This afternoon in an area of Santiago called Bellas Artes I was thrilled to find a piece of home. Bouncing from bookstore to bookstore in search of English translations of Latin American novels, I spotted a Spanish translation of Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado. It was buried under a stack of Allendes, Nerudas, and Fuguets.
The name of the bookstore carrying the Syjuco is Metales Pesados (Heavy Metals). It's on Jose Miguel de La Barra, reportedly Santiago's version of Castro Street. I was cruising—cruising for books—and it thus pleased me to encounter, for the first time since coming to Chile, something veritably Filipino, something unforeign. The memory of a story I'd read and reread, reasserting itself eleven thousand miles later. There is otherwise nothing here that can be described as being from home or of home: there is not a single Filipino restaurant, a single Filipino work of art, a single Filipino anything. More than once I have wondered if I may as well be living in another planet.
After asking the clerk the usual question of whether or not they sold novels in English (and getting the usual reply that no, he was sorry, they didn't), I made a point of showing him the Syjuco. “A novel by a Filipino,” I said (in my sorry Spanish), beaming with pride. “You and your customers ought to read it.” I placed the book on top of the stack, took a picture, and felt suddenly less transplanted than I had been these last few months.