In August our #TFALPodcastBookClub book was Sanpaku by Kate Gavino. Sanpaku is a graphic novel that follows Marcine, a Filipina American growing up in Houston. This coming of age story highlights the insecurities of being a teen growing up in the 1990s, attempts to understand religion, family history, and even pop star Selena.
What was it like being a Filipino American growing up in Houston, Texas?
There’s a huge Filipino population in Houston, so I grew up within a tight community of Filipino families, where most of the families were nurses in Houston’s huge medical center. A lot of our parents had immigrated there in the early 80s, so their kids were all roughly around the same age. There was usually a party every weekend, where we’d all cram into each other’s houses, eat like crazy, and then the adults would go off to karaoke and drink, while the kids terrorized each other in other rooms.
What were your experiences growing up in a religious household that is conveyed in Sanpaku?
My parents and Lola were very religious, so we observed all the holidays and went to church every Sunday. Since it was instilled within me at such an early age, Catholicism just always seemed like a chore to me. I developed little games and distractions to get through Mass, decades of the rosary, or religion class. I’d often get in trouble for not paying attention during church, and it always made me wonder, “Doesn’t God have better things to do besides watch me watch him turn into the body and blood of Christ?”
Are you still a practicing Catholic?
I go to church with my family when I’m in Houston, but that’s the extent of it.
What kind of relationship did you have with your Lola?
I took her for granted when I was a kid, though I loved her deeply. I didn’t make the effort to see her as anything besides my Lola. After she died, I’d later learn all these amazing details about her life from my mother, but when she was alive, she was embodied to me in strange superstitions, amazing food, and a suffocating form of love and affection. I think this is common amongst ungrateful apo, but I truly wish I had asked her about her life more when she was alive.
What is your favorite thing about being Filipino American? Least favorite thing?
This is boring, but my favorite thing about being Filipino-American is family. I’m lucky to have a supportive, open-minded family, which I know not everyone has. We make each other feel loved, and that’s something I hope to never take for granted.
My least favorite thing about being Filipino-American is the amount of self-hate and lack of self-awareness in the community. It saddens me to see racist, homophobic, or misogynistic ideas passed on or dutifully ignored just because we grew up with it. I know every community has this problem in some form, but I like to think future generations of Fil-Ams are progressing and amenable to having open dialogues.
What drew you to graphic novels as a medium?
For me, they are the perfect blend of written narratives and comics. I’ve always loved drawing comics and illustrating, but in college, I studied creative writing, and that’s when I got to incorporate my lifelong love of books and storytelling. As a generally quiet person, I’ve always loved the way images can say something that words can’t. In graphic novels, that’s only amplified.
Are you connected with any other Filipino American writers/illustrators?
One of my favorite parts of doing a book tour for Sanpaku was meeting other Fil-Am artists and illustrators. In San Francisco, I met the amazing Trinidad Escobar, whose work thrills me. In Minneapolis, I met Dennis Madamba, an intimidatingly good illustrator. I’m also obsessed with the zines and comics of April Malig. There is so much mind-boggling work happening right now — I feel very lucky to witness all of it.
Who do you look up to?
I admire writers and artists like Jillian Tamaki, Zadie Smith, Marjane Satrapi, and Anita Brookner, as well as musicians like Jens Lekman. But the one person I will look up to the most is my Lola. She was headstrong, kind, and fiercely loving — three qualities to which I aspire.
What has been your favorite part about your book tour?
See above re: Fil-Am artists!
What is it like living in Paris?
Paris is postcard-level beautiful, and no one wants to hear anyone complain about living there. But learning to speak French has been difficult, and I miss New York City dearly. But now that I’m nine months in and my French has improved (incrementally) and I’ve made friends with other artists here, I’ve grown to love it here.
What is the Filipino community like in Paris?
About once a week I Google “Filipino restaurant Paris” and nothing comes up, save for one fusion-type place. I know there are Filipinos here because, duh, we are everywhere, but I do miss being in Filipino neighborhoods like Woodside in Queens. One beacon of light I have encountered here is a chef named Erica Paredes. She hosts private dinners at her apartment regularly, ranging from plated meals to boodle fights. When I went to my first dinner and smelled the ginataang, I shed a single tear.
What is your next project?
I’m constantly doing freelance illustration projects for various websites and companies. I’m also working on my next graphic novel, which is, unfortunately, still top secret!