Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
Two of the principal, interrelated themes of Elaine Castillo’s novel are trauma and recovery. These specifically apply to Hero (Gerónima) de Vera, the protagonist, who is recovering from the trauma of incarceration after serving as a medic with an Asian insurgent group, but they also apply to those whom she tries to help. Whether in the Philippines or the United States, the characters have suffered psychological and emotional wounds as well as physical injuries. Another tightly connected theme is the price people pay for revealing or exposing those wounds. The question of home and belonging, or the theme of insider and outsider status, recurs both in nationality and sexuality, including coming out as bisexual.
Hero’s new American life with her uncle, Pol, and his daughter, Roni, seems initially that it will allow her to recover from such injuries—two broken thumbs. While she finds a place in their home and among their friends, it soon turns out that Pol has his own traumas, including the separation from Roni’s mother, Paz. His “solution” is to illegally move the child to the Philippines. From her overseas vantage point as well, Hero can better see her parents’ trauma, as their alienation from their own indigenous heritages had pushed them toward the respectability she had spurned. This recognition in turn helps her understand Paz and the rift with Pol that grew out of their U.S. alien status.
Identity also intersects with language; while not figuring as a primary issue, several Philippine languages—Tagalog, Pangasinan, and Ilocano—are interspersed with English, providing a realistic sense of dialogue amongst the speakers. Continued use in America, including by Roni, who does not distinguish between her parents’ different languages, forms a subtext for the theme of outsiders’ difference. Deploying the insider/outsider theme through Hero’s growing love for Rosalyn at times seems more of a parallel love story that is not fully integrated with the immigration and recovery themes.