(This piece is written in gratitude to the personal and professional sacrifices of Dr Ella Pada Taong and Mr Amado Ilar Yoro, two of the better informed and professionally equipped members of the Ilokano heritage community in Hawai`i. To them I give my personal thanks; and to them the Ilokano Language and Literature Program owe naimbag-a-nakem. Let this piece be a testimony to their good deeds. Let this piece encrypt in the annals of our history as a people their offering of grace and graciousness of heart and soul.)
The most difficult part in running a heritage program in the land of exile is to harness the help of the very heritage community that ought to own such a program. It is not the teaching, for honest, when one has been a teacher all his life, and can claim that he has trained some of the Philippines' best young cultural workers, creative writers, intellectuals, and academics, then teaching does not present itself as a problem any longer.
The problem is the heritage community itself--or to put it more bluntly, some members of the heritage community who are posturing as if they got some mandate from the Heavens to hold hostage the Ilokano program in their own 'small-mind' kind of a mindset.
But I must record my gratitude here to two of the most important people who are involved in a direct way to the preservation of Ilokano language and culture: Dr. Ella Pada Taong, president of her own mortgage company and director of the Nakem Conferences (International) and Mr. Amado Yoro, one of the leading Ilokano writers in the State of Hawai`i and a humble, almost unassuming advocate of anything Ilokano.
Both of them you would love forever for their professionalism, their sense of what is right and wrong, their sense of fairness—qualities that one could hardly see among the ranks of the so-called ‘writers’ and ‘cultural workers’ in this State, many of them swell-headed, with their egos so swollen they believe they get some kind of a direct mandate from the Heavens to rule over all of us ‘other small-time’ or ‘smaller, less significant writers’ in these parts. Some of them even have the temerity to announce to the public—in a drumbeating and self-promoting way—that they are the best in town. “Nalalaingkami amin!” is that quotable quote many writers heard—and now will always remember, to mark off the dubious veracity of the claim and the clanging cymbal in that self-advertisement which is the sub-text of their statement.
Of course, let us recognize the self-conceit in this claim of excellence in Ilokano writing even if on the one hand we ought to recognize the dollar value in that empty, almost void, almost non-sense statement. With accolades and honors and perhaps prizes garnered because these people were there at the right time—and with the right connection to boot—they can always brandish that claim to their hearts’ content. But the many Ilokano writers know history—and some scholars and academics and creative writers know their literary history, this last one a specialized kind of knowledge that these braggarts perhaps do not understand. They do not remember, of course, that prizes are a matter of poltics, the politics of taste. That is an accident in creative writing, in the making of memory, in the making of the literature of our people. Then again, there is subtlety and sophistication in this form of reflexive knowledge, and in the many ways, only those with grey matter between the ears would fathom this, even if, according to these people, they are all degree holders and college graduates. Ha, accidents!
Literary history—and the literary history of the Ilokanos for that matter—will test their claim as it is being tested now by those in the know, and the initial verdict is this: “Air, air, air!”
And so one can only be consoled when he is in the presence of two people who know what care and concern is all about.
Each time I call Manang Ella for help, she is always there.
Each time I call Manong Amado for help, he is always there.
What more one can ask?
I need all the members of the Ilokano heritage community to run the Ilokano program in this University—this is the ideal.
But some have stood in the way—or a handful, and they do not even have the taste to register their standing in the way, worming their way to power even if all they have got is “air, air, air.”
I do not mind having only Manang Ella and Manong Amado. With them, and some others I can ask for help along the way, the Ilokano program is going to be fine.
There are many brilliant minds around—more brilliant than those who claim “Nalalaingkami amin!”
Ah, self-conceit! When one has put his little victories in his head, his head swells and swells.
In Manang Ella and Manong Amado, I have no worries.
A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/Nov 18, 2007