LYSLEY TENORIO AT GREEN APPLE: the presence in absence of kuya

LYSLEY TENORIO AT GREEN APPLE: the presence in absence of kuya

Tuesday, February 7 2012

The beauty of this reading is that Tenorio reads one story, a single, solid story entitled “The Brothers.” Sixteen listeners (and hundreds more hardback books)—about all that can really fit in Green Apple Books‘ Granny Smith reading room—sit in rapt attention until the story’s last line. And, as one who generally suffers from functional ADD, I am hard-tethered by his careful prose: of brothers and the body, Doc Martens and drag queens and Catholic funeral novenas. “What started as praying,” he reads with a tiny bit of levity, “is now a dinner party.” Then, he says kuya. The word hits me in the gut and gets in my head. Who writes kuya in a story?

“’You’re a nice man, Kuya Edmond.’ Raquel reclines her seat, turns toward the window, like she’s watching the moon,” he reads, and just like that I’m already negotiating kuya. It’s not a word you hear at your average bookstore reading, even in San Francisco where Filipinos (and the Tagalog where the word kuya comes from) have a long and difficult history. Tenorio continues reading:

“Can I call you that? Kuya?” he says, and it’s in this moment that I realize that although I am a full-blooded Filipina, I’ve never called anyone kuya—not lovingly, not respectfully—not even my older brother who lives ten minutes from right here, Green Apple Books, and is… lost to me.

In Tagalog, kuya means brother, older brother. Who you call your kuya isn’t just anyone, and this is Tenorio’s point, too. But, then he’s saying something more: When a transsexual cocktail waitress who’s couch-surfing at your dead brother’s apartment asks if she can call you Kuya, you just might say, “Why not.” Tenorio’s Edmund does because, at this point in his life, he knows “no one else will” and Edmund’s brother Eric “never did.” In this debut collection, that is their story and mine: How do you still love a brother while also losing him?

– Evelyn Manangan-Price

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