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Twenty-Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride

Posted Dec 29 2008

To merely describe Twenty-Five Chickens as a history of Filipinos in California’s Bay Areas does an incredible disservice to an extraordinary woman’s tale of tracing her families roots in the Philippines and American south, to her present-day community activism. Although Filipino Americans are the heart of the story, the diversity of the Bay comes out, with everyone from Mexican farm workers to leaders in the gay rights movement playing a role in her life.

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When I was teaching full time I used to focus on the idea of multiple identity, which essentially means that people’s experiences are affected by a combination of factors such as gender, religious background, citizenship, and ethnicity. Too often people are pigeonholed into one category (the first Black president, the first woman football coach, etc), while the real story is more complex. Similarly, to merely describe Twenty-Five Chickens as a history of Filipinos in California’s Bay Areas does an incredible disservice to an extraordinary woman’s tale of tracing her families roots in the Philippines and American south, to her present-day community activism. Although Filipino Americans are the heart of the story, the diversity of the Bay comes out, with everyone from Mexican farm workers to leaders in the gay rights movement playing a role in her life.

Evangeline Canonizado Buell has been a long time, Oakland-based activist involved with organizations such as the Filipino American National Historical Society and the Berkeley Co-Op while also making a name for herself as a musician. As a Bay Area native who spent most of her younger years in West Oakland, this very personal story adds to the rich history of California, and the country in general. For the most part, Twenty-Five Chickens is told in a chronological style, but a number of key themes stand out. Whether it’s domestic violence, workers’ rights, or fashion, feminism and gender-related issues run throughout the book, with multiculturalism being critical as well. Although Buell’s heritage is rooted in the Philippines, her grandfather was an African American soldier stationed on the islands who later brought his family to Oakland. Buell’s own marriages to white men further added to the family’s mix, broadening their experiences and perspectives.

While she’s a native Californian, Buell’s parents were both born and raised in the Philippines, giving her first-hand insight to the struggles and success of immigrants. Among the hardships detailed are the typical, although no-less meaningful, tales of language barriers, cultural conflicts from both outside and within the Filipino community, isolation, and the depression brought on by many never returning to their homelands to see their families.

Right from the start of this book Buell describes the United States as a country that doesn’t always live up to its ideal of equal treatment for all. At times individuals showed her and family scorn by refusing to let their daughters babysit for “niggers,” firing her Caucasian husband from a job for being married to an Asian, or being forced to wear pins saying “I am a loyal American Filipino” so they wouldn’t be treated as poorly as their Japanese American neighbors. At an institutional level her family wasn’t allowed to buy property, receive medical care in an emergency, and many churches, including the Quakers, refused to marry her. Many of these incidents took place in places that currently pride themselves on their liberal views, including Berkeley.

Due to these experiences, Buell has committed her life to equality and other social justice causes, connecting with like-minded people, including her husbands and she continues to see the best in people. While she discusses the toll of these various hardships, she also doesn’t neglect to mention a number of individuals, of all backgrounds, who fought against discrimination and ignorance.

Printed on high quality paper and filled with plenty of pictures, 25 Chickens is an all around good buy. I’ve bought multiple copies for friends and family myself

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