By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly
Novelist and teacher Peter Bacho believes everybody has a story to tell. The Filipino American recalls his own humble beginnings, growing up poor in Seattle’s Central District in the 1950s. A juris doctorate, a master’s degree and two award-winning novels later, Bacho is now being honored as a pioneer who paved the way for Asian Americans in literature.
Bacho’s personal story is a far cry from a fairy tale, but it encompasses all the elements of a great narrative: struggle, courage and redemption.
His father immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. His mother followed after they wed in the Philippines in 1949. The couple started a family, settling down in a predominantly Black and Filipino neighborhood in Seattle. Bacho’s father was a migratory worker who often left Seattle during the summers to work in the canneries in Alaska. The family struggled to get by, but Bacho says their adversity gave them strength.
“We started out very poor,” he said.
“Despite our humble circumstances, we had a powerful sense of belonging to both an ethnic group and a class.”
His parents’ hard work and perseverance allowed Bacho to focus on his studies, which was where he excelled. He graduated summa cum laude from Seattle University in 1971, then attended law school at the University of Washington, where he earned both a juris doctorate and later, a master of laws.
Over the years, Bacho worked as an attorney and journalist, but he ultimately gave in to his fascination for a different discipline: Asian American studies.
Bacho took up teaching jobs at college campuses across the Seattle-Tacoma area, teaching both ethnic studies and writing classes. Investigating the plight of his people suddenly became his passion.
“I have a great empathy for folks that are hustling to make it, who must always knock down barriers of class and race, and this is reflected in my work,” he said.
Bacho put his passion onto paper. His groundbreaking first novel, “Cebu,” won the American Book Award in 1992. The fiction revolves around a young Filipino American priest from Seattle who travels to the Philippines to attend his mother’s funeral. During his trip, he uncovers the harsh realities of the country’s past and learns how it has shaped his life in the States. The Catholic priest also finds himself in a spiritual crisis after falling under the spell of a seductive woman.
Bacho’s second book, “Dark Blue Suit,” is a collection of short stories. Like “Cebu,” it explores the conflict in cultures between Filipinos and Filipino Americans. The book received much acclaim and won a Washington Governor’s Award for fiction in 1998.
Today, Bacho dedicates his time and energy to encouraging young writers to think critically about culture and express their thoughts through writing. He is currently visiting professor at The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus, teaching a variety of courses.
Bacho has come a long way from his meager upbringing in the Central District. He has become a person rich in his appreciation of his roots. Bacho believes a great way for younger generations to honor the legacies of their ancestors is to pick up a book.
If there’s any moral to the story of Bacho’s life, it would be that turning a page can open many doors. ♦
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