10 FUN PHILIPPINE FESTIVALS YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS

Culture

10 FUN PHILIPPINE FESTIVALS YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS

1 Comment 10 September 2014

It’s a known fact that Filipinos everywhere in the world love to celebrate and get together. Just take a look at this long list of festivals in the Philippines. READ FULL STORY

Share
WHY DO WE LOVE THEE, JOE?

Culture

WHY DO WE LOVE THEE, JOE?

No Comments 02 July 2014

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

IN A 2013 survey by Global Attitudes Project of Pew Research Center in Washington, Pinoys were reported to have a favorable view of the United States. The survey shows little love for the Land of Opportunity around the world except in the hearts of Pinoys. In fact, about 85% of us are reported to love America and everything it stands for. Only 81 % of Americans had a favorable image of their own country.

What is it about Joe that Filipinos so adore? His tall striking demeanor? Could it be his hypnotic blue eyes that are so different from ours? Is it his commanding voice or the way he drawls and enunciates the word “apple”, making it sound like the sweetest fruit on earth? Perhaps it’s the jingling of coins in his pocket, sweet music that promises a better life? It’s that and a lot more.

Let us count the ways.

1. Meet Joe – our description of beauty – tall, light skin, Greek nose, blue eyes, sophisticated. He is the complete opposite of our Aeta ancestry – short, dark, pudgy nosed, and behind the times.

2. When times are hard, who do we turn to? Joe. Or perhaps the most appropriate question is “where”. According to a report by the Migration Policy Institute in 2010, there are over 1.7 million Filipino immigrants in the US, making the Pinoy population in the States the second largest immigrant group after the Mexicans.

The smell of green currency is too hard to resist. Doctors who struggle to make ends meet in the Philippines get a taste of honey by stepping down as nurses in America, and they don’t see it as devaluation.

3. If Joe can’t deliver, then Jack Sparrow or Jack of Titanic will (so what if they’re fictional?). America is where our real heroes reside. Indiana Jones, Rocky, Rambo – these are our saviors from an otherwise depressing or dull existence. We follow the path of the stars – Tom Cruise and Will Smith, because they are everything that America stands for: success, gallantry and beauty.

4. If we’re wearing the swoosh or the polo rider on a horse, we know we are big time. These signs mean excellent quality and luxury to us. It means we are sosyal and we have good taste. We’ve also acquired the taste for SPAM and Chips Ahoy. Even though these products are processed or rich in preservatives; rich in sodium, cholesterol, and fat; and has little or no nutritional value, we prefer them over Argentina and Marie. They just taste better, we think.

5. Many families train their kids at birth to speak English at home and use it as their first language, so much so that they have difficulty communicating in the Filipino language. English is the language of the elite and the educated, and we believe that speaking in Joe’s tongue will get us ahead in life. Maybe this is why we are ranked number one out of 76 countries in business English proficiency in a 2012 study by Global English Corporation. And even if we don’t completely get it right, we will continue to make-kwento in English.

6. The moment General Douglas MacArthur returned to save us from the Japanese, we’ve come to see these tall handsome heroes as our savior. After all, America still remains to be the “world’s unchallenged superpower”, leading in technology, number of immigrants, higher education, exports, imports, foreign direct investments, entertainment, and military force.

Even 60-year-old Joe is Captain America, saving the day, saving a 17-year-old from a life of poverty and saving the rest of her family along the way by bringing her to the Land of Milk and Honey and eventually sending home dollars for hospital bills and a younger sibling’s tuition.

7. Then there is the other kind of hero: fast, agile, and larger than life – at least 6 feet tall. We idolize these supermen so much that we carry their badges of honor on our caps and shirts and wear their shoes, blowing a whole month’s salary for a pair of Air Jordan, Zoom Kobe, or Chuck Taylors. We may not have the anatomy for it, but basketball is in our hearts and in every street corner and kalye of every town.

8. America is our model of democracy. In fact, the Philippines is the first country in Asia to have adopted democracy as influenced by Joe, earning it the title of “America’s Showcase of Democracy”. Our country’s government has been modeled after the US constitution in 1935 during the period of the US administration. It has since been modified but still adheres to Joe’s idea of justice and liberty for all — the rich and the privileged led by the elite. Nevertheless, American stands for our idea of equal opportunity, basic rights for all, and freedom of expression — a black president, gay marriages, and nude beaches.

9. America is a wonderland, a place where a talking mouse lives with a pet dog. We buy his merchandise, watch his movies, and even stay in his hotel. And for only $200, we can buy the privilege of hanging out with the whole clubhouse gang for a day.

Similarly, with Joe, Pedro and Juan spend their hard-earned in the Sin City’s casinos and the mammoth outlet malls of America’s big cities. Then there are the other places of wonder – Golden Gate Bridge, Statue of Liberty, White House, Broadway – places that represent Joe’s grandeur, grace, and generosity just like his natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and the glaciers in Alaska.

10. No matter how much we deny it, America is part of our history and there seems to be a sense of indebtedness that we cannot shake. Although some historians see Joe’s arrival on our soil as another takeover, many Filipinos see it as liberation. In fact, the older ones revel in the days of old when the Americans once ruled Philippine soil. For them, the American colonial period was a time of abundance and progress, back when Manila was dubbed as the Paris of Asia.

We really can’t quantify our love affair with blue-eyed Joe. There is so much more from Jack Frost to Jack o Lanterns, from hamburgers to hotdogs, from country music to hip-hop, from apple pie to Apple computers, from Stephen King to Steve McQueen.

Even without our colonial mindset and even when we’ve taken out the bling blinders, there will always be a tie that binds us to America. The US military bases — long vacated — will continue to remind us of our long history with Joe when he had fought with us, for us, and over us. And even to this day, whoever our perpetrator may be (Mother Nature, China, poverty), Joe will come riding in his high horse to the rescue. (July 1, 2014)

Share
THE TIME OF ADOBO AND HALO-HALO IS NOW

Culture

THE TIME OF ADOBO AND HALO-HALO IS NOW

No Comments 24 April 2014

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

In almost every corner in the world you will find a little Chinese restaurant. Like the famed dumplings, Asian treats like sushi, pad thai, kimchee, curry, or pho have forever enjoyed the warm spotlight on the international dining table while our humble adobo grows cold in the shadows. But soon all that may change. Filipino cuisine, a melting pot of flavors from different cultures, is about to make its global debut, steaming and bursting with fresh flavors.

Multicultural ingredients

Filipino fare may be a bit strange to the foreign tongue, but the world is craving for new unusual flavors. According to an article in Thrillist, America is looking for a new East Asian food obsession and “signs are pointing to a boom in Filipino food.”  The spark of that flavor explosion started a few years back when Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods told Today.com that two years from now Filipino food is “going to be the next big thing.” He revealed this in 2012. That was about two years ago which means that the time for adobo is now.

Pig and Khao’s version of sisig.

Pig and Khao’s version of sisig.

“It’s just starting,” Zimmern explained. “I think it’s going to take another year and a half to get up to critical mass, but everybody loves Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food, and it’s all been exploited. The Filipinos combined the best of all of that with Spanish technique.” Add our Indonesian, Malaysian, and even American influences are thrown into the pot along with our indigenous flavors and techniques from over 7,000 islands, making into one exciting cuisine.

We’re blessed with fertile land and oceans teeming with the freshest catch for us to create flavors and food art that should open the global palate to us. Our creativity and our practice of using every part of the ingredient (pig blood, chicken intestines, etc.) and using pork in almost every dish should make Filipino fare even more intriguing to whet the world’s appetite.

Looking sexy for 2014

Last year, in addition to Zimmern’s thumbs up, he also named Pinoy food as one of the highlights of 2013. In People.com, he named “brilliant Filipino food” as one of the highs of 2013, second to cronuts. “This is the year, finally, that Pinoy foods have their day in the sun.”

Dish shown in the middle is kinilaw by Texas-based restaurant Qui Austin.

Dish shown in the middle is kinilaw by Texas-based restaurant Qui Austin.

Other food authorities are backing up Zimmern’s endorsement. Details magazine named Philippine fare as “the next great Asian food trend” and Zagat, an influential travel and food guide, named Pinoy Cuisine as one of the most exciting emerging cuisines. At the start of this year, Thrillist, a men’s lifestyle brand, was thrilled to report that Lumpia, Adobo, Pancit, Menudo, Inasal, Kare-kare, and Lechon Kawali will be the next East Asian food obsession.

Meanwhile Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit claims that this year will be all about Filipino inspired food, greatly influencing how the world eats. Perhaps foodies are looking for a new twist on the pad thai or are finally acquiring the taste for oxtail stew livened with shrimp paste. Although considered strange, confusing, and even ugly (pig blood stew, anyone?), it is now considered as one of the sexiest cuisines in the world.

Tracing the movement

Zimmern predicted that the food explosion will start in the West Coast where Filipinos are the second largest Asian ethnicity group. “San Diego is now a big enough ethnic population of Filipinos that chefs are going there and seeing stuff. I think it’ll creep up into Los Angeles and from there go around the rest of the country.”

American chef and author Anthony Bourdain is bowled over by halo-halo, which he describes as “oddly beautiful”.

American chef and author Anthony Bourdain is bowled over by halo-halo, which he describes as “oddly beautiful”.

The irresistible fragrance of adobo can already be detected in other parts of the country, particularly in one of the culinary capitals of the world, New York. Pig and Khao earned a review from New York Times for their menu which includes quail adobo and sizzling sisig put together by former Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen.

Then there’s Maharlika which serves the original “fusion cuisine”, offering dishes like Eggs iMelda served with pandesal, taro-root laing, grilled prawns with kalamansi hollandaise, and kamote fries fit only for the Imeldific. Maharlika’s successful sister Jeepney, a gastro pub, serves longganisa on a hot dog bun drizzled with bagoong relish. 

Dale Talde, also a Top Chef favorite, is cooking up Filipino-Asian-American dishes in his restaurant in Brooklyn, earning for himself a “smart and skillful” review from New York Times. Paul Qui, another alumni of the show, is transforming the humble dinuguan into gourmet fare. “…the Filipino foods movement will one day be traceable to Paul Qui serving dinuguan (pork blood stew) at his restaurant Qui in Austin, Texas,” revealed Zimmern.

Close by Cristina Quakenbush serves the “soul food of southeast Asia” with her signature bangus which is hailed as “utterly unique and a real showstopper.” From her restaurant Milkfish in New Orleans, Quakenbush is happy to report that “(Filipino food) is gaining popularity.”

Oddly beautiful

 The main entrees are not the only ones making raves. Halo-halo, a sweet conclusion to a Filipino meal, is gaining popularity. After all, what better represents the hodgepodge Filipino cuisine than a perplexing mix of beans, garbanzos, plantains, coconut sport, tapioca, cheese, and any kind of treat you can think of dumped on shaved ice. Talde tops his halo-halo with Cap’n Crunch, making it a highly recommended dish by New York Times. 

Anthony Bourdain may not have been too impressed with Filipino cuisine during his visit to the country, cutting out scenes featuring a respected culinary institution in the country from his show, but a trip to Jollibee, L.A. is making him take a second bite. “It makes no goddamn sense at all,” Bourdain commented about the halo-halo. “I love it,” he smiled, taking a picture of the dessert and later posting it on Twitter, because it was “oddly beautiful.” And after enjoying a Jollibee burger, he concludes “there is so much I don’t know.” Maybe it dawned on him that there is more to Philippine cuisine than just the “best pig ever”. 

There is no question, adobo and the rest of the menu is taking over America, and the Filipino food movement cannot be contained in one country. Neighboring countries are already catching a whiff of the mouthwatering aroma, tickling their taste buds. Filipino food is a force to reckon with. After all, who should know food better than the food loving Filipino who eats at least five meals a day? It is no wonder why Manila is now considered as one of the world’s newest culinary capitals by a couple of food experts. Those who want to debunk this should first wolf down a plateful of fluffy rice topped by garlicky adobo and finish it off with an oddly beautiful cold dessert before passing judgment.

Share
FIGHTING CORRUPTION ONE FIXER AT A TIME

Culture

FIGHTING CORRUPTION ONE FIXER AT A TIME

No Comments 28 February 2014

Henry Motte Muñoz and his childhood friend Happy Feraren are on a crusade against corruption, the small-scale pervasive kind that bedevils the life of every Filipino. They founded Bantay PH, which focuses on educating the customer, so they can better guard themselves against paying bribes, and know what to do when they’re asked for one. READ FULL STORY

Share
15 HERITAGE BUILDINGS IN MANILA THAT NEED TO BE RESCUED

Culture

15 HERITAGE BUILDINGS IN MANILA THAT NEED TO BE RESCUED

No Comments 12 February 2014

If these buildings could talk, they’d be like, “Rescue us!” We hear you, beautiful creatures. And, not to get your hopes up, but now that Luneta Hotel has been fixed and expected to reopen after decades of neglect, who knows, maybe the next restoration project could be you! READ FULL STORY

Share
A BORROWED CHRISTMAS

Culture

A BORROWED CHRISTMAS

No Comments 22 December 2013

By Ana Villanueva-Lykes

It’s the night before Christmas and children are singing carols at the door. “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, through the fields we go,” they belt out, laughing all the way. Inside, People watch, smiling, not thinking that if the kids were indeed dashing through the snow, their toes would freeze in their tsinelas while jingling, not bells, but makeshift tambourines. None of them have ever seen real snow either.

Next door, a little girl is dreaming of Santa leaving gifts under the tree. She is not worried that Santa may not be able to get in their locked house without a chimney.   

Filipinos don’t worry about freezing toes or how Santa can’t get in the house. None of these matter, yet we embrace St. Nick who would probably die of the tropical heat or the Snowman who would melt in an instant should we set him in our front yard (if we can find the snow to make one). We make these characters and traditions our own even when they are not applicable to us or have no significance to us.

The-Peninsula xmas tree550x418

Cards and décor are festooned by Western icons that do not apply to us. We deck our halls with fake garlands and sing about white Christmases, the ones that we’ve never known before. Even singing “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” at people’s doorsteps, like the giving of cards and gifts and the commercialization of the holiday, are copied from the Americans. 

Inside the house, the baby in the manger is overshadowed by the plastic tree twinkling with a hundred little light bulbs and fake snowflakes. We revere it like an altar, offering gifts at its feet, not really knowing its origins.

Eastwood xmas tree270

There are a number of speculations to the tree’s beginning and none of which are relevant to us. The Christmas tree’s roots trace their way back to early modern Germany, symbolizing evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter rites and the conversion of German pagans. Tree worship was popular among pagan Europeans, a practice that survived their conversion to Christianity. The decoration of evergreens was said to scare away the devil.

For the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews, the tree and the wreath symbolized eternal life. For us Filipinos, the PVC tree, introduced by the Germans in the 19th century, is where we set up the gifts for loved ones and where we gather to celebrate family.

belen550x368

Close by is the Nativity Scene, an image that we hold close to our hearts as a predominantly Christian country. We make the crèche our own, calling it the belén, the Spanish word for Bethlehem, owing it to our Spanish colonizers.

Like the belén, many of our Christmas traditions were inherited from our Spanish colonizers. One of them is Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve dinner. Although the traditional midnight feast was handed down to us, we made the menu very Filipino with pancit, hamon, queso de bola (although it is a Dutch cheese), lumpia, and bibingka surrounding the lechon. Even the dishes we copied, we “filipinized”, sweetening the spaghetti and sprinkling cheese to our fruit salad.

misa de gallo2-550

Another borrowed custom is the Misa de Gallo, the midnight Mass celebrated on Christmas Eve inspired by the early Christians of Jerusalem who honored the birth of the Lord with a midnight vigil in Bethlehem. The Simbang Gabi is our own version of the Misas de Aguinaldo, the dawn Masses of Christmas held from the 16th  to the 24th of December. Although historians claim that the devotional Mass, originally celebrated in the evenings, was said to have been moved at dawn as a compromise for exhausted Filipino farmers, the Misas de Aguinaldo is also being observed at dawn in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Then there’s the aguinaldo, the customary gift given to godchildren. The Christmas aguinaldo usually comes in the form of crisp peso bills handed in red envelopes, inspired by the Chinese. But not surprisingly, the word aguinaldo is a Spanish word meaning gift. Countries like Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico have their own form of aguinaldo as influenced by the Spaniards.  

Without a doubt, it is the Spaniards who have greatly influenced our Yuletide celebration. After all, it is our 300-year colonizers who introduced Christianity and ultimately the practice of commemorating the birth of the Savior. Mixed into the pot are the contributions of the British, the Germans, the Americans, and the Chinese which resulted into a heterogeneous tradition. Every year we cook up a celebration that is something of our own with all these influences as our ingredients, spicing it up with our generosity, creativity, and a grateful heart.

We reinvent what is borrowed by making everything grander. A 12-day celebration for others is stretched into a three-month extravaganza. While New Year’s is reflective for most, ours is a big bang with fireworks going off till dawn to drive away evil and bring good luck (a belief that originated from the Chinese). And the celebration isn’t just a day, it’s a three and a half-day holiday with the 31st made into a sandwiched holiday and the 30th, Rizal Day, also another reason to celebrate.

Even Filipinos overseas have redefined the meaning of the art of giving at Christmas. Around December, remittances pour from Pinoys abroad and the balikbayan boxes arrive, packed with canned goods and fluffy towels. Relatives hope the box arrives before Christmas that they may partake of an American Christmas, a whiff of evergreens. And although we copied caroling from the Americans, we sweeten the songs with Filipino generosity by rewarding the songsters with coins or treats.

So yes, we borrow Santa in his thickly insulated red suit and even Jesus in his manger. Most of us may not know the origins or the true meaning of some of these symbols like the tree or the wreath, but all that matters is that they signify for us a time of giving and thanksgiving.  Gift-giving may be an inheritance from the Americans, but giving is inherently Filipino.

parol550

You might say that the parol, an iconic Filipino Christmas image, is also inspired by the Spaniard’s Christian teachings (even the term parol was coined from the Spanish word for lantern), a reminder of the star of Bethlehem, but for us, its significance shines brighter than the tinsel and is purer than snow. After all, Christmas for Filipinos goes beyond the packed malls or the songs of good cheer played over and over until it has lost meaning. Christmas for us is all about family, giving, and ultimately bringing glory to God.

Share
8 TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DISHES

Culture

8 TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS DISHES

No Comments 10 December 2013

‘Tis the season for the merry Pinoy food! Here are 8 dishes that will most likely be on our checklist this Christmas. Ushering the start of simbang gabi or the traditional misa de gallo is the huff puffing of steam coming from the puto bumbong cylindrical bamboo steamers outside churches. READ FULL STORY

Share
A WALKING TOUR OF ESCOLTA

Culture

A WALKING TOUR OF ESCOLTA

No Comments 24 June 2013

From the early 1900s to the 1960s, Escolta was the country’s premier shopping mecca. With the emergence of the commercial and business districts of Makati and Quezon City, the prestige of Escolta gradually faded. READ FULL STORY

 

Share
THE BEE AND THE SWEETENING OF A COUNTRY’S CULTURE

Culture

THE BEE AND THE SWEETENING OF A COUNTRY’S CULTURE

No Comments 12 February 2013

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

In the US a child’s first words are usually “dada”, “momma”, and “dog”. In the Philippines, it’s “papa”, “mama” and “bee”. And it’s not just any kind of bee. It’s a special yellow and orange bee with a chef’s hat and jacket. No pants.

Every toddler in the Philippines knows the sweet taste of the hotdog bits in the spaghetti just as well as Lolo is familiar with the delightful sensation of the Chicken Joy crispy skin on the tongue. Their wide eyes — both Lolo’s and apo’s — shine at the first bite. It is because of these toddlers and their lolos — and every member of the family for that matter — that Jollibee is no longer just a fast food chain but an icon.

A mere burger chain has somehow managed to colonize “the youth culture and mass consumption”, as Andréa Picard would put it in her Cinema Scope feature. What is it about Jollibee that makes international film critiques call it a phenomenon and even The New York Times describe it as “strangely addicting”? Jollibee’s success has gone beyond Philippine taste in spite of the fact that others might define its fare as substandard, a taste for the masses. It has conquered the international palate, earning Jollibee the right to call itself the “Filipino Triumph”.

Jollibee’s story is not just the tale of Tony Tan Caktiong but the story of the Filipino’s triumph over the red-haired clown and what others might consider great taste. An inspiration for small businesses, Caktiong grew his empire from two humble Magnolia Ice Cream franchises. But people were hungry and Caktiong quenched the demand with hamburger and chicken. No longer just an ice cream parlor, the business needed a new name, one that signifies productivity and abundance. What better image to represent that than the hardworking bee? But even from the start, Caktiong knew that he wanted to serve more than just food, he wanted to serve happiness, not just for the belly, but for every child within. He wanted a place where “bida ang saya”. And so the jolly bee was born.

The bee’s colony grew so huge, spreading happiness all over the country (more than 750 stores) and abroad (USA (26), Vietnam (32), Brunei (11), Jeddah (7), Qatar, Hong Kong (1), and Kuwait (1)). Today, Jollibee claims a market share that totals to more than half of the entire industry.

But perhaps, more triumphant than the franchise’s story is the Pinoy’s bond with Jollibee, Champ, the Chicken Joy, and of course the sweet spaghetti.

The New York Times calls Jollibee the “fast food for the Filipino soul”. Every single character and item on the menu taps at the heart of the Pinoy and understands its taste buds. Palabok and tapa sit side by side with hamburgers and fries in the menu. The franchise does not force foreign fare down the people’s throat. Jollibee sweetens the servings to make it go down easy. The spaghetti, an Italian classic, is an example. They made it Filipino style, sweetened it and garnished it with hotdog and ham slices, and people gobble this up.

The phenomenon has reached international status, earning at least four features in The New York Times. One of which tells how the friendly bee stings Ronald in the Philippines. The Philippines is perhaps the only country in the world where McDonald’s is not the reigning burger chain. The bee has already marked its territory before the clown set its red boots on Philippine soil. In 2002, The Economist magazine wrote that the country “is a huge embarrassment to McDonalds.”

Try as Ronald may, he could not compete with the Filipino taste. It attempted to localize its burger and bring the Golden Arches closer to the Filipino heart with taglines like “love ko ‘to”. But it was no match to “ang sarap maging at home”.

Taste is just one part of the story. Jollibee also understands the Filipino. It understands that time with Lolo is spent sharing palabok and fries even if they don’t match. It understands that teens, as much as toddlers, love to pose beside the mascot for pictures, and there is nothing baduy about that. It is unabashedly kitschy with its bright colors and does not make apologies for it. After all, the Pinoy is all about color and celebration even in the midst of poverty.

Jollibee recognizes the fact that an occasional cheeseburger treat can cause a sting to the Filipino who earns below minimum wage. A chicken and spaghetti combo for many is not just a meal but a celebration, a splurge. The bee caters to this culture. It serves a feast in a plastic tray with a big smile. Let tomorrow’s meal worry about itself.

The bee knows the culture of Filipino celebration. It knows that a Pinoy will borrow money for a fiesta, to enjoy life through food and dance even with holes in the pocket. It is clearly evident even in Jollibee’s ads. Someone once wrote that you can tell much about a country’s culture through their TV commercials, spotlighting on Jollibee’s TV ads of singing, dancing and eating. And in almost every commercial there is always the family, the elderly couple who misses the langhap sarap or the young man who yearns for the Sunday Jollibee trips of his childhood. Everybody goes back, back to the taste of their youth.

(The author maintains a travel blog — www.anaviajera.com.)

Share
COMPREHENDING THE ‘ENGLISH SPOKENING’

Culture

COMPREHENDING THE ‘ENGLISH SPOKENING’

No Comments 17 November 2012

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

Labhan ang damit nang mabuti”, says a sticky note on the washing machine door. By the light switch, a sign says, “Patayin ang ilaw.” All over the house are little notes that serve as a reviewer. In the background, Sa Ugoy ng Duyan plays softly as my one-year-old naps. It’s all part of my campaign to make sure that my son grows up fluent in Tagalog and that my American husband is not alienated.

My Pinoy immigrant friends ask why that it is so necessary. It seems like they do not see the value in teaching their kids the native tongue when they can hardly use it on foreign soil. I can understand that to some degree, but it’s disheartening to know that many kababayans believe that their children can get ahead only if they are fluent in English alone.

Once during a visit to Manila, I asked my 6-year-old nephew a question in Tagalog. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Please speak English. I don’t understand.” It was interesting that a little boy could silence me. My brother explained that they’ve been conversing with the boy in English since birth. Even the maids do. Apparently, the maids were getting reeducated too. He admitted that it is turning into a disadvantage, because the child is now experiencing difficulty in his Filipino classes. So does countless other kids in the Philippines whose parents think that their children will be achievers if they make English their first language in a country that’s generally non-English speaking.

I grew up with these kids, classmates who were made fun of because they couldn’t speak straight Filipino. Is it their fault that their parents trained them that way? They were always behind in our Araling Panlipunan classes, and I do not judge them, because I too barely passed these subjects. Truth be told, I can write better in English. And I am not proud of that.

I grew up speaking Ilonggo at home. But the TV certainly talked to me in English. And so did my teachers and classmates four days a week. Mondays to Thursdays, we were obliged to converse in English only. Fridays were Filipino days. They must have figured that we did not need to practice Filipino more when we are after all living in a Filipino speaking country. Even our instructional language for major subjects like Science was English. I have to admit it’s practical that way. Try explaining E=MC2 in Filipino.

Even in addresses, streets are streets, not kalye. Similarly, majority of our advertisements, signs, and directions are in English. It’s not the case in many non-English speaking countries. If you can’t find your way around Korea or Vietnam, you would more than likely get lost in translation. I learned this the hard way, thinking that English would serve me well. When I got lost in the streets of Hanoi, I was greeted with quizzical stares when I asked for directions. Few Vietnamese know basic English and they don’t make apologies for it, because it does not make them lesser individuals, and inversely, to be fluent in English does not make them superior or royalty. How many Miss Universe hopefuls have taken the crown with only the help of a translator?

I can’t argue with the fact that there are advantages to being fluent in what is supposedly the universal language. Statistics show that English speaking countries are responsible for about 40% of the world’s GNP. That says a lot. But then it makes me wonder: why is Japan, largely a non-English speaking country, still way ahead of us in terms of technology and economy?  I guess language alone does not make a country, but language still speaks plenty.

Is this another case of colonial mentality? Should we blame it on the 48 years of American reign and the many borrowed words (tren for “train” for instance)? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking that to make the peso stronger, we need to speak the green dollar language?

The fact is, we’ve come upon times when it’s more convenient to say things in English rather than Tagalog. Thus the birth of “taglish” code switching. Unconsciously, when I converse in Tagalog, I would revert to an English word simply because it’s easier. Maybe it’s because there are more syllables to Filipino words. For me, it also sounds more fluid compared to the hard syllables of Tagalog. “Ang sweet” is easier and shorter than “ang lambing”.

Even the tambay will more than likely say “wow sexy” instead of “wow kaakit-akit”.  I had difficulty looking up “sexy” in the English-Tagalog dictionary. A website came up with mainam and balingkinitan, and they still don’t sound right. I looked up my English-Tagalog dictionary by Leo James English and came up with nothing.

Yes, I brought my L. English dictionaries with me to the states even though they were about a kilo combined. I could have relied on the internet, but L. English is the recommended dictionary of the literati. I had to take it with me no matter the cost (of excess baggage). The act was almost metaphorical. I was afraid that if I left that weight, I would completely lose my native tongue. I brought it along with several other materials like work books and OPM CDs all in the effort of making sure my boys learn the language.

Maybe we are not to blame for the decline of the use of our own language, but we are definitely responsible for teaching our kids to exercise their native tongue. So when my friends ask why, I tell them that bilingual children are better thinkers. They’re more flexible and divergent in their thought processes. They become proud of their self-identity, knowing that they are a culture bridge. And perhaps more importantly, I tell them that although my son has an Irish name and strong Irish-American roots, part of him will always be Finnegan the Filipino.

(The author maintains a travel blog – http://anaviajera.com).

Share

Sponsored Links

Interested in placing an ad here?

© 2014 Planet Philippines.

Website Setup By Nico Bailon For Buzzword Media