a sense of disconnectedness, especially for those of us who have parents who assimilated, shunning their first language and not passing it down with stories of their homeland. Two decades ago, I could only find three Filipino authors in a bookstore: Carlos Bulosan, Jose Rizal, and Jessica Hagedorn. Now I can find armfuls of FilAm authors telling stories about FilAms. While representation is growing, it’s still not equitable for BIPOC.
With finally staring Adderall this month after going through an ADHD evaluation, I’ve been able to work on the Tainted Love spin-off: Never Again. If you follow me on Twitter or my Facebook page, you may have seen some of my #1LineWed posts. All new stuff I’ve written (daily!) in the last three weeks. I will tell you it centers on Maile as she enters college in 2019 and what I have in mind for her will span less than a year. And because it will go into 2020, the pandemic will be a factor in what happens and the choices she makes. I didn’t plan for it to happen that way since I was writing scenes for her before the pandemic, but telling this story while she’s in high school doesn’t fit well. It’s easier to incorporate the pandemic than to avoid it, especially since her dad is an E.R. doctor.
Okay, the giveaway. Or legally, I’m supposed to call it a sweepstakes. Again, the winner will receive an autographed paperback set of Tainted Love, The Downward Spiral, and Family Ties. You must be a resident of the U.S. and be 18 or over to enter. May the odds be ever in your favor.