Milwaukie author Jason Tanamor brings home Filipino folklore
Milwaukie author Jason Tanamor's new novel is an homage to his family heritage. Based on Filipino folklore, "Vampires of Portlandia" is about a family of aswangs (shape shifters) that immigrates to Oregon from the Philippines.
In 2009, the U.S. Congress began recognizing October as Filipino American History Month.
Tanamor's protagonist in the recently released book, Marcella Leones, wants to give her grandchildren a peaceful life, far away from the hunters and the Filipino government that attempted to exterminate them. Tanamor's previous stories have not included Filipino characters.
"For the longest time I wrote white characters, for reasons that pertain to my upbringing," Tanamor said. "My childhood was fine, but I considered myself white, having grown up essentially American but with Filipino parents."
Growing up "American" also meant that Tanamor had never visited the Philippines.
"It was really because I had no interest when I was younger," he said. "Also, my parents tended to go for long periods, so having the time off from school or work just wasn't realistic. It was a convenient excuse."
"Vampires of Portlandia" tackles a debatable topic, because not all Filipinos believe in shape shifters.
"I honestly didn't know anything about aswangs," Tanamor said. "It wasn't until I saw it used in the show, 'Grimm,' that I called my father and inquired. He said it was a story that his grandparents told him as a child to scare him."
With the publishing industry lacking characters who were people of color, Tanamor decided to bring Filipinos into the spotlight. He hopes other people of color will resonate with the book as well.
"It was a struggle for me to accept my culture," he said. "Like many Filipinos born in America, I wanted to assimilate as a child. As I grew older, I realized that instead of fitting in, why not stand out? Writing this story was not only rewarding but therapeutic."
Tanamor has promised to continue his mission of bringing Filipinos into the mainstream, through #ownvoices.
"I have two other novels about Filipinos completed," he said. "One is about my time dancing in folk festivals, and the other is about living under President Marcos' martial law."
"Vampires of Portlandia" was released Sept. 29 by Parliament House Press. It's currently available in print and digitally in various formats.
To learn more about the novel, visit tanamor.com/p/vampires-of-portlandia.html.
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