Originally published at USA Inquirer
SAN PEDRO, California – The first Philippine Festival of Books for Children held Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Philippine Expressions Bookshop showcased the works of 10 Filipino authors, indicator of a growing market for multicultural materials for young readers.
This first festival of Filipino American children’s books also paid tribute to Jose Aruego, a pioneer Filipino author and illustrator of picture books in the U.S.
“I was observing how kids were in such awe as authors read from their works about ‘aswangs’ (Filipino mythical creatures of the dark side), crocodiles, ocean adventures, and other elements of the folklore,” said Philippine Expressions owner Linda Nietes-Little.
As the American Journal of Educational Research states, “Folk literature is a prime scientific area through which a child develops his identity.” Nietes-Little hopes that the children who read these multicultural books would be inspired to start projects and activities depicting their heritage.
More than 200 patrons, many of whom are millennials, came to the festival, seeking to read up about their ethnicity and meet like-minded people.
Nietes-Little said she was so impressed by the unexpected turnout that she is thinking of putting on hold her planned closure of the bookstore and retirement.
“I’ve been wanting to sell the bookstore for a few years now since the pandemic and just keep its adjacent art museum that holds Philippine artifacts and creations,” she disclosed. There had been no takers to manage it, but people keep on coming to events.
“ I feel sad to think that I will close the business. Perhaps I can turn it into a non-profit venture and continue serving the community.”
Philippine Expressions Bookshop, in a quaint corner of an art deco building in this coastal location, has held hundreds of literary events since 2016. These have included poetry readings, book launchings, music events featuring Muslim gongs and rondallas, native dances, art exhibits to name a few. Nietes-Little said the bookstore had 20-25 events annually prior to the pandemic, tapering off to a few events at the height of Covid-19.
Now, activities have started to pick up again: in October, three events are scheduled including a poetry reading, a reading of World War II books memoirs excerpts, and a yet undisclosed event.
Field representatives from the 64th District Assemblymember Mike Gipson presented Recognition Awards to the Bookstore and authors Jennifer Suzara-Cheng, Marielle Atanacio, Tracy Badua, Annie Cheng, Jenn Estacio, Jocelyn Francisco, Sachlewis Maravilla, Leslie Ryan, Rowena Similar and Michelle Starling.
The youngest teen author Sachlewis, read from his “A Splendor Adventure,” while Environmental Science and AP Biology teacher from San Pedro High School Suzara-Cheng described how she created seven children’s books during the pandemic, mostly primary translations of simple concepts of color, animals, numbers, etc. into Filipino/English and Spanish. “There is a demand for these primary books not only for little kids, but for Filipino Americans who weren’t raised using our language,” said Suzara-Cheng.
“This place is a museum where I can come buy books about the Philippines or other arts instead of getting those from Amazon or e-bay, “ said Moises “Jun” Aglipay. “Whenever we sponsor Fil-Am festivals in Carson where there is a significant number of Filipino Americans, I would pick up the phone and call Tita Linda and ask “pahiram nito (may I borrow this native art). It would be sad to see this place close and I do hope the communities would support and keep it going.”
Mark Anthony Fuentes said he and Aglipay would certainly endorse a roundtable with the local communities to see how the Assembly district could expand on initiatives for more multicultural enhancements in the school curriculum.
Passion for books
Nietes-Little’s passion for book collection started with her first bookstore in the Philippines, “Casalinda,” in Forbes Park which concentrated mainly on books about the Philippines. This was during the Martial Law days. She decided it was time to leave for the U.S. when Philippines military men started visiting the bookstore.
A first, she welcomed them as they seemed to be interested customers. After a few of their visits, she realized they were only trying to find out if she was selling “subversive” books. Fearing that someone may plant materials and she could get incarcerated, she packed up her book collections and brought her passion to the U.S. in 1984.
Linda opened Philippine Expressions in Westwood, the first Philippine bookshop in the U.S. She said there were very few Filipino American authors in the ‘80s; now they are thriving, mainly due to the self-publishing trend.
In 2016, she and her husband, Robert, were walking around San Pedro and found the bookshop’s current site. They liked the small hometown atmosphere and decided to set it up bookstore here, next to the gallery she called “Pinta*Dos.”
Last year, she received a Letter from the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles informing her that she was one of the recipients of the 2021 Banaag Award, as part of the Presidential Awards for Outstanding Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas.
“My thrust now is to develop the love for books and reading at an early age. Kids should learn to read for pleasure, a habit that should be developed from childhood,” Nietes-Little said.