Pub. date: November 1, 2020
New Rivers Press | ISBN: 978-0-89823-397-1 | 200 pages
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EDITORS’ CHOICE SELECTION: New Rivers Press 2018 Many Voices Project Prose Competition
FINALIST: 2020 Big Other Book Award for Nonfiction
A lyrical collection of essays that grapples with identity, family, and femininity, and with the dysphoria of being from a spiritual, matriarchal society in a colonized, patriarchal world.
PRAISE for We Are No Longer Babaylan
“Every word of We Are No Longer Babaylan brilliantly hooks with and hinges on magic, and the magic of possibility. Valmidiano frames the ancient, persistent pain that hammers and chisels Filipina American knowledge with ritual and unrest. She articulates screams and silences, exalting that in order to engage with the Filipina, female, and storied being is to see her in all of her palimpsests. Her prose about the mysteries of waiting, family in manifold forms, and Pinay friendship, features a heartfelt, phenomenal voice declaring, time and time again, women’s bodies–of writing, of work, of ceremony–theirs to narrate and protect.”
— Janice Lobo Sapigao, 2020-2021 Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, author of microchips for millions and like a solid to a shadow
“When a powerful witch promises revenge before being fed to crocodiles and then, hundreds of years into the future, over decades of colonization and occupation, whispers into the ear of a rebellious girl, the ear of her descendant, a book like We Are No Longer Babaylan is born. Elsa Valmidiano uses language like a bolo cutting through hectares of land overgrown with amnesia and myopia. With this collection of critical and graceful stories, we readers are able to see again with such clarity and light. So much light that the shadows lengthen and then retreat again, a continuous ebb and flow of politicized, personal revelation and cultural examination. Many who read this book—from those of generations who remember demons intimately to the younger generations only now recalling their names—will see a kind of summoning of the babaylan we ‘used to be’, an invitation for her to once again stand by our side.”
— Trinidad Escobar, graphic novelist, cartoonist, poet, author of CRUSHED
“Among indigenous peoples in the Philippines, Babaylan are seers and healers. Babaylan dwell in a space between the spirit realm and the earthly realm, bridging both for the well-being of their communities. Elsa Valmidiano’s new essay collection also dwells in a space between: We Are No Longer Babaylan explores the terrain between motherland and adopted home, between love and abuse, between preservation and loss, between bodily autonomy and reproductive control. It is a hybrid terrain familiar to many of us. Valmidiano succeeds in bringing together these realms with the insight of an adept essayist and the craft of a skilled storyteller.”
“We seem to have forgotten what community means in the US, or we know it in a way that feels artificial and empty to so many immigrants struggling to stay as We, to keep their identity alive. Valmidiano evokes this struggle with brilliant intensity and respect for her ancestors. I felt her grandparents dancing across the room to no outsider’s tune. The power of Valmidiano’s survival has made a home in this reader’s mind.”
“Elsa is a Master of unease, such that her tales leave the reader haunted long past the closure of the book. Unease is appropriate as Elsa addresses the personal effects of the political, from colonialism to diaspora. But what makes this collection unexpected, admirably unexpected—and courageous—is the premise behind the title story We Are No Longer Babaylan. A Babaylan is a Filipino indigenous community leader, spiritual leader, and healer—as such, the Babaylan commands respect and admiration. But Elsa gets real, as noted by its self-explanatory title. Towards the end of the story, there’s a sentence where the protagonists are presented as not having ‘the Babaylan magic to fix any of this.’ Within the particular story, ‘this’ relates to childhood abuse but throughout the collection, the abuses of colonizers and war invaders, misogynists, poverty, among others, are referenced.”
“We Are No Longer Babaylan is undoubtedly centered on the Filipina American experience. As I have become more acquainted with work by fellow Filipinx writers and artists, I have learned the unparalleled feeling of being ‘seen’ by someone through my connection with their work. However, I can say with full confidence that We Are No Longer Babaylan connected with me in a way that I have yet to experience — so intimately that I was stunned. Between her early portraits of loss and betrayal all written in such an immersive style, Valmidiano not only ensures that her words will find a permanent home with her readers but also encourages us to think deeply about our personal experiences and find where the hurt persists in our own lives.”
“Through her sharp, deep-cut dissections of the Filipino family and the Filipina American experience, Valmidiano reaches through the pages into the reader’s soul, grasping to the roots and channels that tether us to one another and the land of our ancestors. As a Filipina American immigrant myself, I was all too familiar with her stories, searching with the narrator for that route back to our lost motherland, sensing the kinship and separation from a person who looks like me but has not had the same opportunities, and navigating the push and pull of guilt, gratitude, and indebtedness. It is through these ancient lines that we remember and return.”
“In Elsa Valmidiano’s deeply moving debut collection of essays, We Are No Longer Babaylan, one finds oneself so utterly changed in the reading, in the way that only the rarest works do, and rarely so, for such transformations do not come lightly. Every book we open is a risk to all that we knew before. To read is an act of courage, to write, a bravery beyond even the word itself. Such is Valmidiano’s book, a bravery in spirit, an absolute truth telling, a sacred kind of song. No matter how much has been done to them, the light of some things cannot be turned down. But we are required, then, to speak of the unspeakable, to hold the unholdable, to tell our stories with compassion, complexity, honesty and awe. We Are No Longer Babaylan is a brave and astounding work that touches the spirit in unpredictable and beautiful ways. Healing is part of it, and hope, and love, and pain.”
Cover art: Engine by Isobel Francisco
2 x 2 ft (60.96 x 60.96 cm)
oil on canvas
Image of the visual artist, standing before her painting, Costumes, 4 x 8 ft (121.92 x 243.84 cm), oil on canvas, 2017
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For sightings of We Are No Longer Babaylan in reader hands across the globe, please check out the gallery collage here.