M. Evelina Galang, who 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. She has been named one of the 100 most influential Filipinas in the United States by Filipina Women’s Network.
Come meet M. Evelina and other All That Glitters contributors at Books & Books, in Coral Gables, on October 12!
MJ: In the Flight of Lola Catalina Lorenzo, you tell about Filipina Comfort Women—women and girls “systematically abducted and forced to serve in rape camps all over Asia by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.” Does your writing always try to create awareness about issues readers might not know about otherwise?
EVELINA: I don’t know if I am consciously creating political awareness, but I do know this is something I am personally drawn to and so the characters in my fiction and the subjects of my nonfiction are often people who are somehow engaged in issues grounded in history or issues of social justice. When I look back at the work I’ve done I see that the women I write have often been historically silent or worse, silenced. Writing their stories then, stimulates social and political awareness even when I don’t mean to.
MJ: In Tagalog, the word dalaga refers to the “in-between moment when a girl is no longer a girl and yet, she is not quite a woman.” Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up? Do you remember your own dalaga period?
M. EVELINA: As I write this I am sitting in the kitchen I grew up in. Before I was 9 years old my family had moved 7 times — Harrisburg, PA, Baltimore, MD, Wilson, NC, Manila, Philippines, Saschetchewan, Canada, Peoria, Il, Milwaukee, WI and then here, a suburb of Milwaukee — Brookfield, WI. My parents built this house and my mother designed this kitchen to feed a big family. I am the oldest of six kids and so not only was I always the new kid in school, but the first of six kids to try anything at all. By the time I was a dalaga, I was long-limbed and browner than my girlfriends and dealing with two cultures — the Filipino culture within the house and the Midwestern ways of American culture at school. I was in-between in more than one way — fitting into each world sort of but not exactly. While my friends got to stay out late and sleep over at each other’s houses, I babysat for my younger siblings and learned to cook and when I was in a mood, I’d play Chopin and Mozart and Debussy on the piano (preferably in the dark) or I’d lock myself away in my bedroom and scribble into notebooks (always with the awareness that my brothers might find them and use them against me). I was a reader. I wrote for the school paper and the literary journal. And while I hung out with the popular kids because I was a pompon girl, I did not have a boyfriend. Not a single boy from my school asked me out. (Though I went to dances with boys from the rival high school).
A few years ago, a friend of mine posted a black and white photo of our pompon squad, The Spartanettes, on Facebook. I stood in the back, at the end, wearing the same outfit as the others. I was in all right, but I was also standing apart from the group, There was a noticeable space between me and the other girl. I never felt a part from my friends, but I see that photo now and I think that’s it. In but not really in. Like them but not them.
MJ: How often do you visit the motherland? How would you describe the experience?
M. EVELINA: I didn’t return to the Philippines until 1998. And when I began my research of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” I began going almost every summer for a while. The first time I went back, all my senses woke up. Everything I tasted was a memory — the fruits and vegetables, the rice and fish and all the food. I tasted things I thought I had lost. And all the sounds reminded me of a time way back when I was part of a large family with hip older cousins and a big group of my own playmates, cousins too. Going back the first few times was all about remembering things I didn’t know I had forgotten and being part of something we did not have in the States. For a while I seemed to dream in line drawings too and I would see faces of ancestors I have never met. It sounds mystical the way the faces would bloom before me in the night, and it was.
MJ: You’re the director of the MFA Creative program at the University of Miami. What is that like?
M. EVELINA: I am grateful for the program I attended — my MFA is from Colorado State. My teachers were awesome and my time there was about reading and writing and developing my body of work. I just wanted to see if I could do it—write—and my program allowed me to do that. Now I am in the position to support emerging writers and poets and giving them that space. Directing the program at the University of Miami is my way of giving back. If it weren’t for my program in Colorado, I don’t think I would have been able to nurture my writer’s discipline. So what it’s like is exciting because every year we have a new batch of first years coming in and I see my mission is to administer a program of the highest caliber that will not only allow them the time and space to write, but the mentors to guide them and the community to support them.
MJ: Your novel, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, is forthcoming with Coffee House Press this fall. Would you tell us a little bit about it?
M. EVELINA: Click here for a Q & A regarding the book.
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.