Leaving Yesler by Peter Bacho + Author Interview
Next April, if you happen to be in the DC area, you might be lucky enough to meet Peter Bacho at the Smithsonian as he presents Leaving Yesler, his first foray into the young adult readers market which debuts late March 2010 from Pleasure Boat Studio out of New York. “I’ll read for food,” Bacho promises.
Bacho’s been here at the Smithsonian before, back in December 2006, as a panelist for “Filipino American Literary Writers,” together with M. Evelina Galang, Marianne Villanueva, and Luis Francia. Truth be told, he and Villanueva had the audience giggling and occasionally wide-eyed with shocked surprise. Model minorities don’t say those things.
In spite of his immigrant roots (Bacho’s parents are both from Cebu, Philippines, although his Wikipedia entry erroneously claims him to be half-Filipino and half-Yakima Indian), his summa cum laude undergraduate degree from Seattle University, his JD and LLD from the University of Washington, his experience in Seattle’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and his various professor-ships in Washington universities and colleges, Bacho is anything but model minority, truth be told … nor are his characters, thank goodness!
His first book, Cebu (1991), about a Filipino American priest who arrives in the Philippines to bury his mother in her homeland, won him an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He won both a Washington Governor’s Writers Award (renamed the Washington State Book Award) and The Murray Morgan Prize for his collection of short stories, A Dark Blue Suit (1997). Then he did a children’s title, Boxing in Black and White (1999), which got him on the Center for Children’s Books Best Books List. Next came Nelson’s Run (2002), about an oversexed young man who travels to the Philippines after the accidental death of his father, followed by my personal favorite, Entrys (2005), about a teenaged Filipino Native American hapa Vietnam War veteran’s challenging attempts to re-enter civilian life.
Leaving Yesler definitely treads on familiar Bacho territory: religion, boxing, immigration, and – of course – lots of sex (“mostly off the page,” Bacho insists in this case for the sake of younger readers, ahem!). Bobby Vicente is five months shy of turning 18. His family has just shrunk by half, after losing his mother to cancer and his older brother to Vietnam. His father, Antonio, an old-timer Filipino American immigrant who once had a glorious boxing past, is determined that his only family will not only avoid war, but somehow make it out their Yesler housing project in Seattle. Antonio doesn’t have a whole lot of time left to both educate and train sweet, kind-hearted Bobby. What happens in that fast-forward week before Bobby takes his GED – from falling in love, to having conversations with a dead brother not to mention a martyred saint, to witnessing murder – will literally determine the rest of Bobby’s life.
“The kid survives,” Bacho quips. “Gotta give the little kiddies hope and all!”
I have to ask … now that you’re moving into the young adult market … do you have kids yourself?
Yes, one daughter [now 27 years old] from a former marriage. I like to say I’ve been married 35 years – if I put them all together, that is.
Why write for young adults now?
Why not? It’s getting increasingly edgier and, I think, more interesting. I mean, Yesler is a Filipino American novel without a Filipino protagonist.
Oh, no … you can’t give TOO much away … besides, culturally, that protagonist is all Filipino American!
True. For some Filipinos, especially those arriving after 1968, there’s almost a racial and linguistic purity – stuff we never bothered with.
Purity … that’s ironic, given the tragic history of Filipino colonialism, no?
It is that, but it’s expected because colonized people imitate the colonizer. …[click here for more]
Readers: Young Adult