Cecilia Manguerra Brainard was born in Cebu, Philippines, the youngest of Mariano F. Manguerra and Concepcion Cuenco Manguerra's four children. She began keeping a diary at the age of nine, after her father's death. The need to write about her experiences growing up in Cebu (“Ubec” in her works of fiction) presaged a vocation in this field: she graduated from Maryknoll College in Quezon City with a B.A. in Communication Arts in 1968.
In 1969, Brainard immigrated to the United States to study filmmaking at UCLA graduate school. There, she married Lauren Brainard, with whom she has three children. From 1969 to 1981 she worked as a documentary scriptwriter and as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization. In 1981, she decided to take writing classes and began her career in writing. From 1982 to 1988 she wrote a bimonthly column, “Filipina American Perspective, ” for the Philippine American News. Writing for this now defunct newspaper offered the possibility of exploring the experience of living in the United States as a Filipina and the impetus to explore memories of her childhood in the Philippines. Her contributions to the column were published as a collection of essays entitled Philippine Women in America. During this time she started publishing short stories and essays in various magazines and journals both in the Philippines and in America. These short stories first appeared in the periodicals Focus Philippines, Philippine Graphic, Mr. and Ms. Magazine, Katipunan, Amerasia Journal, Bamboo Ridge Journal, The California Examiner, and others. Short story anthologies like Making Waves (1989), Forbidden Fruit (1992), Songs of Ourselves (1994), and On a Bed of Rice (1995) have also included her work.
Brainard is the author and editor of nine books, has published over 250