Emerging writers on themes of identity and belonging

Community News & Features Dec 21, 2018 at 5:33 pm
From left: Jennilee Austria, Eric Tigley (partly hidden), Rachel Chiong, Yves Lamson, Nastasha Alli and Justine Yu.   (PHOTOS: IRISH MAE SILVESTRE)

From left: Jennilee Austria, Eric Tigley (partly hidden), Rachel Chiong, Yves Lamson, Nastasha Alli and Justine Yu. 

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

Eric Tigley with his children’s activity book, Hoy!

Eric Tigley with his children’s activity book, Hoy!

Self-awareness and identity seemed to be the theme of the evening during the December 7 event, the Filipino-Canadian Writers Book Launch at the Philippine Consulate. Organized in association with Centro Rizal, the consulate general’s cultural hub, it introduced young writers exploring what it means to be caught between two cultures.

“We’re showcasing the literary works of Filipino-Canadians and there is something that caters to all ages: children and adults and all interests,” said Consul General Rosalita S. Prospero. “Animation, cuisine, short essays and a novel. As the cliché goes, we’ve got them all.”

In keeping with the spirit of the season, she added, “Books are easy to wrap and unwrap, yet you’re giving someone something that lasts forever.”

Jennilee Austria was the emcee for the evening and introduced featured authors Yves Lamson, Nastasha Alli, Eric Tigley, Justine Yu and Rachel Chiong – all of whom are also members of Pluma, a collective of Filipino-Canadian writers.

Yves Lamson reading his book.

Yves Lamson reading his book.

‘Bodies of Water’ author Yves Lamson describes his book as “a 240-page love letter to my mother but it’s also to women of the Filipino community because they are strong, they are made of steel.”

The book takes place on a lanzones plantation, which was inspired by his own childhood growing up in the countryside and hearing stories from his father about “aswangs” (evil spirit/vampire).

“I’m afraid of losing their stories because they mean so much to me,” said Lamson. “They tell who I am as a person because if I’m just Canadian without being Filipino, I lose the depth that I have access to.

“I want the next generation to know our stories. And, not just that, I don’t just want to keep it in our circle, I want to share it with people who don’t look like me.”

Nastasha Alli

Nastasha Alli

Toronto-based food writer and podcast host of ‘Exploring Filipino Kitchens’ Nastasha Alli explores this idea of identity in her poignant essay in ‘The New Filipino Kitchen.’ The book, which was released in September, is a collection of stories and recipes from both professional chefs and home cooks around the world and includes an essay by former White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford.

Alli read a rather nostalgic excerpt about celebrating her 18th birthday and sharing a bilao (woven tray) of pancit palabok with friends.

“That dinner felt like home to me as a teenager in Manila,” she read. “I was surrounded by friends and the comfort of familiarity. But the memory also carried a sense of excitement for our future, our mysterious future. None of us knew then to which corner of the world our lives would take us.”

Justine Yu

Justine Yu

On the subject of migration, Justine Yu goes into greater detail on its effect on cultural identity in her recently published magazine, ‘Living Hyphen.’ The first volume’s theme is ‘entrances and exits’ and features a collection of stories and illustrations by authors and artists across the country.

“I’m constantly in this tug of war going back and forth between these two different identities and that all these truths about me could exist all at once has always boggled my mind,” she said. “But as I opened up about these feelings to people of different ethnicities, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in navigating this ambiguous in-between space.”

Reaching out to a much younger audience is Eric Tigley with his two children’s books. ‘Round Brown Eyes’ is a message about identity and belonging, as told from the perspective of a set of neglected wooden toys, while ‘Hoy!’ is a children’s activity book about Filipino legends and history.

Rachel Chiong

Rachel Chiong

Rachel Chiong provided the evening’s performance with her heartfelt poetry accompanied by an electric guitar. “She stands for my ancestors, women whose faces I don’t know, whose stories are in my blood, my bones and in my book,” recited Chiong. In addition to being a poet, she’s also a University of Toronto graduate and a linguist specialist with a focus on ultrasound technology.

But the evening was about more than just celebrating emerging writers: it also highlighted the importance of preserving the unique immigrant experience for posterity.

After all, we are what we read.

Jennilee Austria

Jennilee Austria

(PHOTOS: IRISH MAE SILVESTRE)