Elsa Valmidiano reviews Marcelina


Jean Vengua, a daughter of the Manong generation, was born in San Francisco, raised in Santa Cruz, and lives in Monterey. Marcelina, a long epic poem recently published as a chapbook, begins with a quote from Carlos Bulosan: “And perhaps it was this narrowing of your life into an island. . . .” For those unfamiliar with Bulosan, he is what a Filipino-American pupil might call the Godfather of Filipino-American Literature. Bulosan is honored for writing about the experiences of Filipinos working as laborers in the US during the 1930s and 40s, when Celine Navarro, a young Filipina immigrant—the subject of Vengua’s book—was murdered by her Filipino community. The reasons behind Navarro’s murder are never made clear in Marcelina, but in it Vengua takes the reader through an extended examination of that era’s Filipino community in the US, revealing the terrorism and violence inflicted on the community by white society. She reveals, as well, the misogyny within a Filipino community that resulted in Navarro’s death: members of her own community buried her alive as punishment or retribution for either being an adulteress or informer to the police. Eighty-nine years after her death, still none of us know the reason for it, a mystery which is further compounded by the lack of historical accountability for the terrorism inflicted on the Filipino community, as well as the acquittal of Navarro’s killers…

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