Making children’s storybooks for Filipinos in America


By Anna Ven Sobrevinas

C.S. Lewis once said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Carol Cabrera aims to do the same for Filipino-Americans, both children and kids at heart.

An NYU graduate student, Cabrera’s storybook project started as a thesis that became a yearning for cultural change. None of the bookstores she went to for research carried a Filipino children’s storybook. One even suggested if she can have them delivered from the Philippines.

“I have begun a thesis project that I hope lives far beyond my time here in New York City,” said Cabrera. “I want to work with underrepresented communities and artists of color, to collect and share stories missing from our bookstores and libraries.”

As a child, she adored playing with her Barbie doll but knew she could never be her.

At 26, she ordered Cora Cooks Pancit, and,for the first time,thought the illustrated character looked like her.

“I’m interested in dynamic characters of color,” she said. “I think the earlier we start, the better, and I think children’s storybooks are the best place to start.”

Currently working on a version of the Philippine creation story Si Malakas at Si Maganda, Cabrera needed input from community members of all ages and nationalities.

On March 13 she held a storytelling event in Chula Vista, California, for participants to give feedback before the story gets published. Feedback will also be useful for the English and Tagalog translations.
“It went very well– a huge turnout and a lot of excitement was generated around the project,” she said. “Today was really magical seeing little kids and young adults listening attentively to the elders and valuing what they were saying and to see the elders tell stories with pride and purpose.”

Cabrera’s mother, Elenita, said she and her husband always brainstorm with their children, whether it be decision-making or their passions.

“She’s asking the community, instead of just family, to evolve the stories,” said Elenita. “Everyone is interested because if we have something in writing, we pass on the legacy.”

Despite some A-list Black actors decrying the lack of diversity and discrimination, Asian jokes were still made at this year’s Oscars, and Cabrera pointed out the dangerous stereotype of Asians being a “model minority.”

“The idea that Asians are the ‘good’ minority because we don’t cause controversy or speak up is a stereotype that I want to shatter,” she said. “There are many of us with opinions, causes we want to fight for, and ways we plan on fighting the dominant narrative that exists.”

Juanito Amor Jr., Voter Outreach Coordinator for the County of San Diego, said Filipinos need more representation and Cabrera is a good example.

“Being an author, being a publicist is so important for the community because who’s going to tell our story?” said Amor. “It is always important for us to have somebody to look up to and eventually be them or be better than them. Be a better Kuya Amor, be a better Ate Carol.”

Monique Garcia, Vice-president of San Diego-based student organization Pagkakaisa, saidthe event was a concise and condensed way of learning about her roots.

“I feel as vice president, for one, I’m here today to carry out the mission statement of giving back to your community ‘causeit raised you,” said Garcia. “I have love for my community and this is the easiest way to give back and say ‘I love you too,’ like giving back my support and my time to help someone like Carol doing her thing.”

Details of Cabrera’s second collaborative storytelling event at the Charity Wings Art & Crafts Center in San Marcos, California can be found at #invisiblestorybook.

“I’m interested in making stories in collaboration with the community and so I hope that all my work in the future is always in collaboration with a group of people,” she said. “I want it to be about the Filipino-American community forging a unique identity in the changing landscape of what it means to be American.”