The trouble with being Filipino & citizen of the world

LIVEFEED - Bibsy M. Carballo - The Philippine Star

It takes a very special talent for a writer to replicate what the combination of excellent performance, sets and background music deliver in a theatrical presentation. Yet Lysley Tenorio manages all these as he serves to stir the reader’s imagination into what he himself sees with his mind’s eye.

We had never heard of Lysley, a Filipino from California until he came over to launch his book Monstress at the National Bookstore. Labeled abroad as an immigrant’s voice in literature, Lysley is among the first in a rising class of new breed immigrant authors whose works contrast our Filipino sensibility against that of the promised land of America. These are the stories of families and friends, Filipinos who’ve gone abroad, to work and send money back home. There are 10 million of them worldwide, billed the new heroes for propping up our economy. They are better known as the OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers. And Lysley’s book is about many of them.

The lead story Monstress is set in what to us is a very familiar milieu till the present. The dream of making it to Hollywood rules every filmmaker’s dreams whether he is Gaz Gazman from Hollywood, USA or Checkers Rosario from Manila, Philippines. The disappointments are also the same, but more so for Checkers and his love Reva who had given up everything including marriage and children for him. When they go to Hollywood, it makes for the worst decision they could have made. They are now migrants suffering in a foreign land. Monstress sets the tone for most of the stories in the book.

Lysley’s stories are captivating, wrought with real life premises, peppered with humor that is morose and dark at times. His protagonists are met with situations that always force them into a heightened state of self-awareness. We, the readers, are left to deal with broad truths such as “love does not guarantee a happy ending” and “we don’t always get what we deserve.”

In The View from Culion, we are taken inside a leper colony where young Teresa, child of a US soldier stationed in Olongapo, grasps at a would-be love affair with Jack, another leprosy victim and deserter from the US Navy. We can imagine two disfigured beings in a relationship (much like Lino Brocka’s classic story of a leper Mario O’Hara going to bed with the mad woman Kuala played by Lolita Rodriguez, in Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang). Teresa creates a situation that sets Jack free to leave Culion even as her heart is breaking. Love truly knows no boundaries.

Lysley also brings to life Manilatown, San Francisco in 1934 where Fortunado had lived for 43 years in the company of Vicente at the I-Hotel. But now, the hotel is being prepared for demolition, and Fortunado reminisces on an unrequited dream, much like that of Teresa of Culion. In Save the I-Hotel, Lysley relates Fortunado’s meeting of Vicente, forging a friendship most crucial for survival. A chance meeting of their lips in a kiss, a moment of giving vent to emotions was all that was needed for Fortunado to believe he had met his lifelong partner. But the kiss was never again repeated; Vicente found a white girl to love (illegal at the time); would meet her at off hours at the Berlin Deluxe hotel, also illegal. If Teresa ventured to save Jack’s life in Culion, Vicente’s jealous heart would call the cops to capture the lovers.

Although these two stories tug at the heart, Lysley by no means is limited to romances. We read of how the world of a teener from a broken home in Superassassin develops from a superhero fanatic, ending in a labyrinth of reasoning, clouding reality and justice. Help is skillfully built around the Beatles’ 1966 visit to Manila and their vow to never return. As different as these plots are, one theme purveys them all. Particularly in The Brothers and other stories, including Monstress and L’Amour, CA, Lysley explores the realities of migration.

A scene from Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang

The endings to these stories are not always clear-cut and, just as real as life is, do not turn out the way we want. This in itself makes the far-fetched stories ring true. The language is gritty and the humor is dark — adding a sharp unpleasant yet realistic tone to these stories.

New York Times best-selling author Chang-Rae Lee wrote, “The stories in Monstress announce the debut of an electric literary talent. Brilliantly quirky, often moving, always gorgeously told, these are tales of bighearted misfits who yearn for their authentic selves with extraordinary passion and grace.”

Jessica Hagedorn, the well-known author of Dogeaters, reflects, “Lysley Tenorio’s darkly funny stories capture the contradictions and complexities of being both Filipino and a citizen of the world.”

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