AMADIO ARBOLEDA Reviews
Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery by M. Evelina Galang
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 2013)
Cecilia Manguerra Brainard wrote in the preface of Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Younger Adults in 2003, “…it is the realization that there is a scarcity of Filipino young adult books that spurred me to edit and publish this book.” While there has been some improvement in this situation it has not been by much, as far as I have been able to determine. As of 2015, I was able to locate the following books, Fresh Off the Boat by Melissa de la Cruz, two books by Candy Gourlay Tall Story and Shine, American Son: A Novel by Brian Ascalon Roley and Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. I realize that there may be more I did not find, accordingly, to my mind, Galang’s addition to this list would be reason enough to heartily welcome it. However, Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery goes beyond simply expanding statistics. In a number of ways it gives us, Filipino Americans, Filipinos and non-Filipinos, young and older, a narrative in which we can readily find connections.
In Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery Galang makes the story accessible by providing us with some key threads to help navigate the narrative. A main thread familiar to Filipinos and non-Filipinos is the Filipino diaspora, a feature that has almost become synonymous with present-day Filipinos, the necessity to go abroad for a better life, economic or political (“… Not only does she pass her nursing boards, but she also earns the rest of her passage and gets her papers from a hospital in Chicago. They tell her, come, we need nurses. … So in less than a month, she buys socks and sweaters and loads all her things in a big carton. She wraps up her life with a sturdy hemp rope. And then she’s standing in my room , begging me to see her off at the airport.”). Another thread is the yearning for home however well entrenched one may be in another land (“The breeze laps against my skin. My head tilts to heaven and limbs rise, wafting gently at my sides. I am gliding like a blossom flowing to the sea. A spattering of stars float past like jellyfish in the Pacific. I move toward the moon, and when I return to the land I know I’m home. I am in the Philippines …. .”). A third thread is the innate ability of Filipinos to readily adjust to any situation in order to fulfill a dream (“She (Inay) remained fully dressed in her green scrubs, a winter scarf still thrown around her shoulders. This was her American dream. Every day, every week – working until the skin begins to separate from her bones, until the hair has gone completely gray – she works when the rest of us sleep. … For what? A paycheck. For what? So she can bring us over one by one… .”). A fourth and important thread is the constant conflict between tradition and the desire to evolve and adapt to a new setting. And, last and perhaps the most deeply imbedded are the traditional binding ties of family, kinship and friendship that help Filipinos overcome any adversity they come across (“[Lola Ani’s]…voice is hoarse and she speaks as if telling us a great secret. ‘That is our way. One woman helps her sister. Many women help many sisters. Even though we disagree with each other, maybe we don’t even like each other, we help anyway.’ ”). All of these help to make her story most easily accessible to Filipinos, but, they also provide a sonorous resonance with storytellers from other cultures whose people are treading similar paths. Dominican American writer Julia Alvarez describes adventures that can be likened to those of Galang’s main character Angel in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Before We Were Free. Correspondingly, Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat does the same in Behind the Mountains: Adolescent Tales of Immigration.
Yet, this is a story intended mainly for young adults who, however, because of their relative lack of experience, may not yet immediately appreciate these threads for what they symbolize. For this reason, while I cannot read it from a younger vantage point I tried to imagine what a young adult would find attractive in it. After some thought, and consulting with the young adult daughter of a friend, I managed to break it down into characters, pace, themes and tone. Although these will seem to be influenced by the standard theories of fiction writing, I have used them to underpin my understanding hoping they would give me the viewpoint of a young reader.
Starting with the setting and characters, the story is that of a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman and the many difficulties with which she is compelled to contend with typical Filipina stoicism. The “fifth glorious mystery” refers the heroine’s favorite rosary (Catholic prayer beads) prayer that, in her words is “… the glory [of Crowned Queen of Heaven] filling up our room” The main characters of the story, first, in Manila and, then, later in Chicago, are tough-minded, yet gentle and sensitive Angel de la Luna, her dedicated, devoted, hardworking, equally sensitive mother Milagros, her deceased father Ernesto who appears chiefly in Angel’s memory, her wise, patient and understanding grandmother Lola Ani, her dutiful and caring younger sister Lila, her ever present, understanding best friend Karina and her traditionally strict but confused and cautious stepfather Manong Jack (Montenegro), innocent, demanding Danny, her baby stepbrother, Lisa, her new female confidant in Chicago and Jordan and Tommy, two boys who help her to be herself. There are also a host of secondary characters who provide appropriate backdrops demonstrating the phenomenon of numerous relatives, acquaintances and friends that always surround Filipinos.
While struggling, first, with the death of her beloved father and, then with her mother’s departure to work in Chicago, Angel is faced with caring for her aging grandmother and mothering her younger sister while, at the same time, venting her pent-up frustrations as a budding activist in the historical anti-Marcos EDSA Revolution of 1986 and the ongoing comfort women demonstrations. Angel’s experiences in the Philippines contrast starkly with those of her new home in Chicago. The abrupt change in her life moving from one country to another is emphasized physically in the book when from one page she is participating in demonstrations in Manila then a few short pages later she is aboard a plane bound for Chicago and is suddenly touching down in America. From this point on the transition from being purely Filipina to being Filipino American begins. Galang handles the transition superbly and struck a chord in the memory of my own experience. I can recall going through the same spasms as Angel when I moved in 1948 from New York City to Manila at the age of thirteen and was thrust like molten steel into the cold water of another culture.
The themes run the usual gamut of coming of age novels with coping psychologically and morally with emotional loss, dealing with confusing physical and emotional changes, trying to understand and control personality growth and trying to harness disorienting sexual urges. However, in our story, there are also the emergence of social and political awareness and the reality that women often carry a heavier burden in a man dominated society that add to shaping Angel’s young life. On a less pronounced scale are conflict, assimilation and resolution at the end.
The pace and tone are set by chapters that are for the most part short, varying between two to eleven pages each and totaling 54 chapters in all, broken into two main parts in which the chapters are grouped, Manila, 2000 and Chicago, 2002. It is a fast read to keep up with the tempo of the story. Angel’s tone as the narrator adds to this impression because she is constantly loud, impatient, and frustrated. Only at the end do we have a chance to take a breath. One feels her restlessness with the tempo of the drum beat “pintig,” “pintig,” “pintig” throughout until she stops on the last page and there is silence. I found myself finishing off the last 24 chapters during a two-hour train ride from the town of Ise on the Kii Peninsula to Nagoya.
Telling the story from the point of view of a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman while struggling with personal tragedy and confusion and simultaneously trying to enjoy a few pleasures available to her (such as playing the drums, sharing insights and a cigarette with her best friend, and meeting two boys who understands her) along with experiencing the exhilaration of participating in the protest movements provides abundant action and movement. There are so many things going on that a lot is left unsaid, but skillfully implied. For example, the education of Filipinos (the ability to speak more than one language with relative ease (“But it is my mother, Milagros de la Luna, who questions them directly, speaking in the dialect, charming farmers, roadside vendors, and tricycle drivers with cadence of her voice. …” ; “ ‘You need English to be world citizens,’ she says, ‘but do not forget … to speak Filipino. Do not forget the dialects… .’ ”) and the penchant for education. Also unsaid are the coinciding pull toward tradition, that keeps Filipinos focused without trying too hard or overemphasizing, and the push of the desire to expand to new heights and expand the Filipino into an ever evolving phenomenon.
Although it is a young adult story, once I started reading it I found I could not put it down. The message transcended generations and reached that vital core within me that pushed me to find connections with the contents and live along with it. For me, that it is written by a Filipina made it even more appealing. That the message it conveys reaches across cultures incrementally increased the appeal. Of course, I am gushing. That’s what we Filipinos do when we meet other Filipinos anywhere in the world, especially in the world of literature.
Graduate School of International Administration and
Graduate School of Humanities
Josai International University
In a way, I am an apotheosis of Filipino American (that I refuse to hyphenate) not only because I am American born of a Filipino father and an American mother, but because I was educated both in the US and the Philippines, where I also spent my formative years becoming Filipino in the years immediately following World War II. In my 81 years, I have been a research chemist, book editor, dictionary editor, book publisher, United Nations official, university professor, artist and, recently, a budding violin-maker. At present, I teach graduate courses in intercultural understanding, NGO NPO policy and thesis writing and presentation for master and doctoral degree students at Josai International University in Tokyo, Japan. My published output as a writer, up until recently, has been mainly academic. Most significant among my books are: Scholarly Publishing in Asia (University of Tokyo Press, 1973), Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: Emerging Techniques (Kodansha International, 1977), Publishing in the Third World: Knowledge & Development (Heinemann Mansell, 1985), "Publishing in Japan,” in International Encyclopedia of Publishing (Garland Publishing, 1995). My most recent book is Amadio’s Box: How I Became Filipino (Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2015).