OOV Book Review
A BOOK OF HER OWN
Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan
By Leny Mendoza Strobel
T’boli Publishing & Distribution
| This book tells us about the author’s experiences in her process of self-discovery. But here is the most delicious secret: it could well be a map (in invisible ink) about charting the way we grow into our true selves.
It would seem superfluous that I should write you, a boy of four, about A Book of Her Own. But it occurred to me that 17 years or so from now, you would be the one reader who might wonder why this book was written. I cannot guess what 2022 will be like, at the rate our world is hurtling beyond its imagined capabilities. One thing I can say flat out with certainty, Noah, is that we in 2005 do not savor what we have before us. We are too intent in tracking down the so-called “improved version” of whatever originals we have before us. This is the mark of progress, I am told. But I was always a laggard in sampling the improved while savoring the original.
I’ve read A Book of Her Own over and over again. It has to do with my need to savor the words and delve into the personal concepts that this book offers. I am hoping that when you’re all grown up, you might google to find out what was the initial response to this extraordinary book. And among the many, you will find mine.
I have no doubt you are more than familiar with the author, Leny Strobel but I wonder whether you’ve had time to absorb her thoughts, take her concepts apart, track her approaches, and mull over the way she ponders over issues. The book, you see, goes beyond mere gender—it is not a book of “her own”. Strange as it may sound, it is a book that we can fairly claim as our own, too. This book tells us about the author’s experiences in her process of self-discovery. But here is the most delicious secret: it could well be a map (in invisible ink) about charting the way we grow into our true selves.
You have to believe that having gone through a near-death experience after one horrific car accident, Leny woke up to days suspended between slow recuperation from her injuries to recuperating the threads of her psyche. It was during these pain-filled weeks that she came upon her epiphanies. How else but in the slowness of time could she have assailed mere conformity towards given concepts, or turn inside out accepted realities, or struggled against the ease of mindless acquiescence—all these bouts of wrestling! It was in turning her familiar world upside down that she found her core totally intact. Defying the odds, she blossomed. Unfettered, she read voraciously. And she wrote and wrote and wrote.
She is best known for her seminal work, Coming Full Circle: Decolonization of Post- 1965 Filipino Americans (Giraffe Books 2001). This book on decolonization roused readers from their somnambulistic state. We all wear our colonial codes like a spandex second skin. Did we even know that we could strip it off, fold it and keep it under a less-visited drawer? To a somnambulist like myself, Noah, decolonization was, to put it mildly, difficult. Coming Full Circle articulated a sense of brokenness deep in the Filipino psyche so that others and myself could let light into our wounds and air them for some due healing.
| In the telling, she invites us to begin foraging for our elusive but true self, acknowledging all the wounded intimations of past colonial abuse, and what we make of the present...
A Book of Her Own answers the inevitable question: What happens after one is de-colonized? What happens when layers of colonial repression are exposed? Do we even have fig leaves to cover the shame of exposure? Herself the Author accompanies us and tells us not to become flagelantes because of our late awakening. What Her Own does is guide us through the process of anger, humiliation and more anger to arrive at the present moment. From conversations with contemporary sages, she writes about the possibility of recovering her indigenous past, “see my colonized self recede elsewhere” and “speak as a Filipina to the world.”
Consider this, Noah. A Book of Her Own is not an academic treatise, but an intimate session-on-cushions with the salience of delving into the vagaries of Being Filipino. All the way down in history, down to our roots. Should we let stand the colonial history that molded us, leave the writing of it to other hands? Stand by while they sewed up our collective indigenous memory, gave us a makeover including a new language so we needn’t bother learning our own?
The book is a conundrum of self-disclosures with stop-gap tears between uncontrollable giggles. Not easy, when one has been hyped as a brown monkey, or spat an acronym that spells out Fucking Little Island People, or as mail order brides, or stoop(id) laborers. What these labels elicit is either a hidden self-loathing at being Filipino or an ivory-towered dismissal—being cosmopolitan and assimilated—and therefore unrecognizable as an island Pinoy. Strobel glorifies our Filipino-ness and points us home towards “pagbabalik loob.” Her Own declares war on cultural amnesia. Strobel confides how the inchoate parts of her psyche found a way of returning her whole to her core being—mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Not that the struggle is over. Recalling is an ongoing experience. She believes that “Amnesia is an illness. We forget at our own peril. Remembering is the only cure.”
The author’s journey of discovery is her own though never solo. In the telling, she invites us to begin foraging for our elusive but true self, acknowledging all the wounded intimations of past colonial abuse, and what we make of the present self-evolving—always with others in tow.
You will begin your own journey in good time, Noah. It is to the beneficence of fate that you can walk with this author and probe the ponderings in her heart. That is, when you stop wriggling in her arms, you may find that promenading alongside her is adventure in itself. Maybe ten years down the road? She, however, has confided that being Leny Mendoza Strobel, scholar and author, is now a few rungs lower when compared to being your grandmother at the cusp of a new discovery: your emerging personhood.
Warm regards from your friend,
© Remé A. Grefalda