I am furnishing you this statement in my capacity as a stakeholder, first and foremost, of the Ilokano heritage, being myself an Ilokano, and second, as program coordinator of Ilokano Language and Literature of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. It is in these twin capacities that I wish to revisit some of the key concepts of the Bill that, in my opinion, need some re-conceptualization.
First, on the merit of the Bill.
I must say with all honesty and pride that Dr. Amy Agbayani has taken on the cudgels to craft this Bill that takes into account the furtherance of the virtues of pluralism in this State, and in particular, the recognition of the contribution of the various ‘peoples’ of the Philippines in Hawaiian life. Initiatives such as this one done by Dr. Agbayani are laudable. They make us remember that we need to do much more to create a cultural, political, and economic space for our people. For seeing this need—and for responding to this same need—Dr. Agbayani has my admiration. Her farseeing ability to negotiate that space that we can negotiate, however difficult the process is, is something extraordinary, and this will not remain unnoticed.
Second, on what I think would be needed in revisiting the Bill.
One, on the ‘Report Title,’ page 1. : For a more ‘inclusive’ spirit of the Bill, the reference to ‘Filipino language’ needs rephrasing so that what I think we should have is ‘Philippine languages.’ There is a certain inconsistency in this phrase if checked against the broader intents, definitions, and the ground the Bill wishes to cover.
Two, on the ‘Description,’ page 1: The use of the narrow phrase ‘Filipino language’ runs counter to the intent to open up the possibility of teaching Philippine languages, at least, those languages that are veritably being used in our communities in Hawai’i.
I understand the practical implications of the broader view of ‘Philippine languages’ as a catchall phrase. But the suggestion of the phrase ‘Filipino language’ in this part of the Bill delimits the very nature of what the Bill wishes to pursue, and which intentions, nevertheless, are quite clear—properly spelled out—in the body of this Bill, to wit,
(a) ‘curriculum offerings in Filipino languages,’ [Section 1, page 2];
(b) ‘professionals trained in the Filipino languages and cultures,’ [Section 1, page 2];
(c) ‘these courses in Filipino languages and cultures on University of Hawai’i’
[Section 1, page 3],
(d) ‘taking Filipino language course, and the University of Manoa,’
[Section 1, page 2];
(e) ‘lectures on Filipino languages’ [Section 1, page 3]; and
(f) ‘Filipino language and culture programs’ [Section 2, page 4].
These phrases invite some slippage—and the slippage may result in an interpretive scheme that eventually may run counter to the linguistically just and culturally democratic intent of the Bill, laudable as it is now.
The caution that I ask us to look into is to completely rephrase these references to anything that even suggest ‘Filipino language’ and ‘Filipino culture’ and instead write out ‘Philippine languages and cultures’ consistently throughout the Bill.
This is to provide a broad view for an interpretive scheme following a hermeneutically fair understanding of the key concepts of the Bill so that we do not end up—‘do not fall into’ could be another phrase here—in the trap of a too-inclusive interpretation of what constitutes ‘Filipino language’ and ‘Filipino culture’ in both conceptual and practical terms, and in terms that are at the same time sensitive to the unique experiences of the ‘peoples’ of the Philippines in the State of Hawai’i.
For truly, there is not only one kind of ‘people’ that came to Hawai’i from the Philippines, as the records of our historical memory would show.
Many kinds of ‘peoples’ of the Philippines came over here since 1906 and we need to acknowledge them, even if, in the current state of affairs, the social and historical circumstances of our immigrant lives have, in a way, conveniently rendered them invisible.
This sense of rendering into invisibility the other ‘peoples’ should be corrected by the Bill, at least, in spirit, even if not currently ‘practical’ because of budgetary and other fiscal constraints. The premises do matter. They provide the élan vital to our next initiatives.
In acknowledging the vision and the tremendous impact of this Bill to the endless task of equipping our ‘peoples’ with the linguistic and cultural skills they need to claim and re-claim themselves in a to-and-fro manner as all exilic and immigrant experiences are, I have taken the initiative to ask some organizations to give their testimony in support of this Bill.
I hope that this statement sets the context for a reasoned discussion on what we need to do to keep on addressing the many issues affecting us.
To Dr. Agbayani, thank you for this opportunity of making us involved in something that is historical, and something that is historically correct, such as this Bill.
If we can find the common ground to revisit these concepts that I have bracketed, in the end we will be able to plumb the inner resources of our memory so we can keep on looking for the apt means and methods to claim ourselves in this State.
Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Program Coordinator, Ilokano Language and Literature
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
February 1, 2008