M. EVELINA GALANG has been named one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the United States and at-large by the Filipina Women’s Network. She is the author of the story collection HER WILD AMERICAN SELF (Coffee House Press), novels ONE TRIBE (New Issues Press), and ANGEL DE LA LUNA AND THE 5TH GLORIOUS MYSTERY (Coffee House Press), and the editor of SCREAMING MONKEYS: CRITIQUES OF ASIAN AMERICAN IMAGES (Coffee House Press). LOLAS’ HOUSE: FILIPINO WOMEN LIVING WITH WAR (Curbstone Books, 2017) is Galang’s creative nonfiction work documenting the testimonies of 16 surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” and their fight for justice. 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. Galang directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami and is core faculty and board member 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.
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 as I can so they can 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.