On June 18 and 19, I had the chance to link up arms with fellow warriors on the road. These are warriors armed with the knowledge that if we do not do something to this social malady that has caused our cultural and linguistic genocide, we will all end up in the 'kangkungan'--a water cabbage patch--and soon.
The reference to the 'kangkungan' is a happy allusion to the tragi-comic Erapism that gave us illusion and enchantment during the Erap presidential regime. The regime was propped up by both the delusion of grandeur of a celluloid life and by the academe that was as parasitical as a 'linta' from the same 'kangkungan' former President Erap Estrada mentioned when he threatened his enemies with that (in)famous and quotable quote, "Pupulutin kayo sa kangkungan!"
But back to the Isabela State University's initiative towards self-redemption, the reason why I was going to Isabela.
It is not that ISU did not have various initiatives before. With this University's Dr. Romeo Quilang as president, culture and the arts are part and parcel of the Univeristy's academic life. In collaboration with many local government units and other government agencies, this life comes alive with various cultural performances each time an occasion calls for them.
Dr. Quilang, a biologist by professional training, understands the complex relationship between science and culture, particularly indigenous culture, and when he assumed the University's presidency, he established the Center for Culture and the Arts. The CCA is ably directed by Dr. Elena Toquero.
At the 2007 Nakem Conference in MMSU in Batac, Dr. Toquero asked me if I could go to their University's main campus in Echague to direct a two-day conference that would highlight the cause of Amianan cultures and languages advocacy.
At first, I could not think of a way to echo the Nakem Conference but as the Batac confab went on, things got clearer and on the second day, I proposed to Dr. Toquero a title: "The Amianan Languages and Cultures as our Homeland."
I thought of exiles here. Of diaspora. Of marginalization. Of linguistic injustice. Of cultural tyranny. These are themes that have moved me to keep thinking about the Philippine linguistic and cultural condition. These are themes that make my day anytime.
I thought of Ilokanos going on exile--of them exiled from their own spiritual homeland, their language.
I thought of all the Yogads losing their homeground.
I thought of all the Ibanags, the Agtas, the Itawis, the Ivatans, the Kalingas, the Yapayaos, the Bontocs.
I thought of all the Cordillerans and their cultural pride despite centuries of discrimination by the colonizers, the neocolonizers, and by the lowlanders.
And so I told Dr. Toqyero, "Yes, I will come."
On June 17, I took a Baliwag bus to Cagayan Valley. It has been years that I had not had the chance to go to this 'amianan' part of the country even if I was born here.
Earlier in the day, I had to call up several bus companies to figure out how to get to Echague, a town I have passed by several times but have not had the change to walk its sleepy but welcoming streets. The circumstances of jus soli sometimes makes you an exile especially when growing up means displacement and learning your first language means placement in another part of the homeland. Isabela-born I was, true.
But I was Ilocos-reared and Ilocos-raised and my reasoning ability was closer to the arid lands of Laoag than to the rich and fertile lands of Cabatuan where I first saw the light of day, or so I was told, but could not exactly remember what that experience is all about. Birth does not make you remember your baby cries unless one is a Lam-ang incarnate, the epic hero that has the ability to name himself, apart of course from that ability to resurrect from the dead.
I kept thinking about the 'homeland' metaphor and its connection to language and culture.
I kept thinking about the many languages and cultures of Cagayan Valley, the region of my birth, a region I will always be an exile because I do not know its surprises, its promises, its terrors, its beauty.
I kept thinking about how to convince the big shots of the academic and cultural community that there is a need for them to join the struggle for linguistic and cultural democracy because social justice precisely demands such a form and subtance of democracy.
I sure had my notes after a gruelling duel with my mind.
I sure had mulled over the need for liberation linguistics and cultural liberation as frameworks for this language and culture struggle.
But I was not sure what kind of an audience would I have.
I have not had any dealings with Isabela State University in the past. Sure, I had delivered a talk at St Paul University. But this was a long time ago, in the early days of a movement in creative writing in Ilokano we were able to pull it through as our response to the mossy approaches and frameworks of what we termed as a 'mossy' approach to Ilokano creative writing. But this was more than a decade ago and time is an unruly master sometimes. We forget things, we became strangers to what was familiar.
That Baliwag bus that I took at 10:00 PM was crowded with people, sacks, luggage, and dreams of democracy in all its forms. It was crowded as well with my uncertain thoughts about the Isabela of my birth but was never my soulland. I became an exile during the first years of my mortal life, and the Isabela that I knew was of imagination running wild and free, with second-hand stories from my mother about my grandfather's homestead in Angadanan, a piece of land I never saw, not until I was in my teens and only for a night when I accompanied my grandmother for a quick visit, with the memory of a swollen river with its murky waters for a reference. I remember that it was during the rainy months and coffee and cacao harvest was not good, and the maize fields had to be cleared for peanuts or some other crops.
In Laoag and Manila during the years of remembered activism for activism's sake, I had learned of the agrarian issues in Isabela. This prompted me to write a poem about Isabela, about Minante Uno, about the drunk politicians who do not know what being drunk with power was all about. Bannawag, in the late 70s or 80s picked up this poem and published it. The poem, part of a forgettable youthful exuberance, is a vague criticism of the place's obnoxious sociopolitical condition. That was to be the start of more vague criticisms on the country's sociopolitical conditon.
Like my Ilocos trip in May, the rains had come in these parts. The fields are green, the forests equally so.
In the early morning of June 18, I received my first text of the day from Dr. Toquero, the mother of the many texts that would soon follow: "Where are you now?"
The early morning sun streaked through the morning mist in Jones, past Sta. Fe. There was joy in seeing again the familiar landmarks and that snaking route that leads to the valley of my wandering Ilokano and Pangasinense ancestors; the early morning scenes of mist and mellowed mountains returned me to the memory I could never go home to, never, because the Ilocos had claimed me more than these parts. The branches of trees danced with the early morning breeze, the twigs, verdant with thick foliage like arms raised in prayer to the clear heavens.
Isabela, I said. Isabela, here I come.
A Solver Agcaoili
ISU Echague, June 19/07