Asian Journal’s Momar Visaya speaks to Mia Alvar, whose debut collection of short stories, “In The Country,” won the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. The Manila-born, and Bahrain- and U.S.-raised New Yorker talked about the stories, which share the themes of Filipino culture and immigration, and span Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., three countries with large diaspora populations.
“I think there are a lot of stories in the Philippines about the heroic sacrifices of the OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers], and these of course are great, significant sacrifices,” Mia said. “In my book, I was more interested in exploring OFWs and immigrant communities as human beings and their flaws and weaknesses as well as their heroic moments.”
It is in the book’s characters, their fears, struggles and successes that remind readers that their stories are universal. And that is also one thing that Mia would like for more people to understand.
Alvar goes on to say that Filipino-American authors may not have the most “visibility” but their stories are there and they are more than just “Filipino stories.”
“We’ve been working, some people for generations, what there is a lack of is the right level of visibility and access for these books and the authors. A lot of people just don’t know the names of Filipino authors. Even Filipino-Americans sometimes are not that exposed to books about characters and families like theirs,” she explained.
“It really is a matter of getting more of these books into the spotlight and getting mainstream publishers interested in these stories and getting everyone to understand that there are Filipino stories and they are Filipino stories but they are also global and American stories,” Mia added, which is exactly what many readers of In The Country have been posting on various review sites and message boards.
Go to Asian Journal for the full interview, including Alvar’s account of visiting the Philippines while promoting her book.
— PEN America (@PENamerican) April 12, 2016