Since I started my journey to write and publish the Mama, Mama book, family, friends, acquaintances, and members of my community have asked me all sorts of questions. I thought I’d share some of them here, in no particular order.
How did you come up with the story?
When my eldest, Charlie, was about five years old and my second, Jack, almost three years old, we often went on picnics at the Blake Garden in El Cerrito. The garden is high up in the El Cerrito hills overlooking the San Francisco bay. One day, during one of our picnics, Charlie asked me to guess the things that he liked. He then told me he liked Batman and Spiderman and fighting “bad guys”. “What else do you like?” I asked. He continued to tell me: chicken nuggets, catsup, Sinigang, digging construction projects, climbing trees… I kept asking him for more of his “likes” and he kept telling. His list was pretty long. Eventually, he asked me to guess what he liked most. He then told me that he liked me most. His proclamation was so earnest and real. That moment touched me deeply and I wanted to keep a memory of it.
I didn’t set off to look for a story or a plot. It presented itself to me. Thankfully, I was present and receptive to it.
How did you decide that this was the story you wanted to make a book out of?
Prior to this inspired moment during our picnic, I had been wanting to write a children’s book that would capture my time with my young boys. Motherhood shaped my experience of life in a way I never expected. I wanted something, an album of sorts, that my boys and I could look at later in our lives and be reminded of our early years together.This simple narrative offered the chance to do just that.
At first I worried about many things: that there was no “real” story; that it was “merely” a boy telling his Mama all about his likes and then surprising her with his proclamation of like; that there were no classic story elements like conflict, resolution, and character development. However, I also knew I wanted to write about the rhythm in our daily lives. I wanted a book that shows a Fil-Am kid living his daily life, just being himself. So, despite my doubts, I decided that the “day in the life” approach was plot enough.
Why is it Bisaya and English on the actual pages, instead of Filipino/Tagalog and English?
I wrote in Bisaya simply because it is my mother tongue and the one I wish to pass on to my kids. I understand that there are fewer Bisaya speakers than Tagalog/Filipino speakers because Filipino is the national language and everyone in the Philippines has to learn it. Still, one of my goals was/is to make books that would help me teach my kids speak and read in Bisaya. There are no children’s books in Bisaya that I know of so I took it upon myself to create the book that I needed and wanted to read.
I hope that the book being in written in Bisaya would not deter non-Bisaya speakers from reading it to their kids. It’s written also in English, after all.
Why do the kids look so Filipino, so brown, when the dad is not?
When I decided to help in the diversifying of chidren’s books, I knew my characters were going to be unapologetically and unmistakably Filipino brown. I didn’t want the characters to look vague.
Is your illustrator Filipino? (No.) Why not?
Out of the (50+) illustrators who answered my craigslist ad, Andrew presented the portfolio that spoke to me. Additionally, he lives in the Bay Area, seemed easy to work with, quoted rates I could afford, and understood the imaginings of a 5 year old. I value the work he’s done for the book.
Of course, I would love to work with a Filipino illustrator if and when the chance presents itself.
Who’s the publisher?
The book is published by Sawaga River Press, a publishing arm of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Libro Para Sa Tanan, that I founded in 2008.
Why did you become a small press?
It seemed like the next natural thing to do after writing the book. If I had waited to be published by the traditional publishers, this book likely would not have been published. I no longer think being selected for publication is all about merits and “perfect” work quality. There are systems in place that make it a lot harder for writers of color to be published. I have decided that my contribution to this struggle to publish more books that speak to my and my community’s experience is to become a small press.
Why is the book so expensive ($19.00)?
Actually, it isn’t any more expensive than the average hardcover children’s book.
But we did learn a very good lesson with this first publication: It is very expensive to print illustrations in color. Next time, we will do something not involving color. Maybe a journal or a graphic novel, instead.
When you’re deciding whether to buy this “expensive” book, please think of it as buying not just this book but as supporting and sustaining a non-profit small press that aims to publish books that reflect the reality of Filipino American kids.
Are you an educator?
No. I’m a concerned mother who looked for and found very few books that feature Filipino American kids that look like mine.
I’m also an attorney, writer, dancer, reader, Do It Yourselfer who wants to be proactive about the lack of diverse children’s books.
What’s your background in publishing?
My first job after college was as a marketing assistant at a publishing company, Jossey-Bass, in San Francisco. But that’s not what gave me the confidence to forge ahead. Rather, I was blessed to know so many people- publishing professionals, artists, business consultants, early childhood educators, independent small presses, social activists- who generously extended to me their expertise and creative talents. Without them, this book would not have been possible. This book is truly a product of a community who believed in the cause.
Why is the little boy digging in his underwear?
Because he had to wear something. To truly reflect the reality of my son, he should have been illustrated wearing nothing. Like many four year old boys, he had no qualms about baring his bum and getting dirty with mud.
Who is Bakunawa?
Bakunawa is an ancient Filipino deity that is represented as a sea serpent. Some say he is the god of the underworld and the one who causes eclipses.
According to Filipino myths, during ancient times, the creator Bathala created seven beautiful moons to light up the sky. The Bakunawa liked the moons so he rose from the ocean and swallowed the moons whole. To keep the Bakunawa from completely swallowing the moons, ancient Filipinos would go out of their homes with pans and pots, and make noise to scare the Bakunawa into spitting out the moon back into the sky.
I took the opportunity to try to re-ignite young Fil-Am kids’ interest in the rich and powerful Filipino myths and legends. I have been making an effort to tell my sons stories of our indigenous spirits, deities, and heroes, especially the ones from Bukidnon where I grew up, so that they may feel a connection with that part of their identity.
What is Sinigang?
The best soup ever! It is considered one of the most indigenous Filipino dishes. It has meat (pork belly/chicken/beef/fish) and vegetables (eggplant, okra, long peppers, string beans, taro, greens like mustard leaves or spinach). As a souring agent, you can add Sinigang mix from the store (with powdered guava or tamarind extract, and lots of MSG, of course) or lemon juice.
I am thankful for these questions, and others that are not in this list, because they have made me think of the book from different perspectives. Next time, I will post about questions I’ve not been asked but wish I had.