I just started reading M. Evelina Galang’s One Tribe (New Issues Press, 2006) and am about two chapters into it. I confess I haven’t read her first book, the short story collection Her Wild American Self (Coffee House Press, 1996), for as a poet, I tend to get to fiction late. Be assured that I do get to it. But for now fiction is a little bit more interesting to me than poetry; maybe it’s the seemingly more accessible narrative. I also really just want to read stories, and sometimes poetry’s way too willfully clever or willfully difficult to just tell a story. Or I read or hear story in poetry and I believe that I am hearing prose somehow broken into lines for no other purpose than it’s trying to be poetry.
So I am catching up on Pinay narratives, as with my recent reading of Marianne Villanueva’s Mayor of the Roses. What Marianne and Evelina have in common in my mind really has more to do with where I place them in relation to me, as literary Pinay role models. Much like Jessica Hagedorn, they were visible presences in a larger (read: American) literary world, and their very presences there were a major source of encouragement before I was even an emerging writer.
Anyway, none of the above is really about the novel One Tribe so much. Again, I am only two chapters into it, and already the thriving and dysfunctional Filipino American community of Virginia Beach that Evelina has set up bears some, enough resemblance to the Bay Area Filipino American community. In Virginia Beach, the Filipino Americans are very much entwined with the military community, and fathers are overseas. So it must be something like San Diego, and even the Bay Area when Alameda was an active naval base.
The dynamics within this very familiar community are most interesting to me so far. Beginning with the social scene, the reception for our heroine Isabel Manalo (Isa as in “One,” Manalo as in “Victory,” or “Victorious”?) with the huge table of food, the hard tattooed young Pinoys who still call their mothers “Mommy,” the pomaded uncles, the older ladies insisting you call them Tita, the made up Beauty Queen, everybody dropping everything to join the electric slide on the dance floor.
Then there are the activist types, one of whom is this disaffected fuck you white people type, maybe too old to be so disaffected. He’s the one the Fil Am high school students and gang members seem to trust. Then there is the other community activist who’s like the not so great American English speaking but articulate and easily outraged crusader type. He’s also like a pomaded uncle, but politically aggressive. Anyway, these two are Alpha Male types, and both of them appear to think they can either be dismissive of Isabel or just trample all over her, or use her in some political way.
Isabel is the newcomer dropped into this setting, and all too neatly she doesn’t come from a place with a dense Filipino American community. I say “all too neatly,” though I don’t mean this is a reductive or formulaic story. I think it’s very familiar to so many of us, to be overwhelmed by community, not to know the rules of the community, and still be sought after by them, not knowing exactly what they want from us or what we really can do for them.
So this is where I am right now. I’ll end with the young Pinays in their tight clothes, their clunky platforms, their dark lipliner, pouty, disaffected, and tough. They have their own gangs, which are as tough if not tougher than the guys’ gangs. Already they are unimpressed with Isabel’s arrival, and resistant to any kind of connection with her.
This is like Allyson’s Pinayism chapter in Pinay Power: Peminist Critical Theory; approaching the Pinays at the mall with earnest intentions, and getting hella dogged.