Sawaga River Press Celebrates Our Collective Memories

Hello Friends and Fam,

It has really been a while since our last update so we’ll try to make it up with a somewhat longer than usual update. This shouldn’t be too hard as October is the Filipinx American History Month (FAHM), the best month ever! Here’s to celebrating our joys and contributions and histories and resilience as a people!

First, an update about Jack & Agyu. And what an exciting update this is! Jack & Agyu was recognized as one of the books in the official list of published narratives on the history and culture of Malaybalay City chosen for “permanent preservation because of historical, cultural informational value” by the Office of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Malaybalay City. We don’t even know how to describe how immensely honored we feel. We are forever grateful to the Bukidnon State University, the Bukidnon Studies Center, and especially to Dr. Rizza Ramos-Consad and Dr. Loreta Sol Dinlayan for collaborating with Sawaga River Press and for ensuring that we are doing right by Magbabaya and our ancestors. We look forward to more collaborations in the future!

(Pausing here for a few because the above is pretty cool and deserves time before transitioning to the next announcement. Move on when you’re ready.)

In August, we were supposed to launch our Rooted in Practice: Pinays in Law reader at the 5th Pinay Powerhouse conference in Seattle but we had a little bit of a delay. We ended up getting pre-orders at the event and at the Filipino American National Historical Society Conference. We will be launching this October 29, 2022, as part of the celebration of Filipinx American History Month. Our local library in Davis will be hosting a FAHM celebration with food trucks, children’s activities, and a panel composed of local independent Fil-Am children’s books authors and some of the contributors of the Pinays in Law reader to talk about storytelling to preserve our collective memory and practice collective care. We are so excited!

On a somewhat more personal note, last June, I (Justine) had the good fortune to be part of Sammay Dizon’s Thrivation dance project which explored many of the themes we are exploring in the Mungan book: collective care; remembering our stories; honoring our past, present, and future ancestors; rituals (dance and songs). I have so many thoughts about this process and I have yet to fully explore them. In the meantime, suffice it to say that this was the kind of work I wish I had been exposed to back when I was young and eager to devote my life to theater and dance. As it was, mentorship back then was rare and I didn’t see a way to build a career in theater and dance with the kind of stories that I wanted to tell and with Filipinx artists who knew what it was about. I’ve always thought I just didn’t have the creativity to make it happen but what I learned while working with Sammay and the amazing cast and crew of Thrivation is that I didn’t fail, it was the system that failed to support me. Anyway. I bring this up here because I drew from similar ancestral memories that I drew from for Mungan. In my pre-show monologue, I sang a Bisaya song (Si Filemon, a nod to my grandfather, Filemon), spoke in a mix of Bisaya and English about not forgetting our (his)stories, and used dance moves inspired by the butterflies (which are featured in the Mungan story). Here’s a KQED article on the show.

While we’re on the topic of Mungan…Lots have been going on with this. We have been working on coloring the pages and laying out the spreads. HOWEVER… we regret to inform you that we are running behind our schedule!!! In our initial plan, we targeted to have the books published and launched by this month, October 2022, in time to join the exciting International Filipinx American Book Festival in San Francisco (which is happening October 15-16, and you should definitely check it out if you’re in the area!) Well, we are not quite there yet. One of our team members is dealing with health problems that require putting the project on hold. Because health and wellbeing are our priorities, we have decided to take the time that we need to ensure that we’re all healthy before going back to the work. We will be sure to keep you all posted. In the meantime, we would like to share with you the latest spread. We feel so much magic here and we cannot wait for the right time to continue creating.

This one was from May of this year. South San Francisco vice-mayor Flor Nicolas read Jack & Agyu to celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Month.

We’re also happy to announce that we are part of the Bay Area Women in Publishing Mentorship Program. We hope and strive to learn from our mentor, a thriving independent small press. We are on a mission to grow Sawaga River Press into something sustainable and enduring and relevant. More updates as we progress through our 9 month program.

Hope to be back with more updates before the year ends. In the meantime, enjoy FAHM, everyone!

Sawaga River Press Discusses Decolonizing Children’s Book Publishing + Other New 2022 Year Events and Updates

Happy February, Everyone!

Spring is (prematurely) here and our almond, peach, nectarine, pear trees are in bloom. They’re pretty!

We’re switching back to this blog after realizing that we’d like to share many events that are happening but they’re not specific to the Mungan book. So here we are again!

We started the year with a presentation + talk with Dr. Robyn Rodriguez through her Liberation School and in collaboration with the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies at UC Davis. Titled “Decolonizing Children’s Publishing”, my presentation launched the Liberation School’s series of talks tackling relevant issues in our Fil-Am community, especially those that focus on our collective liberation. It was so exhilarating to be with people who are all working in solidarity for our Fil-Am community’s well-being!

At the end of January, fellow children’s bookmaker and historian, Kirby Araullo, who also provided the baybayin scripts for our Jack & Agyu book, hosted a fundraising online event to benefit those affected by Typhoon Odette (aka Typhoon Rai) last December. The typhoon took a lot of lives, homes, and properties, especially in the Visayas regions.  We started out by talking about water deities in the Philippines but then veered into community-based publishing and its challenges and joys. I hope it was informative for those who tuned in!

In February, a fellow teaching artist whom I met last year at the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp connected with me to create a music-focused curriculum that includes Jack & Agyu. Ami Molinelli, founder of Music Is First, works with the San Francisco School District and understands that there are many Fil-Am kids in the district who would enjoy our book/s. We’re so excited about this!

Just last week, I was also part of a virtual story hour hosted by the Filipino American Educators Association of California. Three other Fil-Am children’s books writers read with me: Gayle Romasanta, Conrad Benedicto, Robin Aquilizan. It was totally motivating to hear them and their inspirations and processes. The participants asked all sorts of good questions, from the craft of writing to the discipline of writing and the industry challenges. Thank you for the opportunity to engage with the community, FAEAC and Tracie Noriega!

This year, the press is branching out to publishing anthologies! Our first, Rooted in Practice: Pinays In Law, gathers first person narratives from those who identify as Pinays in law, whether as attorneys, paralegals, law students, JD holders, or however way that may be interpreted by the participating writer. We are collaborating with Pinay Powerhouse, a collective of Pinay attorneys across the United States. Through Pinay Powerhouse, Union Bank is sponsoring this anthology. Additionally, Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA) and the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies at UC Davis are collaborating with us. We hope this is only the beginning of more anthologies and readers in the future! Pinay Powerhouse will be hosting a reading event this March 12 to celebrate the submissions we have so far and to solicit more entries for the final reader that’s slated to come out in August 2022 during the 5th Pinay Powerhouse Conference in Seattle. Here’s a flyer for the event. (Illustration Credit: Angel Trazo)

Finally, for our Mungan Update, we are so pleased to let you know that we now have initial studies for the characters, including the siblings and the mamas. It’s so exciting to see them slowly come to life on the pages! Here are the initial sketches for Ate and Kuya and manghud. Please see our Mungan website for more updates and thoughts on the process for this book.

Illustrations by Happy Garaje

We hope you continue to support us! Thank you!

Support Our New Sawaga River Press Book!

Happy Fall, Friends, Family, and Kapwa!

I am so excited to share with you the campaign for our new picture book, Mungan and Her Lola! This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how a young Filipina girl lovingly uses Filipino rituals of care to help her grandmother recover from grief and sadness. 

(Illustration by Happy Garaje)

Click here to visit our campaign site and support Mungan and Her Lola by funding us. As I’ve learned from our successful campaigns for Mama,Mama, Know What I Like? and Jack & Agyu, supporters like you are essential to getting the book published and producing enough copies that will continue to sell to new readers for years. 

Please also share this campaign link with your family, friends, coworkers, and social media networks. It’s been so rewarding to connect with new readers who have come to our books because of referrals by friends and family and to share our stories with an ever-expanding community. 

Mungan and her Lola emphasizes the importance of celebrating the Filipino collective rituals of care; offers ways to remember our ancestral practices, language, food, music, and oral stories. It also encourages young people to engage their elders, hear their stories, and share in their care. 
Mungan and her Lola is written by Justine Villanueva in three languages—Binukid, Bisaya-Cebuano, and English—and vibrantly illustrated by Cebu-based illustrators, Happy Garaje.

Sawaga River Press is the publishing arm of a California nonprofit, Libro Para Sa Tanan, A Literacy Project. Sawaga River Press creates children’s books that celebrate Filipino experiences and culture, especially those that are rooted in the Filipino and Bukidnon indigenous values.
With help from supporters like you, Sawaga River Press published Mama, Mama, Know What I Like? in 2016 and Jack & Agyu in 2019, which won the Publishing Professionals Network Book Show’s Best Design Award in 2020 as well as the Independent Book Publishers Network Benjamin Franklin Gold Award in 2020.
We are putting our experience to work for Mungan and her Lola and are committed to getting our beautiful book into as many young hands as possible in 2022. With your support, this will be our most successful campaign to date.
Thank you for your support and for being a part of our mission to tell these Filipino stories.

Once again, the campaign link:

In solidarity and with much love,


June 2021 Update

Dear Friends,

How did this happen??? Half of the year has gone–it’s summer already!– and we’ve not posted any updates!

What have we been doing? A few things here and there. Mainly, I’ve been focusing on writing picture book since I joined this year’s 12×12 challenge (to write one picture book story each month).

Briefly, here are highlights of the last few months:

In March, we interviewed with Rise and Shine with FilAm Creative. Thank you, Ed, Rex, Kyme, and Ronnie for such a fun hour talking about publishing, among many other things.

In April, I once again spoke at the University of Texas. Like last time, the freshmen students were attentive and had deep questions about storytelling. I even got to talk about decolonizing publishing! (I’ll have to ask for permission to post the video, if possible. Stay tuned.)

The following two videos are not specifically Jack & Agyu related but they’re very much in the spirit of resistance and liberation so I will add them here. I celebrated Cesar Chavez Day with a short shout-out to the Fil-Am manongs who collaborated with Cesar Chavez to bring about the creation of the United Farm Workers Union. This was part of the City of Davis’ Cesar Chavez Day Celebration. Thank you, City of Davis, for including me!

AND I also was part of a webinar panel on Ethnic Studies. However, my mic wouldn’t work so I ended up doing a separate segment towards the end of the video. Check it out here! Vanguard Webinar: Yolo County Ethnic Studies Public Forum (Video) | Davis Vanguard Thanks to the organizers at the Davis Vanguard for including me.

In May, I was asked to give a keynote speech for the Bukidnon State College’s celebration of International Language Month.

In June, to celebrate Philippine Independence Day, I read Jack & Agyu and Lynnor did a craft session ( kalasag making) for the Bergenfield Public Library in New Jersey.

There are a few more events lined up and I’m looking forward to all of them. As well as to summer!

Until next time! Thanks, as always, for the support.

(P.S. As I review this post, I realize I need to change my video background (and maybe get a haircut?) ! I love that mat, though…)

Happy New Year 2021 Update

Happy New Year, Friends!

I realize as I write this that it’s already FEBRUARY!!!

So here we are. Corona virus is still wreaking havoc and we’re still being asked to do our part by avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. In the midst of this pandemic and all other unsavory goings on (e.g. attempts to overthrow the government and continued spewing of hate by racist and white supremacists), I’m feeling hopeful now that the vaccine is here and the Biden-Harris administration is in place. (Yey, Kamala! Speak!)

First, a quick look back for some book and press related highlights in November, December, and January.

In November, I was asked by Prof. Padilla of the University of Texas, Austin to speak about Jack & Agyu and social justice in children’s books and publishing. It was a nice change of pace. I love reading for kids (and their parents) and talking about the writing and publishing journey with them. But discussing with college students who are taking a course on literature and social justice is a whole different (not higher, mind you) level. I’m feeling grateful for that engagement…and for being asked to return to the spring class this April!

In December, we once again joined the Bay Area’s Social Justice Books Fair. I missed being around and getting to converse with readers looking for locally created social justice related books. However, hats off to the organizers who did a good job of substituting the fair with a virtual reading hosted by the inquisitive Mr. Limata. As of this writing, I can’t find the link to the actual interview with him so, for now, I’ll link to the FB event and flyer.

In late December, International Examiner, the oldest and largest nonprofit, pan-Asian Pacific American publication in the Northwest, positively reviewed Jack & Agyu. Antonia Dorn, the reviewer, wrote, “This book says from cover to cover that our culture and history matter, providing the reader with ways to continue the research and conversation with our youth.”

Officially, for us at Sawaga River Press, not much happened in January 2021 as we quietly celebrated the coming of the new year and dealt with the news of the turmoil of the dissidence in the Capitol. However, our gears are in motion and we are finalizing plans for our next project. We are also starting to reach out to the community for potential collaborators. If you know an illustrator who might be interested in working with us, do let us know!

Until next update! Be safe and well.

October 2020 Update: Fil-Am History Month

Hello, Friends,

It’s the end of October! How did time fly so fast? Our last post was in July!

I found a draft for our August post and it went something like this: “August is about to end. What a month it has been! What a year it continues to be. We thought it couldn’t get worse with the twin pandemics. But then the triple digit heatwaves came, lightnings struck, and the whole state of California went on fire…”

No wonder we skipped the August post.

Then virtual school/distance learning started, bringing many to tears. Students, parents, teachers, and everybody else who cares about learning- none was spared. We’re all still scrambling around for better ways to go to school (and work).

No wonder we skipped the September post, too.

Then October came around, full of hope and joy as we celebrated Filipinx American History Month. Aptly, the theme this year is Fil-Am History of Activism. Earlier in the month, we were invited to join South San Francisco Library’s celebration with other children’s books authors, publishers, and illustrator, hosted by San Mateo County Poet Laureate, Aileen Cassinetto. It was a totally fun hour so please check it out!

We were also invited by the Daly City Library to join Daly City’s Kasayahan celebration as well as to an hour of reading and conversation with Librarian Celina Tirona. That, too, was fun!

Meraki Radio also invited us to talk about the press and how we are celebrating activism. I happened to be in Morro Bay for a family vacation so I got to talk about the significance of Morro Bay in our Fil-Am history. (There is a Morro Bay commemoration of the first recorded arrival of our Filipino ancestors back in 1587 (!!!) as part of the Manila galleon trade. It is believed that during this time, some Filipinos who were brought on board to serve on the ships may have jumped ship and either got killed or became part of the indigenous communities where they landed.)

With the combination of FAHM events and other personal celebrations (e.g. my birthday, wedding anniversary, creation of our own private school, work), October sure feels like a winner. So before it ends, I want to send my gratitudes!

I’ll be speaking at the University of Texas next week, via zoom, of course! That’s going to be a new territory for me—a university setting AND “in” Texas! I’ll let you know how that goes.

And, of course, there’s the election. PLEASE VOTE if you still haven’t, because your life depends on it.

Until next post!

July 2020: Supporting the BLM Movement and the Bukidnon Lumad Artists

Hello, Friends and Family,

We hope you’re still keeping yourselves healthy during this pandemic while finding ways to show your solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement towards the abolition of our racist systems and creation of life-affirming systems of care.

Just a quick check-in since our last post in May.

In June, we pledged all our proceeds to support the struggle for social justice. Half of our June proceeds went to NorCal Resist Activist Bail and ICE Bond Fund. NorCal Resist is a Sacramento based grassroots organization focused on fighting oppression and empowering our communities through shared resources and support. The other half of our proceeds went to our local ApoYolo Fund which gives financial support to undocumented immigrants in Yolo County who are hit hard by the pandemic. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who purchased our books!

Ongoing this month of July is our new fundraising efforts to help the Bukidnon Lumad artists and artisans. We are once again collaborating with the Bukidnon Studies Center at the Bukidnon State University to make this happen. Specifically, we are supporting writers and illustrators so they can publish their own books on indigenous stories. Please support this cause and either purchase our books or share about our fundraising. THANK YOU!

Things are a bit quiet for now. We have a scheduled reading with Eastwind Bookstore in August and we have been invited to read at the South San Francisco Public Library. We will see what the rest of summer brings. It’s a blessing to be able to take things slowly and to have the time to reflect on the momentous shifts that are occurring.

Oh, one last thing. We received the trophy from the Independent Book Publishers Association for winning the Benjamin Franklin Gold Award. Here’s Jack looking so jazzed upon receiving the award!

Until next update!

Be well!

May 2020: Awards + Readings

Hi, Friends,

We hope you’re all staying healthy and sane while sheltering in place!

In the midst of this pandemic, we have some good news.

Last month, we shared that we’re one of the three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Well, we won the GOLD! It’s a crazy thing for us to receive this award since we never expected anything out of our entry. We joined the contest just to see what it’s like. And now here we are–gold stickers on our books, a trophy for the press.

Here’s the link to our acceptance of the award:

And here’s the link to an article featuring our press’ publishing journey (at the very end):

Additionally, the Philippine Inquirer ran an article on our awards including the one we received from the Publishing Professional Network’s Book Show last February. Here is the link:

The Filipino Channel’s Bahay Book Club also invited us to do a reading for their programming and we happily obliged! It was so much fun learning about the intricacies of recording. I discovered that I tend to lean my head to the left (or is it the right? I’m not sure!!! The camera is tricky!!!) and that I blink a lot (but when I try not to, I have this crazy look). The cool thing is that I’ve fallen in love with recording and now we’ve got ideas to make mini-videos to help with the book, as well as curriculum for adults and kids to talk about the big and small topics in the books. Watch out for those!

Here’s the link to the TFC reading:

Finally, the Cesar Chavez Elementary School Climate and Ethnic Studies Committees invited us to read the book for the elementary students and host a couple of Q&A sessions to celebrate May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This, too, was fun! We got to share about the publishing journey, from writing the story (e.g. the inspiration of the story, the story of the warrior Agyu within the story), to the illustrating and art directing processes, to crowdfunding, printing, and getting the books out. We got to share about the lessons of Kapwa (i.e. honoring our interconnection), indigeneity, the importance of sharing our stories, getting to know our ancestors, and a ton more. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to get in front of the kids to talk about these things because these are topics not usually covered within the school’s curriculum. We hope other (Davis) schools invite us to do the same at their schools, not just for APAHM but to build towards a mandated curriculum that includes Ethnic Studies.

To be honest, all the attention this month has felt a bit too much for us. Our inclination is to shy away from the spotlight and play the awards down. But then we realized that this is not about us per se. This is about getting our community’s stories out, continuing on the work of resistance against and liberation from oppression, honoring the land and our ancestors, and spreading love. We are just a channel through which the spirit of Kapwa flows.

Lastly, we are working on an adventure game based on Jack & Agyu. We are super excited!

We are beyond ecstatic and very motivated to continue on with our small press’ mission to publish children’s books that feature Filipino American kids in the diaspora!

Thank you all for your support! We’re at if you’d like to check us out and/or order our books.

In solidarity!

March 2020 Update: Another Award!

Hello, Friends and Supporters,

We hope you are all keeping yourselves healthy and sane as much as you can. This truly is an exceptional time in our lives, one that will leave long lasting impacts to the way we live, think, act, love, and care for each other.

Despite the grimness of the current situation, we do have some happy news to share: Jack & Agyu is one of the three finalists of the 32nd Independent Book Publishers Association Book Awards, Children’s Book Category!!!

Here’s the link to the announcement:

The winners will be announced in May 2020 but even if we don’t win, we’re still so so ecstatic!

I’m still in disbelief as I write this post. I know we don’t need awards—it is enough to know that our books are much appreciated and loved by the kids (and parents) in our Filipino and Fil-Am community—but it feels mighty good to know that our hard work is being recognized by publishing organizations! We are a small and independent publisher and we are still figuring our way in the publishing world. It feels good to know that we’re doing something right and that some in the publishing world are noticing. It is inspiring and motivating us to make more books!

A few weeks ago, our collaborators at the Bukidnon Studies Center put together a turn-over ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the books. I’m told it was a beautiful ceremony, one that the community showed up and expressed appreciation for. To my collaborators in Bukidnon, I hope you know how deeply grateful we are that you are in this journey with us, making books, getting our stories out, and making our experiences known and celebrated. To more books!

Lastly, a few pictures from our launch with the Tagalog Project. Again, so much gratitude and love from me to everyone who showed up, listened to the story with open hearts, shared their own stories of empowerment, made anting-antings, and enjoyed champorado with me. And thank you to Clarice Aguillera for making it happen. More power to your Tagalog Project, Clarice!

We had other events planned to launch Jack & Agyu but those are now on hold as we navigate this corona virus situation. I’ll keep you all posted.

In the meantime, keep a safe distance from each other, still be social, and wash your hands!