My Double Life by Marivi Soliven Blanco
Up until recently I led a double life. For 16 years I played the constant job hopper, moving from one underpaid gig to another all over California. Back in Manila I was a writer.
The Martial Law-induced brain drain was still in high gear when I married in the early ‘90s, but I refused to join the lemming wave of immigration. I resolved to move to America, but leave my intellect behind, vowing to publish only in the Philippines. At the time it seemed logical, for by then I’d authored 10 books for children and my writing career was on the rise. That changed when I began looking for jobs in Berkeley. Although I’d taught college writing classes in Manila, without a teaching credential, the only jobs I could get were as a caregiver, temp agency employee, and preschool teacher. Complicating matters was the news that I was now part of a “minority”, a word I’d never used in reference to myself. Suddenly it defined me.
The minority group I’d just joined confounding. Filipino-American writers were unlike any I’d hung out with in Manila, for their poetry exalted native shamans, Muslim gong music, endless rice paddies. They loved the Philippines the way teenagers love Lady Gaga: for her cantilevered hair, her carnival couture, her absolute refusal to be just another girl who sang.
I knew that girl, and she sang different songs. As years passed, my song changed too. I switched from writing children’s stories to writing fiction for people my age. The next five books were published in Manila, even as my plots gradually shifted to a California setting.
Still, I stopped telling folks I was a writer because the topic was the conversational kiss of death:
So you’re a writer! Have you published anything?
Yes, but only in Manila.
Oh…are your books translated into English?
I actually write in English.
Can I buy them here?
No. My publisher can’t afford shipping costs.
A pall would fall over the chitchat till I resuscitated it with vapid stories from the day job of the moment – changing diapers in the nap room or holding up a newspaper for the paraplegic professor.
Sixteen years passed before my two lives came together: first Penguin offered my novel a home then two anthologies accepted several other stories. Finally I could claim to be a writer in America.
I knew things were looking up when the Department of Homeland Security blessed the merger. Just off the flight back from Manila, I lined up for the usual re-entry interview by an INS official who happened to be Filipino. What exactly were you doing in the Philippines? His demeanor was officious, the stateside accent, over-determined.
My novel won a Palanca. I flew home to accept the award.
Talaga — Really? A delighted grin broke through the impassive mask and he all but shimmied in his glass booth. Galing na-ma-a-an!
Loosely translated, that’s Filipino for WOW.
After authoring ten books for children, Marivi Soliven Blanco moved on to writing four more books for an adult audience including Suddenly Stateside, a collection of essays on the Filipino diaspora, and Spooky Mo, a collection of feminist horror stories. Her essays and short fiction have been widely anthologized in Philippine textbooks. While her day job as a telephonic interpreter offers constant inspiration for new stories, writing continues to be her primary vocation.