A Son's Letter and the Sensitivities of a Bruised Nation

(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.


ie said...

pa, you need not to.

Kristian said...

wala ngang bikol category sa palanca. kaya nga sinimulan na namin dito ang pagbibigay ng recognition sa aming mga manunulat. tama ka, nung isang taon sa palanca, defamiliarization din yung experince ko kahit na sa filipino fiction ako nanalo. parang naghahanap ako ng iba pa sa salitang katuturan. pinili kong makisama sa mga manunulat mula sa iloko, yun nga lamang natabihan kami ng isang ingleserong winner na parang siya lang ang may monopoliya ng dila.

ariel said...

You said it. This systemic rendering of us as legit writers (why do we need to write in Tagalog and English to prove anything?) as second-class citizens of the Philippine writing community is a clear semiotics of seductions of linguistic and cultural empire. Small or big, the empire is within (more sinister) and without (the global mantra).
Be well. We are not going to allow Bikol to survive alone but to thrive. This is where our redemption begins.

Kristian said...

sa akin naman, bentahe na yon na alam ko ang tagalog at ang inggles, wala akong galit sa anumang wika. maaaring sa sistema pero pasasaan ba't meron na rin namang mga erehe at filibustero sa atin. kaya mas nakikita ko sa ngayon ang pangangailangan sa pagbuo ng regional networks among literary writers, sinimulan na namin ito sa south with hiligaynon writers. tutulak kami papuntang hilaga.

ariel said...

I have never been for the sundering of our people. This divide et tempera tactic, in any front, ought to stop. I am for any language as well--knowing that language as Word is sacred and sanctified. The notion about 'against/versus/contra' is not `against' a people nor `against' a language but that bad politics behind a language that dominates and becomes an instrument of internal colonization of a country. What do you do when you have, by virtue of lopsided cultural and linguistic policies, an uneven development of the cultures and languages of a country that professes itself to be diverse, a.k.a. also known as multicultural? There we go.

Kristian said...

oo naniniwala ako sa ganung takbo na kailangan na ngang masugpo. ang laking hamon nito. sa december, merong conference for bikol studies, masaya ko na kahit papano nagkakaroon ng ganitong pagkilos. balitaan mo ko sir kung nasa pilipinas ka, gagawa ako ng paraan para magkakilala tayo ng personal.

ariel said...

That holding of Bikol studies conference ought to be institutionalized so that it will see the light of day till kingdom come.

We have to have guarantees that all these initiatives, energies, and inspirations to fight for what is linguistically just and culturally democratic and fair in a diverse country like the Philippines are not going to waste.

We have to have assurances that what we are doing is NOT some kind of a knee-jerk reaction to what's happening at this time but a clear commitment to the pursuit of fairness.

We have to go beyond the here-and-now even if we begin, rightfully, from the here-and-now. We need to transcend, look at things in a broader. We are not going to allow our minds to be shackled by a `monolingual' discourse, a `monolingual' world, a `monolingual' epistemology mediated by the 'strange' Tagalog language.

The there-and-then has to be put before us, has to serve as our end, has to make us afire so that we can go on with zest and zeal, vim and vigor.

We are a nation among nations: a country made up of many ethnolinguistic groups, 'nations' in the truest sense of that word.

The recognition of this diversity must continually remind us of our responsibility to each other, today and forevermore.

The cue and clue is this: TO EACH OTHER.

Not one group, not this Manila-centered discourse on what a nation is made of, not what some academics would like to ram into our throats, not what some Tagalog-twisted zealots would make us believe.

For we are a nation, true; but we are nations as well.

For we are not Tagalog; but we are Filipinos. These two things--realities--are not equal, not equivalent, not isOmorphic, not the same.

The recognition of our cultural and linguistic rights are due us--these rights are our basic human rights, this we must remind ourselves, this we must remind other people including those who have systematically `othered' us.

We have to learn to say, after more than 70 years: Enough is enough.

I wish you well in your upcoming Bikol studies conference.

Kristian said...

maraming salamat sa pahayag na ito. sadyang napakarami pang kailangang gawin. ano ang mailing address mo? papadalhan kita ng kopya ng dalawa kong aklat.

ariel said...

Post you email ad and I will write to you. In the meantime, you can read my novel in Filipino, the way I define this language, "Dangadang" (University of the Philippines Press, 2003). If this is not in the bookstore, it should be at the UP Press in Diliman.
Thanks for your books in advance.

I send you the anitos, the spirit of our peoples.

Kristian said...

here it is boronyog@yahoo.com. will get a copy of your book also.

ariel said...

Thanks, thanks. An Dios ay suripot sa gabos. Iyo, iyo, ipakipaglaban ta an demokrasia asin hustisia sa ngaran nin sakuyang banwa.

James said...

Congratulations! Another Palanca.

Just finished reading Genoveva Edroza-Matute's autobiographical novel. It was a welcome surprise that it had listed down the winners of the Centennial Literary Awards.

ariel said...

thanks, thanks.
mahalo and aloha.