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Author Interview: Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 29, 2009.

I am BURSTING with a lot of pride again today. Today I am chatting with Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, author of the picture book Cora Cooks Pancit (illustrated by Kristi Valiant and published by Shen's Books this year). :D

Hi, Dorina! Welcome! Can you please tell us about your Asian American heritage?

I am a second generation Filipino-Italian American. My grandparents on my dad’s side emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii. My grandpa, Frank Lazo, emigrated when he was a teenager to Hawaii where he later met his bride, Cora Taclindo. As I was growing up my grandparents and my dad were my link to my Asian heritage. My grandparents were instrumental in helping many other family members immigrate to the United States from the Philippines. They adopted the Hawaiian spirit of aloha and embraced people of all cultures. They celebrated both Filipino and Hawaiian culture through food, music and dance, passing this heritage on to the next generations.

What motivates you to write books for children?

I have wanted to write books for children since I was a child. Today, I am motivated by the idea that children need to see themselves in books. I grew up in a multicultural family and I believe there is a need for today’s young reader to have more exposure to multicultural stories and books with multi-ethnic protagonists. I also write books because I love my own children and desire to create stories they can treasure in the future.

What inspired you to write Cora Cooks Pancit? Why did you choose pancit over all the other yummy Filipino dishes?

I love to cook and consider myself an (amateur) multicultural chef. I originally set out to write a cookbook about traditional foods made in different cultures. I interviewed many people and families in my community. One woman I interviewed in Fresno was Rebecca Torosian. She is a Filipina married to an Armenian and she and her husband own Tory Farms. Rebecca told me some of her family’s heritage and about her father being a cook for the Filipino farmworkers. I used pieces of Rebecca’s story and fused it with my own experience growing up in the kitchen with my grandma Cora. Grandma’s specialties were pancit, chicken adobo, tanghon and lumpia. I chose to write a book about pancit because I knew it was a dish made all over the Philippines. The noodles give it universal appeal. My grandma is gone now and it was important to me to preserve the family recipe and the memory of cooking with Grandma Cora.

Cora Cooks Pancit is a lot about a mother-daughter relationship. What is your strongest or favorite memory in the kitchen with your mother? What is your strongest or favorite memory in the kitchen with your children?

My mother is a fabulous cook. She is 100% Italian and I think of her as a food artist because her creative juices really flow in the kitchen. I literally grew up in the kitchen doing the “kids jobs” mentioned in my book like drawing in the flour and licking the spoons and learning the “grown-up jobs” like chopping, stirring and sautéing. My girls are 3 years old and 3 months old and they are growing up in the kitchen with me too. My creative muse is food and it often inspires my writing. One of my favorite memories with my daughter, Meilani, is making homemade pizza. We mix the dough, roll it out and decorate it with our homemade sauce and favorite toppings. Meilani is already doing the “grown-up jobs.”

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American children's book writer?

So far the challenges of being an Asian American children’s book writer are really the challenges any writer experiences. I struggle with finding time to write and staying focused, especially since I have young children. The children’s book market is very competitive right now, which means another challenge is constantly researching the market, honing my craft and sending manuscripts out to publishers when so many are competing for the same spots. I’ve never been labeled an Asian American children’s book writer before because my heritage is multi-ethnic. I feel honored to be considered one. My greatest reward is sharing stories about my Asian heritage with children and watching them connect and identify with my experience. I love watching children’s eyes light up at the illustrations in this latest book and hearing them say, “I love pancit” or “My grandma makes pancit.”

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I am celebrating this year by sharing my book “Cora Cooks Pancit” with friends and family. The book provides an opportunity to talk about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’m also making an extra effort to share books by Asian authors with my daughters. We also take every opportunity in my family to celebrate with food so we will be making lots of Asian food this month!

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a voracious reader. I was content to read, read and read some more. I read everything I could get my hands on. My mom was a teacher and she always made sure to supply me with good books. I wasn’t much into fantasy but I loved the Chronicles of Narnia series. My mom started reading it aloud to me when I was four and it opened such a world of imagination. She also recited poetry to me before bed and this was the beginning of words and rhymes dancing in my head. Needless to say, the words have never stopped dancing!

My favorite authors included Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Robert Frost, C.S. Lewis, Amy Tan, Madeline L’Engle, Louisa May Alcott, Langston Hughes, and many more.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books?

Some of my favorites include:

“Dumpling Soup” by Jama Kim Rattigan

“Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki

“Hula Lullaby” by Erin Eitter Kono

“Lakas and the Manilatown Fish” by Anthony D. Robles

“Kimchi and Calamari” by Rose Kent

“Dragonwings” by Laurance Yep

What children's books are you reading now?

My daughter and I go to the library weekly and we are always reading new books. We just checked out “El Barrio” by Debbi Chocolate, “Nuestra California” by Pam Munoz Ryan, and “Math Attack” by Joan Horton. I’m reading “Stella Stands Alone” by Alexandria LaFaye. I love middle grade and young adult fiction – anything by Gary Schmidt or Han Nolan.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another picture book about a Filipino child learning to dance the traditional dance called the “tinikling.” I’m also trying my hand at a young adult novel about a multiracial girl growing up in a pizzeria in Chicago.

Tinikling!!! I used to dance tinikling. It's my absolute favorite Filipino dance. :D I can't wait to read that picture book. And I know I'll have fun reading a young adult novel about a multiracial girl growing up in a pizzeria.

I wish you all the best, Dorina! Thank you very much for joining the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration here at Into the Wardrobe.

Readers, click here to read Dorina's blog. Click here to read Jama Kim Rattigan's review of Cora Cooks Pancit and interview with illustrator Kristi Valiant!

P.S. I had pancit today! LOL.


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