A BOOK OF HER OWN: WORDS AND IMAGES TO HONOR THE BABAYLAN by LENY M. STROBELVANESSA KENYON Reviews
A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan by Leny M. Strobel
(T’boli Books, San Francisco, 2006)
When an individual finds truth and congruency to the very ideals that create change, it should be celebrated, marveled and set free. Like the canopy of torn garment mended together by Leny Strobel, we too can find beauty in the art of healing. A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan is a delicate yet powerful dance between what is intrinsic and what is objective in the Filipino experience. Her book combines meditations, scholarship and poetry to reflect the varying levels to which transformation and recovery take flight for the decolonized psyche. As a Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University and author of Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization among Post 1965 Filipino Americans, Strobel magnificently illustrates her experience to the question: what does one do after you decolonize. By weaving together a menagerie of thoughts and experiences, Strobel paints an eloquent story of journey in the minds of her readers and creates ample opportunity to explore, reflect and question. Thus, allowing a shared experience through her words: It is empowerment.
However, A Book of Her Own goes beyond the continuity of postcolonial theories and retrospective histories of an indigenous people. It even goes beyond a paradigm of race, culture and religion as tied to the Filipino experience as well as her own. Subsequently, it takes life in the most quintessential form of a gift. And by gift I mean art. If we recognize that in life we must always return home, than understanding the roots and beliefs of a people is the most pivotal piece in gaining insight. In a piece called “Art as Gift-Giving,” Strobel explains:
“Putting our gifts back into circulation is an ongoing practice that is measured by the generosity of one’s spirit and generosity of attention that we are willing to give each other…What we are trying to articulate is a way of being, in a sense, that would undo the damage done by what was imposed on us from the outside. And to me, reaching for materials from our own cultural backgrounds and theorizing from there, is a good way of doing that.”(p 72)
In my own process of engaging with Strobel's mastery I began what felt like a hypersensitive state of awareness and inquiry. I could liken this experience to that of turning on a light after being in such darkness. Strobel acknowledges that
"These dark places would like to remain hidden, but the still small voice says: in order to be a whole person you must let the light shine on the dark corners. This is a pain filled time but a time for becoming strong as well." (p 188)
In these moments I could not escape my own shadows hidden within the context of my very own amnesia. I found myself perplexed in delight with the personal stories, dreams, and letters as they brought me into Strobel’s world (mother, educator, historian, journalist, warrior, writer). At times lost, disconnected, struck with childlike glee or sheer emotional grief, I found myself picking apart aspects of who, what, and from where I came.
Dante once wrote, “Beauty awakens the soul to act.” This idea that the essence of our person has the power to transform and create is a resilient theme that runs throughout her book. As a participant, reader, and fellow sojourner I, too, reveled within a process of discovery and reflection. From a new set of terminology (loob, babaylan, etc.) to the ownership of what those concepts mean to me. It is no coincidence that journey is a powerful reclamation for self, for the Filipino/a, Filipino American or any seeking mind. This process of reclaiming self is a gift to be given. With this interdisciplinary approach and shared process comes awareness. With her awareness comes a guide to which I reply the question: what does one do after decolonization? I write a poem to suggest--
Re-build (the self).
Let Go (give).
[This is how it begins]
Vanessa Kenyon, a Fil Am biracial, is the Outreach Advisor for Upward Bound Programs at Sonoms State University. She completed her undergrad work at SSU in American Multicultural Studies and Psychology with a concentration in Social Behavioral Science.