FAO Editorial, March 2012

Operation Manong at 40

Although now officially called a different term, Operation Manong’s vision to serve the underserved ethnolinguistic groups in Hawaii has remained the reason why public service in this state remains a concern today.

With forty years of service, that is more than a generation of concerted effort by a number of committed workers for a just cause.

This means that Operation Manong has nurtured a generation of people, and this generation it has nurtured is now nurturing others as well.

If we look at the list of its alumni, we have proofs of the kind of work it has done.

The list does not stop in Oahu, but goes into the other islands, thus spreading the vision for which it was founded four decades ago.

This is the kind of work that we want to see in these islands: sustained and sustaining.

We have a number of organizations like this, organizations that declare commitment to making the lives of immigrants better, but those that impacted the lives of the peoples of the Philippines and other ethnicities are few.

The reason is simple enough: this kind of work, while it is not impossible, is not at all easy.

For every resource it needed, it had to creatively figure out where to get it.

For every human resource it needed, it had to convince those who have the guts and gumption to stay and serve.

For every step of the way in these long years of engagement with the community, it has to be fired continuously by the same vision of access to the goods of public life, of access to education, of access to public life, and of access to full citizenship in this state.

A narrative of its founding in 1971 brings us to a group of students and faculty of the University of Hawaii joining hands with the community and the staff members of Immigrant Services Center in addressing the need of immigrant children from the Philippines to get back to the school system and stay there.

This act would turn into an operation—a coordinated activity—that zeroed in on the need to address head-on the issues affecting immigrant peoples in the state.

For those aware of the political issues in the Philippines in the turbulent 70s, ‘operation’ was a term in those decades that suggested activism, awareness of social issues, and the undying desire to take part in drawing up solutions to the many forms of inequities and disparities of that country, the old homeland of many of Operation Manong’s founders.

Those were energies that came from the young in search of something good—that good that is for all.

Many of those who were involved were schooled in this tradition of questing for what is just and fair in the Philippines, and its spilling over to Hawaii was a logical consequence of a sustained engagement that saw its beginnings, in some ways, in those years of activism in the homeland.

From the perspective of immigration, Operation Manong is boldness and daring defined.

It took a coalition like this one to name what social illness there was that needed addressing after more than 60 years of presence of Filipinos in the state since their coming in 1906, with the first 15 Ilokanos, and in 1909, with the Visayans.

Today, and funded by the state through the University of Hawaii, Operation Manong has metamorphosed into the Office of Multicultural Student Services since 2000.

With this transformation comes the broadening of its services to include programs that address representation, diversity, and tolerance.

We can only be thankful for this story of service of Operation Manong.

The next forty years, we are sure, will be more years of commitment to the cause of diversity and pluralism, of tolerance, of access to educational resources, and of fair representation in all aspects of public life.



A S Agcaoili/
Observer, March 2012

Essays on the Ilokano Language (3)

Baglan, Ablon, and the Indigenous Healing Ways of the Ilokanos

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili


All over the world, there is that renewed interest in the things of the old, such as the old ways of looking at the world, and the old ways of how to deal with the day-to-day challenges of life.

In Hawaii, for instance, the indigenous ways of the Hawaiian people have found a place in academic discourse, even if there is more to be done in pushing for it to become part of everyday public discourse.

The public space accorded to the indigenous ways is a deployment of a political symbol.

It means, among others, the recognition that the ways of the indigene, when properly understood, are as legitimate as the ways of anything western, including that almost hegemonic reference to western knowledge based on the science of theory-making, proving under controlled conditions, concluding, predicting, and repeating.

The problem with indigenous knowledge is that it is not predicated under those terms of western knowledge.

It is also human knowledge, but is not western knowledge if by knowledge we mean here a system of understanding the human being, the world around her, and her relationships.

We take the case of the Ilokano baglan.

Somewhere in history, the baglan before the coming of the Spanish colonizer was the revered and esteemed religious leader and community healer.

She was way above the ordinary, able to commune with the forces of the universe, and like the mangngagas, she could commune with the elements, the mountains, the seas, the plants, and the animals.

The Spaniards, unable to understand the ways of this indigenous healer called her the baglan that is weird, insane, imbalanced, psychotic, among other terms that survived when today we tell that someone is ‘agbagbaglan’: ‘Ania man ti kukueen ta baketen ta agbagbaglan manen iti puon ti kayo?’ (What is that old woman doing that she is again doing the baglan at the base of the tree?)

I think of this baglan now—and I think of the ways of the old, the primal ways, the ways beyond the reach of the capitalist interest of pharmaceutical companies, and profiteering motives of the health care industry, and how we all become beholding to this external force we call health insurance.

In our overly Americanized lives, we fall prey to this scheme, and we become believers of the religion whose maxim is that if you have no health insurance you are doomed in America.

Which is true.

But if we scratch the surface of this logic of our irrational lives, we see interests galore, the interests of an industry we call simply ‘health’ and the system it has spawned.

And we have no control, except to say Amen!

Which brings us to the baglan, the indigenous healer that, across history, and in order to get away from the hold of the Spaniards, metamorphosed into so many forms, from the Hispanic herbolario to the negative understanding of what he is in the sense of being a quack doctor through the farcical rendition of his name as albulario, erbolario, or elbolario, and the same farcical rendition of him as a man with a cone-shaped handkerchief tied like a pyramid on his head and muttering inaudible, sometimes pidgin language no one among his hearers understand.

The baglan is cousin to the ilot, mangngilot, or agil-ilot.

The baglan is twin to the mangngagas.

But the baglan is twin as well to the mangngablon, the terms ablon and baglan perhaps coming from the same stem. The phonetic relationship is too close to even doubt: when said, uttered, ablon and baglan sound so close they might be the same.

Which leads us to the our diasporic lives.

The questions begging answering is this: Have we lost the baglan? Have we lost the mangngilot? Have we lost the mangngagas? Have we lost the mangngablon?

There are two answers to the question.

Yes, we have lost them.

They is no such thing as ‘alternative’ medicine in the United States, not in the way we understand what legitimate medical practice is all about.

No, we have them around.

They metamorphose into the indigenous healers of our neighborhood, the same people who give as those relieving ritual touch and relief-giving language we no longer hear even as we lead our busy, too busy lives.

In a linguistic sense, the baglan is the mangngablon now more legit, more above ground.

Because the baglan had to go underground in order to survive, she had to come to the surface with the tacit blessings of those who can command what reason is acceptable in the currency of power and what it does.

Yes, indeed, we still have them around.

And they ought to remain around in the eternity of Ilokano time.

From the Lecture Notes on the Philosophy of Ilokano Language, Christ the King Graduate School of Philosophy, 2000.

Also: Observer, March 2012
Honolulu

Athens Conference 2012

Ilokano Linguistics for Liberation:
Practices for a New Philippine Lexicography


A Conference Paper for the 2012 Annual International Conference on Literature, Languages and Linguistics, Athens, Greece, July 2012

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

A written and preserved record of the Ilokano language since colonial contact in 1572 starts in 1620 with the translation of the Bellarmine’s Doctrina Christiana. That language, the third major language in the Philippines, and the historical language of the people of that country in the diaspora, has gone through a lot of changes in orthography and in structural configuration, largely influenced by the Hispanicization of Ilokano collective life. With the institution of a national language, Tagalog, couched in political terms as P/Filipino under the guise of nationalism and social freedom (but largely a rationalization for neocolonialism from within), the Ilokano language, as other Philippine languages, had to either adapt to these neocolonial requisites, or get extinguished as the case of many of the Philippine languages. In 2010 and 2012, a new way of accounting the Ilokano language using the framework of liberation linguistics has been demonstrated by this author through two volumes of avant-garde dictionaries, the Contemporary English-Ilokano Dictionary, and the Kontemporaneo a Diksionario nga Ilokano-Ingles (Contemporary Ilokano-English Dictionary). This paper articulates, and proves that there is a way to reclaim one’s own language by respecting what it is, and by pushing it to mediate a productive and emancipatory knowledge for its speakers. The first of the method to reclaiming is in keeping with the view the Ilokano language from its speakers in the field; the second method is in keeping with a vision that a language must mediate new forms of knowing-of-the world and new ways of articulating reality-as-changing.

Essays on the Ilokano Language (2)

AGKABAGIS IS THROUGH THE MOTHER, NEVER THROUGH THE FATHER

A Solver Agcaoili

There is a goldmine of information on what the Ilokano language can offer in terms of how we look at ourselves, at our relationships, and at our sense of kinship.

For want of a better term, we are using the term kinship here to mean who is related to us by blood.

I submit that it is not only by blood that we get to establish a meaningful relationship, and for the Ilokano, the body—the bagi—seems to be more primary than the blood itself.

We have seen that one way to understand who is our brother-and-sister is through the bessat/pessat/kabagis concepts—all relating to a ‘same cut’ or to an acknowledgement that we come from the ‘same source’.

When we push the idea of ‘same source’ from the sense of ‘kabagis’, there are two things that come to mind: (a) the literal bagis (the intestine, the gut) and (b) the metaphorical/tropic one (the bagis as the mother’s bagis as connected to the fetus’ bagis).

It is easier to establish (a) than the (b): we need to prove from the literal to the metaphorical in the latter, and through the dynamic of trans-symbolization, the bagis in (b) stops to become literal bagis but instead becomes the symbolic bagis that connects the mother to her child.

The term for this in Ilokano is the puseg, the navel.

From an anatomical sense, the puseg is the center of the abdomen, and anywhere we go that center remains there even after birth with the boss that does not go away.

The boss remains a landmark of that intricate connection between a mother and her child. And there no fathers here in this landmark!

In (b), the mother’s bagis becomes the constant, the reference.

It is her bagis that connects to all other possible bagis, hence, all possible children that will be born of her womb.

The fetus’ bagis—that umbilical cord connecting her to her mom—is not as constant as that of her mom’s.

When the child is born, she gets separated from her mom, and that bagis connection is lost.

The sense of ‘kabagis’ therefore is not in this initial relationship the mother has with that of her child.

This cannot be sustained.

We therefore need to look for another way to explain where this ‘kabagis’ sense comes from.

We need to assume another fetus here, in its most literal sense.

That second fetus must be connected to that same mother whose cord—her bagis—is constant.

It is the bagis that serves as a source, in that idea of source as origin, as genesis.

The sharing of the same source—the same bagis—of the two children born of the same mother is what makes them ‘agkabagis,’ not in their having their separate bagis.

From the ‘same bagis’ means therefore from the ‘same bagis of the mother’.

Here we see the accidental role of fathers in the fraternal relationship: we do not figure out who is brother-sister to whom on the basis of their father, but on the basis of their mother!

What happened in patriarchy and its claim for children is something that needs explaining here.


Source--
From lecture notes on the Philosophy of Ilokano Language, Christ the King Seminary Graduate School of Philosophy, 2000.

Essays on the Ilokano Language (1)

Rethinking Ilokano Conceptualizations of Familiar Relationships

A. Solver Agcaoili

When we deal with the familiar and the familial from one language to another, so much is lost. So much goes away.

The intricate connection between one’s understanding of the universe of her relationships and the universe of her language is simply this: inextricably linked. One demands—requires—the other, the relational requiring language, language requiring the relational to make sense of what is the family story, the bloodline, the social fabric of what one is.

Take the idea of being siblings.

The English language proves to be a disaster here, with its penchant—as in all Romance languages—for the gendered way of looking at the world, the world outside and the world inside.

During my seminary days, I had problems—always—when I would be assigned to prepare a little talk on brotherhood, and—of course—sisterhood. Or is the billing just fine, with an unnecessary entitlement accorded to the male?

You begin with your little English sermon with something like this: ‘Brothers and sisters, the readings today talk of our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ.’

First off the bat, it is awkward. Why the distinction?

Second: why the sexed—well, gendered—reference to the familial relationship?

So when we look at the world with gendered eyes—with the gaze of the male—we have these problems surreptitiously getting in into our everyday language. That everyday language, in the end, becomes compromised, whether we realize this each time or not.

We are left with something close to a bundle of contradictions here: we need language to open up a world for us, to understand what is within and what is out there.

At the same time, language imprisons us. The imprisonment is real; it is not simply imagined. For when we start off with the mediation process like this one, we either have to acknowledge that the world out there is sexed—gendered—or it is not.

The Ilokano language does not have this problem.

For all the simplicity of the Ilokano mind as some westernized people tend to say, the Ilokano mind is a mine of information, and a minefield of remedies to make us get out of the rut of this gendered world.

For the Ilokano, the reference for fraternity and sorority—the brotherhood and sisterhood concepts that we need to account a world that is just and fair—is kabsat.

Kabsat is simple, and yet it is not.

It comes from kabessat, from a root word, bessat.

But here is the shot: it tells you of a variant: kapessat, from the root pessat.

And there here is more: kabagis, sometimes popularly abbreviated as ‘bagis’.

The connections are complex and complicated—but are simple enough for us to understand perfectly well that the world of our relationships need not be understood in terms of biological endowment, anatomical possession, or sex.

Initially, we have bessat, or its variant, pessat. Both simple mean: of the same cut. Push that further: of the same length, of the same mold, of the same source. We can think of a fabric here, like the curtain fabric Sister Maria turned into dress for the Von Trapp children like a uniform, the fabric gay with its bright colors and flowery designs.

Or it is a cut from the same abel or inabel to make those patadiong, or saya, or barong Ilokano that a group uses to make our days happier in a cultural performance at a town fiesta, one rite that gels a community each time it is held in honor of a town’s founding, or in celebrating the day of its patron saint, whose name is always from the west, and whose story of holiness is always framed by that calculated gesture to honor a western god.

The magic of the Ilokano language is this: its complex affixal system that turns concepts into magic, seducing us to go inside its conceptual offerings each time we are lured to get into its world.

We have a taste of this—and we can never go back out and say, Enough! We always say, More!

So we have: kabessat, ka+ (indicating ‘sameness,’ ‘similarity,’ ‘same source’) and bessat (cut).

The same holds for pessat.

Bessat and pessat are exactly the same. Both spring from a labial source of the ‘b’ and ‘p’ beginning. The labial sounds are a child’s sound, springing forth from a play of the lips, perhaps unconsciously originally.

In light of this wordplay—the play of language in a more Wittgensteinian term, and here we allude to the mature philosopher twenty-five years after when he began to talk about use, not usage—we have two sides of the same coin, one side the bessat, the other pessat.

We continue to extent the same logic, and we have kabessat for one side, and kapessat for the other side.

Now we need the economy of expression—and we need the ease of speaking. We drop a vowel that makes the speaking glide and flow, and we have kabsat, or kapsat.

In contemporary Ilokano, the ‘b’ sound won out over the ‘p’ and the contemporary linguistic datum says ‘kabsat’ holding out.

How does this link to the idea of ‘kabagis’ as a reference to sexed references to fraternal relationship (as brotherhood and sisterhood)?

The sense of bagis—an allusion to idea of progress, gut, the primal, the primal—is an allusion to the very notion of life itself.

Bagis, in human anatomy and physiology refers to food, life, nutrition, and the sustenance and maintenance of life. Life here is understood both in the concrete (in individual form) and in the transcendent (in the social and more abstract form).

It is a reference to the gut where life begins, the gut that speaks of progress and development, the gut that refers to a god that is now forgotten by the contemporary Ilokanos: lung-aw.

Or its Hispanicized form: Lung-ao.

When there is food in the gut, life is assured.

When the gut is it should be—is filled up and working to sustain the body and the four souls of the Ilokano—life continues, and continues in the eternity of time, even when time, as it is, is provisional, contingent, impermanent.

The movement, thus, from the kabessat/kabsat dynamic is the movement from the concept of sharing a meal, sharing the food of the family, sharing lung-aw/Lung-ao.

We come from the same gut, from the same vision of life, from the same vision of progress, from the same source of life, life as concrete, life as eternal, life as Life.

In fine, we have kabessat/kapessat/kabagis as one and the same time, with kabagis revealing that one’s gut is the same as the other’s, one sharing the same gut, the same life, the same source of life.

So here: when we affirm our connections both concrete and transcendent, no gender is necessary, no sexual reference is needed.

We simply are this: of the same cut, of the same mold, of the same source.

Sources/
Lecture Notes, ‘On the Morphophonemic Possibilities of the Ilokano Language,’ The Structure of Ilokano, July 2007; from Notes for Ilokano Philosophy of Language, Christ the King Seminary Graduate School of Philosophy, July 2000.

Quicksilver Formulas about Men, Malehood, and More (1)

Even as I am witness to all the injustices around me, tonight’s episode is one of those things that I have to contend with for the years ahead.

I can only count my blessings.

I drove through in the middle of an Oahu rain, one of the rare times that we get wet in the islands, and being February, a presumed rainy month, I had to wait it out after a late afternoon class to let the rain subside.

But I realized later on that there would not be a let up, and so I had to walk to the parking lot some distance away, to the H-1, where the lesser faculty and lesser staff and all able students are destined to park. (I teach at a university where some people enjoy the perks, while some do not, as is the case everywhere. For one thing, there is not enough parking space close by for this car-obsessed new homeland.)

In the middle of the fierce rain I navigated my way home, driving carefully, cautiously, with rapt attention to the magic of the rain and the gathering darkness. The road could be slippery in times like this. The AC, if it works, and the wiper, if it works too, could come in handy to clear the road, with its jam of flesh (and the steel they are on) rushing to the comforts of home.

I turned off the radio to avoid distraction, even if in the early evening hours, I like to catch the news from NPR, the only radio I trust for news everywhere including some filtered news from the old homeland once in a while.

Everything was smooth sailing, and I hit Exit 8. I slowed down on Farrington Highway in anticipation of those numerous crosswalks, and got back into the street that leads to home.

By my road, I have to make that quick left turn to get into my garage. By the huge crosswalk leading to a bus stop, and leading to the freeway, a man stood alone, silhouetted by a lamppost dimmed by the effects of the weather. The downpour had stopped, but there was still a slight drizzle. I saw him walk to the pavement that leads to my garage.

I made a quick left, and signaled for a right to get into my garage.

Before I could do that, a vehicle was about to pass by, so I had to let that vehicle go, and waited for my turn.

I saw the man with an uneasy gait. In the dim light, I sensed that he was trying to balance himself.

He stopped in front of my car, saying, in silence, something.

I woved my hand, in a driving away motion: Stay away!

He said something I could not hear. My windows were closed to keep the AC air circulating and to make it sure that I could see people and vehicles around me.

He staggered, his body leaning to one side, his face flushed, like that of a drunk man, perhaps, more than those two-for-the-road thing one takes after working so hard for a day. So this is America, this is Hawaii, with all those stories of despair as well. And stories of drunk men blocking people from going into their garage.

He remained in front of my vehicle, as if instructing me how to get in.

I rolled down my car window.

I shouted: Please get out of the way! I am getting in!

I did not hear any response. He just smiled. He moved a bit, but moved back to the center.

I shouted one more time, hoping that the sound of the drizzle and the traffic from the freeway would not drown my voice. I sensed some panic in me. What is this man doing?

Move away, I said. I am getting in. That is my parking.

He smiled, one lonely, desolate smile of a broken man.

He moved away, his body lilting. He tried to maintain his balance in the middle of the rain.

I looked at the man once more.

I realized that he was that man who had a wife and a newborn baby and who had occupied a portion of the restroom of a public park for a home.

Some Sundays I go to that public park and there try to remove all the excess I have about life, anxieties and all.

My young daughter saw the family one Sunday and wanted to give them some food.

We fought the urge: tales abound in this place about some people giving food to some people and then the giver ending up being sued by those given to.

We live in interesting times, indeed, with or without the February rain.

I saw the man again. He had moved some twenty steps away now, toward the public park in the south.

Christ, I say, more to myself than to Christ. I see men being beaten, and there are more now in Honolulu, in parks, on street pavements, at the Aala Park.

So much for what one says about male privileges and entitlements.

Waipahu/
Februar 22, 2012

Sarsaraaw

Dengngep ti masapul
iti rusok nga iti kaltaang
agkurri nga agsaraaw.

Iti sardam ti rugi ti ritual
pammespes, iti kanito ti pul-oy
a malaes a kadagiti sabangan
ket amin a pananggulib
ti ili kas iti sagut ti baybay
a kadagiti allon ken apr├Ęs
ket kinabuklis. Saan kadagitoy nga ili
ti bendito nga apros ti alikuno
nga iti aginaldaw a sarita
dagiti dadaulo ket ti salakan
iti manglimlimo a diskurso.
Demokrasia kano iti kada subo,
kada tilmon, kada panangnanam
iti ipauneg a tagainep kadagiti buslon
nga iti panagbisin ket ti ladawan
kimsial a malukong.
Wenno latok a di makuti.
Iti ilin-ili ket kastoy met laeng
a buya, awan duma kadagiti ik-iking
ti biag nga agtabtabugga.
Agbugsot amin nga agbugsot
malaksit dagiti ukom ti dukot,
wenno soldado dagiti buteng
wenno senador dagiti ganggantil
wenno dagiti diputado dagiti amin
a klase ti pannibrong, manipud
darepdep agingga iti panaguttog!

Ita ket ti aramid a pangep-ep
iti bisin, ti panangdengngep
iti rusok iti debote a darang
nga iti barangabang dagiti unget
ket ti main-inaw a dangadang!

Iridis ti bote iti rusok
sa ikombiene ti pananglipit
amin a dagensen ti din magadullit
a pannakapnek.


Febrero 18, 2012
Honolulu, HI

Aredak

Umuna nga arbis, kas bayakabak.
Inauna amin a panangbisibis
Barat’ barukong ti ili nga iti naliday a kannag
Ket maminribu a mapasag
Santo kadagiti unget, iti pammati
Kas iti panagayat, ket ti panagungar
Nga iti lisay ket ti soltero a tig-ab.
Daytoy ket iti ili: aredak kadagiti
Di manumeruan a kalgaw
Wenno panagbisin. Wenno panaggawat
Tapno kadagiti inurit ket ti namnama
Nga iti rubuat dagiti mula a maitukit
Ket ti manigsiguro a panaganani iti ragsak.
Siglo dagiti tawen, kas ti lamiis
Daytoy umuna a tudo kadagiti rebelde a sellang
Tapno ditoy, kadagiti alikuno ti danum-langit
Ket ti selula ti revolusion nga iti riwriw
A panagidaton iti agmatuon
Ket ti riwriw met a panagaklon.

Febrero 16, 2012/
Honolulu
The Road to College Education,
The Road to the Manoa Experience


By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili


All roads to college will lead to the University of Hawaii at Manoa on February 25.

The annual event is called the Manoa Experience.

Planned and hosted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Office of Admissions, more college-bound and students in high school dreaming of gaining access to college will participate in the event.

Some of the roads that end up in Manoa are well traveled.

But some are definitely less traveled, depending on who is dreaming of a destination place.

And the destination place is college education.

For the immigrant communities, particularly the community representing the descendents of people of the Philippines in the State of Hawaii, many of these roads have yet to be trodden on.

For the Ilokano Americans—those descended from the ranks of the plantation workers who came to Hawaii to take active participation in the growth and development of the plantation economy of the state—the February event represents a sliver of hope.

It is a chance to dream again, to dream beyond the historic menial jobs that most Ilokano immigrants are subjected to as soon as they set foot in Hawaii.

It is a vicious circle, this story of Ilokanos becoming tied to work with their hands and never rising from this lot in life, except for a few who are able to get by and send their children to college, and thus able to give their children that one fat chance to change the arc of their story as working class people since 1906, the year the first fifteen plantation workers from the Ilocos set foot in the islands.

Access to higher education is the new gospel for every Ilokano immigrant in Hawaii.

It is the new gospel for every immigrant of Philippine descent as well.

The Center for Philippine Studies of the University of Hawaii estimates, from a census data, that Ilokanos represent 85% of the immigrant Philippine population of the state.

Estimates from the Philippine Consulate General corroborate this data, and even tells us of a continuing migration of Ilokanos at between 85 to 90% of the yearly total of about 4,000 to 5,000 of immigrants from the Philippines.

The urgency of sending Ilokano children to college is borne by these hard facts.

The Filipino American Education Institute speaks of students of Philippine descent in public schools as ‘the invisible majority.’

Students of Hawaiian descent, at 28% or about 49,000 remain the majority, but they are visible.

Students of Philippine descent stand at 21% or about 37,000, but they are unseen, unheard, and neither here nor there.

These students are second to Hawaiian students in terms of number; they are also second to bottom in state assessments in reading proficiency and math skills.

Numbers add up, but numbers are a stigma too, as is the case of the 85% comprising the Ilokano population of the state.

The practice of collapsing the term Filipino with all of the ethnic groups in the state has given rise to the urgency of seriously considering the problems of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in terms of their access to college education.

But to regard Filipino as an ‘ethnic’ cover term, and not minding the diversity of ethnic groups included in that term, has resulted in the disparity of approaches to addressing critical issues in public education, including the lumping of immigrants from the Philippines as Tagalog-speaking even if they are not.

There clearly are problems in access to college education, and a conscientious approach to how best to deal with these problems has been explored by a variety of programs including retention and promotion under the UH Office of Multicultural Student Services and the UH GEAR-Up, and the UH College Opportunity Program.

Challenge Grant is currently funding a program specifically geared towards giving students of color access to higher education and retaining them in college. The Student Equity Excellence and Diversity is running the program.

Jeffrey Acido, lecturer of the UH Ilokano Program, says that the issue of access to college is real one among communities with high Ilokano population.

Speaking from his experience as a graduate of Farrington High School in Kalihi, he says of the almost infectious thinking of Ilokano students that college education is not for them and that as soon as one gets out of high school, all one has to do is look for work and start contributing to the family income.

“With parents putting in so many hours for a double job at meager wages, and with no quality family life and interaction resulting from involuntary parental absence, we cannot expect much from Kalihi unless we break free from that kind of an almost collectivized thinking,” Acido says.

Asked of the need to insist on a more sensitive ethnic term in addressing issues of social importance, Acido says of the urgency of radicalizing our approach to addressing the issues of college access and to revisiting the issue of retention and promotion.

“I was once a public school student, and I know whereof I speak. It is not enough that we are called Filipinos. It is urgent that we also affirm our being Ilokanos so that our bigger social problems such as education would be properly addressed. There are definitely some problems that are unique to the Ilokano experience and one of them is the economic cost of sending our young people to college, what with our parents receiving meager wages,” Acido explains.

Julius Soria, a long-time advocate of the Ilokano language and culture, and himself an instructor of Ilokano in both high school and college, speaks of the stigma attached to being Ilokano.

“You claim that you are Ilokano, you are automatically bukbok, a weevil that destroys any of those wooden structures. The comparison is not apt, of course, as it is most derogatory and does not represent what the Ilokano is capable of,” he says.

Drawing from his doctoral research of five Ilokano students studying Ilokano at Farrington High School, Soria talks of the kind of defenses an Ilokano student resorts to when confronted of his being Ilokano.

Soria, drawing from his years of work as an Ilokano heritage instructor at Farrington, explains the urgency of advocating for heritage rights in public education, and using these rights to their languages and cultures as educational resources.

“I see it more as giving hope to students and empowering them that they are capable of going to college regardless of their background, FOB or not, with accent or no accent. The FOB thing, fresh off the boat, is an ugly term. Sometimes, there are stories—subtexts—that suggest to students that they are not ‘college material.’ Sometimes, they internalize this. We need to falsify these messages, negate them, and affirm our students by prodding them to make a choice to go to college. We need to dialogue with them about the importance of college and providing them access to get there. Involving their parents is one of the keys to do that. It is important that we provide them awareness to these activities, such as the Manoa Experience, so they can come up with an informed choice,” he says.

The defenses as varied, including the conscious hiding of the infamous Ilokano accent when a student talks; the hiding of his ethnic identity by not being forward with his being Ilokano, or Filipino for that matter; and the almost automatic claim that he is ‘local’ or ‘local born.’

These conscious acts are safety nets against the assault on what one cannot do, what one does not possess, and what one can never become.

“I went through the same rite myself,” Soria says. “It is some kind of a rite de passage that you cannot escape from if you were born in the Philippines, or if you come from an Ilokano household. You cannot afford to be caught with your r’s as heavily as the old Ilokanos do. You learn to fake your accent. You learn how to lose it. And the faster you do, the better for you.”

There is a long way to go before the Ilokano Americans can pursue the American Dream.

At best, the pursuit of the dream is still elusive.

But a number of programs have been put in place to help students of Ilokano descent transition to college, stay in college, and get their degree before getting out.

One of these programs is the UH Ilokano Program that has been in existence at the University of Hawaii since 1972 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The program offers both a two-year language program in Ilokano and a four-year Bachelor of Arts program with concentration in Ilokano.

Aside from these programs, it also offers a minor in Ilokano and a variety of culture courses in Philippine diasporic literatures, Philippine critical discourses, Philippine popular culture, modern Philippine drama, modern Philippine film, and Philippine cultural mapping.

Another Ilokano program has been put in place in UH Maui College since the last two years.

In high school, a two-year Ilokano program as part of the world languages curriculum is now in place at Farrington High School and Waipahu High School.

Many of the students who will participate at the 2012 Manoa Experience will be coming from these programs and schools.

For all immigrants dreaming of going to college—of wanting to learn many of the avenues to going to college, stay there, and get a degree—join us at the Manoa Experience on February 25, at the McCarthy Hall of UH Manoa, from 9:00 AM-2:00 PM.

Observer/
Feb 2012