Evangelina was born on November 29, 1949, in San Antonio, Texas, United States. She is the daughter of Juan (a shoe repair shop operator) and Maria Soto (a homemaker; maiden name, Evangelina) Vigil. She is the second child in a family of ten children and grew up speaking both Spanish and English.
Her mother’s family came from Mexico to San Antonio, Texas in the early 1900s. and her father’s family came from the area of Seguin, Texas. In her later childhood, she lived with her maternal grandmother’s extended family and heard her great- uncle tell many stories about life growing up in Parras, Coahuila, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution and about the struggles making a new life in the United States at the turn of the century. According to Elaine Dorough Johnson in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, she learned from her maternal grandmother “to observe and listen for words of wisdom which come only with experience.” Her great-uncle, who was a father figure to her during her teenage years, gave her a sense of independence and self-reliance. Through her mother, who read the San Antonio Light daily, page to page, she developed a love of reading.
She wrote her first poem when she was eight years old, winning third place in a national poetry contest sponsored by Dreamside Ice cream, and her love of music and words intertwined as she grew older; she wrote down the lyrics of her favorite songs, filling in the lines she didn’t know with her own words.