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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 17, 2006

When Filipino grandparents move in, 'Oracles' takes over

By Wanda Adams
Advertiser Books Editor

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"The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America"

In bookstores on Oct. 1. Until then, it's available at www .heyday books.com. Or you can preorder the book from www.amazon.com.

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Pati Poblete was a happy latchkey kid, watching "The Brady Bunch" every afternoon on TV and making herself after-school snacks until her parents came home from work. Then along came her little brother and, shortly afterward, a solution to the problem of who would take care of him: Her parents would bring her maternal grandmother from the Philippines to act as nanny. Eventually, all four of her grandparents would come to live with the family in their Livermore, Calif., home.

Like many Asian kids under the influence of American pop culture, Poblete had occupied herself with a fantasy life in which she imagined herself a vivacious blond with a stay-at-home mom, friends called Sabrina and Kelly, a busy social schedule and a new name: Heather.

Enter Grandma Fausta, Grandpa Paterno, Grandpa Sunday and Grandma Patricia, the grandparents she named, collectively, "The Oracles."

"One by one they came," Poblete writes "changing the flavors of my food, the aromas in my home, the thoughts in my mind."

In this compact memoir, which will be in bookstores Oct. 1, Poblete (an award-winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist who has just joined The Advertiser editorial page staff) captures first-generation Filipino-Americans' confused relationship with their parents' birth culture.

With Grandma Fausta comes a group of expectations that strike the thoroughly modern Pati as absurd: Clothes and floors must be washed by hand (machines and mops don't work). Wives must cook dinner each night or their husbands will beat them. Children shouldn't look their elders in the face, let alone speak with defiance. She writhes as her grandparents eat with their fingers, dress her in unfashionable clothes, send her to school with fermented fish-and-rice lunches and literally chase away a prospective boyfriend.

But this wouldn't be a book if the protagonist didn't learn something and, despite her resistance, Poblete eventually recognizes the values this colorful quartet has taught her: discipline, love, laughter, industry, devotion to family. And though it was often crazy-making to live a life poised between two cultures, it was an upbringing that helped prepare her for her adult career (first female Filipino-American columnist for a mainstream newspaper; manager of a reporting team covering race issues), and that, more important, opened her heart.

This well-written book makes its point with ease and grace and might help teenagers of immigrant families gain perspective on cross-cultural issues and the process of acculturation.