Shirley Camia launches book in Vancouver

Shirley Camia’s The Significance of Moths honours women

By Ted Alcuitas

While the author’s motivation to write this book of poetry was the memory of her grandmother, it is also a tribute to the thousands of Filipino women recruited to work in the garment factories of Winnipeg during the 70’s.

Winnipeg-born Shirley Camia launched The Significance of Moths (Turnstone Press) in Vancouver on October 8 as part of literASIAN, a festival organized by the Asian Canadian Writer’s Workshop Society.

“I remember it still, the way the starchy lace collar on my dress scratched at my neck, the way my fragile grandmother, my lola in Tagalog, sat stoically to receive a kiss that didn’t come, the way I was afraid to touch her because she might break, afraid because she had become intimate with the ghosts of death. My mother and I were returning to Winnipeg after a two-month vacation in the Philippines. We had gone to visit my lola, and I was too afraid to say goodbye. I was seven years old,” the now Toronto-based Camia writes about what spawned the book.

The regret that she was not able to say goodbye to her lola haunted her throughout her life. She remembers her own mother’s story about a Filipino superstition that when a person dies and a moth appears, that means the deceased is still with us, her spirit taking shape in the form of the winged creature like memories, hence the title The Significance of Moths.

However, it was not only the memory of his lola, but also other remembrances that have affected her growing up as a child of immigrant parents.

“My second collection of poems is the result of those memories that I have collected, which have affected me in some subtle, and not-so-subtle ways, as a child of Filipino immigrants straddling two worlds, trying to forge a future while remaining deeply rooted to the past.

“By writing this book I had hoped to answer a number of questions, questions that many children of migrants, and migrants themselves, grapple with surrounding identity and sense of place: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Where is home? What is home? (To be honest, my answers remain fluid and the process of writing this collection has yielded even more questions than answers.)”

The book also recognizes the struggles of the many Filipino women who worked at the garment factories of Winnipeg during the 70s. Camia says the women were an inspiration to her as she was writing the book and researching for a master’s thesis at the same time.

“This book is a tribute to them, as well as all those struggling to carve out identities in a new place, but enveloped by the old. Feet on one land, mind on another.”

Camia is a broadcast journalist. She has covered stories of local, national, and international interest to Canadians for CBC Radio in Winnipeg, Toronto, Iqaluit, and Newfoundland.