M. Evelina Galang is the author of HER WILD AMERICAN SELF (Coffee House Press, ’96); the novel ONE TRIBE (New Issues Press, ’06); and ANGEL DE LA LUNA AND THE 5TH GLORIOUS MYSTERY (Coffee House Press 2013). She has edited the anthology, SCREAMING MONKEYS: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, ‘03). She is currently writing LOLAS’ HOUSE: WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR, stories of surviving Filipina WWII “Comfort Women” and is at work on a new novel, BEAUTIFUL SORROW, BEAUTIFUL SKY. Galang teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami, is core faculty for VONA/Voices: Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation and has been named one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the United States by Filipina Women’s Network.
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M. Evelina Galang is also the author of HER WILD AMERICAN SELF (Coffee House Press, ’96), a collection of short stories and the novel, ONE TRIBE (New Issues Press, ’06) and has edited the anthology, SCREAMING MONKEYS: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, ‘03).
Galang is the recipient of numerous awards, among them, the 2004 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awards Advancing Human Rights, the 2004 AWP Prize in the Novel and the 2007 Global Filipino Award in Literature for ONE TRIBE.
Galang has been researching the lives of the women of Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina (LILA Pilipina), surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII, since 1998. In 2002, she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Philippines where she continued her work with survivors. After former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared there was not enough evidence to prove 200,000 WWII “Comfort Women” were coerced into sex slave camps, she authored the blog, “Laban for the Lolas!” in support of House Resolution 121 and was the Filipino American Outreach coordinator for 121 Coalition.
She is currently writing LOLAS’ HOUSE: WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR, stories of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” and is at work on a new novel, BEAUTIFUL SORROW, BEAUTIFUL SKY. Galang teaches in and directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami, is core faculty for Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation and has been named one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the United States by Filipina Women’s Network.
In Tagalog, my last name means respect. Growing up a Galang in the U.S., we were constantly reminded that we should learn our name and let it guide us through our lives. Respect.
My father, Miguel T. Galang, is a physician and so early in my life, I learned. Watching how he interacted with his geriatric patients, I understood the value of a person’s life, that person’s history and the struggles he or she had survived. In my mother, Gloria Lopez-Tan Galang, I learned what it was to be a woman who created her own opportunities. She’s never called herself a feminist, but that’s what she is, making choices and running households, never giving up hope in hopeless situations. Respect yourself is what she’s taught me. And I learned about respect for a people, my people, from both my mother and father as they modeled their lives to me. We moved around a lot when I was young, but it didn’t seem to matter if we were in Peoria, Saskatchewan, or Milwaukee, my parents were always organizing our communities, sharing our perspectives as Filipinos abroad and later on as American citizens. They were always speaking out for change and trying to enter dominant mainstream America, but never by compromising who we were. It was always about respect. read more...
I’m the oldest of six children, the first American-born Filipina on the Galang side. My father is the eldest of twelve children born in Macabebe, Pampanga Philippines. That means that I am the ate – or eldest sister of all the twenty-some cousins. Many of those cousins have children of their own. I’m somewhere in the middle to low end, chronologically, on my Lopez-Tan side. My mother’s the youngest girl of seven children. I can’t even begin to count how many Lopez-Tan cousins I have. When I was in the Philippines during the summer of 1999, every Sunday we’d gather at one of the elders’ houses and there were always fifty settings for cena de Domingo.
I have come to understand that in this life all that matters is love. And love is where my family is. If you ask a Galang–me, for example–to describe a Galang, I might tell you about the time in Kingston, New York. The uncles and aunts gathered around the kitchen table shortly after the death of my Lola Nicolasa, fists rising high in the air and then down on that table – bam, bam, bam. We are a loud family. We are a politics-debating, word-defining, hold-nothing-back-cuz-I-love-you family. Some might say passionate. My grandfather, Lolo Miguel Senior, was the town dentist, a local politician, and a lawyer who studied for the bar simultaneously with his grown children Hector and Dolores. Their house was always a house of debate, of study, of the people. Many of us have turned out to be a variation of Lolo Miguel – principled, strong, a leader of sorts. Mostly we’re just loud. Mostly we’re loving.
And the Lopez-Tans are loud too–but that’s because there are so many of us. My Chinese Filipino side is loud in the way children chase each other through crowds of grown ups, and elders announce the stories of the family over glasses of whiskey and wine. Generous and loving they are apt to feed you until it begins to show. We are so many we must haul long tables out onto the driveways and rent chairs to seat everyone. I think of spending long afternoons sitting with my aunts, my cousins, storytelling this and that. I think about wandering the dirt roads from Manila to the province of Macalelon, Quezon, to find our ancestral home, to visit the portraits of my lolo and lola – Filemon Green Lopez-Tan Siok Ching and Clara Anca -- in a house void of furniture and rugs. In my memory, I push the heavy doors open and climb a long staircase only to find walls of dark mahogany, and vast spaces of wooden floor, and the portraits of the Lopez-Tans hung like pieces in an old museum. Lolo Filemon was a businessman from China who fell in love with Lola Clara when she was only 16. In 1999, I wandered that house with Auntie Goring, my mother’s oldest living sister and my ates and kuyas, and I listened to the stories of the family. When I consider my life as a Lopez-Tan, I think of how I am a part of a long history, of how we are prone to gather in droves to remember who we are. And for once in my life I feel the pressures of being the ate – the role model – the first – taken off my shoulders and I am one of the little cousins. It is a miracle to be surrounded by such love.
I try to take this with me wherever I am. I try to gather up all that love and bring it with me so I might live in peace. My source of love comes from God, from my family, and when I am far from home, from my darling kitties. I have to admit in times of crisis, of not understanding the world and its actions, of the way people can be, or the way death steals off with people we love, I am want to run home to my immediate family. Not so much to talk about it as to hold the children, or to sit in my parents’ room drinking morning coffee with them, or to take my mother to lunch.
On the weekend after September 11, I drove home for my nephew Mikey’s baptism. I spent the weekend alternating babies in my arms – my eight-month-old godchild Mia (a scrumptious girl) then Mikey, then Mia again. I rocked them to sleep. I whispered “You Are My Sunshine” and “I’ve been Working on the Railroad” in their little ears. I wept a lot. They helped me gather strength to travel back to the middle of America where I sat in my house watching the world pull itself back together.
On the website you’ll see that I am a teacher, a writer, a professional, but what’s most important to me is that I am a Galang/Lopez-Tan and this colors all I do, all the choices I make as a teacher and an artist. I am a member of a family that has taught me about love and respect and the struggles that contain them. This is how I choose to live. Like my father says, “Respect for family, respect for your Maker and respect for life.”
I write the stories of women and girls who have been traditionally silenced. They are women of Filipina descent, often living in the United States as first generation Pinay or immigrants finding their place in life. A great deal of my work has been dedicated to the surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII. I have had the honor to meet at least forty survivors and fifteen of them have taken me by the hand and shown me the wounds they have attained during the WWII. I write because I can and because I have not been silenced. read more...
When I scan the pages of my books, my stories, and my hand-written journals, I hear the voices of the girls and women who have been traditionally silent – traditionally silenced. I didn’t mean to choose these girls, these dalagas, these women and lolas to inhabit my stories, but when I look through the pages of the books, there they are.
It is only after I review the stories I have written that I can see this obsession of unleashing the unheard voice in my work. Perhaps I’ve been looking for them in other books, but never finding them, have invited them to come forward in my fiction. Or perhaps it has to do with being born into a community that is constantly speaking and never listening. Who’s going to hear you in all that chaos?
As a teen I would write furious passionate heavy-inked pages in diaries, hiding my words, but expressing them nonetheless. Writing it down for no one to read was, at first, almost as good as saying it. And even now, when I am confused or uncomfortable or unable to confront a situation, I turn to the written word. It is in writing that I say what I cannot say in any other way.
In my first book of stories, I began with the experiences of American born Pinay from the Midwest – that was what I knew. And when Her Wild American Self came out in 1996, readers responded in letters, emails, and conversations at conferences around the country. I connected with my community in amazing ways. I began to hear about other women’s stories. I heard their words and the way they arranged those words and the way they used those words to convey a history, a life, a struggle.
I found out that all their lives, they too were looking for their stories in books. Finally, they told me, stories about American born Pinay. It didn’t matter that the girls and women talking to me were in California, or Virginia, or New York. They recognized the families in my stories, they recognized the experiences, they found versions of themselves.
As I wrote, I found myself drawn to their stories, imagining what their voices might sound like and what they might do if given the time and space in books.
I spent many years researching and developing and coming to know my characters in One Tribe. In this work, I look at the community and the young women of that community and I ask them how they deal with the pressures of being not only an immigrant’s daughter, but one with familial and societal expectations that are unrealistic, limiting and unwanted by that daughter. I ask them: How do you tell your parents what they do not want to hear?
In my work of creative non-fiction, I have been falling in love with the surviving Filipina comfort women of World War II. As I write and research Lolas' House: Women Living with War, the old women have become my family. I have about forty grandmothers, some living, some dying, some in the spirit world, urging me to write down the stories they were never given a chance to speak out loud.
A filmmaker who documented the lives of Korean comfort women said, “Once you hear their stories, the stories sink into your bones and you cannot sit still.”
She was right. I cannot sit still.
I have been working on LOLAS’ HOUSE: Women Living with War since I began my research in 1998. I think of that work as my life’s work. My mission is to document the Lolas’ stories, to replicate their voices. Why?
During WWII 200,000 women and girls were abducted by the Japanese Imperial Army all over Asia and made to serve in military sex slave camps. In the Philippines there were about 1000 Filipinas. 173 of those women came out to tell their stories after fifty years of silence. I have met forty of them and I have been listening to the abduction stories of fifteen women. I have been to seven of their abduction sites. I have seen the garrisons where they were kept: school rooms, civic buildings, churches and fish bins.
That is why.
And just when I was about to write their stories down in 2005, hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma blew through the city of Miami.
Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery was born of these hurricanes. I was supposed to be writing from my more than 30 hours of interview tapes for my book of essays. I was supposed to be translating and converting and writing down history. But the hurricanes came one after the other and my 2005 sabbatical spun fast in the debris of all that rain.
In 1998, I travelled to the Philippines with five Filipina American students to research a screenplay called DALAGA – it was to be the coming of age story of a Filipina American teen whose grandmother was a surviving Filipina “Comfort Woman.”
During that first visit to the Philippines, I met several young feminist activists; I marched along side with them at protest rallies; I lived side by side them as together, we’d take survivors to the places where they were abducted or held captive. I saw firsthand the dedication and the drive of these young activists.
My students and I came to know not only the Filipina “Comfort Women” but the feminist groups and organizations who supported them and who dedicated their lives to the women.
I had a driver who took me and the girls from town to town on our excursion tours, telling me stories as we drove across the islands. My driver became such a great friend of mine that he and his wife asked me to be the godmother of their baby.
My interviews with surviving “Comfort Women” created a special bond between us – my girls and I called them Lolas – the Tagalog word for Grandmothers -- and in eight short weeks, they became the grandmothers I never had a chance to know – mine had died faraway from me long before I knew them.
I never wrote the screenplay. Instead, I promised the old women that I would return to the Philippines to document their abduction stories in a collection called LOLAS’ HOUSE: Women Living with War. But when I sat down, in 2005 to write the stories of the survivors, I found these hurricanes swirling around the city of Miami, disrupting my sabbatical with brownouts and shut downs and lockdowns.
That year, my graduate students would hear the hurricanes coming and they’d pack up all their dry and wet goods, come to my home in the university residential college (where I lived with 900 freshmen), and hunker down with me. We’d cook meals together and clean up together and then we’d split up throughout the house and write. It was impossible for me to write these nonfiction essays, essays that were difficult on my body and my heart and my psyche. But I was supposed to write because I was on sabbatical. And so, with the constant disruption of rain, winds, and in-coming graduate students, I decided to write another kind of book, a novel based on my Lola testimonies, a story that came out of me so organically, it made me a little nervous.
LOLAS’ HOUSE: Women Living with War is still in progress, but Angel de La Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery is here.
Every time a Japanese official denies the stories of the “Comfort Women” I am driven to write. The old women have spoken. The young women too. I am responsible for what I know.
Writing has given me an opportunity to meet the women and the community of my ancestry, to hear their stories, to imagine them, to place them in libraries where it is still hard to find an abundance of stories that explore the Filipino American experience.
For me, the act of writing is like breathing – you take things in, you hold them there and then you let go in one long exhale.
This is how I make sense of the world around me, this is how I name the people who mean most to me, how I claim a history that has been refused to me, how I honor a legacy that has been given to me. I write and when I do, I breathe.
In Kashmir Saivism each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet is a deity, believed to bestow power especially when coupled with other divine letters. The exploration of these letters, the selection of words and how a writer maps them onto the page to reveal personal, political and global truths, is my mission in workshop.
I believe it’s my role to introduce my students to as many tools, voices, and possibilities I can offer so that from this array of choices they are able to find their way to a place where craft, substance and art come together.
In workshop, we want to help the author write the best story. We approach the work with respect. We leave our emotional reactions at the door and we enter with a writer’s response to the work using craft as our guide. Through the elements of craft, we are able to productively read and discuss works-in-progress. We are able to help the author develop strategies for revising the work to meet his or her intentions. The only hard fast rule I have is to respect the writer. To read the work and to respond using the language of craft. To remember that workshop can be a sacred space and that words are divine. read more...