About Me

Mountain Studio, Baguio                

Carlene’s story begins before Carlene’s story begins:  Her mother, Marciana Cesaria Sobrino, was a Filipino-Spanish mestiza.  Her father, Gerhard Gustav Bonnivier, was of Swedish origin and grew up in Western Massachusetts.  He joined the U.S. Cavalry and was stationed in the mountain town of Baguio in the Philippines.  In 1934, Marciana and Gerhard met, fell in love, married and had one daughter, Geraldine.  Because of Gerhard’s military duties they were, over the next five years, parted and reunited several times. Finally, in 1939, Gerhard sent for her, his daughter, and the baby she was eight months pregnant with.  They arrived, were briefly detained in Angel Island, and, for the last time (unless there really is a heaven), Marciana and Gerhard were together.  However, he was seriously ill with leukemia and just two weeks after they were reunited, Gerhard died.  Two weeks after that, Carlene was born.

Having no friends or relatives (Gerhard’s family did not welcome them), Marciana found the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles where Filipinos were allowed to live in the 1940s. With only a third grade education, Marciana found a job in a factory and was able to keep herself and her daughters relatively safe and healthy. Carlene looked a lot more Swedish than Filipino––she had green eyes and dark blonde hair––but seemed to fit right into the rich tapestry of people from everywhere in the world, people who were drawn to the promise of California and to the hope and challenge of becoming American.  

In addition to Filipinos, there were European Jews, African-Americans from Louisiana who spoke (and cooked) French, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Syrians, and Russians.  There was one Irishman, named Thornton, who was a professional boxer, and he taught the young  Carlene a left-right combination that she can still deliver like lightning.

At the age of fifteen, Carlene was scheduled to go to juvenile hall.  At the age of seventeen, she was on the staff in the White House Press Office.  (Before she became a certified teacher and a writer, she was a volunteer in the Teacher Corps in Salinas and the Peace Corps in Malaysia. She also worked in the U.S. Congress and for Attorney General Robert Kennedy.) That’s the way her life has gone.  Up and down and all around, and landing her back on her most solid ground, in California, the land of her birth, the land of earthquakes. 

Chinatown, Los Angeles
  • When she was 15 she was scheduled to go to Juvenile Hall.
  • When she was 17 she was working as an administrative assistant/
  • secretary in the White House Press Office.
  • She later worked for Attorney General Robert Kennedy; for a Congressman; and in the Office of Economic Opportunity (War on Poverty).
  • Starting with her Peace Corps Service in Malaysia, she lived in half a dozen countries and visited 40 more.
  • She taught for over 25 years, first to migrant farmworkers in Salinas, California; then in international schools in Europe and Asia; her last position was at the University of California in Irvine
  • Bonnivier has authored three novels (www.Amazon.com), several screenplays, a text book and dozens of plays. She also writes short stories, essays, reviews, and poetry (www.oovrag.com).
  • In 2010 she, and two other “children” of Filipinotown, began a six-month series of free writing workshops held up and down Temple Street. From these workshops, they gathered stories that, over time, grew into a 40-chapter anthology about Filipinos who lived in or around Los Angeles from the 1930s to 2015 (stretching from Little Tokyo to Beverly Hills and out to the farming communities). Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles (Amazon.com) was published in 2014.
  • Produced and wrote the story and lyrics for WARRIOR - The Musical which had three performances (over 600 people in attendance) at the Pico Union Project, L.A. The musical is inspired by the actual events of a nine-year struggle (1968-1977) against eviction by the manongs of the International Hotel in San Francisco, a city already in turmoil over the war in Vietnam, the assassinations, civil rights, and, high on the list, evictions.