Of the novels I’ve read so far in 2020 for Filipino-American History Month, AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART was the one that resonated the most. The Filipino-America these characters inhabit differs from the one in which I came up. But it rings true for all the ways it overlaps with my and my family’s experiences.
The ways Filipinos get by in the aftermath of trauma, whether from the Japanese Occupation during WWII or Martial Law is familiar to me. The stuff they have to go through when the emigrate or help their family members emigrate is familiar. The many secrets, white lies, superstitions, large Filipino social gatherings and the cliques within, the ways class, gender, and education intersect and create tensions that are barely suppressed by utang na loob — maybe too familiar.
The ratio of Ilocano and Pangasinan phrases to Tagalog (the language of my folks) notwithstanding, almost all of us in the diaspora know a Lolo Boy, a Bebot, and a Ka Eddie. We know what gets said about the brothers of a certain family, the doctors tried to make it but couldn’t, the nurses who were the anchors of a family, and the Ate who had more going on under the surface than you might ever suspect if you didn’t know or intensely care enough about to ask.