In the notes at the end of Dear Distance, Luis Katigbak writes: “Some of these stories were sparked by sights or sounds by other people; some of them approach the character of collaborations.” He then proceeds to enumerate which of the stories in the anthology he means, listing their respective inspirations, but it is hard to imagine that only a small portion of the anthology is covered by this blanket-disclaimer, when really the whole book can be read as a series of observations—some grounded in realism, others probing surreal, fantastic realities—the author taking down a verbal sketch in his notebook. Yet the observations bear the mark of depth, and we see in varying degrees how far Katigbak plunges the reader into the psyche of the contemporary common Filipino.
Before college, I had always been Vietnamese—not Vietnamese American. I grew up in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in San Jose. Crispy fried catfish atop rice and bittersweet cafe sua da were not objects of Western fascination. Elderly Vietnamese men gambling in the park were not sociological phenomena. Diversity wasn’t a slogan; it was a lived reality.
My “coffee name” is Sarah. Though I suppose it’s more like an “ordering food or drink” name because I’m one of those weird specimens who doesn’t drink coffee. Sarah is an easy name to pronounce, and an easy name to spell. It’s also, technically, my middle and English name – but calling me by that name usually ensues in a strong talking-to or a slap (depending how well I know the person). Sarah is not my name.