Sawaga River Press is founded by Justine Villanueva who was born and raised in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. She moved to California when she was 17 years old, very much in love with the idea of living in America and becoming American. Ironically and fortunately, the move made her realize the value of knowing her own cultural and ethnic origins, as well as the inequity that exists in the American society that discriminates against immigrants and people of color. In 2007, she became an immigration attorney to help immigrants in their journey to gain acceptance into America.
Justine had her first son in 2008 and her second in 2011. Soon thereafter, she became aware of the lack of diversity in children’s books. Since then, she has become more alert to the growing need for diverse children’s books and resources that would not only help her instill in her sons an understanding and appreciation of their cultural history and roots but also help foster in them a sense of belongingness to the American society.
In 2014, spurred by the need for diverse books and inspired by many other artists of color who have created their own publishing path, Justine created Sawaga River Press to join the efforts towards diversity and equity in the publishing field, especially in children’s books.
Sawaga River runs through Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Aside from providing water, the river also provides a place where members of the community can gather for various reasons. It is where grade schoolers run to when the bell rings the end of the school day, where farmers go to take a break from the scorching sun, where young lovers, forbidden by parents, meet after dark, where barkadas drown their sorrows with beer and cigarettes, tell jokes, share news both bad and good. Sawaga River provides a place where people can be as they are.