The inaugural Filipino-Canadian Book Festival highlights Vancouver's Filipino creatives

The idea for Vancouver’s first Filipino-Canadian Book Festival began in a Carl’s Jr. parking lot.

After attending a similar festival in Long Beach earlier that day, Nathalie De Los Santos and Maria Bolaños sat there and reflected on how Vancouver didn’t have anything like this — a place to celebrate Filipino culture and uplift the creatives that are part of it.

De Los Santos and Bolaños both work in the literary scene; they’re writers, and Bolaños is one of the co-founders of Sampaguita Press, a publishing house that prioritizes works by writers of marginalized identities. With their knowledge and experience, bringing this fantasy to life seemed like a logical next step.

Along with Dani Alcalde-Sidloski, the manager of independent bookstore Massy Books, they were able to get a grant from the BC Arts Council.

Now, the inaugural Filipino-Canadian Book Festival will run from July 12–14 at Joyce-Collingwood Neighbourhood House and Massy Arts Society. It will host a marketplace, book fair, workshops and open mics with authors — including UBC gender, race and social justice professor Dr. Chris Patterson (known more commonly in the literary world as Kawika Guillermo).

“It really came from three book nerds that used to talk on Instagram becoming friends in real life just running with an idea,” De Los Santos said.

Even though De Los Santos, Bolaños and Alcalde-Sidloski are the core organizing team, De Los Santos noted that the support of Massy Books was crucial in getting the festival off the ground. She found that it can be nearly impossible to find enough funding for a project of this scale without the help of a well-established organization.

Selecting Joyce-Collingwood as their location was a very intentional choice, given the area’s large population of Filipino residents. The organizers want to draw in people who might not usually seek out this kind of event — anyone who just happens to be walking a dog or wheeling a stroller through the neighbourhood.

By way of her Instagram account PilipinxPages, which highlights works by Filipino authors, De Los Santos had already created a strong online community of book lovers. But those who didn’t actively seek out this content were being left out.

“I always had this question in my mind: How do I reach the digitally excluded? How can I reach people who aren't in the literary scene?” she said.

“People who look my page up are looking for a very specific thing, but someone who has two jobs or four kids might not have the time to do that.”

This festival hopes to change that. There’s no need to have read a ton of Filipino literature, or be involved in the literary scene at all. Although the festival’s events lean towards a focus on education, the festival will still be fun and family-centric, De Los Santos said.

She recalled a conversation she had at a past fundraising event, with a father who struggled to find books for his kids that represented their heritage. Even the small table of resources that De Los Santos had put together made this task more manageable, he said.

And this festival does that on an even larger scale. By tracking down these resources and putting them all in one place (and organizing storytelling sessions led by children’s book authors), they’re making learning about one’s identity more accessible to everyone, even young readers.

Starting this festival from scratch was a massive undertaking for the small organizing team, so there’s still more they’d like to achieve in future years of what will hopefully become an annual event.

Longevity is a priority, since it’s important for creatives to have a consistent space to work out of and use to promote their work, and a place they can reliably come to for feedback on new material.

“It's kind of like, ‘Where can I talk to people about this 80,000 word manuscript?’” said De Los Santos. “Not everybody wants to read that, but if you're in a community that's very focused on that, it's going to be easier to ask for help.”

The organizers also hope to expand the scope of the festival to eventually feature creators of written art outside of books, like playwrights and podcasters.

With big names like Catherine Hernandez making appearances, crowds are to be expected. But the organizers hope to preserve a more intimate atmosphere than your average book signing; following her keynote, attendees are encouraged to sit down with Hernandez and share a meal, giving them a chance to ask questions and learn more about being a Filipino creative.

But there’s no pressure to say anything insightful or to want to learn about writing — if people only do so much as browse around and realize that Filipino-Canadian literature is real, De Los Santos will consider the project a success.

“We want the ability for that person to come in and feel like they're invited. It's a fun space where, even if you don't go into the panel, you can look at the books and be like, ‘Oh, I didn't know this book existed.’”

“I'm hoping people walk away with this cohesive view of what Filipino-Canadian literature looks like.”