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OOV Book Review

What Price the American Dream?
(Do We Know You, Anak, and Do We Even Know Ourselves?)

One Tribe
One Tribe
by M. Evelina Galang
New Issues Press
Western Michigan University
Copyright 2006

...Filipino "colonial mentality" versus Filipino claimants of island heritage; packs of hip hop upstarts who intermingle Tagalog and Black street lingo versus staid advocates of proper assimilation into white mainstream society.

There is a silent scream coming from several directions in this novel. Would that it were that generations collide and the "collision" shatter and obliterate the granite wall of silence. Or that the dead might speak to the living and forgiveness may begin its healing. Or well-intentioned motives would be reined in so that those unclenching their altruistic tentacles might allow a generation to emerge from their own individual spaces; understandably, emergence may be mired in shards, but inevitably arrives at some wholeness.

Author M. Evelina Galang weaves a strange world in ONE TRIBE which is at once alarming and familiar in its juxtaposition of languages and the undertow of cultural mayhem: Filipino "colonial mentality" versus Filipino claimants of island heritage; packs of hip hop upstarts who intermingle Tagalog and Black street lingo versus staid advocates of proper assimilation into white mainstream society.

How ironic that the wide sandy shores and neat suburbs of Virginia Beach are sites for the claustrophobic interplay, exposing the festering tension between parents and their progeny; kids who fracture into gangs and the resulting violence that erupts. Virginia Beach and Norfolk are "home" to the largest concentration of Filipinos in the East Coast. Home even to members of the white community who are exposed to years of Pinoy gatherings.

She smiled at him, "What do you teach again?"

"Earth Science." He popped an egg roll in his mouth. "I love this stuff. You teaching too?

"Yup."

"That's cool," Elliot said. "And you're from Chicago?" He grabbed a piece of roasted pig skin from the table, held it up to the light and examined it before he popped that in his mouth too.

"Evanston. Just north of Chicago. So is this weird for you?" She asked him.

"What?"

"This Filipino culture stuff?" She gestured at the crowd and at the stage, where a Pinoy band dressed in black tuxedos and golden cummerbunds played everything from Filipino love songs to Captain and Tennille.

"You kidding me? I've been living and teaching in this community for almost ten years. These are my peeps!" (12)

The new environment promises an opportunity to bring to these Virginia Filipino families a solution to quell their alarm over losing their children to the liberal influences of American social values.

For Galang's heroine, Isabel Manalo (a creative dramatics teacher and recent arrival in Virginia Beach), the Filipino community is a haven from the suffocating suburbs of Chicago.

In Evanston, where she grew up, people were formal. There was no kissing-kissing everyone on the cheek. And adults were doctor this or missus that. A tita didn't have to be your aunt by blood, but she was a close family friend. So this was new to Isabel and she found it comforting in a way she had not expected. (11)

She hopes for a fresh start to redeem her from what she perceives as her inflicting disgrace on her family. The new environment promises an opportunity to bring to these Virginia Filipino families a solution to quell their alarm over losing their children to the liberal influences of American social values. Community stalwarts are hopeful and supportive, but the teens?

She smiled at the audience, took note of the teens in the back of the room . . She tried to explain that, growing up in Evanston, she and her brother and sister were islands floating among classmates who were mostly White Anglo-Saxon or Jewish. She never knew what it was to walk among Pinoys—to utter Tagalog slang in school. "You don't know how lucky you are," she said. She envied that they had friends who shared so much with them. In Virginia children weren't islands. They were oceans, bodies of water so large and so full, so tumultuous, that no one, not even the administration could ignore them. . She heard the pounding of clogs and platform shoes collide with her words. Ten girls exited the room. (24)

Galang's characters bristle in the confines of their own fiefdoms: Ferdi Mamaril is a self-proclaimed "revisionist" of Filipino history, a version he expounds for the benefit of Filipino American youth. Then there is Kuya Jojo, trusted by the youth because he "speaks" their language, and at the far end of the spectrum, Nita Starr, power stronghold and community leader, who promotes beauty pageants as the epitome of a Filipina's social stature. According to her there is only one way to be Filipino. Her daughter, Lourdes, begs to differ.

"Ain't no matter how many books you read," Lourdes said, grabbing a bowl from the cupboard. "Nothing's going teach you how to be Pinay. You either is or you isn't."

. "Those books don't teach you how to be Filipino," [Isabel] told them. "They talk about our history, our past."

"They don't help you be Pinay," Lourdes said. "I know that."

"No."

"It's all right," Angel said, swatting Lourdes. "We understand. Just like you [Lourdes] tryin' to show us some of dat white life. . I'm talkin' yogurt and carrot sticks . White food."

"Exercise," Maya said. "White." (254)

...Covered up too is a sense of guilt over a miscarriage, guilt over a sibling whose life is cut short, and the relentless self-blaming over the need to follow the dictates of an authority figure

What the youth absorb about the Filipino identity conflict with the sanitized versions put out by adults eager to institute the traditional islander image. Isabel is caught between having to reconcile both attitudes and in the process absorbs questions that touch on her own sense of ambiguity. She can only watch her young charges struggling to understand.

"My tita left our barrio outside of Tacloban to be a singer in Japan," Derek said. "Then she sends money to my cousins and her husband. And now they get new threads and go to school and even got a car."

"You sure thas all she was doing? Singing?" Lourdes asked. She smiled and then peered at him from underneath curly strands of bleached hair.

He made a fist and punched the air. "You talking about my tita."

"Okay." Isabel said. "Don't listen to her. .She turned to Maya and waited. "Maya, what are you thinking?"

"Kuya Jojo says the Greek dictionary says the word Filipina means maid," Miguel said. "That messed up or what?"

Maya held the paper up . "Nothing. Just that they say there are thousands of women coming back to the islands every day in pine boxes. Thousands. How they dying like that? Why?"

Isabel didn't answer immediately, but watched the kids—their eyes half-closed and their bodies kicking back on the lawn .. "Well, the truth is," she said, "many of the women go overseas thinking they are going to be maids or singers or dancers, but well, look at Flor Contemplacion."

.

"Ain't right." Miguel said.. "And then they've given their passports to their bosses, and their bosses hold their money, they can't leave. They can't go home."

. Maya had laid her head in Angel's lap and was crying. Angel placed her hand on the girl's shoulder, and shook her, "Man, you always iyak-iyak. Get a grip, Maya. It's just a story." (281-82)

Every chapter hints at a foreboding conflict, possibly a violent ending. When a deadly shooting occurs early on in the narrative, it is the result of youth gang wars over turf and property, but underlying the murder-which is left unsolved-is the revelation of unseen murders, underneath the surface, covered up and hidden: The murder of the individual spirit, the suffocation of self-discovery, and the obfuscation of what is true to one's inherent soul. Covered up too is a sense of guilt over a miscarriage, guilt over a sibling whose life is cut short, and the relentless self-blaming over the need to follow the dictates of an authority figure to the exclusion of one's self-integrity.

The underpinning strength of the novel is in the author's mastery of the depths and layers of self-deception that we all go through and Galang weaves her multi-tiered narrative as a parable of the Filipino psyche in America. The novel is more than a futile search To Belong, to own up to Isang Mahal, to dream of a future as One Tribe. It sounds a piercing wake-up call, "Pinoy, what are you made of and why are you trying so hard to Be White?"

How long are the tentacles of colonial despotism as it reaches out to future generations? How much of this despotism are we practicing on ourselves? How resolute is society's aim to standardize the proverbial immigrant dream of success? Does assimilation mean fulfillment? When traditions are garishly packaged in nostalgia, are they sufficient as legacies to be passed on? Is any part of our heritage in consonant with current attitudes and Western mores? Are we blind to our children's resentment, their undiluted anger over our adult hypocrisies, our penchant to banner "shame" (Walang hiya!) as the absolute criteria of a family's standard?

In our success stories, we want our progeny as Filipino whiteys. They are to be inoculated with Adobo and Tinikling. But beyond these, we haven't a clue ourselves. It is easier to assimilate. It takes too much of our time to recollect our past by reading our own literature, to study our family tree, to encourage our children's curiosity about the life we left behind, or to inculcate the sound of our language during their growing years.

M. Evelina Galang asks us not to avert our eyes. Beyond food, dance and beauty pageants, we are oblivious of a generation's needs as emerging individuals who necessarily adjust and balance the conflicting values that they live through. Whatever the price, we have a need to test the strength of family, to hear the humiliating struggles of early immigrants, that the various legacies from members of one's tribe can be sources for our own affirmation and our own lasting pride. 

© Remé Antonia Grefalda

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