PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora
Publisher: Paloma Press
LOC No.: 2020930702
Release Date: Spring 2020
Distributors: Paloma Press, Bookshop, Amazon.com (at Special $16 price until Fall 2020), Ebay, among others
Price: $18.00 (Amazon, Ebay and other online sellers can have different prices)
“Pagpag” is the practice of scavenging through trash heaps for discarded food that the poor then attempts to clean and re-cook for new meals. Pagpag heart-wrenchingly symbolizes the effects of a corrupt government unable to take care of—indeed, abusing—its people. PAGPAG’s stories, while not overtly addressing this radical torture of cuisine, relate to what lurks within the stew created by a dictator’s actions. The aftermath is not always obvious like the imprisoned, the tortured, or the salvaged (murdered); the aftermath goes deep to affect even future generations in a diaspora facilitated by corruption, incompetence, and venality.
Eileen R. Tabios wrote “protest stories” from 1995-2001 against Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law in the Philippines, including “Tapey” which was read for Hawai’i Public Radio. These stories, except for a 2019 story written as a coda, form her new short story collection, PAGPAG. As indicated by its subtitle The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora, the collection presents stories from the points of view of children brought out of the Philippines by their parents (or other adults) in response to the Marcos dictatorship—children who grew up watching and listening to adults remember the homeland they left behind and who, as adults, can more fully articulate the effect of their histories.
“Pagpag” is a Tagalog word I used growing up to dust off a pillow or a blanket. Now it is used to refer to garbage food scavenged, recooked and resold to poor people. In her short story collection, Eileen Tabios uses both contexts to bridge her personal history with Martial Law and add texture to our already failed historical memory. These stories matter to us more than ever, as many Filipinos struggle under the tight grip of another populist, and as many more have forgotten that we have seen this before, and time is eating its own tail. Tabios begins her poignant collection with a “mamau” (ghost) and reminds us the historical past is not a ghost but a reality we carry with us if we can only see it as such.
—Bino A. Realuyo, author of The Umbrella Country and The Gods We Worship Live Next Door
Pagpag is a provocation, connoting both debris and creative refashioning of memory fragments from the Marcos dictatorship—a legacy that, in the words of Philippine nationalist historian Renato Constantino, remains ruefully “a continuing past,” especially in today’s Duterteland. Here, the remains of the regime, like rescued reminiscences of an era preferred forgotten but not lost are gathered anew in a compelling telling, this time from the lens of a diasporic exile. In this volume, Eileen Tabios captures in scintillating prose the sights, smells, sounds, and ghostly hauntings of that era and offers back to the homeland, as in the gift of a proverbial balikbayan box, her reflections both heartfelt and wrenching.”
—S. Lily Mendoza, Executive Director, Center for Babaylan Studies, Associate Professor in Culture and Communication, Oakland University, and author of Between the Homeland and the Diaspora: The Politics of Theorizing Filipino and Filipino American Identities
In these stories Eileen Tabios explores the ways in which the collective experience of Filipinos echoes through generations, following us even if—or when—we drift worlds away from the archipelago. What is the legacy of government cruelty and greed, of poverty, struggle, unwanted uprooting? In the first story (“Negros”), the abject hunger of an ancestor reaches through time to shape the mind and body of a young boy. In the last story (“On Imitating a Rhinoceros”), a daughter watches helplessly as her old father clings to a wavering belief that leaving his homeland was the right thing to do. I recognize myself and my family in these pieces; I am seen and heard. Moving and necessary, this collection invites the reader to grapple with truths in all their difficult, complex beauty.
—Veronica Montes, author of Benedicta Takes Wing and Other Stories and The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting
In this collection of short fiction, author Eileen Tabios contemplates the terrible distances (emotional as well as physical) imposed on Philippine citizens by the country’s colonial governments and postcolonial dictators, abetted by global capitalism. In protest, the central metaphor of Pagpag, “scavenging through trash heaps for discarded food that the poor then attempt to clean and re-cook for new meals,” speaks to various forms of hunger as well as desire for transformation. Brilliantly weaving comedy, satire and elegy, the stories echo tricksterish folk tales, but with a contemporary, introspective edge. Don’t be fooled by seemingly nostalgic peeks into the Philippines’ archipelagic culture: this book cuts deep into long-held illusions, exposing painful truth.
— Jean Vengua, author of Prau and CORPOREAL, and editor of Local Nomad
Reviews & Press Coverage:
“it’s focking brilliant”
—Ninotchka Rosca, Facebook 2020
“this collection of short stories is not one to miss”
—Lantern Review, March 2020
“Between 1995 and 2001 Eileen wrote protest stories against Marcos’ martial law, and now she shares those stories and more with her readers, revealing the horrendous conditions as viewed through children’s eyes. Noting that these stories are reflections of an ‘ex-patriot’ gives a new insight into the history of the political climate as viewed from afar – a more insightful blend of memory and history that makes her stories all the more compelling. Hunger in the face of the need to scavenge for discarded food, the need to change, moments of introspective humor – all these tales add to the impact of this excellent collection of short stories.”
—Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books, March 30, 2020
“…Loss is a theme that permeates the lives of characters in the book”
—“Fil-Am publishing house releases short story and poetry collections” by Walter Ang, Inquirer, April 8, 2020
“…gives us a glimpse of not only of where we came up short, but also why today too many lessons are learned the hard way. In one of Pagpag‘s pieces, Eileen Tabios points in the story ‘A Ghost Haunting’ to one of several reasons why many are wrestling with a deep sense of unarticulated anomie. / ‘The optimism in my memory is a taste of rust, jarring against what I observed the country had become. The optimism is an ache that will not go away. It is a ghost haunting.’
She is describing the Philippines but it can just as well be the United States. Or Brazil. Or India. Think of the fireflies reminding us of the rubble of institutions crumbling from the combined force of neglect and official venality.
Pagpag has plenty more insights to the dissonance we are confronting today.
In ‘The Man in a White Suit,’ Tabios speaks ‘of Rome burning‘ and how she ‘would marvel at how the same sun rose and set on all the places where humanity marked their presence in such a variety of ways. And I would consider once more whether man’s history blinded the sun, or whether God had known to create it blind at the beginning of time.‘
In protracted acts of violence, pain is punished with forgetting. A sky painted with the palette of a bruise will remind us of trauma but sometimes deprive us of the redeeming balm of understanding, the temptation to move on and hit the reboot button so great we seem eager to discard any anchoring notion of origin, which diminishes our sense of agency.
Tabios keeps to her roots in conversations held throughout Pagpag, cleaving to ‘A nation with a history of dying for ideals, for respect, for honor… the country of my birth.’”
—“A Duty To Remember Better” by Renato Redentor Constantino, ABS-CBN News, July 20, 2020
“… in La Boheme artists were dying of tuberculosis and in RENT artists were dying from gentrification and AIDS. In these times, it is Covid-19 and neoliberalism. // I highly recommend PAGPAG. Although this is fiction, it is filled with statistics of the haves and have nots—the disparities then set in the time during and after the zenith of a dictator foreshadows this present moment.
—The Halo Halo Review, Winter 2020 (forthcoming)
Book Launch, July 2020
AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE
These excerpts don’t do justice to what everyone shared. It gets more immense—darker and deeper, too—amidst—or despite—the laughter. The conversation is timely, wide-ranging and I invite you to watch this video. I wrote the book but it’s not about me; it’s on Empire, memory, colonialism and its postness, fascism and the use of humor to take it down, race, history, the frailties of the human condition, indigeneity, the flux of language, Brecht, Bahktin & Benjamin, and then hunger on too many levels, and so on and so much more. AND we name the names of those “salvaged.” Some excerpts:
As we grapple with ways to fight media repression and the Anti-Terror Bill in the Philippines, Eileen Tabios presents us with PAGPAG. … the book is a joy to read because it makes us laugh, for if there is one thing I remember about being an activist during Martial Law, …it is that we used laughter. We mocked those in power, and drawing from Mikhail Bakhtin’s discussion of the carnivalesque, this laughter was necessary in the “de-crowning” of the dictator. Moreover, the book also reminded me of family and friends who managed to joke even during dark times, of political work made lighter by shared laughter, and how, amidst fear of detention, we made up funny songs…
The many definitions of “pagpag” includes how Ferdinand Marcos’ son asked Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand” his family’s image… to [visual pagpag] of slapping one’s cheeks to prevent one from becoming numb to all the murders. “In the Bible, Jesus says ‘if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and *shake the dust off* your feet as a testimony against them’.”
—Father Albert Alejo
Pagpag-making, in this sense, for all its contradictory significations, like Eileen’s skillful reworking of painful and grievous memories of the Marcos regime into stories of alternative meaning, delight, and pleasure, may be seen as gesturing toward that kind of capacity for beauty and life-making in the direst of circumstances—I would say perhaps a skill those of us still ensconced in the comfort of our privilege could well learn from.
—S. Lily Mendoza
I teach “Race and Humor” at Stonybrook. The theory of humor that I love to share with students is the theory of inversion, the reversal of power. We laugh when the cruelties of the world are exposed. We laugh when the powerful are made fun of, and they’re taken down by joke … in this case by a story. Fascists hate humor because humor threatens their order, the order that they want which is that they’re on top. Humor brings them down to the level of the people.
…[PAGPAG] gives us a glimpse of not only of where we came up short, but also why today too many lessons are learned the hard way. In one of Pagpag’s pieces, Eileen Tabios points in the story “A Ghost Haunting” to one of several reasons why many are wrestling with a deep sense of unarticulated anomie: “The optimism in my memory is a taste of rust, jarring against what I observed the country had become. The optimism is an ache that will not go away. It is a ghost haunting.” // She is describing the Philippines but it can just as well be the United States. Or Brazil. Or India. Think of the fireflies reminding us of the rubble of institutions crumbling from the combined force of neglect and official venality.
—Renato Redentor Constantino
I only decided last year to collect the stories into a book after observing the human rights atrocities caused by Duterte’s regime. I thought then that even as my stories are fiction, my book PAGPAG might serve to remind how actions have such prolonged effects. The book’s idea of presenting fictionalized children of anti-Marcos activists, now grown-up and coping with their legacies, is also a metaphorical call for bettering our actions as actions do become legacies and can have impact for generations afterward.
—Eileen R. Tabios
Available Samples Online:
“On Imitating a Rhinoceros” is at Unlikely Stories Mark V, 2020.
NEW: AVAILABLE THROUGH A SPECIAL RELEASE OFFER