An anthology of nonfiction stories about Filipina immigrants, written by their children and grandchildren.
In this history collection, Brown (Kula San, 2010) brings together dozens of family stories about women who emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii in the first half of the 20th century. The author’s introduction places the memoirs in context, demonstrating that studies of the Filipino community have largely omitted these women’s experiences. There are common threads that run through these tales—traditional food, frugality, the practice of smoking the lit end of Toscani cigarettes—but there’s also a diversity of viewpoints, socioeconomic backgrounds, career paths and family environments. Most of the stories tell of women who joined their husbands on rural sugar plantations, but a few were middle-class housewives, and several pursued successful careers in real estate, fashion and catering. The writing is uneven, with some contributors producing far more fluent and polished prose than others, but all the narratives remarkably capture the rhythms and language of the Hawaiian Filipino dialect, with its elements of English, Hawaiian, Tagalog, Ilocano and Visayan: “No need go back! No need go backwarrds, always go porrwarrds! Why you like go back? You was derr already. Go someplace you neberr go yet. Datis how you learrn!” The stories are also notable for their range of attitudes about the past: few ever approach nostalgia, but not all condemn its world of plantation economics, substandard housing and tolerance for corporal punishment. All display how the Filipina experience shaped a substantial portion of today’s Hawaiians, which will make this book valuable to researchers. Although the book as a whole is limited by its stylistic shortcomings, it’s still a rich contribution to the literature on Hawaii’s diverse history. (Each story features recent and historical black-and-white photographs.)
Detailed portrayals of Filipinas in Hawaii that, despite occasionally weak writing, offer valuable information on an unexplored segment of society.