The TNT immigrant as the invisible ‘Multo’

By Allen Gaborro

With the passage of time, the Filipino immigrant experience in America has developed into a paradigmatic theme for Filipino and Filipino American novelists. Prominent writers such as Carlos Bulosan, Jessica Hagedorn, Bienvenido Santos, Elaine Castillo, and Mia Alvar have made it their literary missions to articulate the U.S.-Philippine relationship from the standpoint of the Filipinos who traveled across the Pacific to pursue the American Dream.

“Multo” by Sacramento, California-based Filipino American author Cindy Fazzi is among the latest endowments to the anthology of Filipino immigrant narratives. Like the Filipino American writers that came before her, Fazzi sets out to preserve the sober realism and intimate humanism of the immigrant tale.

“Multo” takes as its overriding subject the immigrant diaspora as it is lived from the weltanschauungs of two Filipino protagonists in the United States starting in the late 1990s and extending into the new millennium. 

There is the Filipino American Domingo, a middle-aged, former immigrant himself. Domingo is an established “bounty hunter” but not quite in the sense that people might automatically think. Domingo does go after lawbreakers, but his specialty is capturing unauthorized immigrants. He is commissioned to find Fazzi’s other main character, Monica Reed.

Unlike Domingo, Reed is half-Caucasian, half-Filipino. The lovechild of an ex-U.S. general and a deceased Filipina, the attractive and stouthearted Monica has a gripping story of her own to pursue, not just one about yet another hopeful immigrant from the Philippines but one that turns out to be unpredictable and existentially perilous as it is fateful.

For the duration of Fazzi’s novel, we never fail to grasp the plight of the immigrant. Whether it is the fictitious Monica Reed or a real-life newcomer to America, all immigrants (legal or otherwise) face the pressure of earning the complete acceptance of the host country. So much so that they risk exclusion from the mainstream. 

In other words, many Filipino immigrants have to overcome “invisibility,” hence the title of Fazzi’s book. “Multo” translates from Tagalog into “ghost” in English. 

Author Cindy Fazzi. Mystery and suspense in her immigrant fiction. Photo:

Fazzi explains: “Undocumented immigrants, like ghosts, can be invisible. Some people can see them as clearly as the little kid in ‘The Sixth Sense’ can see Bruce Willis. Others simply can’t or won’t. Ghosts can appear or disappear, just like immigrants on the run.”

Moreover: “Desperate hopefuls had no legal status in this country, no presence, no voice. They were nothing.”

Throwing herself into the divisive and demanding reality that America can be, Monica Reed becomes a prisoner of her status as an undocumented alien—a “multo”—as Domingo tirelessly tracks her whereabouts. But locating and apprehending Monica is anything but business as usual for Domingo. It not only takes a triple effort for him to finally succeed, making Monica the first “tago ng tago” (Filipino illegal immigrant)—indeed the first of any nationality—to get away from him. Domingo actually begins to commiserate with her.

Afforded to us by way of Fazzi’s dramatically suitable prose—of which it must be said its ability to captivate aesthetic tastes, as well as stimulate the collective consciousness of narrower minds, is somewhat diminished by being stylistically light and conveniently immediate—“Multo’s” plot thickens as Monica endeavors to discover the truth about the man she believes could be her biological father, General Reed.

The strength of Fazzi’s finished article is the inspired originality of her version of the immigrant story, a story which includes intriguing supporting characters and a few twists and turns that are bound to catch anyone off guard. 

Mystery, suspense, tension, moments of despair, and the darkest depths of human behavior coexist with the most benevolent and charitable of actions and terms of endearment in Cindy Fazzi’s book. How “Multo” plays out the immigrant journey with these elements is a credit to the author’s creative ingenuity and predilection for social awareness.

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(C) The FilAm 2023

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