Preserving the Ilokano Language, Part IV


Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD

Kur-itan, now seen only in tattoos and other ‘exotic’ or nostalgic representations, kept a record of what we wanted remembered and expressed in a more lasting way. Except for some vague traces of that palimpsest based on the accounts of the frailes of what they intended to do in turning us all into rote memorizers of “Amami” (the Pater Noster) and “Abe Mariya” (the Ave Maria) and other formula prayers, we have really inaugurated the death of our being, the death of our being-more-so, so that what we have at this time is a bad prognosis: the commencement of our being-less-so. And we seem to enjoy this, masochistic people that we are.

Response to Erasures in the Diaspora

Let me provide the context of our struggle in Hawaii and connect this to the struggle that we have in the Philippines.

Each year, about 5000 people get into the state as immigrants. Ninety percent of these new immigrants come from the Ilocos and Ilokanized areas of Northern Philippines.

The number translates to 4500 Ilokanos in Hawaii each year. With three the average number of children per family, we have half of these coming in as children, easily translatable to more than 2000 Ilokanos. Now where do these children go? How do they get settled in the public schools?

Here comes the power of the state to turn these Ilokano children into Americans by having them get into the English as a Second Language or English with Limited Proficiency classes and there remind them that unless they shed off their skin as Ilokanos, like the snake shedding off its skin, they can never become Americans. So your guess is as good as mine: the trauma resulting from this is both personal and social, and the traumatized vows to become American as fast as he could.

First off the bat: Speak English.

Second, Speak English the way the locals do.

Third, Pick up the Pidgin to completely erase your Ilokanoness.

Do not claim that you were ever born in the Ilocos but say that you are local even if the Ilokano accent—the accent you are denying—sometimes comes back to haunt you.

But while this is true in Hawaii, it is true here in the Philippines as well. Those who have come to Metropolitan Manila, when they go back to the Ilocos, bring with them this dominant posturing. Back in their homes, they refuse to speak Ilokano, preferring to speak in the dominant language, as this, for the dominant group, is the mark of having arrived at the pedestal of a ‘cosmopolitan’ culture that is unlike theirs. We have comic stories about them, all intended to bring them down and make them realize that they have no business becoming reactionary and adopting the dominant group’s posture.

We have other tragic stories in Hawaii—and in our work with the federal government that involves other states in many ways.

Our Ilokano Language and Literature Program at the University of Hawaii is the only degree-granting program of its kind in the world, with a full program for a major in Ilokano, a minor, and a certificate.

There is not a single university in the Ilocos, in Cagayan Valley, and in the Cordilleras—all within the rubric of what is called Amianan—that offers any semblance of what we do at the UH.

Pretty soon, we are expanding the offering of Ilokano language and culture in another college within the UH System, the Maui College, side by side with an expansion of a pilot program, under a different grant, for Ilokano for high school students in two huge public high schools. We have started the Ilokano Plus Program, also at Maui College, and we hope to expand programs of this kind as soon as we have prepared our teachers.

Even as I say these things, we are aware that our initiatives in Hawaii, first formalized with the offering of the first-ever Ilokano class in 1972, are not of the same kind of an initiative that you need here in the Philippines particularly those institutions of basic and higher education in the three regions of Amianan, or Northern Philippine (Region I, Region II, and CAR).

The University of the Philippines at Diliman, for instance, is even better off in giving opportunities to students specializing in Philippine Studies to study a full year of Ilokano and some undergraduate and graduate courses in Ilokano literature. Some universities and colleges in the Ilocos do not seem to know what the Ilokano language and Ilokano literature are all about, because, as some teachers and instructors would say, Why do they still need to learn what they already know?

There is thus a whole scale working up of consciousness of self and community here—with so many of our people unable to use the lens provided by their language and culture and instead use, however handicapped they are, other lenses.

Why, indeed, do we have to insist on the need to educate our young in the language that they already know?

Why don’t we educate the Cagayanon in French and Italian and English so that they will be gainfully employed in France, Italy, and England?

If the Cagayanon only knows Bisaya, where would he go? We don’t even care to venture beyond whichever lens we fancy to wear to ask why the Americans or the English who are born with English as their language from their homes, in school and in their communities—why they still have to be taught English at various levels in school, why the Japanese or the Chinese or the Koreans all of whom learn to speak their own mother tongues at birth still have to study their own mother tongues in their schools.

Published in FAO, July 2011

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