Photo caption: Marivi Soliven. Photo credit: Courtney Liu.
Marivi Soliven, a Manila native and San Diego resident, just published her first novel, “The Mango Bride.”
It is the story of two women from the Philippines who have different encounters after immigrating to Oakland.
“[The novel] is about how previous lives shape their experiences when they arrive in the U.S.,” said Soliven.
She recently visited the University of Washington (UW) for a reading and book-signing event put on by the UW’s Filipino-American Student Association (FASA).
Soliven came to the U.S. permanently, at age 32, to be with her husband who was earning his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. She had previously resided in the U.S. as a student at Simmons College, but after completing graduate school, she returned to the Philippines.
In Manila, the author grew up speaking English as her first language and Tagalog as her second. Because Tagalog was her second language, it was more difficult for Soliven to understand the curriculum in her social studies class and she found it harder to connect with some of her friends who spoke Tagalog. She attended a private Catholic school taught by American nuns so it was common for people to speak English. Nonetheless, the author still felt a sense of belonging in the Philippines because nearly everyone was of Filipino ancestry, meaning that she was part of the majority.
And she knew enough Tagalog to apply it to her day job as a phone interpreter, which introduced her to the experiences of many mail-order brides — what inspired the creation of one of the main characters in “The Mango Bride,” Beverly Obejas.
Moving to Boston for graduate school exposed Soliven to the idea of being a part of the minority population. Even when she was surrounded by her Filipino cohorts, “I wasn’t cool enough for [them] because I spoke English well and they perceived me as bourgeois,” says the author.
In addition to feeling out of touch with many Filipino students around her, Soliven said that race, class and ethnicity were more charged in the U.S., which became especially apparent during her college days. She was struck by a comment that a Latina friend once told her in college: “It doesn’t matter if you’re fair-skinned; you’re colored in America.” Her experience during graduate school taught her to be conscious of race and about the intersections of culture and how they interact with each other. This is what partly inspired her to write “The Mango Bride.”
Growing up in the Philippines, her status was somewhat elevated because she was fair-skinned. According to the author, discrimination was often based on religion and class, which is often determined by skin color and facial features.
After reading the novel, Willard Brooks, who attended the book signing, said, “Even people who come to America from foreign countries, such as the Philippines, are introduced to racist ideologies.”
The African-American Houston native says he easily identified with several of the characters due to the lack of privilege they had.
Although the author now resides in the states, she says that she doesn’t see herself as Filipino American because she arrived as an adult and so she identifies herself as just Filipino. She has assimilated into to the American culture but still feels like a minority. She will never fully understand the culture because she didn’t attend high school here, says Soliven. She connects her experiences to those of her high school days in the Philippines.
She is currently working on another novel about taxi dance halls in San Diego during the 1930s. While researching for her second novel, she noticed that the historical society in San Diego didn’t have a Filipino collection or anything on the Filipino community, so she set up a Filipino collection of documents there.
As a Filipino-American author, she said she would like for a Filipino person to say that her novel presents “an honest portrayal of them” and wants the person to feel that she understands his or her experiences.
“Having visited family in the Philippines multiple times in the past, I found Marivi’s reading very realistic and imaginable. She did a good job focusing on the Filipino culture but balanced it with American aspects so that it was relatable even for the youth of our community,” says UW student and FASA member Rio Barber, who attended Soliven’s reading. “The segment she read about the woman complaining about the waiter’s service was exactly how my mom would sound if she were to be unhappy about something. I think this novel will have even more connections to my life throughout the story.”