Multilingual Filipino American children's book wins top awards

May 21, 2020 |

DAVIS, California  Children's book Jack & Agyu, published by Filipino American company Sawaga River Press, has won the 2020 Gold Benjamin Franklin Award in the Children's Picture Book (4-7 years) Category.

Justine Villanueva (right), Sawaga River Press Publisher,
and David Zielonka, Publishing Professionals Network President. 

The book's author and publisher Justine Villanueva said in her acceptance speech, "Thank you for bearing witness to our story and for committing to inclusion, equity and decolonization in children's books . thank you very much, maraming salamat po, daghang salamat, salamat tungkay."

The award is given out by the Independent Book Publishers Association. This year's awards are for books copyrighted in 2019. The winners were announced online on YouTube.

In a post on her Facebook account, Villanueva wrote, "I'm totally giddy and in tears! ... Granted, we don't need awards to validate the work that we do, but it's still freaking awesome to win. We even got a gold sticker and trophy and all!

Villanueva has written two children's books: Jack & Agyu and
Mama, Mama, Know What I Like? (Mama, Mama, Balo Ka Unsa Akong Ganahan?)

"We acknowledge the ancestral Wintun land (aka Davis, California) where our book was created and the land of Bukidnon which inspired our work. We honor all our ancestors and elders for lighting our path. We thank our Kapwa, our relations-human and non-human-for joining us in this publishing journey.

"So, so, so much love and gratitude to our talented illustrator Lynnor Bontigao; graphic designer Stefanie Liang Chung; our collaborators Bukidnon State University, Bukidnon Studies Center, Center for Babaylan Studies, University of California (UC)-Davis Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, and Bangka Journey Project; our 200-plus crowdfunders; our families; and everyone in the community who supported us in various ways."


Earlier in the year, the book also won the Children's Book Category at the Publishing Professionals Network's 48th Annual Book Show.

In the book, imaginative and adventurous Jack does not see any characters like himself in the books he loves to read in the library. With help from his family and his faithful beagle, he connects with Filipino folk hero Agyu while encountering wondrous creatures such as sirena (mermaid), syokoy (mermen) and diwata (fairies).

With illustrations by Lynnor Bontigao, the book is written in English with translations in Binukid (a Bukidnon indigenous language), Bisaya-Cebuano and Filipino. It also features baybayin script, a Tagalog-based ancient script.

"Through our book, we offer kids of color a way to belong, build their identity, and expand their aspirations by reconnecting with their ancestral stories and their indigenous roots," Villanueva said in a statement.


Sawaga River Press is the publishing arm of Libro Para Sa Tanan, a nonprofit that promotes literacy through book donations to school libraries in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon province in the Philippines-where Villanueva is originally from before she moved to the US in her teens. She founded the nonprofit in the late 2000s and founded the press in 2014.

The press has published Mama, Mama, Know What I Like? (Mama, Mama, Balo Ka Unsa Akong Ganahan?), an illustrated peek into the life of five year old Fil-Am child Charlie, who goes on a picnic with his Mama and younger sibling, Jack. The book is written in English, Bisaya and Filipino.

Award-winning 'Romance of Magno Rubio' to stream for free

May 20, 2020 |

NEW YORK  When Magno Rubio sees Clarabelle's ad in the back pages of a lonely-hearts magazine, the illiterate Filipino American farmworker thinks he's finally found the love of his life-a white woman from Arkansas.

Touring cast in 2003 during rehearsals.
From left (back) Arthur Acuña, Ramon de Ocampo, Antonio del Rosario;
(front) Ron Domingo and Jojo Gonzalez. 

Will his fellow crop harvesters in California's Central Valley in the 1930s, -all of whom have immigrated from the Philippines-help him out with his pen-pal courtship?

Audiences will find out when Ma-Yi Theater streams the play "The Romance of Magno" for free on its website from May 25 to June 4.

Obie Award

Ma-Yi premiered the production in 2002. It received Special Citations from the Obie Awards for Lonnie Carter (playwright), Loy Arcenas (director), and the original cast, which consisted of Arthur Acuña, Ramon de Ocampo, Ron Domingo, Jojo Gonzalez, Orlando Pabotoy and Ralph Peña.

The recording that will be streamed is of a touring production that visited the Philippines in 2003 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The touring cast included Arthur Acuña, Ramon de Ocampo, Ron Domingo, Jojo Gonzalez and Antonio del Rosario.

Carlos Bulosan

Written by Lonnie Carter, the play is based on a short story with the same title by Carlos Bulosan, author of semi-autobiographical novel America is in the Heart. Additional Filipino text is by Ralph Peña, who is currently the artistic director and a cofounder of Ma-Yi.

Direction, set and costume design was by Loy Arcenas. Music was composed by Fabian Obispo and choreography by Kristin Jackson.

By Peña's last inventory, in addition to running in various cities across the US, the play has run in Canada, Romania and Singapore. Recent stagings include Seattle for the Carlos Bulosan Centenary (2014) and at the University of Washington (2015).


Business suspensions due to the Covid-19 pandemic forced Ma-Yi's first production this season to close in March, leaving a week and a half of remaining shows canceled.

"The Romance of Magno Rubio" is based
on a short story by Carlos Bulosan.

The group was originally founded as a Filipino American theater company before it refocused its efforts to Asian American works.

It has already canceled its second planned production of the season-which was already rehearsing-as well. "We simply could not put our artists, crew and audiences at risk. I'm happy we were able to pay all artists and craftspeople their full contracts," says Peña.

Nevertheless, it strove to think of ways to continue to connect with audiences. "We knew very quickly that there was no way to bring people back into the theater. Our first move was to take stock of what we can offer our community to keep them engaged, and to remind them that the arts are a vital part of our wellbeing."


One of the considerations is relationships and protected agreements with different unions in the theater industry. Since this recording is of a production that was done outside of the US, it is "outside of Equity's jurisdiction; it's the first archived play we can offer," Peña says, referring to Actors' Equity Association, the union for actors and stage managers.

"It was filmed before HD and 4K formats were available and done without microphones at the CCP's Huseng Batute Theater. It's nowhere near the high definition formats of our more recent plays, but Francisco Aliwalas's handheld camera work captures the play beautifully, and it really shows of the talents of the actors, and Loy Arcenas' meticulous work as director and designer."

"We're doing it for free to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It has travelled the world and crisscrossed the United States, but there are still many Filipino communities who have not experienced the magic of this play."

"The Romance of Magno Rubio" stream is at from May 25 to June 4.


Filipino Americans involved in 2020 Outer Critics Circle award-winning shows

May 15, 2020 |

NEW YORK  Filipino American set designer Clint Ramos has won this year's Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Scenic Design for his work on the play "Grand Horizons." 

Conrad Ricamora (center, standing) in the musical "Soft Power."
Photo by Joan Marcus

Outer Critics Circle (OCC) is an organization of writers covering the New York theater industry for out-of-town news and media outlets.

Last year, Ramos won the Obie Award for Set Design for his work on The Public Theater's production of "Wild Goose Dreams."

He is also an accomplished costume designer. Ramos won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play for his work on Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed." He won an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Costume Design in 2013.

Written by Bess Wohl and staged by Second Stage Theater, "Grand Horizons" also won Outstanding New Broadway Play.


In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards dispensed with selecting only one winner from each category this year and celebrated up to five honorees in each of its 26 categories. It also made a donation toward the emergency relief efforts of The Actors' Fund.

Clint Ramos.
Photo by Marc Franklin

OCC president David Gordon said, "The Outer Critics Circle has thought long and hard about a way to honor the nearly 200 productions that opened [2019 to 2020], while also respecting those shows that were canceled, postponed, or forced to close shortly after opening.

"This format allows us to celebrate the truncated theater season, and our 70th anniversary, by creating a sense of communal joy at a time when we all need it most."

The Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners, has announced that Broadway's 41 theaters would remain closed at least through Labor Day (Sept. 7).


Other Filipino American theater makers were involved in productions that won in different categories.

Ramos' set design for "Grand Horizons." 

One of the two winners of Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical is David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's "Soft Power," staged at The Public Theater.

Filipino Americans in the cast included Billy Bustamante, Jon Hoche, Jaygee Macapugay, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora and Trevor Salter.

The winner of Outstanding Revival of a Musical is Transport Group's "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," the cast of which included Karl Josef Co and Paolo Montalban.

The recipient of Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play is "Cambodian Rock Band," which is written by Lauren Yee, a member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, the playwrights group of Ma-Yi Theater Company.

The cast included Fil-Am actor Moses Villarama.

The Writers Lab currently has Fil-Am playwright A. Rey Pamatmat as one of the co-directors while Ma-Yi Theater Company is headed by Fil-Am artistic director Ralph Peña.

Curses, devils, dark pasts haunt Filipino American's play

mAY 12, 2020 |

LOS ANGELES  A young woman needs to save her ailing Romanian father, find her Filipino mother, and lift an ancestral curse. Along the way, she passes by cousins, shape-shifting creatures, devils and dark histories.

Filipino Romanian American playwright
Amanda Andrei 

This venture is depicted in Filipino American Amanda Andrei's play "Lena Passes By," which will have staged readings in Los Angeles and Denver, Colorado.

This May, it will be presented in a concert reading as part of University of Southern California's New Works Festival helmed by Fil-Am director Giovanni Ortega. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival's performances will be streamed live online.

The university is where Andrei is currently completing her MFA in Dramatic Writing.

In August, an excerpt of the play is intended to be performed during "Finding Home," an evening of staged readings featuring six plays by Romanian American playwrights.

It will be presented by Bucharest Inside the Beltway, an arts and culture collective in Denver, Colorado.


Andrei, whose mother is Filipino and father is Romanian, was born in Washington, DC and has been involved in theater since high school. "I loved it for its sense of community and wonder," she says.

She started delving into playwriting in college when she took a playwriting class and wrote "Every Night I Die"a supernatural tragic love story set in rural Philippines in the 1930s.

"My professor was incredibly encouraging of this story. I still have the hard copy draft where he wrote, `The world needs your voice!'"

After graduation, a friend produced it for the DC Capital Fringe Festival. "We worked with an all Asian American cast, majority Fil-Am. Afterward, the actors asked me to keep writing so they could continue to act in and tell Filipino stories.

"Their encouragement and enthusiasm spurred me to continue writing and developing my craft."


Andrei says she is excited to work with fellow Fil-Ams once more on a play "covering a little-known part of Filipino history and diaspora: Filipinos in Eastern Europe, especially during the Cold War."

She began writing "Lena Passes By" in 2018. "I spent my winter break reading through my mom's letters to her dad about life in Romania."

She had then been doing research and taking classes, which included an intensive Romanian language course and a survey of Romanian literature, as well as working with various traditional healers to learn about different rituals and spiritual practices.

"In many ways, I feel like this play has written meit's guided me into deeper knowledge and compassionate understanding for my parents, grandparents and ancestors.

"Story is medicine. Process is medicine. I am still in continuous conversation and ritual with this play, and I am thankful for that journey."


Andrei's other plays include "Black Sky," "Crocodile (The Last Escape)," and "Every Night I Die"some of which have supernatural or folkloric elements such as ghosts, magicians, time travel and the like.

"I love the world of speculative fiction and I especially love folklore. I'm sure this is because I grew up with so many of my mom's stories about her childhood in the Philippines.

"And our family has always cultivated a deep faith in God, which has given me respect and appreciation for how other people experience the spiritual and the supernatural.

"I've also always been drawn to mythology, fairy tales and the stories people whisper to each other, because they have a certain numinous quality that makes them so simple yet complexthey speak truth to the subconscious, to the world of dreams, to our spirits.

"And what better place to convey these numinous qualities than live theater, where we are gathered as a group to witness something that is powerful because it vanishes so quickly?"

"Lena Passes By" concert reading on May 22, part of New Works Festival at University of Southern California. Visit Excerpted staged reading on Aug. 18, part of "Finding Home" in Denver, Colorado.

Filipino Americans release children's and YA books this May

May 6, 2020 |

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American authors Erin Entrada Kelly, Mae Respicio and Cynthia Salaysay are releasing their respective Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) books this May.

Filipino American authors (from left)
Erin Entrada Kelly, Mae Respicio and Cynthia Salaysay. 

All three books feature Filipino American characters.

Students and parents who are interested in finding more books that are written by Filipino Americans or have characters who are Filipino American can ask for help from librarians at their school or local public libraries.

Children's and Young Adult (YA) books written
by Fil-Ams that will be released this May.

Erin Entrada Kelly
MG (8-12 years old)
Illustrated by the author

In 1986, as the country waits for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, three siblings struggle with their own personal anxieties. Bird dreams of being NASA's first female shuttle commander but feels like she's disappearing. Her twin Fitch has an explosive temper that he doesn't understand. Their sibling Cash is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. When the fated launch day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

Erin Entrada Kelly received the Newbery Medal for her book Hello, Universe. Her other books include Blackbird Fly, The Land of Forgotten Girls, You Go First, and Lalani of the Distant Sea. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and now lives in Delaware.

Mae Respicio
MG (8-12 years old)

Kaia's family lives in California, where the fun of moviemaking is all around them. She loves playing with makeup and creating special effects. This summer, she and her friends join a short movie contest. They make a movie inspired by her beloved great-grandfather's Filipino folktales. When he decides to return to his homeland in the Philippines, Kaia will do anything to convince him not to go.

Mae Respicio received the Asian/Pacific American Library Association Honor Award for her debut novel The House That Lou Built. Mae lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her spouse and two children.

Cynthia Salaysay
YA (12-18 years old)

After 17-old Claire Alalay's father's death, she plays his old piano to escape the sadness and her traditional Filipino mother. After she becomes the pupil of prominent piano teacher Paul Avon, she soon loses herself. No matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain his approval, let alone his affection.

Cynthia Salaysay holds a bachelor's degree in English from University of California, Berkeley. She lives in the Bay Area and has written food and culture articles for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and Civil Eats. This is her first novel.

Staged reading online set for Filipino American play on '70s disco

April 28, 2020 |

WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia  Filipino American R. Zamora Linmark's play "Rolling the R's" will be performed online.

Filipino American theater director Francis Tanglao-Aguas.
Photo by Fer Nisselroij
The play will have a staged reading streamed live, helmed by theater director and playwright Francis Tanglao-Aguas with a cast from across the US including actor Giselle Tongi, playwright Jeannie Barroga and poet Joi Barrios.

In the play set in 1970s Hawaii, teenager Edgar Ramirez-who "looks like a Filipino John Travolta" and is gay-and his friends Katrina, who is a tomboy, and Vicente, who insists he's "an American" since he was born in Hawaii and doesn't speak Tagalog or Ilocano, figure out who they are as they dodge judgmental gossips Mrs. Arayat and Mrs. Cayabyab.

The play is Linmark's adaptation of his own novel of the same title. In addition to poetry collections, Linmark has also written the novel Leche and the young adult novel The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart.


Aguas hopes to "show the world the prowess of Asian American and Pacific Islander talent as foregrounded by Linmark's masterpiece."

"When people watch this, they will discover how our creativity is unbound even by a pandemic so that we can continue to entertain our audiences and our actors can continue to make a living."

The production accepts donations, the total of which will be split among the cast, but some actors may link with any charity of their choice. "We want to create a new paradigm of actors sustaining their livelihoods online."


Ever since Aguas saw the original workshop staged reading of the play in San Francisco directed by Loy Arcenas at Bindlestiff Studio in the mid-1990s, he has always wanted to produce and direct this play. "I delayed it for so long because of the casting limitations of my current location in Virginia."

Aguas is Professor of Theatre and Asian American Studies at The College of William & Mary and Founding Director of its Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies program.

Nevertheless, "Linmark's masterpiece has been a mainstay in many of my courses in Asian American Studies. When he created the play version, it penetrated my theater curriculum as well."


As with most educators, Aguas has been thinking of ways to respond to the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He realized that casting for a play would no longer be bound by geographical constraints.

"Here was now an opportunity to not only reach the local community here, but the whole theater world suddenly opened up to us."

"My own hunger to work with professional Asian and Pacific Islander Americans motivated me to pursue this project . The `new normal' brought on by COVID-19 has made it possible to gather the dream cast I've so long wanted to have for `Rolling.'

"My hope is that this is but the beginning not only for this or other Linmark plays, but all plays from the Pinoy canon out there."


Aguas chose to stage this play because he believes in its relevance. "The play stands on so many themes and ideas that are forever globally relevant but what strikes me most at this point is the indefatigability of the characters in creating and sustaining their community, their families amidst the pain and suffering of poverty and racism through unrestrained truth that leads to humor.

"This is what the world is facing now because we are all trapped with an invisible enemy and all we have is each other.

"'Rolling' shows us that we do not have to be so miserable to and with each other even when the world around us is so unstable.

"'Rolling' is an opportunity for the world to watch a community fight to survive with humor and disco!"

"Rolling the R's" online staged reading is on May 9. Register at

Audiobooks voiced by Filipino American Ramon de Ocampo

April 21, 2020 |

LOS ANGELES  Audiobook listeners on the lookout for titles written by Filipino Americans may also want to consider some that have also been narrated by a Filipino American.

Filipino American audiobook narrator
Ramon de Ocampo

Here are several, that range from children's books to adult reading, by seasoned narrator Ramon de Ocampo, who has more than 200 audiobooks and more than 10 narration awards under his belt.'

He is familiar to television viewers in his roles on various shows such as "Guidance," "Notorious," "12 Monkeys," "Medium," and "The West Wing," among many others.

For his other works, you can search for his name on sites where audiobooks are sold. A reminder for parents: local public libraries and school libraries are may have audiobooks that can be borrowed online.

Special mentions:
Smaller and Smaller Circles 
By FH Batacan 
In Filipino author Batacan’s mystery novel, two Catholic priests, an anthropologist and a psychologist, hunt through Manila for a brutal serial killer who is eviscerating preteen boys from the slums. 
Tall Story 
By Candy Gourlay 
In Filipino British writer Candy Gourlay’s Middle Grade (MG) novel, Andi is short but loves basketball and wishes her long-lost half-brother could come and live with her in London. She gets more than what she wished for when the eight-feet tall Bernardo arrives from the Philippines, troubled by secrets. 
Bone Talk 
By Candy Gourlay 
Set in the late 1890s in a village deep in a Philippine jungle where two friends grapple with growing up and the arrival of invading, destructive Americans. 
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series 
By Jeff Kinney 
De Ocampo has narrated all 14 books of the popular series about the adventures of sixth grader Greg Heffley, who has to deal with his two brothers, one annoying, the other obnoxious, well-meaning parents, and middle school. 
I Hotel 
By Karen Tei Samashita 
De Ocampo voices all the Filipino manong—farm laborers—who live in the title single-room-occupancy hotel featured in this book of ten novellas about America’s struggle for civil rights. 
Be More Chill 
By Ned Vizzini 
The Broadway musical adaptation of this book (where high school junior Jeremy swallows a supercomputer in pill form that instructs him how to be cool) featured Fil-Am actor George Salazar in a feature role. Read about it here
Titles by Filipino Americans:
America is in the Heart 
By Carlos Bulosan 
The classic semi-autobiographical novel by poet Bulosan describing his boyhood in the Philippines, voyage to America and years of hardship and despair as an itinerant laborer in the West Coast. 
From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant 
By Alex Gilvarry 
Fiction. Boyet Hernandez is an up-and-coming fashion designer in Brooklyn who is mistakenly arrested on terrorism charges and sent to Guantanamo Bay prison. READ Pam Pastor’s interview with Alex Gilvarry here
Manila Noir 
Edited by Jessica Hagedorn 
By Gina Apostol, FH Batacan, et. al. 
Noir short story collection—with Manila as the milieu—by Filipino American and Filipino writers. 
Hello, Universe 
By Erin Entrada Kelly 
When basketball-loving Chet traps shy Virgil and his pet guinea pig in a well, it leads self-proclaimed psychic Kaori and her little sister Gen, and brave, deaf but secretly lonely Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. 
The Crafter series 
By Outspan Foster 
Epic fantasy. Ten year old orphan Wick wants money and power. Will he be able to get both with his father’s glass amulet, a trusty spade, and two level-one skills? 
After the Shot Drops 
By Randy Ribay 
Young Adult (YA). Bunny and Nasir’s friendship is tested when Bunny accepts a basketball scholarship across town. 
Patron Saints of Nothing 
By Randy Ribay 
Filipino American teenagers Jay travels to the Philippines to find out how his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered because of the president’s war against drugs. 
We Dream of Space 
By Erin Entrada Kelly 
In 1986, three siblings all in the same grade—each struggling with their own problems—works on science teacher Ms. Salonga’s project as the launch of space shuttle Challenger approaches. To be released in May. 

Filipino American wordsmiths launch books for Nat'l Poetry Month

April 14, 2020 |

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American poets Rick Barot, Marianne Chan and Kay Ulanday Barrett have released their respective poetry collections during the first quarter of 2020.

Filipino American poets Rick Barot, Marianne Chan and Kay Barrett.

The three collections explore using the past, future, movement and travel as means of tackling emotions, identity and other topics.

April has been designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets since 1996. The academy's website serves as a hub for information about poetry events during the month.

Readers interested in the works of Filipino American poets can consult with their school or local librarians as well as searching for keywords "Filipino American poetry" in online bookselling sites.

(Listed in chronological order of release.)

Recently published poetry collections by Filipino American poets. 

The Galleons: Poems
Rick Barot
Milkweed Editions

In the book, Barot's poems are engaged in the work of recovery, making visible what is often intentionally erased: the movement of domestic workers on a weekday morning in Brooklyn; a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, fondly sharing photos of his dog; the departure and destination points of dozens of galleons between 1564 and 1815, these ships evoking both the vast movements of history and the individual journeys of those borne along by their tides.

Barot's previous poetry titles include The Darker Fall, Want, and Chord. Chord received the UNT Rilke Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry, the New Republic, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, and the New Yorker. He is the poetry editor for the New England Review and directs the Rainier Writing Workshop-Pacific Lutheran University' MFA creative writing program.

More Than Organs
Kay Ulanday Barrett
Sibling Rivalry Press

The book is a "love letter to Brown, Queer, and Trans futures [that] questions `whatever wholeness means' for bodies always in transit, for the safeties and dangers they silo. These poems remix people of color as earthbenders, replay `the choreography of loss' after the 2015 Pulse shooting, and till joy from the cosmic sweetness of a family's culinary history." Barrett works "to build / a shelter // of / everyone / [they] meet," from aunties to the legendary Princess Urduja to their favorite air sign.

Barrett, who is a transgender man and disabled, previously released the poetry collection When The Chant Comes. Barrett's poems have appeared in anthologies such as Subject To Change, Outside the XY: Queer Black & Brown Masculinity, and Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, and in magazines such as The Margins and EOAGH.

All Heathens
Marianne Chan
Sarabande Books

All Heathens is a declaration of ownership-of bodies, of histories, of time. Revisiting Ferdinand Magellan's voyage around the world, these poems explore Chan's Filipino American identity through her relationship to her family and notions of diaspora, circumnavigation, and discovery.

Chan's poems have appeared in West Branch, The Journal, Poetry Northwest, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Carve Magazine, among others. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Nevada-Las Vegas. She is the poetry editor of Split Lip Magazine.

Food fundraiser for Bay Area Filipino American health workers, seniors

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American-owned restaurants in the SOMA Pilipinas district have banded together to collaborate on a fundraiser responding to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled #FilipinosFeedTheFrontlines, the undertaking aims to raise $100,000 in order to provide at least 10,000 meals for Bay Area healthcare workers and scientists as well as Filipino American seniors and low-income families in the South of Market (SOMA) district.

SOMA Pilipinas is the city's designated Filipino Cultural District, from 2nd St. to 11th St., bordered by Market and Brannan streets.

"The heart of Filipino cooking is rooted in family and hospitality," says Kristen Brillantes, co-owner of Sarap Shop, one of several restaurants involved in the endeavor.

"That's what we all plan to deliver-balanced, nutritious meals that will provide both sustenance and the comforting taste of home."


Donation options start at $10 for a single meal, $50 for feeding a family of five, $100 for feeding a staff of 10, or $20 monthly for providing two meals for frontline workers. All meal donations are tax deductible.

"We also have the safety and wellness of our recipients and the planet in mind. We plan to provide prepackaged, refrigerated meals that are easy to reheat, whether that's a five-minute break or when workers finally get home from a long shift," she adds.

Restaurants participating in #FilipinosFeedTheFrontlines project include: FK Frozen Custard, IVSF Catering and SF Chicken Box, Sarap Shop (halo halo milk tea, adobo poutine), Señor Sisig, Little Skillet (chicken and waffles), Lumpia Company, Manila Bowl, Mestiza Taqueria, Nick's on Mission and Grand (vegan Filipino comfort food), Ox and Tiger (Filipino and Japanese cuisine).

Fil-Am health care workers

The fundraiser is organized by Kultivate Labs (KL), a nonprofit that supports Filipino American-owned businesses in SOMA Pilipinas.

KL's research indicates that nurses who are Filipino or of Filipino heritage account for almost 20% of registered nurses in California.

Other data the organization has researched include:

At Seton Hospital in Daly City, one of the largest medical facilities in Northern California, 60% of the employees are Filipino.

As of 2019, one-third of foreign-born nurses in the US are Filipino. Since the mid-1960s, around 160,000 Filipino nurses have joined the US healthcare system.

As of 2016, the Philippines has provided the third largest number of actively licensed foreign doctors in the US.

The fundraiser's beneficiary hospitals and facilities include Alta Bates Hospital (NICU, Emergency Department), Chan Zuckerberg BioHub, Laguna Honda Hospital, Seton Medical Center (Daly City), Sutter Health: Mills-Peninsula (ER, Infection Prevention), Stanford Hospital (Patient Care, Case Management and Social Work), University of San Francisco (COVID-19 Screening Tents, COVID-19 Mobile Clinic, OB-GYN, Charles Chui's Lab).

Community stability

Meals for seniors and low-income families in the South of Market neighborhood will be transported by Fil-Am nonprofits United Playaz (violence prevention and youth development), West Bay Pilipino Multi Service Center, and South of Market Community Action Network.

By covering the costs of meals for those in need, it's KL's intention that the public will, in turn, help stabilize the Fil-Am restaurant businesses in SOMA Pilipinas.

KL projects that because of the effects of the work suspensions due to the pandemic, insolvency is a very real threat for some of the businesses they work with. The fundraiser is an effort to stem losses and stabilize their operations.

KL executive director Desi Danganan says, "We're always finding ways to help other. [This fundraiser] is our way of connecting the dots in our community from the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers to the most vulnerable of society like our seniors; as well as our Filipino American businesses that are on the brink of collapse."

To donate, visit

Filipino American publishing house releases short story and poetry collections

April 8, 2020 |

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino American publishing house Paloma Press has released short story collection Pagpag: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora by Eileen Tabios.

Pagpag: The Dictator's Aftermath in the Diaspora
by Filipino American writer Eileen Tabios

The book includes "protest stories" against martial law in the Philippines that Tabios had written in the latter half of the 1990s appended with a story she wrote in 2019 as a coda.

The stories are presented from the viewpoints of children who had been removed from the Philippines because of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Children who grew up watching and listening to adults remembering the homeland they left behind and who, as adults, can more fully articulate the effect of their histories.


Pagpag is the practice of scavenging through trash heaps for thrown away leftover food that is then cleaned and re-cooked for new meals.

In a statement, Paloma Press describes "pagpag heart-wrenchingly symbolizes the effects of a corrupt government unable to take care of-indeed, abusing-its people. Pagpag's stories, while not overtly addressing this radical torture of cuisine, relate to what lurks within the stew created by a dictator's actions.

The aftermath is not always obvious like the imprisoned, the tortured, or the salvaged (i.e. murdered); the aftermath goes deep to affect even future generations in a diaspora facilitated by corruption, incompetence, and venality."


Tabios has released more than 50 publications ranging from poetry collections, fiction, essays and experimental biographies. Pagpag is her third fiction collection. Her wide-ranging body of work includes inventing the hay(na)ku, a diasporic poetic form.

Filipino American publisher Aileen Cassinetto. 

Paloma Press founder and publisher Aileen Cassinetto says that Tabios pitched the book to her.

"For years she had these short stories gathering dust in her files. With the escalation of political turmoil and increased suffering among the poor during our current time, hence the reference to 'pagpag,' she thought to dust them off for publication and wrote a new story as a coda to bring the collection together," Cassinetto explained.

The book cover features a painting by Fil-Am artist Rea Lynn de Guzman titled "Self-Contained."

"The painting is in Eileen's collection and she thought the image could symbolize loss as well as missing the homeland. Loss is a theme that permeates the lives of characters in the book," she says.


Cassinetto was inspired to go into book publishing after she and her sister once thought of creating personalized, handmade books for children.

After making one for a nephew and another one for a niece, they quickly realized that their dream was not very feasible at the time, but they had "knack for creating and reimagining art objects" and that they could still create books through printing using conventional methods.

They laid the groundwork in 2016 and released their first book-the illustrated poetry book Blue by Wesley St. Jo and Reme Grefalda-a year later. Including Pagpag, Paloma Press has since published 19 titles.

The publishing house's name was inspired by the title of a poem "La Paloma," which means "The Dove," that Cassinetto had written when she was newly married and living on a street called Paloma Avenue.

Civic engagement

The publishing house has a history of civic engagement. It has previously released fundraising poetry collections Marawi, to support relief efforts in southern Philippines, and After Irma After Harvey, to support hurricane-displaced animals in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Cassinetto's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide free online access to the ebook format of essay anthology Humanity. (The print format is still available for purchase.)

"Humanity gives us an 'overall picture of strength and fragility, of empathy, and myriad hopes.' It is, thus, a timely read, I feel, given our current crisis," she says.

Filipino American contributors in Humanity, which is edited by Tabios, include Cynthia Buiza, Melinda Luisa de Jesus, Gabriela Igloria, S. Lily Mendoza and Leny Mendoza Strobel.

Other releases

Paloma Press recently also just released Christopher Shade's poetry collection Shield the Joyous.

"We released his critically acclaimed novel The Good Mother of Marseille in 2018. When Christopher pitched Joyous to us, we felt that it is a good fit for the kind of poetry we wish to publish," said Cassinetto.

Paloma Press has a slate of poetry titles for release throughout this year. Visit

Filipino American author Melissa de la Cruz turns Batman into an Asian American teen

March 31, 2020 |

LOS ANGELES  Filipino American author Melissa de la Cruz has transformed Batman into a teenager.

Gotham High by Filipino American author Melissa de la Cruz.

The prolific Young Adult (YA) novel genre writer De La Cruz has just completed work on the graphic novel Gotham High.

She reinterprets the Caped Crusader as a Chinese American in a love triangle with schoolmates Latin American Selina Kyle, who is catty but secretive, and Jack Napier, the class clown.

Illustrated by Thomas Pitilli and published by DC Comics, Gotham High sees Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham City after being kicked out of his boarding school in Hong Kong. He'd been sent there by his Uncle Alfred, who is gay, after his parents died.

Wayne has to deal with high school politics and dodges an attempted kidnapping that he suspects Catwoman and the Joker might be involved in.

With her work, De la Cruz enriches the Dark Knight canon, which is now 80 years old and encompasses comics, books, live and animated television shows for children and adults, and movies. Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939.


In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, De la Cruz said that she finds the Batman character fun and iconic.

She wanted to put her own spin on it by playing on the idea of "a kind of Gossip Girl Batman," referring to the book series about high school students that was later adapted into a television show in the late 2000s (and of which a sequel show is in the works).

To create this version of an Asian American Batman, she drew from her own experiences, such as being part Chinese and having a sibling living in Hong Kong.

She described her adaptations as making the Batman world "feel real" but at the same time, giving it a "fabulous 'Crazy Rich Asians' sheen."

She promises readers a surprise at the end of the love triangle plot.


Based in Los Angeles, De La Cruz has written more than 60 books.

Melissa de la Cruz reimagines Batman as an Asian American teenager.

She has written the Beach Lane series (originally the Au Pairs series; about three young women working as nannies by day and party at night in the Hamptons), the Blue Bloods series (vampire fantasy), the Beauchamp Family series (witch fantasty), and the Isle of the Lost series (novelization of the Disney Channel movie "The Descendants").

Inspired by the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical "Hamilton," she wrote a YA historical fiction romance trilogy featuring Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.

Her most recent book for adults is The Birthday Girl, published last year.


De La Cruz just released her novel The Queen's Assassin in February, which is meant to be the first book in the Queen's Secret series, a sweeping YA fantasy romance.

In the book, Shadow has been training to become an assassin, even though her mother expects her to serve as a lady of the court. A surprise attack forces her to team up with Caledon, the kingdom's deadliest weapon. In the midst of a possible war, they begin to develop feelings for each other as they uncover a shocking web of lies that will change their paths forever.


Her next book, cowritten with Margaret Stohl, is a reimagining of two characters from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

In Jo and Laurie, Josephine "Jo" March finds success as her first published book becomes a bestseller, with fans demanding a sequel. Despite her growing feelings for Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, Jo's desire to remain independent leads her to decline his marriage proposal, sending him off to college heartbroken. When he returns with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally reveal her heart's true desire or lose the love of her life forever?

Gotham High goes on sale starting April 1.

Filipino American writer Jia Tolentino wins $50K Whiting Award

March 27, 2020 |

NEW YORK  Filipino American essayist and music critic Jia Tolentino has won a 2020 Whiting Award in Nonfiction for her book Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, which was published last year and became a New York Times bestseller.

Filipino American Jia Tolentino wins 2020 Whiting Award for Nonfiction
Photo by Elena Mudd

The Whiting Awards, of $50,000 each, are given annually to 10 emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama.

In response to the announcement of winners, Tolentino posted on Twitter, "Obscene to experience a blessing like this right now but I am so grateful to the Whiting Foundation to be included in this group. I hope I can pay the good forward."

Since 1985, the Whiting Foundation has supported creative writing through the Whiting Awards, based on early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.


The selection committee's statement on Tolentino notes that she "is more than a chronicler of our particular moment; she is our critic and translator, a decoder who can see the profound in the ordinary.

"Her debut collection of essays is a marvel, a book that captures what seems unknowable about the internet and what it is to grow up in its orbit, to become misshapen and seduced by it, defined by it. Tolentino chooses rigor and complexity even at the expense of comfort, interrogating her own complicity in the culture she critiques.

"These essays are compulsively readable, and shot through with surprise, offering us the delights of eloquence and the satisfactions of her deep, inquiring mind."


Tolentino was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to Houston, Texas with her family when she was four years old. She has a master's of fine arts in fiction from the University of Michigan.

She is a staff writer at The New Yorker and formerly the deputy editor at Jezebel. She lives in Brooklyn.

Trick Mirror includes nine essays which US and Canada section correspondent Patty Rivera describes as touching "on the spheres of public imagination that has shaped Tolentino's understanding of herself."

Read Rivera's report on Tolentino's book launch in Toronto last year and more of her thoughts on the book here.

Previous Filipino American recipients of the Whiting Award include short story writer Lysley Tenorio, who won in 2008. Tenorio is the author of short story collection Monstress.

Filipino American Tony Award winner Clint Ramos wins $50K USA Fellowship

March 17, 2020 |

NEW YORK  Filipino American set and costume designer Clint Ramos has been named a United States Artists (USA) Fellow for 2020. He is one of 50 fellows selected for the year by United States Artists, a national arts funding organization.

Filipino American set and costume designer Clint Ramos
is a 2020 United States Artists (USA) Fellow.
Photo by Marc Franklin

Each awardee receives $50,000 which "honors their creative accomplishments and supports their ongoing artistic and professional development." The award is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Fellows are chosen from 10 different disciplines: architecture and design, craft, dance, film, media, music, theater and performance, traditional arts, visual art, and writing.

Other awards

Ramos won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play for his work on "Eclipsed," written by Danai Gurira (Okoye in "Black Panther").

Last year, he won an Obie Award for Set Design for his work on The Public Theater's production of "Wild Goose Dreams."

Ramos previously received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Costume Design in 2013.

Recent works

He has designed sets and costumes for over a hundred theater, film, opera and dance productions.

Ramos' costume designs for "Once On This Island."
Photo by Joan Marcus

His most recent credit on Broadway was the set of "Slave Play" written by Jeremy Harris.

As for costume design, one recent credit on Broadway was the revival of the musical "Once on This Island," which starred Lea Salonga as Erzulie. The production is currently touring the US and its musical director and conductor is Fil-Am Steven Cuevas.

Other Broadway credits include "The Rose Tattoo" with Marisa Tomei (Aunt May in "Spider-Man"); "Burn This" with Adam Driver ("Marriage Story" on Netflix, Kylo Ren in "Star Wars") and Keri Russell ("The Americans," Zorii Bliss in "Star Wars"); "Sunday in the Park with George" with Jake Gyllenhaal (Mysterio in "Spider-Man").


Ramos is also the costume designer for upcoming film "Respect," an Aretha Franklin biopic featuring Jennifer Hudson. The film is targeted to be released in October.

In addition to his set and costume design work, Ramos is currently Professor of Theatre and Head of Design at Fordham University. Ramos lives in New York with his husband and their daughter.

Last year, Baltimore-based documentary filmmaker Ramona Diaz was named a United States Artist Fellow. Her films include "Imelda" (2004), "The Learning" (2011), "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey" (2012), and "Motherland" (2017).

Since United States Artists was founded in 2006, it has awarded more than 600 fellows with over $27 million.

Filipino American theater artists reap 2019 Gypsy Rose Lee Awards in Seattle

March 12, 2020 |

SEATTLE   Filipino American theater artists Justin Huertas and Corinna Lapid Munter have each won 2019 Gypsy Rose Lee Awards for their work on Huertas' musical "The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion."

A scene from “The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion"

Huertas wrote and composed the pop-rock musical about a Filipino American family whose matriarch is a wrestler of octopi from the Pacific Ocean. It was staged last year by ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery.

Lapid Munter received the award for Excellence in Performance in a Musical as a Lead Actor for playing the titular wrestling champion.

Huertas received the award for Excellence in Local Composing.

The production received the award for Excellence in Production of a Musical. It was helmed by ArtsWest artistic director Mathew Wright, who commissioned Huertas to create the musical.

The awards are given annually by the Seattle Theater Writers group in 33 categories in two divisions (Large Theaters and Small Theaters). ArtsWest Playhouse falls under the Small Theater division.


"I'm so, so proud of this musical. For my work here to be recognized in this way is wonderful," says Huertas.

Filipino American composer and librettist. Justin Huertas.
Photo by Whiskers & Willow Photography

His previous works include "Lizard Boy" (music, lyrics, book) with Seattle Repertory Theatre and "Howl's Moving Castle (music, lyrics) with Book-it Repertory Theatre.

For the show's Excellence in Production award, he credits his collaborators. "All of my work usually incorporates fantastical, comic book-ish elements like telekinesis or tentacle hands. I rely on my directors and choreographers to imagine how that will be realized on stage. In this case, it was director Mat Wright and Fil-Am choreographer Alyza DelPan-Monley working with me to bring this crazy story to life."

Fil-Am Lex Marcos was the set designer. Lapid Munter says, "The production team we were so fortunate to have was top notch. Our cast was unbelievably perfect for this show."

Distinctly Filipino American

"I was so proud to be seen, appreciated, acknowledged. heard. This was the first show I have ever worked on that truly gave me the feeling of Pinoy pride," Lapid Munter says.

Filipino American actor Corinna Lapid Munter. 

Huertas said that this musical was his first time creating a Filipino American family for the stage. "I was intent on . including things from my own experiences. Like my own titas asking `Did you eat?' every time they see me. Or the cheap and reliable meal of Spam and eggs."

He says that the opportunity to work with other Fil-Am theater makers "enhanced the creation" process of the musical.

"Actor Christian Quinto helped me translate some lines of dialogue into Tagalog. Choreographer Alyza put some Filipino touches into the movements, like a `mano po' blessing in the opening scene."

Audience appreciation

Huertas and Lapid Munter are both elated to report that audiences appreciated their efforts.

"Audiences loved it. I was really happy to see Filipino American and Asian American families come and immediately relate to this family and their dynamic," says Huertas.

"Still, this story and this dynamic has intentions of universality, so I was also glad to see that families of other cultures saw themselves in these characters, too."

Lapid Munter shares, "One of my favorite things to do every night was to peek through the curtains and watch the audience fall in love with every character on stage. There was someone on that stage for every audience member to relate to. The most common feedback I got was `I have never felt so seen before.'

"I will never forget one evening, after a show, a woman came up to me and said she had a friend visiting. Although her English wasn't very good, she had to speak to me.

"Her friend grasped my hands, looked me deeply in the eyes and said, "The world needs to see this show. This show can fix the world. This is what the world needs more of."


Justin Huertas' musical all about Fil-Am 'octopus-wrestling mom'

Fil-Am actor Jojo Abaoag wins 2018 Gypsy Rose Lee Award