Filipino author to read at UH today
By Timothy Dyke
Special to The Advertiser
By Timothy Dyke
"Place has so much to do with how we make meaning of who we are," says M. Evelina Galang, who is in the business of crafting meaning from life experience.
The author of two books of fiction — "Her Wild American Self," a 1996 short-story collection, and "One Tribe," her recently published novel — Galang also edited "Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images." She is now working on a nonfiction collection based on her interviews with surviving Filipina "comfort women" of World War II. "Where you exist," she proclaims, "helps to inform who you are."
Galang will read from her work in progress at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa today as part of the Shunzo Sakamaki Extraordinary Lecture series.
So who is Evelina Galang? Born in Wisconsin to parents who met in Milwaukee after emigrating from the Philippines, she now lives in Florida, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Miami. Having grown up in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, she has always been drawn to the land of her relatives and ancestors. While a generation of Filipino writers before her chronicled the experiences of leaving the homeland, Galang concerns herself, at least in part, with what happens to the next generation.
"Filipino Americans have been dispersed," she says. "We claim a common history, so we think we're all similar, but it's so interesting the differences we share. It's like our food. We can make the same dishes, but everywhere in America where there are different Filipino communities, there are different tastes and flavors and styles."
The metaphor of the adapted recipe obviously applies to Hawai'i, where new cultural practices are forged from traditional ways of living and speaking. Galang looks forward to visiting Honolulu. "I've been to Hawai'i twice before, and I loved it," she said. "I felt like I was part of a community."
Galang's appearance at UH coincides with the centennial celebration that marks 100 years of Filipino presence in Hawai'i. When asked if she feels linked to those who descend from the men and women who came to work on sugar plantations a century ago, Galang notes that while she understands that the immediate experiences of Filipinos in Hawai'i differ from those who grew up elsewhere, she delights in meeting local people who share her ethnic background. With genuine affection she says, "When I'm in Hawai'i, I feel like I'm meeting long-lost cousins."
If Hawai'i's Filipinos are her figurative cousins, then the women who were forced to work as military sex slaves during World War II are analogous to her grandmothers.
Lola is the Tagalog word for grandmother, and in Quezon City, Philippines, Lolas' House is a community center for women who were taken hostage by Japanese soldiers. The Japanese called them "comfort women," and Galang allows these women to tell their stories in "Lolas' House: Women Living with War," a book of essays and portraits to be published by the end of the year.
During research funded by a grant from the Fulbright Foundation, Galang traveled in 2002 to islands and provinces in the Philippine Archipelago to abduction sites where girls and women 8 to 42 year old were kidnapped and imprisoned.
As she describes her conversations with these survivors of war crimes, Galang notes that "Every time they tell a story, they relive it." In her writing and in her lectures, Galang gives voice to her spiritual lolas. "There is no understanding without hearing these women tell their own stories. It's an intense experience."
As a teacher and author, Galang now has her own opportunity to inspire another generation of writers and readers. After publishing "Her Wild American Self," she received letters from young readers who told her, "This is the first time we've read about ourselves."
When asked which books inspire her, Galang laughs at the difficulty of the question. "There are so many good books out there," she says. "I love 'Blu's Hanging' by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Also Sandra Cisneros and Jhumpa Lahiri. And of course there's the canon: Faulkner, Hemingway. I also love Lorrie Moore." Galang is drawn to writers who express something real about what it means to live in the world, and she will be sharing her own reality when she visits Honolulu.
Would she describe her work as political? Galang responds quickly: "Any writer who is trying to write any kind of truth becomes political. This is more obvious when writing from women's perspectives, and most true when speaking of women of color." And would Galang say that she's a writer who seeks truth? "Yeah," she says. "I try to go beyond the fluff."