R.I.P. Jeff Tagami

I just read about Jeff Tagami’s death on FB , and I’m still in shock. I wrote a brief piece about him for the wall panel on Filipino American writers for the Filipino Voices exhibit (ongoing at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas); and a couple months ago, I tried to get in touch with him for a possible appearance at the exhibit. He did not reply, and now I understand why.

I believe that he has been a very important voice in Filipino American poetry — one that deserved much more attention. Long ago, when I was just learning to write, I met Jeff Tagami and Shirley Ancheta (both excellent poets) at a reading at the Capitola Book Cafe, and the two (along with Catie Cariaga) introduced me to the writers at BAPAW (Bay Area Pilipino American Writers) and Kearney St. Workshop.

For one semester, Jeff and I both taught in the same department at UCSC, and at one point I worked with Jeff and Shirley and couple other poets on a prison poetry project, reading poems written by prisoners incarcerated in San Quentin. An essay I wrote about Bulosan and Tagami was published in the journal, Critical Mass (Spr 1995).

Jeff grew up in the Pajaro Valley, and worked in its agricultural fields. He wrote with compassion and lyricism about the lives of the workers. His poems chronicle some of the darkest moments in Filipino American history, at times with bitterness and irony. And yet he also captured moments of quiet beauty. Jeff himself was quiet and understated about his own writing, yet he was also fiercely supportive of poets—their right to be paid well for doing public readings, for example.

Meeting Jeff and Shirley and the BAPAW group really changed the direction of my writing, and opened my eyes to the history and ongoing creativity and struggles of Filipino American writers. They also introduced me to the haunted history of Filipino Americans in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys, pointing out to me, for example, where Fermin Tobera was murdered, and where stories and spirits linger in the rolling hills and agricultural fields of the area.

I live in Elkhorn, now (North Monterey County) surrounded by agricultural fields. Driving by the workers every day, seeing the dust rise from the tractors, and the patterns formed by the spray of water from the irrigation pipes, I can’t help but think of Jeff’s poems.


  1. I too unfortunately heard of this news through FB. And more unfortunately, I get the chance to meet and know Jeff. Thank you for sharing the video as well as it has given me the inspiration and motivation to complete my play, STANDING ABOVE PAJARO about a night during the riots in Watsonville. I grew up in Marina, and graduated from Seaside High School, but never knew about what happened in Watsonville until a few years later while attending college at Sac State. Now that I’m pursing an MFA in Playwriting from SFSU, I feel like I’m coming full-circle and one of the inspirations is Jeff Tagami’s work.

  2. Jeannie, Funny how our lives go full circle… I will miss joking around at the Retamoza gatherings, especially when we talked of our childhoods growing up with our “old timer Filipino fathers”… Jeff’s interpretation of young Filipino influence, life, the disciplines, the laughter will surely be missed. Condolences to Jeff’s family, especially Shirley who was always by his side… Rest now Brother! Rosario (Rose) Lopez

  3. Thank you Jean. And thank you Jeff, for the poems, and for your generous, dignified, & humble spirit. I wanted to hear so much more of that voice, that vision, and its song. Am thinking of Shirley and the boys

  4. My deepest sympathy and condolence to you and your Family. My heart is sad that a good man like Jeff has passed away. Prayers for Shirley , Miles , Travis, and your family , strength , faith & love , comfort  to you all. Jeff is with the mighty lord , in peace looking down from heaven . He with our mighty maker now. My he rest in peace. Our heart will be sad to miss his loving presents.
    He will always be in our hearts and , his’s memory in his life . Had left many impressions to everyone he cross paths with in his wonderful life . My deepest Condolences to you and your family.

    Dear Lord have mercy on Jeff soul and delivery him to your arms to welcome him in heaven to your kingdom. May he rest in peace . He fought is illness bravely , he  will be missed. Thank you ,  lord for  giving  Jeff  a wonderful family and life . He will be missed dearly.

    God our Father,
    Your power brings us to birth,
    Your providence guides our lives,
    and by Your command we return to dust.
    Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
    their lives change but do not end.
    I pray in hope  for Jeff’s family,
    relatives and friends,
    and for all the dead known to You alone.
    In company with Christ,
    Who died and now lives,
    may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
    where all our tears are wiped away.
    Unite us together again in one family,
    to sing Your praise forever and ever.


    My deepest sympathy & condolence to you & your family.

    Raymundo Family

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