Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pamana: The Lolas' Legacy

Yesterday, I stood before a group of 150 SFSU students—Asian American mostly—but diverse. I shared Lola Pilar Frias’ testimony.  I stood before them and I read her words (translated of course).  I played my book trailer where every woman’s face and name appears on the screen.   I answered these questions from the students:

1.     How did you feel when you heard their stories?
2.     How did you use your tools as a fiction writer to write this book?
3.     How did you get the stories to leave your body?
4.     Did writing the book hurt you? In what ways?
5.     Is my lola one of them?

At the end of the day, the first student who came up to me did not have a book in her hand, but she had the saddest eyes.  “Can I please give you a hug,” she asked me.

Another student, a young woman, tried to keep herself from crying.  Held her breath.  Scrunched her face up and said, “I was afraid to come talk to you.  I was afraid I’d see my lola’s face on the cover of your book.”

Two boys approached me.  One Filipino American and the other Vietnamese.  They each said they were moved.  They wondered if these stories were their grandmothers’ stories too.  “I’m going to read the book tonight,” said the Pinoy.  “Then I’m going to give my mom the book, can you sign it to her?”

“Me too,” said the other boy.  “I’m from Vietnam and I think we have war stories too.  Could you sign it for my mother?”

I think the lolas would be pleased.  So many young people told me they were going to go home and ask their parents and grandparents to tell them their family’s stories of war. 

Isn’t this the first step?  To discover the stories.  To listen to the elders.  To listen.  To breathe with them.  Hold onto them. 

That’s the first step.  Then, write them down.  Put them in some historical context.  And if you see the need for justice, fight.  Push. Make sure these tales will never happen again.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#Irma: Why You Gotta Rain On My Parade?

My book, Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War (Curbstone Books), was supposed to be launched on September 15, 2017 at my hometown bookstore, Books & Books in Miami.  We were going to throw a party for the nearly twenty years in the making of this document housing the testimonies of sixteen surviving Filipina "Comfort Women" of WWII.  This date is also the death anniversary of my Lolo Miguel, my grandfather who appears like a ghost in my first published short story, "Our Fathers." The date had significance for me.

But who had time to think of these seemingly trivial markers when a cat 5 storm was ravaging the Caribbean, spinning like a wild beast, spitting vitriol, breaking everything--and everyone--in sight?  Who could think of anything but the matter at hand: we have been told three days before the storm to close up shop, batten down hatches, leave South Florida?

My husband and I talked about it.  I have been living in Miami since 2002.  I was on campus and a residential faculty master in a freshmen building during Rita, Wilma, and Katrina.  I was a veteran hurricane survivor.  But then, we had never seen a cat 5 cone covering the entire state of Florida before.

We left.  We took one day to ready the house, clean out our pet carriers, pack one suitcase.  It didn't occur to me to bring my papers.  I thought we'd be back in a few days.  We drove a fourteen hour ride to my Virginia in-laws for twenty hours.

On what was supposed to be my pub date, I sat at a restaurant with my husband and his sister and her husband, thinking about the book.  My heart was heavy for so many reasons.

Things for Lolas' House turned out better than I could have imagined, though.  First of all, the actual book party happened the next weekend at Asian American Writers Workshop in New York.  I shared the stage with activist and Gabriela New York's Jennine Ventura.

Why is that special?  When I first began my journey in search of the lolas, I asked New York activist and novelist, Ninotchka Rosca, to point me in the right direction.  She sent me to Liza Maza, one of the New York leadership of Gabriela National Alliance of Women.  It was Liza Maza who introduced me to the women of Liga ng mga Lolang Pilipina, Gabriela, aka LILA Pilipina.

Gabriela has been one of my strongest and best resources.  I like to think of them as the foundation layers of Lolas' House.

Jennine Ventura gave a true activist presentation that supported and gave context to the book.  She gave the night an energy that truly supported the spirit of Lolas' House and with her, the women of Gabriela.

Here's what I learned the night of our launch:

1.  Even though I felt guilty for wanting to celebrate my book during the hurricane week of Irma, I realize it was okay to feel that sadness.  To resent not being able to welcome the book into the world on its publication date.  This book deserves our attention.  Not because it's my book, but because it is the Lolas' book.  It is the house that holds the testimonies to what happens to women living in war.  It is the document that questions why we allow our women to be treated without any regard for their bodies, their minds, their spirits.  It is a book that demands us to hear the women.  It is a call to action to stop war on women.

2.  Lolas' House was meant to be introduced to the world with Gabriela at our side.

3.  It's funny how Irma's path directed even this.  And look how well things turned out.

I have rescheduled the book launch in Miami for Sunday, October 29th.  This night will be special too, for my Miami literary community will come together, and they will welcome the Lolas one by one into our bookstore, our home.  6:30PM.  Books & Books.  See you there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Love Letter to Our Nation

Dear Immigrant Nation,

My name is M. Evelina Galang.  I am the daughter of Miguel T. Galang and Gloria Lopez-Tan Galang, two immigrants who met in an auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 1950’s, just as the third wave of Filipinos arrived in the United States (

As a child I have watched their struggles.  I have seen the discrimination and the disappointment in their faces.  I have heard their voices late at night, making sense of this so-called dream.

I know firsthand what courage it takes to leave everything you know, your family, your land, your people, to make this American dream a reality.

It doesn’t always feel like a dream.

Know I am with you.  I know you.  I am one of you.  This nation is nothing without you.   

The hypocrisy of those Senators and Congressmen and women who do not stand up to this 45th President will be the undoing of all of us.

Stand up, Senator Rubio.

Louder, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. 

Thank you, Senator Nelson.

And shame, shame, shame on you Mayor Carlos Gimenez.  Have you forgotten? 

I write this letter on the day after Valentine’s Day, my love letter to you, my people, my nation of first, second, third and twenty-seventh born generations of Americans. 

Let us stand up on the streets, holding our signs.

Let us sit in the offices of our Congresswomen and Senators.

Let us write our love letters to our brother and sisters, to ourselves.

Let us not forget.

We are a sanctuary nation.  

With love and in solidarity,

M. Evelina Galang