THE BLOG
07/01/2013 05:47 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

Mail-Order Brides, Scandal, Shame and Immigration

Why do people immigrate, leave their homeland and loved ones, to be a stranger in another land? The Mango Bride tells part of the story, through the lives of two Filipino women forced into exile by circumstances of their birth and dictates of Philippine culture. The novel is an engrossing telenovela which captures the melodrama and emotionalism of Filipino life, while putting the spotlight on the country's harsh socio-economic realities and debilitating cultural traits.

Amparo Guerrero, a daughter of privilege, has a secure future among the elite until she brings disgrace to the Guerrero clan. Señora Concha, the matriarch who values her place in society and reputation above all else, sends her only daughter to ride it out in California. Concha was not going to allow the iskandalo, scandal, to bring shame, hiya, to the family name.

Beverly Obejas, a child of the struggling masses, sees no future as she subsists on serving Manila's upper crust. She signs up with a mail-order bride service, seeing marriage to a much older American as her only way out. She makes herself believe that Prince Charming, albeit older, will pick her among the thousands of other aspiring to-order brides and whisk her away to live happily and prosperously ever after in America. In California, her life is far from charmed and has its own iskandalo. Out of hiya, however, she bears her lot.

Iskandalo and hiya, wealth and class, bring Amparo and Beverly together in Oakland but something else has long bound the women's fates. They are both mestizas, light-skinned with European features, traits valued by most Filipinos. Even Beverly benefits from the deeply ingrained colorism afflicting the former Spanish colony and product of Hollywood and Washington. This internalized racism opens doors to Filipinos who aspire social mobility and ensconces those who are fortunate to be born among the affluent few. Amparo and Beverly's slender noses and widows peaks distinguish them and binds them in ways they do not expect.

The author, Marivi Soliven, succeeds in telling a story that will keep readers entertained and glued through the end. But she also manages to explain why Filipinos emigrate to America. Most, like Beverly, come with hopes of a better life for themselves and the loved ones they left behind. This was the impetus for men who worked the canneries of Alaska and the fields of California in the early 20th century. It spurs women today to leave their own children to be nannies and caregivers. A few, like Amparo, are exiled for breaking societal rules, or choose to escape stifling mores to be free to determine their own path.

Why do people come to America? "Those who run to America are only trying to escape their lives here," says Beverly's aunt. Some arrive to start anew. Amparo, facing her exile, is comforted by her own aunt,"Hija, think of this next year as your chance to make a fresh start. No one cares about the past in America. It's where people go to reinvent themselves."