If Gina Apostol’s INSURRECTO gives an overview of 120 years of Philippine-American history, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING gives us history’s most contemporary slice.
With President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war (condemned the world over for its sanction of extrajudicial killing) as a backdrop, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING shows how a young Filipino-American man faces a choice just about all Filipinos in the diaspora face: How do you live your life in the face of the multiple horrors which have touched generations of Filipinos throughout the last century?
This can be a no-win situation. You can choose to leave the family, the barangay, the country and as a result, feel survivor’s guilt layered with whatever guilt trip others might put on you. You can stay, and escape in other ways like hiding parts of yourself, hiding your convictions, hiding your fears and concerns behind “bahala na” while trying — sometimes failing — to avoid being subsumed by the horror.
To read about a 17 year-old Filipino-American taking up this challenge in ways I never could makes him look like Harry Potter to me. Being 30 years older, let me tell you that it would’ve been easier at 17 if to imagine myself being a wizard than someone who goes “back home” and does what the protagonist here does. If “All of the adults are failing us,” as he declares in frustration, I can offer one possible explanation (though not an excuse, by any means). It could be because I didn’t have a book like PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING growing up.