|LADY IN RED GEMMA NEMENZO (L-R) with Karina Bolasco, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Mike Coroza, Teo Antonio, Vim Nadera, and Oscar Penaranda|
Vim Nadera:Is this your best, or most important, celebration of the Filipino American History Month so far? Why?
Gemma Nemenzo: I can’t claim that Filbookfest was the most important celebration of FilAm History Month. There have been other significant events in previous years. Filbookfest however was a groundbreaking event in the community since it was the first-ever book festival in the US that focused on Filipino (I use this term to include FilAms) literature. Barely a month after the event, the Mayor of SF and TFC, in fact, recognized Filbookfest as a milestone in the FilAm community.
VN: What is the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation (LIIF) all about?
GN: LIIF is a registered nonprofit in California that aims to promote Filipino literature and the arts in the US – through cultural literacy activities in partnership with public and academic libraries, academic institutions, museums and community groups.
VN: How was the participation of your partners in the Filipino American Center of the San Francisco Public Library, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Philippine Consulate of San Francisco? What about your partners from the Philippines?
GN: FilBookFest was a massive collaborative project by the three institutions, public libraries, academic institutions, booksellers, FilAm community members and the Philippine book industry. Without each one’s participation, the event wouldn’t have been as big a success as it was.
VN: Were you able to achieve your mission of showcasing the richness of Filipino culture through its literature, arts and music?
GN: Definitely literature. It was a good first effort but it shouldn’t end there. We still have a lot of showcasing to do to be noticed by the US mainstream.
VN: What was reaction of the Filipino American community in and outside the Bay Area as well as the large multi-cultural and multi-generational community of book lovers in San Francisco?
GN: All the feedback we got was positive. Of course the crowd could have been bigger, the activities more organized, the publicity more widespread – but for a first effort, it wasn’t bad at all. We made mistakes, we were lacking in certain crucial things, i.e., outreach to the mainstream, but hopefully, we have learned our lessons and will do better next time.
VN: What was hot and what was not during the FilBookFest?
GN: The Balagtasan was a much appreciated novelty, Ambeth Ocampo shone, as expected. Most of the panels garnered positive feedback. The culinary aspect was a hit. So was the 8-minute author readings. I think the academic lectures could have been made more interesting.
VN: What lessons did you learn from FilBookFest?
GN: The biggest lesson is what we have suspected all along – that there is a great hunger among Filipinos in America for the best and most enduring aspects of our culture, meaning our literature, our arts, our culinary legacy. TV looms large in their daily lives but they know that it’s not the enduring heritage that they want to bequeath to their children. They want the books, the videos, the art that make them proud of our history and our culture.
VN: Will you do it again? When? Where? Why?
GN: The Steering Committee decided that the next one will be in 2013. Specifics are still forthcoming.\
VN: Any upcoming personal project? Please tell us about it.
GN: I will let you know as soon as I determine what it is. Right now I’m still resting from my Philippine vacation. In broad strokes, I want to expand LIIF, I have a book to finish (an anthology about growing up in UP) and I have a few dozen books I want to read.