(Note: This is a privileged e-mail of my son to me, the son who has the same name as my own. I have urged him to take up linguistics at the UP Diliman and to pursue the ends of liberation linguistics, one area of interest he had started when he wrote his thesis for his BA degree in philosophy. I must say I have been fortunate to have a son who understands what diversity is all about, and the demands for justice, fairness and democracy that diversity entails. I have, somehow, invested in him the hope that one day soon this country will wake up to the fact of cultural and linguistic injustice it has inflicted upon the people other than those belonging to the regions of English and Tagalog languages.
It is a privileged e-mail and it was meant for me but I am taking the liberty to post it in my blog. I thought that this letter is symbolic, more than ever, of that growing awareness of the young of what has happened to this country for the last seventy years since the imposition of that deplorable Tagalogization policy of the Philippine Commonwealth under the guise of the Philippine nation and nationalism.
I asked my son, Aurelio II, to accept in my behalf my Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino award for Ilokano poetry and the Palanca for Ilokano short story. At the KWF, I asked him to read my short 'acceptance' speech. At the Palanca, it is different, of course.
I had known all along that his twin experiences will somehow make him see up-close the kind of struggle many of us 'minoritized' and 'othered' cultures, languages, and literatures of this country are waging, the kind of 'culture' war we have to fight and win. There is so much sorrow in all these, so much misery, so much injustice. The only way to the path to healing is to begin the rite of naming our wounds and pains.
The Ilokanos are not the only ones wounded here. With an estimated 170 or more languages of this country, with only two functioning with certain prestige (English and Tagalog masquerading as P/Filipino), we have to account the rest. Where are they?
The Palanca Awards realized recently that it needs to give that token recognition to Sebuano, Hiligaynon, and Ilokano and so the short story genre for these languages are now being contested by many writers from the regions.
So here is the letter. My only contribution to his piece is to give it a title.)
A Son's Letter and the Sensitivities of a Bruised Nation
By Aurelio A. Agcaoili II
To be honest, itay, nanliit ako sa Palanca. I felt like a teaspoon, some purely ornamental detail that the night can do without.
I was a representative of a winner, and not the winner myself. That night, I saw a universe of difference between the two, and what pains me is that I can't do anything about it.
I want to go upstage without representing anyone else.
I want my name to be called, and not some name gravely familiar and familial.
I want to feel victorious, not from a second-hand glory, but from my own blood and sweat and words.
I want to prove to myself and to everybody else that I can do it; I know I can.
But then, there is a big difference between what can and what does.
And the fact that I am nothing but some faceless, wannabe-writer who hasn't proven anything yet, remains.
Don't get me wrong, itay. I'm really happy and proud of you. It's just that I also want to be proud of me, of my own capacity, and that night, I can't. I simply can't.
I was further demoralized because of an injustice that reeked that night.
Amidst the prestige, the tailored clothes, the scrumptious food, there it was, this injustice towards the non-Tagalog and non-English literatures.
In the air, I can sense the belief "to write in Hiligaynon, in Ilokano, in Waray, etc., is to write in an unimportant language, in some language only familiar and applicable to some remote region in the country" being exhaled and inhaled by these so-called literary giants of the country.
I saw the winners of the "regional literature" categories coming up on stage with this chin-down behavior, as if abashed. Even from a distance, I sensed humility in their eyes, one that clearly reflects a perceived lesser position within some national literary strata.
Masakit ito para sa akin.
I can only imagine how one feels to write using his own native tongue, and be perceived as inferior because of that.
I have more faith in these so-called "regional writers" than I have the writers in Filipino, i.e., the LIRA clan, or writers in English.
Pagmamahal na lang talaga ang nakikita kong dahilan kung bakit ka pa magsusulat sa Ilokano, sa Waray, sa Hiligaynon, kahit na may Ingles at may Tagalog na pwede mong gamitin upang, well, maging National Artist for Literature.
When you think about it, it's alarming how an award-giving body that professes to know literature and culture is unaware of the othering it does to the languages, to the literatures of our countrymen.
Or probably -- and this is the more alarming -- this award-giving body knows, yet it remains silent, because the people behind the Palanca are themselves agents of this oppression, benefiting much from the hierarchy and hierarchization of our literatures.
Given all these, I can only pretend, itay, probably like everybody else.
I clapped, I laughed, I chose the right utensils for each meal, and acted as if I know things beyond my grasp, as if I was there only to appreciate the professed beauty and the power of literature.