M. Evelina Galang is the author of the story collection Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press, 1996), novels One Tribe (New Issues Press, 2006) and Angel De La Luna and the Fifth Glorious Mystery (Coffee House Press, 2013), the nonfiction work Lolas’ House: Filipino Women Living With War (Curbstone Books, 2017), and the editor of Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, 2003). Among her numerous awards are the 2004 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Prize for the Novel, the 2007 Global Filipino Literary Award for ONE TRIBE, the 2004 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awards Advancing Human Rights, and a 2002 Senior Research Fellowship from Fulbright. In the spring of 2020, Galang was named Cornell University’s Zalaznick Distinguished Visiting Writer. She directed the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami from 2009-2019. She now teaches for the University of Miami Creative Writing Program and is core faculty and President of the Board of Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA/Voices).
I am the daughter of Miguel and Gloria Galang, Filipino Americans who immigrated to the United States in the 1950’s. They attended the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, but never met until one hot August afternoon on the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They came here for the opportunity to learn—he, to develop his acumen in medicine and eventually specialize in internal medicine—and she to earn a graduate degree in English literature. I am a product of their love and our last name in Tagalog means “respect.”
I am the wife of Chauncey Eugene Mabe, a book critic and reporter, a Southern White Gentleman. We met in our fifties. By that time, all my aunties had given up hope of seeing me married. It’s not that I didn’t want to be married, but I was distracted by books. And though I had met many a handsome and charming man, none of them were my husband. None of them were Chauncey Mabe. We are partners in life in ways I never knew were possible. Our last name, Mabe, comes from the Latin “amabilis” or loveable.
If you try to decipher “amabilis” the Filipino way, you might get “love fast.” But we met late in life, and it wasn’t so much fast love as it was something we recognized soon after our first lunch (which lasted three quick hours).
Before being a writer, an activist, a professor, a mentor, and a director of creative writing, I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an auntie, a wife, a stepmom, and now a lola. I am a feminist Pinay, grateful to have the opportunities to create this life.
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 silenced. I didn’t mean to choose these girls, these dalagas, these women and lolas to inhabit my stories, but when I look, there they are.
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 scribble 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.
These days, as I listen to the noise of white supremacists, bigots, and homophobic sexists, as I watch the horror of the current White House administration, I have felt so heartbroken. What is happening?
I have had the urge to go silent. Only after sitting with this anxiety do I realize the answer is in the art. Is in the story. In the essay. The way to ground ourselves is to sort through the confusion. We cannot be silenced. Now is the time to be the witness. To document our experiences through language, image, song.
These days, I am writing to break through the noise. I will not be silenced.
When I began writing, the only role models I had were the books written by the traditional white writer. These were the books assigned in school, these were the writers who invited me to write—O’Connor, Carver, Munro, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. These writers were my first writing teachers. I didn’t know what it would mean to me to read the likes of Hong Kingston, Morrison, Rosca, Allende, Bulosan, Anaya, Galeano and Walker. I didn’t know the shape of a story could take on multiple forms. That our cultural practices of storytelling could be integrated into the writing of literary fiction.
And then I went to MFA school and wrote my thesis, Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press 1996), stories of midwestern born Filipina Americans.
In 2002, I began teaching at the University of Miami, a multilingual campus with a diverse student body.
Then, in 2008, I began working with Voices of Our Nations Art Foundation (VONA) where the mission of the program is to support emerging writers of color with mentors, publishing writers of color like myself.
There are multiple bodies of literature being written by writers from all backgrounds, and from these literatures I cull books to share with my students. They are born of our plurality of perspectives, our nations, our racial, gender and ethnic backstories. There are many ways of writing story. And, through my own practices of writing in English and weaving my character’s natural voices throughout, in their use of Tagalog, or Spanish, or Kapampangan, I have come to teach the practice of multilingual writing in my creative writing workshops.