Tag Archives: VAWA

Experpento Reviews Hace Una Eternidad en Manila

photo credit: Experpento.es

photo credit: Experpento.es


After an autumn scarred by Ebola, profound injustice in Ferguson and the death of beloved writing mentor Drusilla Campbell, some good news arrived in time for Thanksgiving.  I am most grateful for this first review of The Mango Bride’s Spanish edition. Equally grateful that they let me answer interview questions in English rather than forcing me to flounder in my meager Spanish.


And for those who don’t speak Spanish, here is the transcript of the interview:

Hello Marivi!

Hola ExPerpento!    (Lo siento pero mis respuestos seran en Ingles para puedo respondar mas rapido.)

First of all, let me tell you I loved your novel. I cannot believe this is your first one! So thank you very much for your talent and for your time!

I am delighted that you enjoyed my novel. It is my first, but I’ve written other books of short stories and essays.  Thank you for reading it.

Amparo and Beverly are living in two different ways of submission. They both live between appearances and poverty. It seems that Philippine society is polarized. Is that correct? Is there a mean between these two sides?

Filipinos take great pride in their personal reputation, their honor, what other people think of them and in this way we are somehow controlled and shaped by how we think society expects us to behave. Sometimes it makes us appear hypocritical – we are always trying to smooth things over, to “put a good face” on conflict even under duress, rather than saying what we think.  One of the worst insults a Filipino can receive is to be told s/he has no shame – “walang hiya”  which essentially implies s/he doesn’t care what other people think of his/her behavior. 

Philippine society is  polarized in socioeconomic terms.  I would think there is a middle point between both sides, but the gap between the rich and poor or educated and uneducated is so great that you notice more of those polar opposites than the midpoint.

What could you say about ethics?  In the rich world, there are men buying wives and in the poor world men sell women. I do not know what is worse… What’s your opinion?

That’s a really interesting point you make.  I cannot say which is worse. Whether one likes to admit it or not love — or more precisely sex –is a commodity that is traded for wealth, status, a secure home. I suppose the beautiful woman who is already rich or financially independent can at least enter into a  marriage as an equal partner to her husband.  

However if the woman is poor, and an immigrant to boot, she begins the marriage from a severely disadvantaged position. The power dynamic is severely skewed in favor of the husband. In the United States,  legal residency is not instant nor is it guaranteed  when an foreigner marries an American citizen.  The process takes several years. In the beginning, the foreign born spouse is issued conditional residency status that lasts 2 years.  If the marriage survives past 2 years, the couple files papers, goes to an interview at the Immigration and Naturalization Service and if all goes well, the foreign spouses’ conditional residency is upgraded to permanent residency.  American citizenship is a separate thing that permanent legal residents can apply for after several years.

As you  can imagine, that two-year period is a virtual window of opportunity for abuse. A malicious spouse could commit all manner of abuse – verbal, emotional, financial – against his foreign born wife while threatening to have her deported if she complained.  

Critics have said that the central topic of the novel is the Filipino diaspora. In my opinion, we are in front of a complex novel, but the main reflection is about social differences, because it is not the same starting from 0 than starting from 5. Which do you think is the most important subject?

I think each individual reader decides what the most important subject is for him/her in The Mango Bride.  After the book was published, several women wrote me to say that the domestic violence Beverly suffered was the central plot point that most resonated with them, because they had suffered similar crises.  Another (male) friend told me it was Amparo’s return to visit her family in Manila that most affected him – the journey of immigration ending with reunion.  

For my part I wanted  examine the ways in which the experience of immigration is colored by the immigrant’s provenance: what she is leaving behind, why she is leaving, what she hopes to find in the new country.

The Philippines has for so long been the source of immigrants -10 per cent of our population live outside our country – but one usually only hears about the impoverished, the destitute immigrants hoping for prosperity in the Western world.  I wanted to show that there are also wealthy, well-educated immigrants, for whom, despite their relative advantages, dislocation is still an ordeal, but for entirely different reasons.

Immigration is not just one journey, it is many journeys, each one unique to the immigrant who embarks on it. I wanted to capture that through the many conversations that Amparo has to interpret over the phone. Like Amparo, I work as a phone interpreter in my day job and I hear immigrant stories all the time. 

For me it is also a novel about motherhood. The ubiquitous character in the novel is Marcela. She is not anyone’s mother but, at the same time, she is the mother of all of them. How do you start to know her and to write about someone so human?

Marcela is a composite personality drawn from all the loyal servants I knew growing up. We were raised by nannies, because my mother, like many upper middle class women of that generation (and to this day) had a full time job. It was just one of those situations dictated by social class and education.  

My mother did not mean to abandon her four children, but as an educated person, she believed that it was her right to have a career.  By the same logic, because our nannies did not have college degrees, they were naturally destined to take care of her children.  Yaya Esther (from the first chapter) is a real person.  She lives now in Bern, but she comes back to visit my mother in Manila every year. She’s practically a member of our family now. Last year she bought a copy of The Mango Bride.  She knows and loves us so well that she came flew home from Switzerland for each of our weddings.

I am especially fascinated by the non-verbal language descriptions of women of high society in Manila. They are rich, but for them the most important thing is to let everyone know about it. I think you must know someone like “la señora Concha”…  Who is she?

Por supuesto,  I know Doña Lupita  and Señora Concha!   Those characters are based on my mother, her mother, all the women in that generation of my family.  The Guerrero home is a much larger version of my home. The art on the walls is art my mother selected, the clean and dirty kitchen…even the chandelier is there as described.

Friends have come to me and said that Concha and Lupita sound exactly like their own aunts and abuelas and mothers. Those two are among my favorite characters. Some of the things they said in the novel are direct quotes from my elder female relatives. Luckily my mother has a sense of humor about these things…but I dedicated the book to her family just to make sure they would not disinherit me when it came out!

The novel is dramatic, but at the same time it is very funny. Is it a way to soften the hardest scenes?

I find that some of the most dramatic or difficult scenes  – even in real life – also have the element of the absurd in them, so yes, I inserted humor to leaven the sorrow. Unremitting tragedy is exhausting. 

For someone who had never read about “mail-order brides”, it may seem like science fiction, but actually this is an old problem in Philippines… so important that the government legislated about it. How did you know about it? Is it something everybody talks about or is it a secret matter? Why did you write about it?

It is a problem not only for the Philippines but  also for Vietnam, Russia, Thailand, other poor countries in Asia.  To answer the question how I found out about it, please click on the  link below:


To see how the mail order bride issue has impacted mainstream consciousness in the U.S. please click on this link:


Below is a webcam discussion on the topic  that the Huffington Post aired this past Monday:


After interpreting  so many calls for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, in 2008, I realized that these women needed to have their stories told, that their voices needed to be added to the debate on immigration that is reaching fever pitch now in the United States. Domestic violence is a problem that cuts through all classes, all races in the U.S. However, when you add the element of an immigrant wife being abused, the situation becomes even more dangerous because the victim’s primary link to her adopted country is her abuser:does she leave him and risk deportation, or does she stay and risk being killed? 

This is why the  Violence Against Women Act now offers expanded protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence.  Now a DV victim can apply for legal residency without having to go through her husband, as long as her spouse is an American Citizen or legal permanent resident, as long as she married him in good faith and as long as she has no criminal record.  

I read that there is a webpage where the “marriageable” women appear with a shopping card next to their picture, like books in Amazon do! This is very symbolic (and disgusting). How do you feel about it?

It is horrifying. You can google mail order bride and find those websites easily.While researching the book, I even found video testimonials from “satisfied customers.” Obscene. 

As Amparo and Beverly, you are Filipina and you live in the United States. Reading the book, I think you love more Filipino style than the American way of life. How someone who leaves his home town to go to a foreign country feel about his original roots?

The fact that half my novel takes place in Manila, and the other half in California speaks to a sensation of fracture, that splitting apart of a life/an identity that  immigrants experience when they leave the home country and start over somewhere else.  

I remain ambivalent about living in the United States, but my life, many close friends and direct family are here now. Even as  I miss Manila, I also realize that it would be very difficult to return home and make a living there as a writer. Everyone makes choices, every choice involves sacrifice.  This was my choice and for now it seems to be working out.


Talking Domestic Violence on the HuffPost Live

HuffPost Live Host Nancy Redd

HuffPost Live Host Nancy Redd

Not long ago I joined an online group of writers  from  all genres, with varying skill sets and from all sectors of the creative, marketing and publishing fields.  It is a tremendous time suck – members post such interesting queries and post so many fascinating, well-crafted articles that they and others have authored. I try to “Like” as many posts as possible,  to support other folks’ work and  projects, and bookmark the websites that solicit essay or short story submissions. I even pitched my (by now no-longer-new) novel to a few book reviewers…who all declined, because let’s face it, the bloom is off this rose.  After a year on the shelves, The Mango Bride is no longer news to the news cycle folk.

But a posting by Nancy Redd, a host of HuffPost Live caught my eye.  Nancy was looking for stories or topics to tackle on the webcam discussion show that she hosts for the Huffington Post’s award-winning streaming network.  Still enjoying the afterglow from the success of the Saving Beverly Fundraiser, I decided on a whim to pitch the domestic violence in immigrant communities to Nancy. What the heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

I sent Nancy an email, figuring this was yet another shot in the dark.  Nothing for  a week.  I busied myself with other projects, applied for a writing grant, sent out thank you cards to fundraiser donors, did another round of readings in a passel of community colleges.

Then out of the blue, Nancy wrote back. The idea of domestic violence among immigrant spouses intrigued her.  She  had never heard of the conditional green card – that two-year waiting period a foreign spouse needs to stay married if s/he want to be upgraded to permanent residency.  At this point I’ve written so much about the whole Saving Beverly endeavor that I loaded my reply with everything but the kitchen sink.

Nancy responded with an enthusiastic note, offering to  pitch the topic  to Those Who Decide On Such Things (my term, not hers).  Some days later she emailed again saying she’d been given the go-ahead and could I gather a lawyer and a survivor to join the conversation.   Things started happening pretty quickly after that.

Last Friday a HuffPost producer called to test the web cam. and sent me a list of suggestions to ensure the video was clear: Light source directly in front of you, not to the side or back.  Sit some distance away from your wall, to add background depth. Wear earphones to block out excess sound.  That’s when I realized I needed to create a decent home “set.”

This morning I practiced raising and lowering the laptop table, (the better to obscure the dreaded double chin), repositioned a lamp to fill the bare wall behind me and tried to decide whether or not putting my novel’s poster in back would be cheesy. Ultimately I went with my advertising roots. After all, a poster set nonchalantly in back would be way  more subtle than holding up a copy of the book as I talked. Product placement happens all the time in the movies – why not do it online?  

At  11:45 a.m., Athina, another HuffPost producer, called on Google hangouts to do a final check. She offered a mini tour of the video offices as she walked her laptop down the hall and into the HuffPost Live set.

A producer walks us through the Huffpost offices before the interview begins

HuffPost Producer Athina  walks us through the Huffpost offices before the interview begins


I surreptitiously took  photos by holding the cell phone camera off screen, and keeping my gaze on the laptop.  Not as easy as you think.  But that’s where years of yoga helps:  I know how to focus on a drishti.


Huffpo Live's set and my own little set-up

Huffpo Live’s set  with Nancy Redd to the left of the couch


The marvel of it is that we were all able to chat from different places: Nancy from the HuffPost offices in D.C.; Anne Bautista, Esq., Yolanda and our DV survivor in Access’s Linda Vista Office and me at home. Unfortunately Anne and Yolanda were hindered by tech glitches and couldn’t talk quite as much during the half hour interview, so I had to fill in for them.

Anne and Yolanda join the conversation

Anne and Yolanda join the conversation

Fortunately Nancy has generously offered to  schedule a follow up interview so that Anne can better explain how the U-Visa and expanded protections in the Violence Agains Women Act  can better help immigrant victims of domestic violence.  Stay tuned for that next discussion.  If you missed the show in real time, you can still watch it by clicking on the link below:


Saving Beverly, Spectacularly!

With the stars of the evening, Adventures by the book founder Susan McBeth, Ambassador Harry Thomas, Mithi Aquino Thomas

With the stars of the evening, Adventures by the Book Founder and phenomenal event coordinator Susan McBeth, Ambassador Harry Thomas and Mithi Aquino Thomas*

I should have known strange times were brewing when a freak storm blew off our chimney spout two weeks ago.  I’d been collaborating for months with Access Ink’s Anne Bautista, Esq., Bob Stewart, and Susan McBeth of Adventures By the Book  to plan our Saving Beverly Literary Fundraising Adventure and things were not looking good.  Ticket sales were slow and I spent many sleepless nights calculating the number of friends I could persuade to attend our event just so we could break even.  More than just breaking even, I was determined to raise more money for Access’s Legal Program, which, under the leadership of Anne, helps immigrant survivors of domestic violence gain residency under the Violence Against Women Act.

The Friday before the event a low intensity headache began throbbing on my left temple.    Odd bumps swelled on the left side of my neck.  Sunday night, another flurry of emails produced a surge in ticket sales,the trickle of reservations finally swelling to a drizzle.  By Monday I knew we were in the black, but physically I was a wreck.  My left eye felt as though it were being gouged out every time I blinked and little red bumps had appeared on my left forehead and eyelid.

Oh for God’s sake – adult onset acne! Did this have to happen now?  Irritated, I called my physician brother in Louisiana.  He advised  in no uncertain terms to drive to the nearest Emergency Room and be seen.  Sounds like you have varicella. Don’t wait till tomorrow to see a doctor.  Go right now.

I sat in the Urgent Care waiting room  at UCSD Medical Center for the next five hours, staring at a TV on mute and trying not to look at  the large, sluggish men in SD Prison jumpsuits  and shackles who shuffled in for treatment, attended by sheriffs. A  dwarf in a hospital gown dragged his IV bag to the chair next to mine and sat down. He reeked of cigarette smoke. I was too tired to move to another seat.

My turn  came up around 1 a.m.  The young doctor seemed  unreasonably chipper given the late hour. After examining the sores on my face and palpating the bumps on my neck he declared “The good news is, you aren’t contagious.  The bad news is you have shingles.”

Anyone who’s been in the ER in the middle of the night knows that it is fertile ground for sprouting self pity. Shingles, the good doctor explained, usually broke out when one’s immune system was down because of inadequate sleep, and excessive stress.  In recent weeks I’d suffered from both while dealing with assorted crises associated with planning the fundraiser.  Hearing this, my  first thought was Punyeta naman.  ‘Di ko na  kaya ‘to.  I can’t handle this anymore.  My head  feels like it is exploding and I will have open sores on my face.  How can I stand before all those people on Friday and ask them to donate money for this cause?

Then just as quickly  I remembered the original impetus for organizing this event: every day thousands of other women go to work or school or raise their children with black eyes, or torn lips or bruises in parts where no one can see, because they have no way out of their abusive relationships.  The legal clinic at Access offers them the option of leaving their tormentors.  Of saving them from the fate Beverly suffered in The Mango Bride.

In light of their struggles,  an attack of shingles seemed relatively trivial.  So spackle on more make-up and bring on the Percodan, because this show must go on.

Come Friday afternoon, over a hundred people had registered and more kept trying to buy last minute tickets.  My husband and I met Ambassador Thomas and Mithi at the airport, transported them to their hotel and spent the remaining hour packing books, a change of clothes, and a poster into the car before hurrying off to the Joan Kroc Center for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.

Everything flowed smooth as maple syrup after that. Kim and Annabelle, half of Quartet Nouveau began playing at 6, as guests began to arrive:

Quartet Nouveau musicians Annabelle and Kim are superb performers and offer violin and viola lessons to kids all over San Diego

Quartet Nouveau members Annabelle and Kim offer violin and viola lessons to kids in San Diego


Access’s dedicated volunteers stepped up to welcome guests to the event and manage the opportunity draw prizes.

SB+access vol


Joy de Guzman and her fellow Silayan Filpina members came in full force…

SB+Silayan ladies


Will and Diana Tiao braved Friday night rush hour traffic and drove down from LA…

SB will& Di

Lem and Darren drove in from Tempeh, AZ.*

Darren with Mithi Aquino Thomas and Lemuel Carlos, Esq.

With Darren,  Mithi Aquino Thomas and Lemuel Carlos, Esq.*


Even  Ambassador Thomas brought his sister and brother-in-law to the party…

SB+Thomas siblings

Being an obsessive compulsive micromanager, I thought I’d prepared for every  possible twist to the evening’s proceedings…but serendipity pulled a last minute surprise.   I’d solicited most of the prizes from literary agents, writers and friends, and had not planned on buying a raffle ticket but a last-minute donation from a last-minute guest caught my eye: a 108-pearl necklace donated by the sustainable jewelry manufacturer in the Philippines who had somehow caught wind of the fundraiser and urged her partner Judith Compton to attend.

What the hell, in for a penny, in for a pound,  I thought, as I bought a roll of tickets. Then Karma played her hand. “Esperanza,” our valiant domestic violence survivor pulled out a ticket and read it aloud. It was one of mine.


With Lorena (in beige) and Mariana in green, showing off our opportunity draw prizes

With Lorena (in beige) and Mariana in green, showing off our opportunity draw prizes*


As the evening wound down and guests headed home, I toasted to the fundraiser’s spectacular success with Gil Magnaye.  After driving 9 hours from San Francisco  to attend the party,  my college friend well deserved a drink.

College friend Michael Gil Magnaye toasting to the evening's success with Ambassador Thomas

College friend Michael Gil Magnaye toasting to the evening’s success with Ambassador Thomas


We needed a good night’s sleep to recover before proceeding to the after party the next day…

After the bustle and excitement of last night's gala, a 3-hour brunch was heaven

After the bustle and excitement of last night’s gala, a 3-hour brunch was heaven

Over brunch at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, both Immigration Attorney Lem Carlos and Development Director Gil Magnaye declared that the previous night’s gala had  been a true inspiration.  Now they both plan to replicate it in  San Francisco and Tempe, AZ next year.  All they need now is  find the VAWA beneficiary in their respective cities.

I thought Saving Beverly would be a one night spectacle.  Now it looks like we’ll be taking the Saving Beverly show on tour…stay posted!

*photo credit: Adventures by the Book.


Saving Beverly in Real Time


The Saving Beverly Fundraiser is moving into high gear with this video. What began as a simple idea: book + gordita dinner = funds raised for survivors of domestic violence, has blossomed into a larger, grander gala, set in the Joan Kroc Center for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego http://www.sandiego.edu/admissions/virtualtour/buildings/ipj/videos.php

Co-sponsored by the California Western School of Law, the dinner event will feature a performance by members of Quartet Nouveau (http://www.quartetnouveau.com/#!video/c1evn,) a chat with Ambassador Harry Thomas, a literary auction and a reading from The Mango Bride – you know, the novel that went from quick and dirty draft in Nanowrimo 2008 to winning the Palanca Awards in 2011 and the San Diego Book Awards in 2014.

I can’t waste time doing the humble brag lap because this is truly for a good cause.

If you are in Southern California and would like to attend this wonderful event, please purchase tickets by clicking on the link below:


Even if you aren’t in California and would still like to support our work, you can do so by clicking on that same link.

The Mango Bride traced the life of Beverly, a fictional victim of domestic violence. Now you can save someone like Beverly in real life, just by joining the party on October 3. It will be SO much more fun than bathing in a bucket of ice.

Saving Beverly eflyer