All these issues of displacement in historical consciousness are not easy to spot in an increasingly homogenized society like the Philippines, like the United States, and like any other country pretending that nationalism is equal to the singularity of a language spoken by all its citizens under the guise of national language.
The fetish for national language must be called as such: a fetish that has given rise to our growing inabilities to go multicultural and diverse, to relate to each other using a variety of perspectives, and to be aware that we are not the only people in the country or in the world.
What we have continued to deny, to repress, and to hide is the fact that that the Philippines is a nation among nations.
All told, many of our writers insisted on writing in the Ilokano language even if they also dabbled in other languages.
This act of resistance, however inchoate, issued out a memorandum to those proponents of a national literature that believes only in the literature written in the national or international language.
From the ranks of teachers, there were those doing “clandestine guerilla” cultural work in their classrooms, such as the one done by Joel Manuel using Ilokano to teach high school physics somewhere out there in Banna, Ilocos Norte
In the same vein, another superintendent of schools, Norma Fernando, saw to it that for the first time, a student paper in Ilocos Norte was produced in Ilokano, with only sections in English and Filipino, a reversal of the more official and DepEd sanctioned campus journalism practice of a school paper in the dominant languages of instructions.
These acts, while admittedly individual, reflect the political climate that we must recognize as present in our educational practice.
It is not true that the Ilokano teacher in his Ilokano classroom cannot create an Ilokano environment of instruction and education following the route of the clandestine teacher.
How much he can sustain this without the support of his superiors in the pecking order of educational hierarchy and power remains a question.
Never mind that in coming up with these innovations, his students learn more and better.
Never mind that his students come to a fuller understanding of his world.
What cannot be delayed, however, is the immediacy and urgency of making knowledge possible for his students.
These realizations made us sit up at Nakem Conferences. No, we cannot sit back, relax, and enjoy the educational specter of a continuing cultural tyranny and linguistic injustice among our young people.
We know at Nakem Conferences that we are here trying to come to voice, to understand once more what we have lost, what have been left of us, and what we can to do retrace ourselves back to the what, in bell hooks’ words, “education as the practice of freedom.”
Our coming to voice—the realization that we have not had our own speech in a long, long while—is an act of courage that we did not know we had in the beginning.
Ilokanos have been taught to make subordinate their claims to their own sense of nationhood.
While that sense was clear prior to the onset of the Spanish colonization in 1572, that has been totally wiped out in lieu of a political project called the Philippine nation-state, a latter-day product of a political imaginary borne of centuries of repression, oppression, and colonization.
In 2008, Nakem Conference problematized this reality in its conference, and called its conference, “Imagining the Ilokano and Amianan Nation.”
The Honorable Carlos Padilla, in his keynote address at the conference, said that the Ilokano and Ilokanized people need not imagine the Ilokano—and by extension, the Amianan—nation because that nation exists, that it is real, and that it has remained intact.
We did not realize that our small acts of resistance at Nakem Conference, if you can call it this way, were acts that take their energy from other people doing the same thing for their own people and for others, such as Myles Horton for Highlander School, and Paulo Freire for his theory and practice of liberatory education, his ‘pedagogy of the oppressed.’
We realized later on that this rendering of the sense of nation of the smaller ‘nations’ within a nation-state into something obsolete and unnecessary is a tactic of all nation-states to centralize and consolidate their full control of the personal and collective lives of their peoples, so that in their full control and consolidation, they can project that the life of their own nation-state has primordial value over the life of that nation-state’s constituent indigenous communities.
Philippine historical narrative is replete with this official positioning, with Manuel Luiz Quezon preferring a Philippine nation run like hell by Filipinos to a Philippine nation run like heaven by other people but that nation that is in his mind was patterned after the 19th century nation-state of Europe particularly England, Germany, France, and Spain—nation-states all that consolidated power by invoking oneness minus plurality of cultural lives and that took up the task of implementing an officially sanctioned ‘national’ language.
What we have for long in the Philippines, even as we sanctified the nation-state project and even as we give entitlements and privileges to other languages, is the continuing denial that this country, that this homeland, is not only the homeland of a few but a homeland of the many that is us, the many and varied ethnic groups—each individually unique—that are called Filipinos, yes the many that are called by other names such as Ilokanos, Cebuanos, Hiligaynons, Bicols, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Chavacanos, Ivatans, Kalanguyas, and so forth.