Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio Honors Fil-Can Diaspora With Debut Book Reuniting With Strangers

Jenillee Austria-Bonifacio Reuniting With Strangers
Jennilee poses proudly with her debut book, Reuniting With Strangers. ©Edited by Qjiel Mariano

They say the ultimate goal of a settlement worker is to help you feel settled. This is true for authors like Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio, a Filipina-Canadian who dedicates her debut book Reuniting With Strangers to decades of work with newcomers in Canada.

Reuniting With Strangers is a collection of nine stories of the Filipino-Canadian diaspora interconnected with a common denominator, a non-verbal 5-year-old boy named Monolith. Dubbed as one of 2023’s best Canadian Fiction books by CBC, It is a touching story that would make one miss home whether it be in Montreal or the Philippines.

Putting Decades Of Passionate Work Into Writing

Canadian-born Jennilee has always been the type of person to write everything down so being an author is second nature. Bonifacio worked as a Settlement Worker where she assisted children in schools. “I always knew that one day I would author a book,” she said energetically. Her decades of experience assisting newcomers to Canada helped shape the narratives of the story in her book.

Migrating to Canada is not the typical golden ticket story we read on the internet. Jennilee shares the struggles of newcomers in adjusting to a new environment. “Newcomers would say that they have no family or that money is hard to earn,” she shares. “This would translate differently to their children who are struggling differently in school” she continued.

The book is specially dedicated to one of her colleagues’ experiences with a family. “There used to be a newcomer child who would throw tantrums to the point police would have to put him on a straitjacket just to restrain him,” Jennilee shares. She wondered what led to this happening, “Why was this boy so angry? Is it because he’s no longer in the Philippines? How is the mother?” she continued. While Bonifacio would not meet this child, it would resonate for years to come as a symbol for her book.

A touching tale is a love letter for the Philippines

A proud Filipina, she would experience the book’s vivid images in real life such as squeezing herself in the crowded Quiapo Church and visiting museums.

“When you grow up in Canada, there is so much about the Philippines you want to learn,” shares Bonifacio. Jennilee researched extensively both the Filipino diaspora and her heritage in crafting her book. Many elements feature common Filipino settings and practices such as a church in a plaza or the touching of the feet of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church.

She would visit the Philippines numerous times and capture different elements for her book. Among her favorite experiences is visiting the Batangas City Museum in her hometown where she saw paintings of her ancestors in the exhibit. “I saw the pictures of my Lolo’s brother who used to be a mayor in this city,” she recounts. “I have never been able to go to a museum and see my family in the walls” she shared enthusiastically.

Periodically, things change and this is what excites Jennilee the most. “Each visit brought me a new experience to tell to the audience,” she said. This is a testament to Jennilee’s commitment to making “Reuniting With Strangers” close to the lived experiences of Filipinos be it in the Philippines or Canada.

Jennilee has been a big part of the Filipino community in Canada. Images belong to respective owners. ©Edited by Qjiel Mariano

The Perfect Time To Tell Stories Is Now

All Filipino stories are worth sharing. This is Jennilee Bonifacio’s message to all readers, dreamers, and storytellers out there. “Now is the best time to tell these stories of sacrifice. Whether it is at bedtime to your kids, at the dinner table, or even just at bedtime,” she shared in our interview. Not once did she ever lose her energetic smile.

Bonifacio would travel to Vancouver, Montreal, Ontario, and beyond to launch her book. Many lives have been touched and many traumas have been comforted. I got the chance to meet her in Toronto for her book launching and her energy is as palpable as it is in Zoom.

Jennilee has the natural ability to bring out the best in others. Her book launching in Toronto also featured Filipino-Canadian creatives like Jaisa Sulit (Purpose in Paralysis), Motzie Dapul (Hi Nay Podcast), Shirley Camia (The Significance of Moths), and more! Each was given the opportunity to read an excerpt from their work at the event.

Reuniting With Strangers is available for purchase through many mediums and you may visit Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio’s website for more information (https://jennileeaustriabonifacio.com/reuniting) “‌”)

READ MORE from Qjiel Mariano here:

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Qjiel Mariano is a Youth Council Member of the Joint SDG Fund and a Global Public Health advocate from the Philippines. He is passionate about amplifying the voices of young people and bridging opportunities for them to contribute to the greater good. Like every other youth, he enjoys anime, pop culture, food, and sitcoms. His favorite quote is by sir Allen Saraza “Sa bawat padayon, huwag kalimutan mag-pahuway” which translates to "Whenever you keep going, do not forget to rest.”