Author Austria-Bonifacio was a Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Authors Award finalist
By Charmaine Y. Rodriguez
A Filipino father ironically seeking a caregiver since all his children are abroad. A woman’s emotional struggle as she takes care of her sister’s children in the Philippines while the latter works in Canada.
These are just some of the stories on family reunification in Filipino-Canadian author Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio’s first book, Reuniting With Strangers, which is a novel on the Filipino-Canadian diaspora experiences which she launched recently in a series of events.
The book is a collection of linked short stories that examine reunification through various Filipinx lenses: the Canadian-born Filipina who clumsily helps her cousins assimilate in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley; the sea-faring Filipino husband in Osoyoos who vows to make his wife love him after a decade apart; the kundiman-loving grandfather left behind in a Batangas village to mourn his family legacy; the Quezon City sister battling for custody before her nieces join their estranged mother in Nunavut and the non-binary Filipinx teen who finds belonging in Toronto’s Little Manila.
Lastly, Austria included a chapter from the little caregiver’s son himself, who finally shares everything that he had struggled to say all along.
Austria-Bonifacio was a School Settlement Worker and was exposed to reunification issues faced by immigrant families, like kids lashing out, parents needing support, and teachers dealing with student disengagement.
She said it was hard to hear their stories and this resulted in sleepless nights for her. She then decided to start writing about it.
“I’m one of those writers whose brain lights up between midnight and two in the morning. Things are happening, things are sparking. I wish I wasn’t like that because I really miss sleeping,” she said a cbc.ca report.
Austria-Bonifacio recently launched the book in Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation Annex.
“I wanted to have people see the big picture of how I guess vast the family reunification experience really is,” she told Omni News in an interview.
After Toronto, she also held a Vancouver book launch last week at the Massy Arts Society, where she was joined by Filipino writers who are in the upcoming MAGDARAGAT: An Anthology of Filipino-Canadian Writing.
To top it all, CBC Books included “Reuniting with Strangers” in their list of 74 works of Canadian fiction to read this fall.
“I’m so honoured to be on it!,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
The book is available for online at https://douglas-mcintyre.com/products/9781771623582 and in independent bookstores.Reu