As we celebrate Filipino American History Month this October, I couldn’t be more thrilled to share the incredible journey we embarked upon just two weeks ago. On September 20th, we launched “The Legend of Tessie Agana,” a book that not only tells the story of my beloved mother but also celebrates the rich cultural history of Filipino community. This month has been a whirlwind of emotions, love, and overwhelming support from friends and family.
Launch weekend was definitely one that will go down as my most memorable moments of my life.
Behind every successful venture, there’s a dedicated team, and I’m fortunate to call my family the ‘OG (original) roadies’ of the Tessie Agana book tour. My rock and supportive husband, Andy, along with our two boys, Chapman and Harris (who ‘celebrated’ his 13 birthday dinner at the airport food court!) My brother Roderick, forever an optimist and our ‘Uber’ driver, kept me calm throughout the weekend. My sister Michelle, my mother’s personal doctor/caregiver/stylist knew when I said we should do raffles, was the first to say ‘ok I’ll donate gift cards’ and yet, also my voice of reason. My brother Jun, always my right-hand man, who will take a last minute trip from LA to Chicago just for this! And finally, to complete our dream team, my beautiful niece Cassie, chatted with guests from the events.
Our very first book signing event was held at Barnes & Noble in Valparaiso, Indiana, just a stone’s throw from where I grew up in Northwest Indiana. The nerves were kicking in as we raced from the hotel to the signing location, and I was running late, a cardinal sin for event planners. With only 30 minutes to spare, I walked in to find an unexpected setup. However, with the help of the store manager and our dedicated crew, we transformed the kids’ section into our stage, complete with a Winnie the Pooh backdrop. As my brother Roderick aptly put it, “We made it work,” and that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Seeing family and high school friends we haven’t seen in decades just made it so much more extraordinary. A special shout out to the hotel front desk employee as they allowed us middle-age crew (along with Mama) to entertain friends and family that returned for the ‘after party’ at the hotel. You KNOW who you are!
Book Launch Party in Chicago
We stumbled out of bed the next morning for breakfast we coordinated with my aunt and cousins the following day. For those that heard my chapter, yes, I wore my workout clothes, a baseball hat and… ‘looked like my father’! After the fun conversation, we packed up our 3 cars, visited the cemetery where my grandparents and father were buried for a quick prayer, and drove to downtown Chicago for the official book launch party at the Rizal Center in Lakeview, a Filipino community center. Traffic was a challenge, but the venue itself was steeped in cultural history, making it the perfect backdrop for our celebration. It was nostalgic to return to a place we did the exact drive with my parents and grandparents attending events back in the 1980s.
The stage was adorned with American and Filipino flags, and the auditorium was decked out in Filipino décor, creating a perfect setting for our special day. My family and friends were in full force, setting up the décor, table settings, picture frames of my mom and grandmother, and candles. All of us donning our Filipino barongs honoring our heritage. The Marinduque Association of Chicago in USA (MACUSA) sponsored the event, and my cousins prepared delicious finger food. We even had a cake with the book cover design – it was both gorgeous and scrumptious.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the book launch weekend possible, from Auntie Marilou (Doo Doo) Green who hosted us in Indiana to Auntie Ching Manalo who coordinated the sponsorship. My cousins Nina, Lisa, and Cyndy were my first best friends forever, helping prepare all the food, and their husbands and kids always with a helping hand. Special shout out to my mother-in-law, Ginny Richardson, for reviewing and providing editorial support in the early stages. THANK YOU!
Weekend 2: Connecting in Arizona
The excitement continued in Arizona, where we had the pleasure of meeting the University of the Philippines group hosted by my dear friend Dr. Gailey Gonzales Ona at their beautiful Phoenix home. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with more Filipinos in the Arizona community while enjoying delicious, authentic Filipino food.
The other event took place at Barnes & Noble in Chandler, Arizona. Friends and family joined us on a sunny Sunday afternoon for another fantastic book signing. I had the chance to meet new fans of Tessie Agana and engage in a heartfelt Q&A, where tears flowed as we discussed the raw emotions from the book.
This journey started as a quest to learn more about my mother and grandmother’s lives, but it became so much more. At the heart of it all, we realized that, in the twilight years of life, we are judged by one thing: love. The outpouring of love and support we received throughout this book launch was beyond what I had imagined. Every person who walked through the door made our family and friends’ circle so much bigger.
To Mama Tessie and me, this book launch was a distant dream, and we did it! Everything else feels like a ‘bonus,’ and my heart is overflowing with gratitude. As we celebrate Filipino American History Month, let us remember that love is the powerful force that connects us all.