Galang uses the symbol of the Mermaid in “One Tribe” to represent different aspects of the girls who live in Las Dalagas in Virginia Beach. She uses the Mermaid to symbolize the girls’ freedom, their sexuality, and the destructive nature of the environment (social, political, and cultural) that has shaped them over the years. The image of the mermaid also signifies the fear that dominates the youth and all the people that live in this Midwestern town.
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This fear stems from politics, the environment, and immigration, and more imminently the future of the people who have immigrated into this town. The mermaid helps one to understand the kind of life that most youths live in this town. It also gives us an insight into the role of the community and culture in shaping a society’s values. Just by a glance, the mermaid’s picture signifies immorality in this society.
Isabela Manalo commonly known as Isa is a Philippine immigrant who relocated to the USA, in search of a better life. However, like any other girl, she hastily gets into the life of being a town girl and gets pregnant while in an illegitimate affair. During this period, there is a lot of gossips (tsismosas) from the elders, her peers, and even from her parents. Unfortunately, Isa loses her unborn child and the gossip becomes worse. Isa tries to look for acceptance from the community.
Isa has so many fears concerning her past, present, and future. In her life, she is in a dilemma on what to do so that she can meet the expectations of her family, her professional requirements, culture and get fulfillment in her life. In Isa’s Philippine community, the past is silent and one cannot be able to speak about it. Isa finds herself at crossroads when she wants to talk about this. She finds herself an outsider when she wants to talk about it and therefore she has to move into a different community so that she can be able to do this.
She has fears that she may be rejected from her community and may not be accepted into the other community (white community). This uncertainty makes her fear losing so much more as her Filipino boyfriend forces her to lose her “white” ways or they part ways. Isa is a distrusted girl in the community as her family soon believes that she is becoming too white. She finds herself at crossroads with her culture that has nurtured her values and beliefs in life for so long.
The Philippine community is tied by its cultural values and the girls cannot exercise their freedom. The community can neither be characterized nor can it address its issues. This brings about the persistent problems in many youths’ sexuality and the way they destroy their lives living in crimes, associating with gangs, and prostitution. This leads to eventual loss of identity yet the Philippine community can not address these issues with urgency instead they tend to focus on Isa and her newly acquired western ways.
The mermaid jerks many people to readdress the role of the family, the American community, youth gangs at large. At this level, the mermaid serves as a sign to remind people what is going on around them. When Isa begins to date a white man Eliot, Isa sees her relationship with him as an obstacle to her getting into the “other” community. Isa who thought that life in the other community could be fair feels saddened by the whole issue of going out with Eliot. She misunderstands the man and feels that he actually does not know what Isa really wants; being accepted and being part of the other community.
When Isa visits Lourdes her student whose boyfriend was killed in a gang shooting accident, she is met with the utmost rejection and hostility. Tita-Nita, Lourdes’s mother who was the Filipino queen of beauty at one time sends her away rudely. Lourdes’s mother is married to Loise Starr, a white man who welcomes Lourdes into their home. This clearly shows us what most people fear, stereotypes. Lourdes’s mother feels that Isa could be struggling so hard to be accepted into the white community.
Maybe she feels that Isa has destroyed her own cultural values and does not want her to mislead her daughter in doing so. Lourdes could also be thinking that Isa is an immoral girl who cannot do anything for society hence the way she treats her.
Isa proves the whole community wrong when Hurricane Emilia brews at the east coast. She opens her door and her heart to the local gang and talks to them. Finally, just like a sudden shift of tropical winds their minds and attitudes towards life changed for the better. This gives Isa a lot of inspiration and encouragement. She decides to plan events like modeling that will expose the talent of the young people. Through this, Isa feels that she will be able to reach out to the youth and change their thoughts and attitudes about sexuality, who they are, and their role in society. This makes her get some fulfillment in life and acceptance into both communities.
Evelina, M. Galang. One Tribe. New Issues Poetry Press. 2006.