Literature by Filipinos have been steadily filling shelves here and abroad! We’ve got a selection of recent releases from Filipino-Americans who’ve staked their individual claims on the literary scene with their biographical testaments on how a person should be in an age where geographical boundaries are broadened, even blurred. We have a memoirs and essays and biographical testaments tackling immigration and racial politics alongside gender and identification; we have dispatches from millennials just trying to get by, and often in simultaneously the funniest and most earnest ways.
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Fairest, by Meredith Talusan
Meredith Talusan has lived a remarkable life for being different in settings unkind to strangeness — and in her memoir Fairest, she has lyrically transmuted this assigned “outsider” state into an earnest and personal examination of gender politics and identity, the complexities of the Filipino immigrant experience, and even the connection between skin color, class, and childhood stardom. Smile recommends Fairest for its measured recollection of how it was to be someone who’s needed to pin down identities, its dreamlike remembrance of a peculiar childhood, and the strength behind its many reflections.
From the publisher: “Fairest is a memoir about a precocious boy with albinism, a ‘sun child’ from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of U.S. citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as white. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realized she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love that will remind readers of works such as Call Me By Your Name and Giovanni’s Room. Her evocative reflections will shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life.”
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The Groom Will Keep His Name: And Other Vows I’ve Made About Race, Resistance, and Romance, by Matt Ortile
From the publisher: “When Matt Ortile moved from Manila to Las Vegas, the locals couldn’t pronounce his name. Harassed as a kid for his brown skin, accent, and femininity, he believed he could belong in America by marrying a white man and shedding his Filipino identity. This was the first myth he told himself. The Groom Will Keep His Name explores the various tales Ortile spun about what it means to be a Vassar Girl, an American Boy, and a Filipino immigrant in New York looking to build a home. As we meet and mate, we tell stories about ourselves, revealing not just who we are, but who we want to be. Ortile recounts the relationships and whateverships that pushed him to confront his notions of sex, power, and the model minority myth. Whether swiping on Grindr, analyzing DMs, or cruising steam rooms, Ortile brings us on his journey toward radical self-love with intelligence, wit, and his heart on his sleeve.”
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Weird but Normal, by Mia Mercado
From the publisher: “Navigating racial identity, gender roles, workplace dynamics, and beauty standards, Mia Mercado’s hilarious essay collection explores the contradictions of being a millennial woman, which usually means being kind of a weirdo. Whether it’s spending $30 on a candle that smells like an ocean that doesn’t exist, offering advice on how to ask about someone’s race (spoiler: just don’t, please?), quitting a job that makes you need shots of whiskey on your lunch break, or finding a more religious experience in the skincare aisle at Target than your hometown Catholic church, Mia brilliantly unpacks what it means to be a professional, absurdly beautiful, horny, cute, gross human. Essays include: ‘Depression Isn’t a Competition but Why Aren’t I Winning?;’ ‘My Dog Explains My Weekly Schedule;’ ‘Mustache Lady;’ ‘White Friend Confessional;’ ‘Treating Objects Like Women.’ With sharp humor and wit, Mia shares the awkward, uncomfortable, surprisingly ordinary parts of life, and shows us why it’s strange to feel fine and fine to feel strange.”
See more book recommendations via the Smile Reading List!