[PARTNER] Real Housewives of the Mail-Order Trade

The aging, barrel-chested American dandled a Filipina on each knee, sausage-thick fingers stroking his two companions’ hips. The girls looked like teenagers in their teeny shorts, tank tops and matching ten-gallon cowboy hats. Never saying a word, they grinned at the camera as their beefy human chair raved about his Philippine experience.

“Can’t tell you how much fun this trip has been. Food’s good, beaches are great and the women are terrific!” The girls giggled on cue as he rambled on.

This video typified the satisfied client endorsements posted for a matchmaking website, one of many I found on the Internet while researching The Mango Bride (Penguin, 2013).

Though I began writing my novel in 2008, I actually stumbled upon the transnational dating industry a decade earlier in the classified ads of a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper. The headline blared “Meet lovely Filipina pen pals and visit them in Cebu, Philippines.”

The website offered a gallery of women and thrice yearly tours to the Philippines to meet and possibly affiance oneself to a lovely local. Bachelors could browse through the catalogue and click on the option “add to cart,” the same way one buys sneakers or pots on eBay. A single address cost $10.00, but if one bought in bulk (35-50 names), the price dropped to $3.00 per pen pal.

Cheaper than a six-pack of Coors -- who could beat that?

Back in 1999, the Internet was relatively new, so suitors corresponded via snail mail. Matchmakers encouraged them to enclose a dollar bill in each letter, explaining it was considered “courteous” to pay the postage cost of the woman’s reply.

Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist Troy Espera reported that between 1999-2010, the number of marriage brokering agencies doubled from 200 to 400. In that same period, marriages contracted through those agencies more than tripled, from 4,000 to 15,000.

Years later I saw how some love matches could come awry when I did phone interpretation for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It was impossible to guess if these Filipinas had gone through a matchmaking service, but their situations followed the same disturbing pattern: a controlling American husband who forbade them from driving or finding jobs; threatened deportation; then abused them physically and emotionally.

Those distraught calls eventually breathed life into Beverly, a central character who suffers similar torment in The Mango Bride.

More voices chimed in after the novel was published. Women wrote to say they or a friend had endured domestic violence as immigrant wives. Their letters suggested The Mango Bride could grow into something larger than an entertaining novel.

After asking around the nonprofit community, I connected with immigration lawyer Anne S. Bautista. Since founding the VAWA Legal Program at Access, Inc. in 1997, Bautista has helped thousands of women and children gain legal residency under the Violence Against Women Act. Through her work, Bautista saves women like Beverly every day. It became clear that supporting this program was the logical sequel to my novel.

With the help of Event Coordinator Susan McBeth, founder of Adventures by the Book, we conceived Saving Beverly: A Fundraising Dinner Adventure. The event aims to raise money for the VAWA Legal Program, which operates largely on grant money that Bautista applies for every year.

At this point serendipity brought a third player into the mix. American Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas so enjoyed The Mango Bride last year that he offered to host a reading at his residence in the final week of my Manila book tour. The dinner was cancelled by Typhoon Maring, but we met months later when the book tour landed in Arizona. By then Ambassador Thomas’s term in the Philippines had ended and by sheer coincidence he had begun lecturing at Arizona State University as diplomat in residence while awaiting his next post.

Through his years of service in Asia, Ambassador Thomas promoted programs that empowered women and young girls. He readily accepted our invitation to speak at the fundraiser. Co-sponsored by California Western School of Law, the literary fundraising adventure will unfold on October 3 at the University of San Diego’s Joan Kroc Center for Peace and Justice.

Funny what one sleazy newspaper ad can lead a girl to do.

For those of you who begged for a sequel to The Mango Bride, here it is. If you want to participate in composing a real-life happy ending for The Mango Bride, please join us on October 3, 2014.

Tickets to the event may be purchased by clicking on the link below:

http://www.adventuresbythebook.com/autherevent/saving-beverly-a-fundraising-dinner-adventure-with-u-s-ambassador-to-the-philippines-harry-thomas-and-award-winning-author-marivi-soliven/ )