To recognize, amplify, and help equalize the platform for non-traditionally featured book reviews, the following reviews of We Are No Longer Babaylan feature reviewers who shared their thoughts on Instagram as an alternative vehicle for book reviews. Unlike the reviews that were published in literary journals and are only excerpted on this site where hyperlinks to the entire review have been provided, the Bookstagram reviews here have been reprinted in their entirety as they originally appeared in an Instagram post.
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If any edits were made, they were only for typographical errors but not content.
“Ever since I came upon @elsavalmidiano’s poem, ‘How My Grandparents Made Love in 1944,’ I was excited to receive my copy of the #WeAreNoLongerBabaylan. The waiting did not disappoint.
“‘The babaylan is a medium between heaven and earth, who heals, exorcises, and restores harmony to her community. Her path begins with a mysterious call…But she must decide whether to be a sorceress, a healer, or a combination of both…If she assents, she makes a panata – a vow, a pledge, a sacrifice, or an offering…The babaylan is always thought to be ancient, but she’s still in our complex society. Anyone can be a babaylan.’
“The essays and stories in this collection explore ancestry, spiritually, feminism, friendships, traditions, and culture in ways that we can better acknowledge our similarities and differences. It talks about resilience despite the painful memories of abuse and silence, of choosing to lose and losing without a choice.
“Her stories about Lilong and Lilang made me wish I also grew up knowing my grandparents more, listening to their versions of the war. Her essays on contraception and abortion highlighted that reproductive rights are some of the most vigorously contested rights issues worldwide. In the Philippines, even with the passing of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, only 4 in 10 married women use a modern form of birth control (2017 report), at least 600,000 women had abortions in 2012 (nearly all of them in secret and without the benefit of doctors and nurses), and about 1,000 die from abortion complications.
“This is the kind of read I can reflect on, solitarily, and the kind I can have cathartic conversations with friends. Overall, I recommend this book and hopefully the publication reaches the shores of the Philippines, where Babaylan wisdom and spirit are strongest.
“#literarynonfiction @newriverspress #WANLB #essays #stories #filipinoamericanwriter #womenauthors #RHBill”
— @jeepneylit, December 6, 2020
“Babaylan were shamans of the pre-colonial Philippine islands who could harness the spirits of the dead & of nature. In the old ways, one could become babaylan by inheriting the status from an elder, or by near-death experience. Or both.
“Some might be happy just to classify this as a collection of essays & stories that memoiristically explore how one writer deals with loss. You could read her trauma as the legacy of Spanish conquest and give her trials modern names fitting the 21st century: colonization, sexism, racism, gun violence, anembryonic pregnancy. But these Western words are not enough; they never name the real, ancient pain.
“Knowing that names can fail, the book’s title is both truth & lie. True, we are no longer babaylan: our connection to the spirits dilutes with each generation as cultural practices are lost. ‘We have just forgotten, swallowed by the stresses of our lives.’
“Yet false: severed as we are from the Motherland, our gift doesn’t disappear but shape-shifts, like water in a container, to the times. Healing can come from herbs, and from the leaves of books. After reading, I felt I had entered an initiation, that Elsa could be babaylan herself, that she’d called me to learn from her what makes us magic.
“We started with a séance, talking to Lilong & Lilang (‘Wait’), we learned the art of the hilot (‘Massage’), we saw demons in the shape of fathers & friends (title essay). Elsa showed me the personal cost of sacrificial offering (‘Blighted’), the divination of heaven & how to navigate the weather to find home (‘Rain Lesson’). We even played God, tasting the honeyed power in pulling a life from the brink of death (‘Gnat’), and the bitterness in failing to save a life (‘Lifesaver’). All throughout, we code-switched & transformed; we chanted secret songs & spells that only brown girls know (‘Be, Not Be’).
“This mournful magic keeps our spirit strong. As long as we have books like this, and the sisters willing to write them, read them, & pass them on, we are still babaylan.”
— @mariabeewrites, December 9, 2020
“When words do something more than justice. @elsavalmidiano’s book is a web of shared postulations and passions.
“I can’t remember the last time I’d read a piece that peeled me back to my simple and saccharine little lump of self. But also without indulging sentimentality.
“As a first generation Filipina who’s flitted far from the nest, this book is a gift of connectivity to brothers and sisters who know and understand the story of we, of us, and our Babaylan.
“I could go on and on about why and how this book is important BUT, you really just have to read it yourself.
“damo nga salamat,
Elsa, you are keeping the magic alive <3”
— @bae.ann, December 29, 2020
“I am a little late in posting this, but I want to share how much this brave and beautiful book, We Are No Longer Babaylan, by my friend @elsavalmidiano, has meant to me. I read it during a time when I was still grieving the loss of my Grandmother, well, honestly, we are always and forever grieving these things, and Elsa’s opening chapter to her beloved Grandfather touched the place of my pain, the place of ‘I know you, traveller,’ know this place, this feeling. I wept. And I felt the power of what art does when we need what it has to offer the most. Grief work is life work. Elsa’s book asks not just that we grieve the many losses, traumas and violations that have happened to us, but that we also remember (remember?) that we each have some undiminishable aspect of the inner healer within us. Those things that should have happened but didn’t, and those things that should not have happened, but did. We walk through them burning, rejoicing and reclaiming. No, it is not easy. No, there is no end to it. But that we honor who we are and where we have been. And that we are here, still, grieving and making life work from that grief. And somedays, light. We Are No Longer Babaylan is a beautiful healer of a book, it will open you, profoundly, and it will walk with you. That we know we are not alone, that others too, have come this way. The stories may be different, but the prayer is the same.”
— @jamesdiazpoet, February 27, 2021
“Babaylan have been healers, revolutionaries, and storytellers. I reviewed @elsavalmidiano’s admirable essay collection We Are Not Babaylan for @raintaxireview. You can read the whole review by ordering a copy of the print issue at https://www.raintaxi.com
“I’ll say here that Valmidiano’s essays are like a response to this call put out by @thesosyalgal:
“‘The time has come for the awakening of the Asian American woman. Our headline-worthy stories were never meant to be sidelined…We were not born to be anyone’s objects for on-demand pleasure. We are not punchlines or punching bags. We come from generations of unbreakable women from Asia, and are continually protected by our ancestors. We are women of the mountains, the seas, the islands, the rice fields and more. We will not be erased.
“‘If you’re an Asian American woman and you’re reading this, I urge you to tell your story. To scream, full-throated, into the digital wild, and find your community in person too. We’re waiting to listen, honor and cherish your existence.’
“I’m craving the fierce creative energy of Asian American women and femmes like this so much right now, when the stress and trauma of the past week since the Atlanta shooting has become another weight on a life load that’s a lot to carry right now. And today I had to stare down a young white dude who was casing me in his car while I was riding my bike, and I felt in my body the weight of how many times too many of us have had to ward off toxic masculinity and then I thought of Soon Chung Park and Hyun Jung Grant and Sun Cha Kim and Yong Ae Yue and Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng and how they were not in a position to ward off toxic masculinity but instead had to serve it and die by it – and it’s all sickening and I am just tired.
“Reading the powerful words of my Pinay sisters is always inspiring, but in this moment it’s also especially resourcing and cathartic.
“#pinay #pinaylit #asianauthors #womensupportingwomen #asianreadathon #filipina #filipinx #babaylan #raintaxi #elsavalmidiano”
— @jensorianowrites, March 24, 2021
“Blue space… and relax with my book written by my cousin. I’ve read it a couple of times already. I’ve found more times to tear up. I wish I was there for her. I wish I can be just like her. Our lineage, things I tried to ask and was shushed and dared to ask. Truth of a women’s journey and after pushing this book out. She’s on another journey to battle the WHITE MONSTERS! Don’t get it twisted. It’s evil vs good. #WeAreNoLongerBabaylan #PinayWriters #Matriachsofthefuture #Kasinsin #IlocanoPride”
— @ihappybutt, June 5, 2021