Observer Editorial


The University of Hawaii’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program will turn 40 next year. This year marks a kick-off that presents the best of the program’s students and the best it offers to the community.

Passing through the portals of the program were students who have come unto their own, now becoming their own person, for which reason the program can never be prouder.

Peerless—there is not any single university anywhere else, not in the United States, not in the Philippines, where studies on the Ilokano “language, literature, and life” is being taught with academic rigor—the UH Manoa Ilokano Program has proven time and again that (a) instruction is the key to academic training and the preparation of students to appreciating life-long learning, (b) research makes faculty and students on the look out for what is best out there, the best that is yet to be known, and (c) extension work with the community and all other sectors in and outside the university is what relevance makes—relevance that ought to be the twin of every heritage (or academic) program.

Starting from a handful of students in 1972, students who were curious what kind of language was being spoken at their homes, and sometimes, at their back, the UH Ilokano Program has grown to hundreds, averaging 150 students every semester for the last five years.

Even with budget cuts and all other financial recourse universities all over the country are resorting to balance their budget, the UH Ilokano Program has proven to be a resilient program, with students coming in knocking to get enrolled especially in its culture-oriented courses.

It is not easy to sustain a heritage program like this one.

The challenges are all over the place, including the onslaught of an attitude that favors one national language, a thinking that has become rampant since the 30s with the institution of a single language as a national language, and giving it an army and a navy, and all the resources that are required to develop and make that language dominant, and in the process, indirectly killing the other languages of a country.

The facts of the case of linguicide are real—with the Philippines on the road to homogenizing everything from language to thought-formation.

The UH Ilokano Program, together with other advocates, has done its share to help avert this woeful condition in the homeland with its advocacy for mother language education.

While the focus of the UH Ilokano Program is the education of the heritage and foreign language learners of Ilokano at the university, it has joined forces with other language and culture advocates to advance the cause of cultural pluralism and diversity, in the Philippines, in Hawaii, and elsewhere.

To this end, the UH Ilokano Program has been instrumental in the putting up of the Nakem Conferences, now a movement that has a country chapter in the Philippines, the Nakem Conferences Philippines.

In partnership with other educators, researchers, cultural workers, and students, Nakem Conferences has since held six international conferences, all meant to advance the cause of language and culture rights, the right to be educated in the mother language, the right to have access to one’s own language, and the right to preserve, promote, and perform one’s own culture in one’s own language.

These tasks are no mean feat during the difficult times of belt-tightening, cost cutting, recession, unemployment, and widespread poverty even in a rich country like the United States.

But the UH Ilokano Program, with the help of the community, has gone a long way to serve the new generation of Ilokano Americans, the new generation of students wanting to specialize in studies on the Ilokanos and the peoples of Amianan, and the new generation of students, who despite the much-touted globalization, have refused to acknowledge that a homogenized view of the world is the best view, but instead have found ways to get to value otherness, difference, diversity, and multiplicity.

In all these, the UH Ilokano Program bears witness to history, particularly to the Ilokano American history in the islands, a history that is itself implicated in the history of the people of Hawaii, and the history of the United States in Hawaii and the Pacific.

Extend that logic to other Ilokanos in the continental United States, and that pride could be the same—the pride that can only come from resisting the destructive attack of similarity and sameness without any qualification.

The UH Ilokano Program remains steadfast to its commitment to bearing witness to history, to history-making, to the reclaiming of heritage, and to the struggle for a liberating education for all Ilokano and Ilokano-descended people in Hawaii and all over the world.

FAO Editorial
Oct 2011

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