Monthly Archives: June 2014
I grew up surrounded by the sound of three languages in our house: the native Filipino, English, and the language I know nothing about: Visaya.
My mom was born and raised in a tiny island of Romblon at the southern tip of Luzon island but its inhabitants consider themselves as Visayans. Childhood is having to go to Romblon and taste the sweet, salty taste of the sea, or running alongside the beach, or listening to this fascinating, fast language coming out of my mother’s mouth.
Visaya is an endearingly familiar language, yet it also acts like a distant stranger with no face. My tongue very seldom tastes its hard and thick words and accent. My vocabulary is mediocre at its best, but no language holds so much interest for me. I felt like if I can speak Visaya, I can understand this country more and more, with it being the 2nd most widely spoken native language in the Philippines.
“Why didn’t you teach me to speak Visaya?” I often ask my mom. My brothers and I were only taught of just plain Filipino (which is heavily Tagalized) and cliche English. My mom just smiled and said, “I don’t want you to have any problems with your Filipino and English pronunciations. It would be too embarrassing.”
My mom’s answer didn’t make any sense that time. How can you pass up the chance to raise your kid as multilingual? But growing up, I grew to realize what she means. Watching the TV, we are conditioned to laugh at the silly English pronunciation of Visayan maids. When a family friend mispronounced an English or Filipino word, my dad and uncles would be quick to laugh at him and say “Ay may Bisaya dito!” as if being a Visaya is equivalent of being dumb and ignorant. Overtime, the language of my childhood grew to have a connotation of ”baduy” or out-of-trend. Visayans in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon have to disguise their accent with broken Tagalog words and English code-switching. Growing up, my Visayan relatives and cousins are always make fun of because of their thick accents and mispronunciation of Filipino words.
In fact, I’m very much envious of my Visayan cousins who can speak and write in English as well as I do (or even more so). They have three languages ready in their arsenal, while I only have two. It’s quite disconcerting, especially if some proud Visayans (Cebuanos, for instance) would prefer to talk to you in English than in Filipino with a silent mocking reproach on their faces as if saying, ‘You’re in our place. When we’re in Manila, we speak the vernacular Tagalog. Why can’t you do the same thing when you’re here?’
One of the random thoughts that comes out during my stuck-in-the-traffic musings is how the diverse variety of language affected our national psyche as Filipinos. You round up 7,000+ islands, with different languages or dialects on its own, each with different culture and way of life, and call it a country. While forced colonialism may be a factor to what have become of us in the present time, a lack of unifying, acceptable language that is of our own plays a large part to our maturity as a people. And the fact that we make fun of a language and an accent (one of our own languages, mind you); the way we degrade it, the way we tolerate the ethnic slur in mass media and everyday interactions, shows how immature we really are (or most of our people are)
There is unity in diversity and with respect comes harmony. I’m not saying we should be fluent in all languages that exist in this beautiful country of ours, but that we should embrace (or at least, respect) the diversity that makes us what we are. No culture is greater than the other. Just as no language or accent is inferior to another.
And to my Visaya-speaking friends who have experienced being discriminated mercilessly or made fun endlessly because of your accent by non-Visaya speakers, just smile and say the most colorful cuss words you can think of in your native language. They have no way of understanding you anyway.
A Facebook post made me smile today. It’s about a worker who paid his salute to the Philippine anthem by clasping his fist against his chest as our three stars and a sun was being raised up in front of the Municipal Hall. That in itself is already a moving sight, since most Filipinos seldom pay homage to the flag-raising ceremony if they weren’t part of the event. But the fact that this guy is doing it hundred foot from the ground, at the top of a church scaffolding, deserves a thousand ‘likes’ (twenty-thousand and counting by the way)
This made me remember something that happened to me a few months ago at the MOA Arena before the opening of the International Pyromusical Festival. I was alone waiting for my office-mates at an open patio of a restaurant sitting beside the baywalk when I heard the faint tune of the Philippine anthem from a distance, signalling the opening of the program. I stood up and a few others also did. A waiter passed by, suddenly puzzled over why I am standing, and smiled at me. “Wow si ate, makabayan!”. (‘Bayan’ in Filipino means country so makabayan roughly translates to ‘someone who loves his country’)
He said it in a teasing, patronizing way as if expecting me to comb my bangs sideways and proclaim myself as ‘Rizal’. I took his jibe with a smile. He ought to be thankful I didn’t turn into a Bonifacio and chase after him with an itak for interrupting my sentimental reaffirmation of my allegiance to my country. (Honestly, is it that hard to stand still for a few minutes until the anthem ends?)
There are some things I can’t understand about Filipinos and this is one of them. When one from our brood gains worldwide recognition or achieves something worthy of international praise, we are quick to jump in the wagon and declare ‘Proud to be Pinoy!’ or ‘Philippines is blessed to have so many talented Filipinos.’ Personally, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the achievements of your fellowmen, but purely identifying your national identity and pride to the success of some Filipinos who shed blood and tears just to get to the top, then I guess there’s something wrong with you. You may be a proud Pinoy but you’re not a true Filipino at heart.
I admit there’s nothing much to be proud the country at first glance. We all have the cliche developing country problems like corruption, poverty, unequal treatment of rich and poor, lack of education, national apathy and a case of bad historical amnesia blah blah blah. In some corners of the internet, Filipino pride is the butt of all jokes by foreign and Filipino netizens. It didn’t help that some Filipinos are butthurt about the affronts these foreigners make, whether it’s only satire or just an outsider’s observation. But the thing is, all countries have these problems too. I didn’t say I’m proud that my country has these problems (even US residents are ashamed of how badly their government handled its foreign policy in the Middle-east). My take is that you should justify your pride with positive actions. If you’re itching to slapbitch an author who blatantly states Manila is the Gates of Hell, then do your part to revitalize Manila than vent your persona-non-grata rage to the internet. If you believed there’s something in our genes that makes us great, prove it to yourself and stop hitching your wagon to someone else.
You can show your national pride through simple yet meaningful gestures. You can still be the proudest Filipino out there by recognizing the flaws of your country and adapting a mindset that you can do something to change it. You can be wise and patriotic at the same time. You can criticize. You can praise. You can observe. You can be that ordinary Juan doing your job and looking forward to contribute your part. You can be that daredevil manong standing at the side of the church dome, paying homage to the flag.
Because being a makabayan for the right reasons may not be an ‘in’ right now but you’re still going to feel awesome.
Last May 2-4, 2014, I attended a 3-day conference sponsored by the National Commission of Culture and Arts and also Wikipedia Philippines. The agenda is simple: Build a cultural mapping site which will document all heritage and historical sites across the whole country. Now, I don’t really consider myself as someone who loves heritage house and old buildings just for its art, nor the aesthetics involved. I don’t have an eye on what beauty is, and if I do, I don’t have any words to explain it. For me, beauty is a matter of degree..not a lack of it. When you’re talking about an old house, the overall architectural beauty of the place comes in second for me after its historical value or the hidden stories it may contain.
I have a fondness for old buildings ever since I was in grade school when my grandmother, who was a school principal that time, used to take me along field trips of her school. Usually, the destinations are historical sights or old houses of our heroes. I like running over the long hallways and running my hand over wooden carvings and balustrades. When I stumbled upon a room with a four-poster bed, I would imagine a young lady sitting on her bedclothes and braiding her long, dark hair while singing a song that would calm the night. Old houses are invitation for wild imaginings. When you’re talking about old, you’re also talking about stories. I love stories. Whether it’s just a short rambling, or a funny anecdote, or some great history involving the place, I cling to every word. In my book, whoever preserves these old gems are worthy of praise because they’re not only preserving the place as a whole, but the stories they contain…the people and events they’ve lived by. They are the irreplaceable parts of our history as a people and I would surely feel the same way even when I’m looking at old houses in Mindanao and Visayas as I would tour the houses in Luzon.
So why heritage? I like to think that I’m fighting for something that’s irreplaceable. An old house, an old building, a battlefield or an artifact, whatever they may be, the value they hold is no less important than what they look or what stories they contain. It could be my sentimental self speaking, but I like the thought of preserving the memories of old because without them, what am I going to call myself to begin with?
When you’re doing your part on preserving the history, you’re passing down an identity, a consciousness to the future generation. Loving our heritage, even if it’s influenced by our conquerors and colonizers, intricately connects and binds us together. You may love heritage for its art, or for its architectural wonder, or how it survived many generations, anywhere you look at it, it will remind us of what we endured and learned as a people.