Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Hollywood: A Tribute to Filipino Nannies

"Stylists gesticulated with blow-dryers at reflections of sphinx-faced women who gazed severely at themselves. A grandmother endured an intricate highlighting job next to a teenager sitting stiff in her chair. A dread filled me seeing them, so hopeful and so willing."  Sounds like The Real Housewives of Orange County?  Thank God, only in a few lines.

For someone who received a grant from Guggenheim and a slew of prestigious writing awards, the author, Mona Simpson, would not write anything less than a good book. I am happy to note that her book, My Hollywood, is in line with my first blog, Shaping the World One Stroller at a Time.

Claire, a composer and a new mother moves to L.A. from New York so her husband Paul can fulfill his ambition to become a successful writer for television comedy. They decide to hire Lola, a fifty-two-year-old Filipino nanny to take care of their baby, William. Lola becomes not only a caregiver to Will but a friend to Claire who is increasingly becoming unhappy with her life in Hollywood. Who wouldn't be?

The story is told with chapters alternating between Claire and Lola. The unique feature of the book is that the chapters on Lola is written in a Filipino-broken-English way with familiar sounding idioms and phrases. For instance, Lola says in one of the chapters, "What time I can go.....When I first came the house, I was surprised because it was small small.....After Laura goes to sleep, I will ask advance." Claire would say in one of the chapters, "Excuse, I said, without the 'me', a little homage to Lola."

It was choppy to read at first but proved to very effective in getting the author's message across. It was like watching a movie that had Claire narrating her part in American English and Lola in Filipino-nanny-English. If this was her objective, Mona Simpson nailed it.

I found it very entertaining to imagine how an American author pulled it all together, even managing to extricate the word "bokal" from oblivion when Lola described the husband of one of her friends. She even inserted a recipe for buko pie in one of the chapters. 

However, if the author asked me for advice, I would have told her that because Lola comes from an educated family, she should at least be able to write grammatically correct sentences, especially with a husband who works as an executive for Hallmark greeting cards in Manila. However, this detail does not diminish the overall effect.

It is not surprising that reviews from readers ranged from the "not interesting enough" on one end to the likes of "absorbing and enlightening to read" on the other. I guess the former came from readers who likely would be more interested in dishy reality shows and the latter from those who could read between the lines, and also, who are able to identify with Claire as a sensitive mother, wife, and employer or Lola as a sensible mother, friend, and nanny.

I say it is an interesting read because of the author's honest take on what really happens inside households of rich American families, especially celebrities in Hollywood, who learn to appreciate the unshakable values, genuine care, and hard work of their Filipino nannies, so much so that they become indispensable. Like what Lola says, “My employer, she says when a baby comes home from the hospital, a Filipina should arrive with him.”

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