On Magic, Manang, and Mixing Code

Hello Friends and Fam,

We hope you are safe and well and making it through this truly difficult time.

I am pushing myself to write an update because I’m hoping that maybe something in this might spark some joy. Here goes.

We are slowly but steadily working towards our publishing date goal of October 2022. Holy Moly- that’s 4 months from now!!!!

Mark and Jo are now coloring the scenes. They said it took them a while to capture the feel of the story but they finally started to get a handle on it midway through the process of sketching and thumbnailing. When we met about a month ago, they showed their work for the second half of the manuscript and it showed a marked difference from the first half. I’m totally in love with the feel of magic and timelessness of their illustrations!!! Here’s a screenshot I took of my favorite scene, so far:

Although I wasn’t thinking of black and gold as a color theme for the book, after getting a glimpse of that one scene, I almost wonder how this book would look like if the whole book is illustrated in black and gold. It probably won’t work for the rest of the scenes but for this particular one, I think it’s perfect.

Another thing we’re grappling with is the storyteller character. When we brainstormed on who our storytellers were when we were growing up, the one character that we agreed on was our “manang.” When I asked other people what came to mind for them when they thought of a manang, many people said a manang is an older female, usually related by blood, who is wiser and takes care of others. Personally, the manangs I knew when I was growing up were our yayas or “helpers.” They were older (even though they were actually only in their late teens!) and responsible for taking care of us and keeping the household in order. And oh- the variety of stories our manangs told us, complete with sound effects and body gestures- from chismis of who’s doing what with whom, to balbal stories, to creation myths peppered with jesus christ references… I wish I had their talent for oral storytelling! Anyway. It seems that a manang, regardless of whether she’s related by blood or not, is a caregiver. So the challenge we have before us is how to illustrate a caregiving manang who is a storyteller. We’ve got quite a ways to go to figure this out. If you’ve got ideas, hit me up!

Lastly, we finalized the manuscript! In case I didn’t mention this before, like in our prior books, Mama, Mama and Jack & Agyu, we are incorporating Bisaya-Cebuano (the common everyday language in Bukidnon) and Binukid (the indigenous language of Bukidnon) in the manuscript. Except this time, we are not just providing translations. This time we’re exploring code switching and mixing. This is especially important as we emphasize the orality of the story through the use of a storyteller character. Although I don’t speak all three languages myself, I know that there are many who do and to be able to hear and read the seamless mixing and switching would be so celebratory! We put this story out there in the hopes of encouraging and creating more space for this kind of creative communicating. This is my prayer so that speaking our ancestral languages with our adopted languages on a daily basis becomes a regular part of our life in a world that allows our diversity to thrive. May it be so! I will be forever grateful for the help that the Bukidnon State University’s “Mungan Translation Team” extended to us. Thank you, Professors Rizza Ramos-Consad, Liza B. Yambagon, Rolyverb M. Sawalan, and Joann Ruth S. Paloma!

Team Mungan!

We’ve got a month or so to try to make our goal of publishing by October in time for Filipino American History Month celebrations like the Fil-Am Book Festival! We’re going to be hopeful…and work our butts to get there! Thank you for the support, everyone! Take good care


First Peek: Mungan, Mamas, and Siblings

Hello, Everyone!

It’s the last day of February and spring is (prematurely) here. All our trees are in bloom!

Thank you for dropping by.

We’re slowly proceeding with the creative process. As mentioned before, Mark and Jo had to deal with the aftermath of Typhoon Odette (aka Typhoon Rai) and needed some time to care for their family members and their family life. That’s our first priority so we will work around this.

But we do have some initial sketches of the mamas and the siblings and we’d love to share! (Credit: Happy Garaje)

(Kuya, Ate, and Manghud )
(Mungan and Lola)
(Mungan’s Mamas)

To be honest, I had a very different look in mind for these characters. I am still steeped in the cause of representation and creating more “brown skinned and black haired ” Fil-Am characters so that young Fil-Am readers could find themselves on the books they read and be able to say that the characters “look like me!” This, after all, is the main impetus and message of our most  recent book, Jack & Agyu.

When I first got these sketches, I immediately loved the whimsy and playful look of the siblings. They’re so charming and colorful and very distinct. But then I started thinking… What would it mean to have a Fil-Am children’s book that shows Fil-Am characters/kids that don’t have the expected Filipino visible markers like brown skin and black hair? Clearly, the story is about a Fil-Am family going through challenges and celebrating joys in a distinctly Filipino way, from cooking linagpang to practicing hilot and using talimughat to playing instruments like kulintang to speaking some Cebuano-Bisaya and some Binukid words/language. This really got me thinking about representation and diversity and the ways in which we further the conversation beyond the norm/usual.

So now- I’m setting aside my pre-conceived visual images for the characters and embracing the contribution of Mark and Jo to this process by way of their whimsical looking characters that are Filipino-American in its own authentic way.

If you have thoughts, let us know!

Sawaga River Press’ Mungan Campaign Reaches Goal+ Thank Yous +Typhoon Rai Fundraiser


Thank you, Kapwa, for helping us get to our goal, for believing in this story, for valuing diversity in children’s books, and for journeying with us to our collective healing and liberation.

Here are the people who have helped us get to our crowdfunding goal:

We’d also like to thank those who may not have given financially but have been instrumental in sharing our campaign with a wider audience.

Our friends at the Bukidnon Studies Center in Bukidnon, Philippines facilitated a pamuhat, a thanksgiving and permission-seeking ritual, on our behalf. Though we weren’t there physically, we were there in spirit.

(Datu Armando Tala during the pamuhat seeking the creator’s and our ancestors’ blessings for this project; and giving thanks for all our supporters.)

And in this video, Bukidnon Studies professor and expert, LIza Yambagon, explains the significance of the pamuhat.

Here is also a short thank you video from us.

As we post this update, super typhoon Odette/Rai has just hit central Philippines and left a lot of death and damage in its wake. Mungan illustrators Jo and Mark have been affected–their woodshed was destroyed–but are, fortunately, safe. If you’d like to donate towards the typhoon relief fund, we recommend donating to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON)’s bayanihan effort: http://tinyurl.com/2021typhoons.

Additionally,we will be helping raise funds through this livestream while talking about water related deities and myths with historian Kirby Araullo. Please join and/or donate, if you can.

Stay safe and be well, everyone. And please reach out if you have any questions, ideas, concerns, or if you just want to say hi.

Thank you again! Maraming salamat and Salamat tungkay!

Sawaga River Press’ Mungan Campaign Closes In One Week

Dear Relatives and Kapwa,

Happy December! May the rest of 2021 be full of joy.

We’re 1 week away from finishing our campaign. How fast time flew! As of today, we’re at $8,136 with 97 backers. Woohoo! Thank you, thank you.

Please watch our thank you video and listen to our reasons for doing what we do, including the hard work of crowdfunding.

Here are the backers from the last week or so.

Tomorrow, Bukidnon State University and the Bukidnon Studies Center will be holding a pamuhat for Mungan and Her Lola in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Philippines. A pamuhat is a Bukidnon ritual to give thanks to the creator, the land, and the ancestors for the gifts that have been received, and to seek permission for an endeavor. We will be joining the ritual by simultaneously setting aside the time and space here in the unceded Patwin-Wintun Yocha Dehe land, aka Davis, CA..

This Sunday, December 3, 11:00-2:00 PST, is the 5th Annual Social Justice Holiday Book Fair in Berkeley. We will be there to sell our books along with other amazing local and independent book makers. We hope to see some of of you there!

Sawaga River Press Closes Its Second Week Campaign for Mungan and Her Lola at 50%!

Hello Friends,

I can’t believe we’re in the midst of our crowdfunding campaign! For the longest time it felt like we were forever preparing for the launch: gathering our video and written testimonials, recording and editing our videos, writing our Indiegogo campaign narrative, cleaning up our website, creating images in Canva, starting the WordPress blog, learning Hootsuite and treelinks and updating our Twitter and Instagram accounts, writing press releases, creating tabs in our Mailchimp database and e-mail blasts…  

And then suddenly we’re in week two!

As of today, November 16, with 23 days to go, we’re at 50ish% of our $12,000 goal. Woohoo!

Here’s the link to our campaign:


And here’s a twitter post, if it’s easier to share:

Thank you to those who helped us put it togethers by providing testimonials, social media expertise, editing our copy, creating our videos, advising us on our strategy, and keeping us sane with offers of food and support at home.

Our Campaign Helpers

Thank you also to our supporters so far:

Week 1
Week 2

So much love went into the making of this campaign and we will not be doing this without your support!

Thank you!

Meet Sawaga River Press’ Videographer

I didn’t get to do a shout-out to our resident videographer so ’d like to do it now.

Friends, meet Charles Villanueva, aka Charlie, Chachi, Booboo, Monkey, Son. He is my eldest. He loves making silly videos (among many other things-you should see his elaborate Halloween costumes!) so I decided to hire him to make the campaign video for Mungan and Her Lola. I was worried that he wouldn’t but he readily followed my instructions and repeat requests to do this and that and this again and that again to get the video just so. I’m so happy to know we can work together without ruining our mother-son relationship 😊

When he came into this world, Charlie changed how I thought and lived. His presence urged me to dig deeper into my ancestral roots so I could find what is important to pass to him (and to his younger bro, Jack). When he was 5, his chattiness inspired our first book, Mama, Mama, Do You Know What I Like? He held up a sign to encourage people to fund our first crowdfunding campaign. Now he’s 13 and he’s making our videos for our latest book and giving me tips on how to grow our social media presence.

I just want to post this here and show him how much I appreciate him and love him for the kind, smart, creative powerhouse that he is.

Thank you, Charlie!

On Dreams, Books, and Babies

Hello, Friends,

I had this dream a few weeks ago. There’s no doubt it’s our Mungan and Lola book making its way into my dreamscape. In real life, I have two children Charlie (2008) and Jack (2011), my beloveds, my palangga. I also have published two books, Mama, Mama (2017) and Jack & Agyu (2019).

Jack and Charlie, 6mos and 3.5yrs

Below, I’d like to share my dream with you all.

I have a third baby. I am putting on his diaper and I’m having a hard time. I can’t seem to remember how to do it because it’s been a while since my last baby. I’ve put him on top of an ironing board and he almost falls.

“A third baby?” someone comments. “Are you crazy?” 

I say, “But I am proud of this baby. Look at how brown he is, very Filipino looking, and with thick black hair!”

A strangely dressed lady comes and spreads goo all over my baby. I worry she’s cursed him. 

I pick him up and run away. “Bless him, God, bless him,” I repeat while I run, clutching my baby. The God in nature, not the white colonial patriarchal god, I make sure to specify.

What do you think? Let me know if you’re moved to share. (But please don’t psychoanalyze this dream and tell me that I’m not proud of my multiiracial sons.)

On Why We Publish: Community Publishing as Prayer for our Collective Healing

I never thought of being a publisher. Until recently, I didn’t even know that one could be a publisher. When I was growing up in the Philippines, there were many professions I didn’t aspire for, professions that were outside of my lived reality: an author, a choreographer, a linguist. But I at least knew these kinds of people existed. A publisher, however… A publisher is not even a person, right? That’s like aspiring to be the hospital, not just a doctor, or to be the school, not just a teacher. To be a publisher is impossible.

When I published our first book, Mama, Mama, I learned that I was “self-publishing”, something that many people consider not really publishing but more of a vanity project that’s likely of poor quality. I didn’t care too much. I had no other agenda other than to write a story, in my first language (Bisaya), that would memorialize my fleeting time with my young sons who were then 5yo and 2yo. (See my journey here: MamaMama.net). So I decided to proceed with self-publishing. I wrote my story, raised money, hired an illustrator, worked with a printer, tapped a bunch of family and friends to help with different parts of the process, created a nonprofit small press, and learned a whole lot about the decades old struggle for “equity and diversity” in publishing.

When I published our second book, Jack & Agyu, I expanded on what I learned from Mama, Mama and also grew the network of people who, like me, believe in the value of telling our stories on our own terms. Jack & Agyu won two gold awards in 2020, one from the Publishing Professionals Network and the other from the Independent Book Publishers Association. And now, every once in a while, I get invited to speak at conferences, schools, universities, libraries, and other random events. Podcasts, too.

It felt right to publish my stories through the small press I created. My heart told me so. Yet, a small but niggling part of me remained tethered to the idea that publishing through our small press was not as legitimate as publishing with the traditional publishers. (How did they even become called “traditional”?) I doubted: our small press lacks the global/wider reach that traditional publishers have; we can only afford to sell 1,000 instead of 5,000 books; I could be writing stories instead of hustling—attending grueling book events, calling bookstores, driving around with boxes of books in my trunk, lining up at the post office to mail books…; I could say I’m published by Simon & Schuster versus by Sawaga (which sometimes get mistaken for Sewage!) River Press; and on and on…

So, to still the nagging thoughts, I decided to spend a couple of years learning the traditional publishing route. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and through it attended multiple conferences to gain insight on what agents, editors, and readers want. I paid for editorial critiques and opportunities to pitch my story at round table discussions. I joined the 12×12 group and goaled to write a story every month for a year while learning the business of publishing. I accepted the Twitter Pitch Party challenge. I looked up agents, paid for a Publisher’s Weekly subscription to read about the publishing market, learned how to write pitches and queries. I spent more money on workshops on how to land an agent. I’m sure I’m missing a few more things I’ve done (and spent money on, because every freaking lesson has a price tag!)

Here are the key things I feel grateful to have learned:

1.) Publishing IS a business. Everyone involved in it is in the business of selling books. Thus, you have to have a story that has a “commercial hook”. When you query a potential agent, give them your marketing points to help them sell your book to potential acquisition editors. If you’re a new author, they’ll consider your potential to sell. If you’re already a published author, your prior books’ sales numbers will matter. Don’t forget it: a big part of being published is whether your book will make the press money.  

2.) Agents, editors, all those gatekeepers, are people with their own unique wants, desires, world views, values, etc. Oftentimes, when they reject your work, they will nicely tell you that it’s not because your work is not good enough. It just means that you and that agent/editor/press/whatever don’t match. Don’t take the rejections personally and just keep writing. Eventually, you’ll find that one agent/editor that vibes with you, and your hard work will pay off. Until then, keep giving it your best.

3.) BIPOC writers, “diverse” stories are in so submit those stories (you wrote years and years ago). It’s finally time for them, and you, to shine! But careful with using different languages. “Too much” non-English can overwhelm and dismay those who don’t understand that language.

I present these lessons to you in the most diplomatic way possible. You don’t have to roll your eyes like I did every time I heard well intentioned people say these things.

Now. On to the good stuff. Below are the key things that have made it clearer to me that publishing our stories through our small press is the way to go.

1.) I may not be around tomorrow. I don’t have the luxury of being rejected for years on end. Today, while I’m alive, feels like a good day to write our stories and to hustle to get them out in the world.

2.) As for rejections, they’re not badges of some merit. Repeated rejections don’t make my stories better. I don’t have to get rejected 200 times before I can be deemed good enough to be published.

3.) I love to write. But I also love the hustle of publishing because it pushes me to reach out to and strengthen my relationships with my kapwa, create community, and be in this hard but joyful journey together to tell our stories and, in the process, heal the colonial wounds that manifest in our separation from our indigenous selves and ways of being. Publishing is my form of prayer for our collective healing.

(An herbalist friend told me this: The medicine is not just the product that you can buy at the store. An essential part of the medicine is in the process and the relationships that are sustained to create the medicine, itself. To attain the best healing results, you gotta take not just the pill/product but also partake in the process which most certainly requires being in right relationships with everyone involved. I think this applies to publishing as well.)

4.) Lastly, what I’m doing is not “self-publishing”. Clearly, I’m not the only one engaged in the process. I’m engaging my community to publish with me, stories about, by, and for us. There is sovereignty in this kind of publishing. Let’s call it what it is- community publishing. And it’s beautiful, regenerative, and liberatory.

So there. The reasons why I do what I do, why we do what we do.

Come join! Let’s publish and celebrate our stories together! It is not only possible but also essential to our healing.

Hello and Welcome!

Hello, World!

Welcome to our blog! Here you will find our updates, thoughts, chronicles of our journey as we spread our magic to publish our third children’s picture book tentatively titled “Afternoons with Mungan and her Lola”.

It took us a while to decide to publish this book. We thought we would try to get it published by another press. But, in the end, we decided there are more reasons to do it on our own. What reasons? I won’t go through them all but the main one is that we get to create and strengthen our relationships with the community, with YOU, if we do this! This, in my humble opinion, is the best reason to take on the difficulties and joys of community publishing. It is publishing about us, by us, for us. I call this “publishing sovereignty” and it’s awesome. (More on my thoughts about this in the next blog post.)

We’ve been stirring since about two months ago and I offer here some of the highlights:

The Story:

Lola is sad and Mungan is on a mission to find out why and to help Lola smile again. With the help of her family, Mungan taps into the Filipino rituals of care and, in the end, brings Lola’s smile back.

There’s more, a lot more, to this story than the summary I just gave. You’re just going to have to read it for yourself to feel the love. We daresay this story is beautiful, relatable, and highlights so many important issues central to the Fil-Am community, while being fun and joyful for young people to read.

Also, like our other books, this story features the Bisaya-Cebuano and Binukid languages and is anchored in the Bukidnon culture, specifically the main character, Mungan, who is named after the Babaylan in the Agyu ulaging/epics of Bukidnon.

And oh yeah… it’s written in the hay(na)ku format. If you don’t yet know what a hay(na)ku poem is, you’re in for a treat! Look it up while you wait for our book!

The Creative Team:

Husband and wife artistic duo, Jo and Mark, collectively known as Happy Garaje, are the illustrators. Their work is amazing! Check them out at HappyGaraje.com. You might know them as the illustrators of Kalipay and the Tiniest Tik-Tik by Sari-Sari Books. Jo and Mark are based in Cebu, Philippines and speak Bisaya-Cebuano, a fact that warms my heart so much because they understand and speak the Cebuano text in the manuscript. Of course, it’s not a requirement for the illustrators to understand or speak the featured languages of the book (i.e. Bisaya-Cebuano and Binukid) but it sure is a big bonus point.

Stefanie Liang-Chung joins us again to design the book. Stefanie did such an awesome job with Jack & Agyu and was instrumental in our garnering the Publishing Professionals Network 2020 Book Show’s Gold Award for Best in Design in the Children’s Book category and the 2020 Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Children’s Book.

I, Justine Villanueva, wrote the story. It is culled from the lessons I’ve learned in my journey to decolonize and is shaped by my lived experiences as a Fil-Am living in the diaspora. I dedicate this story to all the lolas in the world for all their love and care.


We aim to release the book in the fall of 2022, around September or October, just in time to celebrate Filipino American History Month in October.


As with our first two books, we will be crowdfunding this project. We believe this is part of the fun of creating the book. We get to reach out to you in our community and join forces with you to tell narratives based on our indigenous ways of being, stories that will hopefully help our young ones navigate their way and help create alternative ways of being and living in right relationship with the land and our ancestors.

SO, please be on the lookout for our crowdfunding campaign set to go live Oct. 20!

Our Supporters:

In the meantime, we are reaching out to people in the Fil-Am community who might be willing to lend us their support through blurbs or video and audio clips for the crowdfunding promo video. If this could be you, please let me know! We will feature our specific supporters in the next posts.

Our Invitation:

We’re so looking forward to this journey and we hope you’ll come along with us. It will be beautiful, healing, and we will learn a lot!

Should you feel like getting in touch, we’re at LibroPST@gmail.com and our press’ website is SawagaRiverPress.com (which is going to be under construction soon, so please be patient).

THANK YOU! SALAMAT TUNGKAY! Till the next update. Be safe.