|GEMMA NEMENZO (FOURTH FROM LEFT) WITH FILBOOKFEST VOLUNTEERS|
We saw her last 17 November, the day before we moderated the Great Philippine Book Café's panel, Beyond the Page, with Khavn Dela Cruz, Joel Toledo, Kooky Tuason, and Krip Yuson. And we could not believe our eyes.
Was it Gemma Nemenzo?
Yes, always unassuming, demure and down-to-earth, and at times could be mistaken for Karina Bolasco, who was with her during the 2nd Manila International Literary Festival when was she was a panelist dealing with writing away from home, cross-cultural dynamics, and the immigraton discourses with Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz and Tokyo-based children's book writer Holly Thompson.
Three months ago, Ms. Nemenzo was the Main Woman of the first ever Filipino American International Book Festival in San Francisco, California. With the help of The Asia Foundation and Book Development Association of the Philippines, she invited us, with Teo Antonio and Mike Coroza, to do a Balagtasan about migration for this fiesta at the San Francisco Public Library last 1 October, before Mc Canlas and Mauro Tumbocon could tour us down the Fil-Am memory lane!
How did she manage to gather us all together was still unknown.
As if to deepen that mystery, National Artists Virgilio Almario at Koret Auditorium and Bencab at Asian Art Museum did their job well! Authors, too, from the Philippines like Ma. Lourdes Carandang, Isagani Cruz, Jose Dalisay, Jose Lacaba, Felice Sta. Maria, John Silva, Claude Tayag, Marites Vitug, andCris Yabes, among others, as well as their counterparts from the US like Marivi Soliven Blanco, Cecilia Brainard, Evangeline Buell, Luis Francia, Reme Grefalda, Tess Uriza Holthe, R. Zamora Linmark, Oscar Peňaranda, Ben Pimentel, Barbara Jane Reyes, Severino Reyes, and Leny Strobel, to name a few. Or from Canada like Romeo Honorio or from Denmark like Filomenita Hogsholm. Everyone, even Pres. Fidel Ramos who promoted his latest biography Trustee of the Nation by American W. Scott Thompson. Everywhere, from inside the library to Fulton Street. On stage and on air, courtesy of TFC. Of course, aside from books and booths, there were open spaces and open mics, launches and lunches, reunions and reconciliations, folksinging and folkdancing, tips and tributes, signings and story tellings, readings and raffles, rituals and rap, spoken word and stand-up comedy acts by, say, Ambeth Ocampo. Well, our favorite hip historian out-dolphied Dolphy when he lectured about queridas! Anyway, he wittily talked the walk of our National Hero. By the way, our King of Comedy was well-represented not just by Lotis Key. But by Eric and Jeffrey Quizon with their mom Baby and their sis Madonna, autographing Dolphy's DVDs and book Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa that sold like, um, Facifica Falayfay's puto't kutsinta!
FilBookFest brought out the best in Ms. Nemenzo, a San Leandro transfer, who freelances as writer, editor, event planner, and even Tagalog/English interpreter in the Bay Area. She holds the record of being the longest running columnist of Filipinas magazine which she used to serve as managing editor from 2003 to 2010.
Aside from keeping www.filipinasmag.com alive, she can still find time to contribute to blog sites. Slant, her column from 1996 to 2010, gave her an award from New California Media before it became a best-seller as a compilation of essays -- Heart In Two Places: An Immigrant’s Journey -- published by Anvil Publishing Inc.
After finishing journalism at the University of the Philippines, she practised her profession in print and broadcast media. Known as the sister of former UP President Francisco Nemenzo, she made a name for herself by writing feature articles in different dailies and magazines. In fact, she was one of the think tank behind the multi-awarded children's educational television show we grew up with – Batibot!
Then, she moved to the United States, with her three kids.
There, she created a registered non-profit Literacy Initiatives International Foundation (LIIF) last year in California. LIIF is the lead organizer of FilBookFest with Al Perez as the Festival Director and her as the Festival Coordinator, ably assisted by her daughter Maia Almendral, Bess Calpotura, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Lorna Dietz, Penélope V. Flores, Gwenn Jessica Galvez, Edwin Lozada, Ms. Bolasco, Maya Ong Escudero, Elena Mangahas, Estela L. Manila, Mitchell Yangson, and Col. Irwin Ver.
During the opening ceremonies, she foretold: “This festival is about sharing our narratives to the broader community of book lovers out there, and from this sharing, our collective voices can be heard far and wide in this tapestry of cultures that we call America.”
And, to this day, her “prophesy” holds true.
No matter what.
So, please meet Madame Gemma, our literary and/or literacy visionary!
Vim Nadera: What made you decide to organize Filipino American International Book Festival (FilBookFest)?
Gemma Nemenzo: After Filipinas magazine closed down in early 2010, I had time on my hands to ponder what I could do next. I’ve always wanted to work with books – having been surrounded by books all my life – so I decided to focus on helping market Filipino books here in the US. The book festival idea evolved from discussions with like-minded folks and I became the de facto lead organizer because I was the one who had the contacts not only among publishers there and authors, but also with community organizers, the Consulate and potential sponsors. I also had some experience marketing my book here.