Ilokanos in the Americas Writing, Part 1

(Note: This work is part and parcel of the continuing discussion on the need to reframe Ilokano Studies in light of challenges to the preservation of intangible heritage. This prologue--and abstract--has been submitted, refereed, and accepted for presentation at the Sharing Cultures 2009: International Conference on Intangible Heritage to be held in Azores, Portugal, May 30-June 1, 2009. This part 1 commences the series on this topic.) 

A Solver Agcaoili, U of Hawai'i

The paper explores the poetic and political negotiation and contestation continually being done by Ilokanos in the Americas in the writing of their tangible heritage and culture, particularly in their poetic practices in and from Ilokano, their mother tongue. 

The recognition of heritage language use as site for this poetic and political act and performance in exile provides a critical framework in the examination of such practices especially in the light of emergent heritage aesthetics vis-à-vis dominant cultural practices from the center.

Ilokano, the language of the Filipino diaspora, in the Americas as in the many parts of the world where more than ten percent of the Philippine population have gone on exile as temporary overseas workers or residents—or even as naturalized citizens, as in the case of the many of those who are in the United States and in Canada—has been historically threatened by two forms of colonization, one, external (the ‘Englishization’ of Philippine knowledge systems) and another, internal (the ‘Tagalogization/Filipinization’ of aesthetic and cultural practices). 

Despite all these systemic forms of cultural domination from the center, both in the homeland and in the diaspora, a cultural domination that has led to the possible extinction of a heritage of almost 20 million Ilokanos and Ilokano-descended people all over the world, the Ilokanos in the Americas—in the entire United States and Canada—have continued to produce critically conscious and exemplary literary works that are, at the same time, works bearing inchoate discursive practices of heritage and culture affirmation.

Poems by Ilokano immigrants in the Americas writing in and from Ilokano provide the material for the exploration of this critical ‘poetics of diversity, displacement, and diaspora’—a form of poetics that demonstrates the kind of commitment and affirmation performed by Ilokano poets in their continued writing—in and from Ilokano—of their immigrant and exilic experiences.

The paper demonstrates that the physical and psychic distance afforded by exile does not necessarily lead to the impoverishment of intangible heritage and culture and the annihilation of a linguistically-grounded imagination but may provide the hermeneutic ‘double remove’ to see the connection between the intangible heritage in the original place, and that same intangible heritage, however polluted, in the new place. 

The analysis of the writing of an intangible heritage in and from the mother language as poetically performed in and from exile is framed by three themes that are relevant in the discursive practices of immigrant life, especially as these practices bear upon issues of poetic and political imagination: diversity, diaspora, and displacement. 

The intersection of these themes in the exilic poetic works of Ilokanos in the Americas reveals to us the virtues and vast possibilities of cultural pluralism and the opportunities for sharing cultures, thereby leading to an informed understanding that heritage and cultures are not liabilities but social assets and resources. 


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