I went to Word books in Jersey City for the first time yesterday and was thrilled to see a cafe/bookstore in a neighborhood and city that I know really well. I didn’t see any Filipino-American writers on the shelves and I thought I would send a note. Here’s what I said:
Dear Folks at Word,
I wanted to convey my delight and gratitude at seeing an independent bookstore on Newark Ave. I’m Jersey born and bred, though I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the last seven years and am on my way to moving to Philly. A family friend opened up LITM – what is it – more than a decade ago now? (I even lived on Mercer for a short stretch.) So I’ve been in and around the neighborhood for nearly a lifetime. I can almost crane my head out your door and see where the FIlipino basketball league was held for years at the Boys and Girls Club (is it still?). And Manila Ave., where the Santa Cruzan festival runs in May, is right around the corner. In short, I have many, many memories there. What a stroke of genius to have Word take up residence in that neighborhood.
Thank you for the very challenging work of making a space for books, a home for language and learning and community. As a reader of Filipino-American writing, I wonder if you would consider extending that support to the Filipinos of Jersey City who number, by gross estimation, at about 15000–probably many more (not to mention Filipinos in the rest of Hudson and surrounding counties). I’m sure you’ve seen the many Filipino stores and perhaps even recognize conversations in Tagalog or one of our other 80-plus languages from the archipelago. In my visit to Word yesterday Filipinos were as ubiquitous as I remember. At least half a dozen Filipino faces walked into your store in the short time I was there. And of course they do, since Filipinos are in Jersey City’s government, hospitals, restaurants and shops.
It would be terrific if Filipinos could enter a bookstore and see names and faces that remind them of their own histories. I scanned your shelves for Filipino authors – Carlos Bulosan and José Garcia Villa or recent releases by Lysley Tenorio, Jessica Hagedorn, Matthew Olzmann, Jon Pineda, Evelina Galang,and Gina Apostol, to name a few. Perhaps I missed them, but I didn’t see any Filipino writing represented in your books. Do you usually carry Filipino and Filipino-American authors? I also took a look at your upcoming events and didn’t see any Filipino writers featured there.
As one who coordinates a reading series, I know it’s difficult to keep up with the publishing world. I can say with great confidence, however, that Filipinos and Filipino-Americans have been publishing beautiful novels and poetry collections for some time – with major houses and significant small and mid-list trade presses as well as academic publishers. Filipino-American writers are winning awards and getting reviewed in the New York Times. At Greenlight in Brooklyn and St. Mark’s in Manhattan and Myopic in Chicago and Eastwind in Berkeley and Powells in Portland and Bookpeople in Austin, Filipino writers and readers are there.
Perhaps one of the young Pinoys who walked into Word yesterday is an aspiring writer; perhaps one doesn’t yet know she has the gift – and very importantly the literary heritage – of writing and literature. Highlighting the lives and cultural production of Filipinos (selling Fil-Am books, incorporating Fil-Am writing into your regularly scheduled literary readings and events) would go a long way to make that happen. I’d be thrilled for Word to be partners in supporting Filipino-American readers, which is to say, supporting American readers. If it’s helpful, I’d be happy to send along book titles and authors’ names. Please let me know.
Forgive the belated welcome, but let it not diminish the excitement I feel about having Word in Jersey City, NJ.
Chilltown is close to my heart. I became a writer, as a Filipino from NJ, not knowing that Filipinos wrote novels and poetry, not knowing that Filipinos have been deeply embedded in the making of this country, its industry, its imagination for centuries.
During the eighties, I knew HUNDREDS, maybe literally thousands, of Filipinos from Cherry Hill to Rockland; How many of us became writers? How many artists? We were told otherwise.
I became a writer! A poet! Ha! Those are crazy odds! My parents’ first language was not English. I was often told (and am still told) how fucked up my English is. And yet – I write. I publish books. Certainly the young Filipino fellaz and ladies of Jersey City deserve the opportunity to read books by other Filipinos. THere’s a kickass Filipino novelist or poet or playwright right now in Jersey City. There are likely many. But it will be very difficult for them to be encouraged and nurtured without books by other Filipinos. Trust me, I done it.
That said, feel free to write Word Bookstore, but I would URGE you to visit the store first. They seem like really good people. I love that you can buy books about dinosaurs and supply/demand economics. I think there’s tremendous potential for making space for Fil-Am literature.