Ilokano as National Language Campaign

Espiritu and the Spirit of the Ilokano and Amianan Peoples,
Intellectual Lifework, and the Birthing of Nakem Conferences

Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.

(A testimonial essay in honor of Prof. Prescila Llague Espiritu, on the occasion of her retirement from the University of Hawai`i after 33 years of service as an advocate of heritage culture and a teacher of Ilokano as a heritage language)

0. The Espiritu, The Spirit, and The Anito

To speak of ‘espiritu’ is to invoke the sacred, the divine, and the godly. To arrest the concept and make it as one’s own, appropriate it in the way the hermeneuts do—borrow it and never return it by making it as one’s own in order to serve one’s ends and interests—is to make ‘espiritu’ as spirit, to make it as the anito of the ‘idi ugma,’ the élan vital of the ages, the same life force of the peoples of Ilokos and Amianan. This is what we declare: To make the lifework of Professor Prescila Espiritu as the anito of what we inheritors of a program would like to pursue in the years to come.

We are appropriating Professor Espiritu’s name—but we are appropriating as well the vocation and work in that name. This is the bigger context and political position I am taking in taking a look at a colleague’s lifework and try to unravel before the public the mind that has taken permanent residency in that lifework.

The borrowed colonial term ‘espiritu’ for the peoples of the Philippines, and in a more specific sense, for the peoples of the Ilocos and Amianan, is the anito and no other, the sense of the past and the present and the future—the sense of time collapsing into a continuum and into an eternity, its configuration divisible only by the temporal dynamics of human need for boundaries, for categories, for labels, that, in the final sense, are not necessary when, in the mystical union of language and silence, silence takes on language, silence becomes language in its fullness, and language becomes silence, its language in full and beyond it, a silence in quietude and stillness, placid as placid can be.

I am not aware that there are many families in the Philippines carrying the Espiritu surname, not perhaps in the way one would give up counting dela Cruzes, Ramoses, and Santoses—some kind of a last name that one Spanish governor general imposed upon the people when, in that need for control and administration, he passed an edict requiring all the subjects of the royal crown to have their own first and last name, some kind of a biological taxonomy imposed upon a people now growing restive and restless and revolutionary. The pontifical power of imperium commingling with the heavens, of course, blessed that crown that ruled the people for more than three hundred years, bribing them with the promises of heaven and salvation, and making them cower in fear with the dread of ‘the eternal fires of hell.’

When last names do come few and far between in the Philippines, there are several reasons that come tickling one’s mind, and this is accord with some zest and vigor from the irrepressible rumors of a republic eternally in search of itself: (a) the male members of the clan, tribe, family, or the village bearing that last name contributed warriors in the sporadic wars against the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese—in that order—and got themselves killed, hence, the decimation; and (b) the male members belong to the elite and/or the bourgeoisie that is not known to ‘multiply’ a lot because they tended to have some kind of a ‘genetic sexual attraction’ for each other, hence, ending up not genetically preconditioned to reproduce because they are marrying their own cousins or distant relatives. Think of evolutionary development in reverse here. The Philippines has a fair share of this ‘cousin-marrying-cousin phenomenon’, and some members of these families are in the alleys of power in the homeland, which explains in many ways the literal and figurative impotency and infecundity of these ‘honorable’ men and women in public administration and governance. I am not certain, though, of the ‘evolutionary’ objectivity—or that ‘rigor’ in hard science—involved in this ‘popular knowledge’.

Knowing Professor Prescila Espiritu for many years, I am convinced that the reason why there are not many Espiritus is that the family, tribe, and clan is a bunch of bold and daring and courageous people who were ready to face the challenges of the everyday in both the personal and the social level—that indeed, the Espiritus somehow found their way to the warfront, literally, historically, politically, and culturally and offered themselves in oblation for and in the name of the homeland.
There may be few Espiritus, for sure, but the ‘espiritu’ as life’s energy is not a case of quantity, not a play of numbers, but one that serves as an engine in the pursuit of that which is good because it is true, the true because it is beautiful, the beautiful because it is good, and the good because it is true. The ‘espiritu,’ thus, as élan vital in the social struggle and selfless sacrifice one gets involved with is the same ‘espiritu’ of her name, this teacher, mentor, colleague, and cultural advocate, who, having come at the right place and the right time in this land of Ilokano immigrants—this Hawai`i that is both ‘gloria’ and ‘not-so-gloria’ of many Ilokanos—took advantage of that opportunity to build a program that has, in the last three decades, served the Ilokano people of this State.

1.0 Paths Crossing

Professor Espiritu’s path and mine were—are—always crossing. In a way, her cultural biography insofar as the advocacy for Ilokano studies is concerned, is linked up in a certain way with that of my own, and this fact of our cultural life being linked up is made more meaningful by the fact that I came into the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of the University as inheritor of this program’s many blessings as well as its challenges.

My involvement in Ilokano studies—the studies about Ilokano life, culture, politics, language, arts, economics, history, and literature—can be traced back to the early days of Martial Law when all of a sudden, the chaotic country and unruly republic and unrestrained revolution all fell silent and bulldozers cleared roads and highways were built and electric light came into the villages. I remember hearing the old folk narrative forms on radios—dallot, the epic Lam-ang, the duayya, the samiweng—and hearing them all with surprise and delight. I remember mulling over the words I heard, their sounds mystical, their suggestions rich, and their references earthy and yet joyous. I remember that when I heard the words I had a preference for something always got stirred in my soul. I remember us young men and women reciting our promise to help pursue the aims of the New Society as envisioned by then President Ferdinand Marcos and my winning a poetry contest on radio, the contest piece a play of phrases, a sleight of hand of sounds, a trick of thought I now barely recall. I just knew that if I played up all these ingredients well, I could make a poem, and that poem could be one of the best Ilokano poems there ever was. That was exuberance of youth, plain and simple braggadocio, true, but that would inaugurate my endless love affair with the Ilokano language, the first language I ever heard.

Born in an Ilokanized part of an Ibanag country in the valleys of Cagayan, Ilokano was the first language Professor Espiritu heard even if her parents were Tagalog, her father being a businessman who moved to that part of the country in response to a business opportunity that beckoned to him. The boundaries are porous in a multilingual and multicultural country such as the Philippines, and depending on the circumstances of one’s birth and upbringing, one member of an ethnolinguistic group could easily become a member of another one as the years go by. This is not to be seen as cooptation but a volitional act demanded by the accidents of life. Survival is the first of the ethical principles and one has to survive first before discoursing about good and its lack. In the graveyard, the rules are the same for all of the dead—the rules of dead language, dead desires, and dead silences. There are no ethical rules among the dead; the rules are for the living.
Among the living, the story of the ethics of survival is not the same.

What delights us no end in the life story of Professor Espiritu is her decision to embrace her Ilokanoness and her Ilokano self, she being born in an Ilokanized country, without at the same time denying her being a Tagalog. It was not to be one of exclusion; it was to be inclusion of all that she was—and is. This decision would bring her to this part of the world—and the meaning and relevance of that decision to embrace her Ilokano self as well as her Tagalog self is that it would lead her to the doorstep of the academe, that more than thirty years ago, needed a cultural advocate of a heritage and who would teach the language through which that heritage is being mediated. In many of our get-together with friends, this idea of meaning and relevance would crop up and I would say—and everyone would confirm—that all of these decisions were part of a grander design for a grander scheme of things we do not know, and which, more than thirty years ago, was not known to Professor Espiritu as well. We are learning from hindsight, but the road ahead is wide and bright. There is much Ilokano and Amianan metaphysics in this view of things, but having embraced our Ilokano selves, there is only that eureka that attends to a knowledge that should have been there a long time ago.

2.0 Intellectual Lifework

There is a saying about a person’s worth measured by the book he or she writes and leaves behind as a legacy to his or her people, to his or her ethnolinguistic community, and to the intellectual community to which he or she is a part. Professor Espiritu is leaving behind two books, not one, both books blazing a trail in Ilokano language pedagogy, an area of interest that is rarely valued in the Philippines, and arrogantly and ignorantly assumed by academics even in the Ilocos that, having been born into the language, they claim they already know Ilokano and its secrets, its magic and its enchantment, and its terrors and surprises. This is the same arrogance and ignorance of many of the country’s educational policy makers, who, in their confused and conflicted minds, keep on sweeping the ‘dust’ of Ilokano life and culture under the rug, and letting that dust stay there for as long as their arrogance and ignorance remain their core value and virtue, justifying their act, again with arrogance and ignorance, that they will continue to do this ‘sweeping under the rug’ in the name of the sacred nation, the sanctified republic, the holy country, and the blessed colonial language of the elite and the sacrosanct national language whose beginnings are a history and story of machinations and political maneuverings by uninformed cultural and academic elites whose voices reflect those of the center, those of hegemonic Manila, and those who pontificate of the need for ‘one and only one national language’ so that each one umili—each citizen—would be able to speak to each other in that ‘one and only one language’ from the center of power, economics, and culture.

The elites are still around, lording it over all of us, and making us mimic them as if we never have a mind of our own, speaking their own speech, forming our lips in the way they form their lips so that we would be able to pronounce well their own sounds as if to the regional language passed off as national language we are all born.

The elites do not know, of course, that they are presiding over our own linguistic and cultural death—and even if they have come to know of that knowledge, they have refused to accept that they are committing cultural tyranny and linguistic dictatorship. Such has been the lot of Ilokanos; such has been the lot of all other languages and cultures of the Philippines except Tagalog and English and the cultures they propagate, propagandize, produce, and reproduce. Even as I say this, I will be accused—as has been in the past—of being a reactionary, of being unable to see the politics behind the choice of one regional language over another, of refusing to see, to follow the warped logic of one academic that wantonly and triumphantly took pride, in her essay, that each child in the corrupt and corrupting land is now singing each morning the ‘Lupang Hinirang,’ the country’s national anthem, and that this is done by all of the children of the sad and sorrowing land, the children whose minds are ready for linguistic and cultural lobotomy, their singing of the national anthem each morning a sufficient proof for justifying that Tagalog has come to stay and rule and preside over all the ways we see the world. There is, of course, a systematic failure of knowledge in this claim—this failure to see the others, the ‘othered’ ethnolinguistic groups of the country, because one has been able to successfully take a position that is comfortable and convenient, with the largesse and benefits that go with such a position. Comfort blinds comfortably; convenience blinds conveniently. We call this the excess of exuberance, the vice of ‘triumphalism’, or the ‘blindedness’ that goes with victory, pushing others to the unknown margins, the unkind hills, the terror-filled mountains, and the unfamiliar boundaries because these ‘othered’ others do not matter in the national experience, in the national discourse, in the national accounting of who we are as a people.

These are difficult and painful realities—and they are ugly as well.

The difficulty is not so much on the victor: they hear their own voices, their voices loud and clear, thundering, colonizing, superior—The Voice.

The difficulty is on those who were not given the chance to be heard, those whose voices were snatched of them, their vocal cords slit, their throats pried open or muffled, whichever was easier to accomplish. In the course of the country’s history, many academics became a party to this orgy of difficulty, to this orgy of victors against the vanquished, with teachers colonizing students in English and colonizing them once again in Tagalog. This double colonization is a situation most difficult for so many of the ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines—and those who have been entrusted the knowledge to know did not know, did not care to know, or refused to know because speaking in English was good for ‘the export of warm bodies’ in the oilfields of the Middle East and in the high rises of Singapore and Hong Kong, and speaking in Tagalog entitles you to citizenship in the nation searching for a single language by eradicating other languages and valorizing one but only one to erase the vestiges of disunity, underdevelopment, corruption, bad leadership, and miscommunication, poverty, misery, and the myriad abstractions they link with the sins of diversity and plurality. This is, of course, propaganda done badly, with wrong premises, with skewed conclusions about what constitutes unity despite diversity, and oneness despite the multitude of languages and cultures of the country.

In the face of all these, there was one thing that was happening in the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. I asked around how did it ever happen that in 1972, the Ilokano language finally came into the halls of the academe, and after 66 years of historical presence in the Hawaiian Islands it finally got to be recognized as the “native language of the majority of Filipino immigrants in the United States,” in the words of the scholar and lexicographer Carl Rubino. I got some answers: there was a need for an Ilokano language course at the University that was why Professor Espiritu was asked to teach it.
That was history—a history of need, not a history of want.

Or a history of ‘want’ based on a real, heartfelt ‘need.’ While everyone in the country was going agog and gung ho with a national language that was as schizophrenic as some victimizers and victims of militarization and Martial Law were, there was, in the University of Hawai`i, that singular and sacred act of digging a garden, putting the organic soil back, and sowing the seed of Ilokano language pedagogy. While the brilliant people of the country’s Ministry of Education and Culture did not know exactly what education and culture they were ministering and instead imposing their draconian measure to make everyone speak in English and Tagalog by surgically removing the brains of students and inserting in there the strange sounds of strange languages and inculcating the grammar of submission to these educational policy makers their ‘untried’ truths about the connection between English and Tagalog, and the love of country, the Ilokano language program at this University began.

Like the act of giving birth, the beginnings were not easy.

For one, the Ilokanos themselves have lost their belief in the sanctity of their words, the lyricism and song and music of their language, the beauty of the world revealed by their speech, and the logic that comes off from their discourses. While there was a need, as some people perceived, and as some people had made known to the University and the people who should know better and who were in the know—or who were willing to try to get to know of the possibilities of offering Ilokano as a language course—the necessary support from so many sources was not easy to come by. Like the act of birthing, gestation was a long and arduous process, one that took years and years to go through, always requiring much patient understanding and an enduring spirit.

But Professor Espiritu did what had to be done, always on the lookout for opportunities, for the challenges that went with putting up another course and another one and promoting these courses among the students, among the heritage teachers, among the members of the community. For more than three decades, this sustained spirited of action, this dedication and commitment that knew no bounds, oozed out of Professor Espiritu’s mind and heart and soul, the spirited action dominating her, possessing her, egging her on, enchanting her, urging her, and prodding her to move on. Each year was a challenge since that first time that Ilokano was offered, finally, as a legitimate academic course with legitimate academic credits. That recognition by the University was more than sufficient to put a stamp to Ilokano, making it as legitimate as any other language taught at the University and spoken by many immigrant homes in the communities.

3.0 Nakem and the Birthing of a Movement

Professor Espiritu’s retirement came after much lingering. I heard for the first time she was retiring—or she was planning to retire—some six years ago. Like a parent to her child who is going away for the first time—except that her retirement is the reverse, with the one retiring going away and her program left behind to, with much hope and work, grow and bloom some more—there was much tentativeness in the first steps to go away, staying put as much as she could, holding on to the memories, holding on to that which is dear to her for the years and years of leisurely walking along the corridors of buildings and the walkways between them after a joyful class of the structure of Ilokano or a class on Philippine drama or a class on modern Philippine film, courses all that she diligently put together, conceptualized, designed.

My privilege in witnessing all these is mine alone—singular and sacred. It is singular because the historical situation and circumstances of my inheritance chose me; it is sacred because this ‘choosing’ is a call, a vocation in the way of the Latin ‘vocare,’ when the gods choose you to fulfill a mission. I can only fall on my knees and beg for grace and guidance.
I did not have any emotional and psychic investment in the program prior to the thirty-three years that Professor Espiritu manned the Ilokano program. While it is true that I had had on-and-off relationship with the Ilokano program by way of the lectures and speaking tours that I did in the interim prior to my coming in on board as the program coordinator, that relationship was not sufficient to prove that now my life has intertwined with it. It was not to be so until in late 2005, Professor Espiritu and I began to brainstorm, plan, and organize the 2006 Nakem Centennial Conference, the program’s contribution to the planned Filipino Centennial Celebration honoring the first 15 sakadas to set foot in the Islands in 1906, all of them, incidentally, Ilokanos.

The Nakem Conference was to be the bind that held us together—with our minds oneing in so many of the issues that attended to a respectable academic conference we had in mind, with intellectuals and cultural workers coming from all over and attending and participating and delivering papers on Ilokano and Amianan issues, intellectuals and cultural workers that have so much to share about Ilokano life, Ilokano culture, Ilokanoness—in the Philippines or in the diaspora.

Professor Espiritu’s huge role in the conference was to push me into thinking ahead of many things, including that obligation to name what we were both thinking, the naming perhaps an unconscious act on my part as a creative writer, with my world always burdened, delighted, and terrorized by the act of naming a human and poetic experience, rendering that name into language and verses and stanzas in order to share the poetic truth the mediated—the ‘languaged’—experience offers.
Problems of logistics saddled the conceptualization—but all told, with the two of us assisted by colleagues and friends and advocates of the same linguistic issues we were fighting for—the problems turned out to be opportunities for learning and for dreaming on and for pursuing our dream about a movement that would bring all scholars and leaders to the bargaining table so that once and for all, we begin to discuss the issues about us before other people discuss about us without us knowing that they are now doing so.

4.0 Commitment to the Community

In 2006, and in an effort to sanctify the sacrifices of sakadas—the sugarcane plantation workers who first came to Hawai`i as indentured laborers valued for their bodies and brawn and not their brains for it was assumed they did not have, or that some of the laborers had to lie about their having some kind of an education—the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program came out with Ani/Harvest. In that book, Professor Espiritu writes on the genesis of her cultural advocacy, the essay also her acceptance speech of the award bestowed upon her by the GUMIL Filipinas in its 2006 National Conference and Convention: “My commitment to the establishment and development of the Ilokano Program at the UHM, since I started teaching the first course in 1972, has been primarily motivated by the notion of Ilokano becoming an obscure language. I believe that we must not allow Ilokano to be relegated to the category of ‘dying language.’ A truly living language with approximately twenty million speakers worldwide, and the native or heritage tongue of the majority of Filipinos in the diaspora must not be set aside as a dispensable commodity, undeserving of respect and preservation. With all our collective efforts and advocacy—educators, writers, Ilokano organizations, and millions of Ilokano speakers—our Ilokano language and culture will not only survive, it will thrive!”

There are not many of the educators like Professor Espiritu, whether we speak of educators in the Philippines, in the United States, or in other countries where there are Ilokanos. Many Ilokanos in the country and abroad look at the Ilokano language and culture with disdain, sometimes with the eyes and rulers of outsiders, relegating Ilokano in the dark corners of their consciousness, or simply dismissing it as some kind of a pest that needs to be swatted and then trashed and completely forgotten. The Ilokanos in the United States tend to become too busy becoming Americans in an effort to be accepted more easily by the mainstream community. Some busy themselves losing their Ilokano accent, looking down on those who have been here for so long and yet their Ilokano accent trails them like a mad ghost, haunting and provoking, teasing and revealing the truth that beneath the façade of Americanization is that fact that Ilokanos are Ilokanos even if they had already switched their last name from “Bulong” to “McLeaves” to commence and complete, in one full sweep, their Americanization process.

We can name a few people from the more respectable higher institutions of learning who have the heart and passion for things Ilokano—and by extension, Amianan: Beth Calinawagan of the University of the Philippines Baguio; Visitacion Mamuad, Onofrecia Ibarra, Jeremias Calixto, and Alegria Tan Visaya of Mariano Marcos State University; Jaime Raras of the University of Northern Philippines; Arnold Molina Azurin, Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Noemi Rosal, Mario Rosal, Ofelia Silapan, and Roderick Galam of the University of the Philippines Diliman; the faculty of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa; and the scholars Lawrence Reid and Carl Ralph Galvez Rubino. For a people of more than twenty million and having only a handful of scholars in the academe to study and conduct consciousness-raising programs to convince the Ilokanos and other people of the country and abroad into joining the struggle premised on the knowledge and truth that the Ilokano language, Ilokano culture, and Ilokano literature are not ‘regional’ but national in scope, this situation is unforgivable. It is also a linguistic, cultural, and literary anomaly that every serious scholar, teacher, creative writer, and cultural leader of the Philippines should address and resolve with urgency.

There is no way we can accept in the spirit of justice and fairness—and with the standards of cultural and linguistic democracy—that Ilokano language is ‘only a regional language’ and that Ilokano literature is ‘only a regional literature.’ For the facts are clear: Ilokano is spoken in many parts of the country and is not confined in the Ilokos, in the Cordilleras, and in Cagayan Valley. We have to account the Ilokano speakers in Mindoro and Palawan; we have to account the Ilokano speakers in Mindanao.

We have to account as well the literature, in all its forms, that is being produced in these areas, including the kind of cosmopolitan and educated literature of the Ilokanos being produced in Manila and the cities and other urban areas, the kind of Ilokano literature that is being produced in the center of power, commerce, and culture mediated by unthinking pop cultural forms that do not contain sufficient energies for self-reflection and self-criticism: the boob tube television dictated by Manila consciousness, by Manila capital, and by Manila taste; the broadsheet and tabloid newspapers that give a token recognition of ‘news and features’ from the regions; the cinema that has become an instrument of a ‘massified form of aesthetics and human experience’ with only a handful that takes on the cudgels to bring into the social consciousness of the many the injustices the peoples outside Metro Manila are suffering from.

The isomorphism of Manila-centric view of ‘national experience’ and Tagalog consciousness via language, literature, and other pop cultural forms has given rise to generations of Filipinos that have measured each other according the norms of colonial power, such as the ruler provided by English, and internal domination of a Tagalog consciousness that has gone on and on unchecked because everyone is busy learning English and Tagalog to measure up. We cannot adopt here a position of one scholar that says that we have been able to colonize English—that we now have, indeed, Filipino English and thus, this proves that we do not have any problem anymore as a people and as a nation because we can now speak the kind of English that the English-speaking peoples of the world speak. This, to me, is untenable—in much the same way that it is untenable to say that we now speak Tagalog and since Tagalog is Pilipino and since Pilipino has metamorphosed into Filipino, then all shall be well and that all other ethnolinguistic groups in the country should now keep silence, keep mum, and say a thousand ‘Amen,’ the Amen like the Hebrew that seals the act of resignation in trust, in faith, and no complaint.

In turn, then, all Ilokanos and the peoples of Amianan should now band and together fight for the recognition that Ilokano is a national language; that Cebuano is a national language; that other languages spoken by many of our people in the country are national languages; and that all languages of the country must be given the opportunity not only to survive but to thrive. We lose one language and the poorer we become. We kill one language, and we have poised the death of a privileged, because imposed, national language also known as Tagalog. In light of this, we see from this advocacy work the need to rethink and revisit the position that there should only be one regional language, that is, Tagalog, and that Tagalog should continue to enjoy its entitlement and privilege as Pilipino, and that as Pilipino graduates into Filipino, it should further be entitled and privileged to become the national language we have been looking for but have not found so far. We cultural advocates no better than this narrow, herd-like, mass thinking. We know that the recognition of multiple national languages would spur communication and communion, unity in diversity, and democracy and justice. There is no other way we can shortchange the requisites of cultural and linguistic democracy by withdrawing it or diminishing it. The only antidote to the problems of democracy is more democracy—and this holds for language, culture, literature, and all other things that make up a country, that constitute a self-reflecting nation, and a self-respecting people.

5.0 A Grateful Language and Cultural Community

We are thus grateful for the efforts of Professor Prescila Espiritu, for the years that she put together to sustain a program that is the only one of its kind in the world. Not even the Philippines has it; not even the Universities from the regions where Ilokano ought to be taught but is not because of the mistaken and uninformed notion of many Ilokanos that they already know Ilokano and that there is no need for them to learn the language of their birth. These people look at the world with presumptuous presumptions, not knowing that the British, Australians, and Americans have up to the doctorate and post-doctorate programs in English; the Spaniards and the South/Latin Americans have up to the doctoral program in Spanish; that the French have the same thing for their language and culture; and so on. If Ilokanos do not even have the courage and daring to own up their ignorance of their own language—so many do not even know their grammar and orthography even among the ranks of the educated ones, even among those with advanced university degrees, even among the ranks of the policy makers and cultural leaders—then we are doomed forever. This the same reason why in internet epistemologies and email ontologies, you have ignoramuses multiplying like flies in the summer or like mosquitoes during the rainy season, arguing, among others, about the validity of coming up with foolish school policies that penalize school children caught talking in the speech—in the language—that is the abode and indwelling of their being, their becoming, and their soul, the Ilokano speech they are at home to, the Ilokano language that is now the home of their awakening. The philosopher has said that an unexamined life is not worth living. It is high time, indeed to examine our Ilokano lives, our lives as Ilokanos, our lives as Ilokanos in the Philippines and abroad. This is a need for the examination of social conscience and collective soul, and if there is a need for us to name the problem, then, let the naming begin.

A grateful people can only give its gratitude and thanks. The fact that Professor Espiritu has stood by an abstract people—abstract because the Ilokano heritage community in Hawai`i is a sea of faces, desires, conflicts, dreams, contradictions, struggles and strugglers. The only concrete member, ceteris paribus, is the student in the class. Even that is itself a struggle as the interaction between a heritage learner and a heritage language teacher is laden with metaphors, with symbols, with persuasions, with constant reminders that it is worth going back to one’s roots, this last one a psychological blackmail to those who are searching for their Ilokano selves even if they have already found their American selves.

6.0 The Present Qua Future—and the Act of Presencing

We can only take our hats off in respect and reverence to the sacredness of the acts of sacrifice of Professor Espiritu, acts that are selfless, acts that she utilized and summoned to build upon the Ilokano program. We can only imagine the long hours, the dark days, and many moments of despair and disappointment that are twin to a clear vision and to a big dream such as the Ilokano program.

Even as I personally inherit a vision and a mission, the task on hand are enormous. But I see that enormity not as a problem but a challenge, an opportunity to keep growing, to keep sustaining what we have gained, to keep the vision, to turn the vision into a mission, and to turn the mission into pursuable because realistic and committed goals.

The program will become a witness to the resiliency of the spirit of the Ilokanos and the peoples of Amianan and to this end we offer two vehicles to pursue this dream: the annual Nakem Conferences and the International Academy for Ilokano and Amianan Studies.

7.0 Be Well, Maestra

To Professor Priscila Espiritu, be well. We thank you for the years of offering your strength and song, sorrow and joy, and love and life in order for the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program to be conceived, to be born, to be nourished, and to grow. Like your name, the anitos be with you, the spirits of the ancestors bless you. Your deed will be etched in the memory of our people for all times. You have shown us the way, and there is no turning back for the many of us now. Bless us with the anito, with the spirit even as we bless you with the anito, with the spirit.

Published in Nakem: Imagination and Critical Consciousness in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics
Honolulu: IPDFP, in collaboration with Nakem Conferences Inc. and International Academy for Ilokano and Amianan Studies, 2007.

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