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The struggles and life stories of our kababayans overseas come into light through these seven books

Many Filipinos dream of going abroad, but not everything is quite so smooth sailing once they get there. Any kind of diaspora is bound to be complex. The clashing of cultures is often a painful experience, and when the stories are told by our fellow kababayans, it becomes even more relevant. To understand this phenomenon even further, we've delved into these seven literary works to figure out what it's like to be a Filipino living abroad. 

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1. Mixed Plate by Jo Koy

A well-known comedian, Jo Koy, "gets serious about [his] funny" in his autobiographical book, Mixed Plate. In it, he discusses his half-Filipino and half-white roots in relation to building his career, juxtaposed with cultural ideas imposed by his family. Touching, yet humorous, Mixed Plate brings us an insider's perspective on one of the country's most famous funnymen, paralleling his life and his story to one of "Hawaii's favourite lunches—the mixed plate: little bit of this, a little bit of that." 


2. Global Divas by Martin F Manalansan IV

Martin Manalansan IV's Global Divas delves deep into the experiences of the Filipino gay man who finds himself outside the country. The LGBT community has always faced difficulty in their own home country, but what happens when they travel to where one is not only an outsider through sexuality but through race as well? Well-researched and thorough, Global Divas takes a macro perspective on gender studies and adds perspective by factoring in globalisation and economic strife as well. 


3. The Body Papers by Grace Talusan

Grace Talusan's riveting memoir, The Body Papers, draws from her narrative as she moves from the Philippines to a New England suburb in the 70s. At school, she must face the abuse of racism, while at home, she navigates through the confusing milieu of her family's devout faith and her grandfather's sexual abuse. Alongside these, the book tackles immigration status, trauma, and Talusan's experience with cancer. As she returns to the Philippines as an adult, the writer takes the opportunity to reflect on her family's legacy and gives a voice to her once unspeakable past.

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4. The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven

The Mango Bride narrates the story of two Filipina women who travel to California for completely different reasons. Though both face oppression in their native Manila, the book highlights the stark differences in each one's lives. Amparo Guerrero travels to become a Tagalog interpreter for Filipinos in crisis while Beverly Obejas relies on a mail order bride service to take her away from a life of poverty and strife. Devastating yet sadly realistic, The Mango Bride highlights the sacrifices Filipinas make to better their lives away from the Philippines. 

5. America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

Written amid the turbulent mid-century times of the 20th century, Carlos Bulosan's America is in the Heart sheds light on the harsh realities of immigrants in America. His book, which is semi-autobiographical, begins with the protagonist's rural childhood in the Philippines, where his family struggles as peasants affected by the politics of both American and Spanish colonisers. Moving to California, the book narrates how racism, abuse, and labour practices were somehow intertwined into the American dream for Filipino migrants at the time. 

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6. In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar

Mia Alvar gives voice to the Philippine diaspora through her anthology of tales entitled In the Country: Stories. Through these nine narratives, Alvar explores the various circumstances that surround our countrymen in their quest for a better life. In one of her stories, a pharmacist smuggles drugs from New York to Manila to aid his dying father; in another, a Filipina in Bahrain questions her marriage; lastly, a Manileño kolehiyala ponders about her brother's life abroad.

7. Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas

Undocumented citizens make up a significant portion of immigrants in the United States. Jose Antonio Vargas, whose family brought him to the US at the age of 16, looks back at his 20-year journey to belong both culturally and politically. "This book is the closest thing I have to freedom," Vargas says. Reflecting on homelessness and fear, Vargas reminisces on his experiences in a country that "does not consider [him] one of its homes". 


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