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Justine Villanueva

Core Member

I trace my ancestral roots to Bukidnon, home of my paternal grandmother, Felipa Okit, descendant of Apu Mansaliwa of the Bukidnon tribe of Kalasungay. I am the third child of Julieta Li and Ernesto Villanueva. I was raised in Malaybalay, Bukidnon until I immigrated to the United States when I was sixteen. I now reside in the unceded Wintun-Patwin homeland, in Davis, California. 

My personal decolonization journey (though I didn’t call it that) started soon after I immigrated to the United States. I struggled to belong and feel connected to the new place and its people. I started learning about myself in the context of Philippine, United States, and world history. I also started learning about the babaylan tradition in the Philippines. When I had my first child, I wanted to pass along my language (Bisaya-Cebuano) and the ancestral stories I learned as a child and as an adult seeking ancestral reconnection. 

In 2016, I created Sawaga River Press. We publish award winning children’s books that feature Filipinx/a/o children in the diaspora. Sawaga River Press strives to help those who are yearning to reconnect with their cultural and historical roots, as well as to learn to belong in their present lands. The first Encyclopedia of Filipina/x/o American Studies features Sawaga River Press as a trailblazing children’s book press that publishes books by, about, and for the Fil-Am community. The Independent Book Publishers Association recently recognizes Sawaga River Press for demonstrating commitment to publishing excellence while telling stories of their communities.” 

Publishing books is my form of prayer for our collective healing and return to ourselves, to the collective kapwa which includes all of us, human and more-than-human kin. In Binukid, the indigenous language of Bukidnon, one of the words for healing is agkaulian. It is rooted in the word uli which means return. Thus, to heal is to return (to ourselves). 

I am very grateful to be part of CfBS to continue with this work of returning to ourselves.

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