Returning a Borrowed Tongue

Edited by: Nick Carbo

APRIL 1, 1996 • 6 X 9 • 238 PAGES • 978-1-56689-043-4

4.5/5 Stars

Returning a Borrowed Tongue is a collection of poems by Filipino and Filipino Americans writing about an array of topics from migration, assimilation, economy to sensuality, abandonment and identity.. Not all the pieces pay direct homage to the Motherland, but reading this book felt like coming home.

Growing up on Guam, an island in the Pacific and in close proximity (geographically and culturally) to the Philippines, there was still a dearth in Filipino literature that I could get my hands on. This collection was a breath of fresh air. A collection of memories, not my own but which still felt personal and relatable. 

My favorite poem was “Gabi” by Maria Luisa Aguilar-Cariño. Maria opens with an image of women on what I assume are rice paddies. She goes into rich detail of the nuances of provincial life— the lice-eggs and votive candles, the superstitions and starched bandannas from farming in the heavy heat. She ends her poem with the rich and flavorful harvests finding their way into our mouths, sustaining a necessary part of us. 

I wouldn’t say this book can be appreciated by just anyone, although anyone can read it and pull meaning from it. I do believe the intended audience is very clear. While the writers are all Filipino and there are sprinkles of Tagalog and hints of manila and many other islands throughout, the shared experiences of immigrants and the generational trauma and experiences of their descendants will be understood by countless immigrant families of other cultures: the challenge of assimilation, of identity formation, of language, and of even writing something just for the sake of enjoyment rather than a need to provide any political commentary.

It’s difficult to write a comprehensive review on an anthology with so many unique voices and varying themes. In fact, the only (minor) drawback is that there is no consistent order of poems. Despite that small inconvenience, if I’d even call it that, I finished this book in a day. I was completely engrossed .In many ways, this anthology is a gift to me and no matter how many more collections I will read, I know without a doubt, I will always revisit this one and take something new from its words each time.  

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