Melissa Palma is an Iowa-raised daughter of Filipino immigrants. She was privileged to grow up in a multigenerational household with her grandparents, parents, and little sister in Waterloo, Iowa. Following graduation from the University of Iowa with degrees in biochemistry and medicine, her capstone project for the Humanities Distinction Track was the first to focus on the intersection of dance and patient communication. Her writing has been featured by In-Training Magazine, In-House Magazine, and now the inaugural Bicultural Iowa Writers’ Fellowship. Melissa tweets @IssaPalma.
"I grew up in the rolling cornfields of the Hawkeye State in Waterloo, Iowa. The people in my community and the city I come from are rooted in histories of displacement.
The ancestral lands of the Meskwaki people who suffered the violence of settler colonialism are where my grandparents would visit the casino in Tama. The descendents of the German, Irish, and Norwegian immigrants in the mid-1800s became my parochial elementary school classmates. The African-American communities that can trace their families’ Great Migration out of the Jim Crow South in the 1920s and the Bosnian refugees who fled civil war in the 1990s were my public high school peers.
As an Iowa-raised daughter of Filipino immigrants, the places where I find community are varied and diverse. Despite our extensive history with the United States, Filipino-Americans often grapple with issues of erasure and colonial mentality. Inundated by messages equating assimilation with success, I witnessed how the effects of race, class, and language can twist one’s fate. It is revealing to call a place home that no one expects you to be from.
While most Filipino American history and literature focuses on communities in California and the West Coast, this project serves to document stories of migration and the many paths we take to call Iowa home. I am honored to participate in the inaugural Bicultural Iowa Writers’ Fellowship. I hope to share a piece of my own family’s story among the rich tapestry of transnational identities in Iowa.
My professional training has taught me to become a witness to human narrative and its deep potential for healing. I dream of broadening the definition of who is an Iowan and what we value, definitively proving that we are not other people’s children, but rather, we are the future of the state."