22 August 2007

My FILIPINO-American Boy

I haven't been posting here as often as I had hoped to -- but inspiration hit me when I stopped by today and I saw Mom2Amara's post "Ako si Mom2Amara".

I migrated to the US seven years ago when I married by better half -- giving up family and career in the Philippines to raise one of my own here. After two miscarraiges, we were blessed with our now three-year-old son, Salvador Angelo II (Angel). I was fortunate enough to have had my Mom here to assist me in caring for Angel until he turned three this May, and together, we tried our best to speak to him in Tagalog, while my husband concentrated more on speaking with him in English.

By the time my Mom returned to Manila in June this year, Angel was able to understand commands in Tagalog, and he was conversant enough to reply to simple questions or commands. I even had to train him to say "No, thanks" as opposed to saying "Ayaw na" because his teachers in daycare wouldn't know what "Ayaw" meant. He distinguished between his two grandmothers by calling my mom "Grandma," and Alan's mom, "Lola". His favorite food is his beloved "kanin-rice", and one word you will hear him uttering every so often is "Sama" (baby talk for "I'm going with you").

I had started teaching him Tagalog as a baby, trying to teach him to count and teaching him body parts like "mata" (eyes), "kamay" (hand), "daliri" (fingers), even singing to him such nursery rhymes like "Sampung mga daliri" (Ten fingers) and "Leron-leron Sinta" (whose translation escapes me because it is more of an expression akin to "La la my love".)

Unlike Mom2Amara, I am fortunate enough to have actually learned how to formally speak, write and read Tagalog in school like Alan, and although Alan has been here for the last 20 years and his own Tagalog-English translations are getting rusty, you would know he grew up in Manila when he starts speaking in the vernacular.

I have often written about how I find it sad that we Filipinos seem to continue to struggle with being bilingual, falling prey to the supposed better state of being fluent and steeped in English. We fail to see that we grew up being bilingual, and as such were better off than most who were confined to their own language. I cannot help but admire the Koreans who talk to their young kids in their native tongue, and I tell myself that I hope I can succeed in teaching Angel not only to understand Tagalog but to speak it, and speak it fluently I hope.

Living by the personal mantra that anything can be learned -- just as I discovered I actually had the talent to cook and I started learning only when I was left to fend for myself and Alan here in New York -- I hope I can learn to teach him to speak the language beyond token phrases and lines. I often slip and end up talking to him in English -- but as much as possible, I am talking to him in Tagalog.

I hope to one day introduce him to the colorful folklore of his Mom and Dad's native country, the different slang terms we grew up with, and I hope to see him enjoying the Filipino movies his Dad and I watch from time to time. I want him to be able to carry a conversation out in Tagalog with the slightest hint of his being from New York -- a tall order, I know, but something which I hope to do. I want him to grow up being proud of his Filipino heritage. For all the flak that we get as a damaged culture as others would term it, I am proud to be Filipino, even in this land where I am just one of many shades in a raindbow of nations and cultures.


Karmela said...

I have often written about how I find it sad that we Filipinos seem to continue to struggle with being bilingual, falling prey to the supposed better state of being fluent and steeped in English.

But we are not bilingual, the majority of us. The majority of us are actually TRI-lingual -- English, Tagalog, and whatever other dialect we speak in our Philippine hometown. For me, that's Ilocano. The majority of Filipinos are not, contrary with what the cityfolk believe, from Manila. Although forced to speak Tagalog because the media, businesses and schools communicate in it, a majority of Filipinos speak a language OTHER than Tagalog at home. This is the main reason why Filipinos are ambivalent toward the Tagalog language and toward this so-called bilingualism. A lot of Filipino-Americans seem to forget that the Philippines has more than 170 dialects, with 10 of them considered full-blown major languages (according to Wikipedia). I know that my Ilocano relatives feel extremely defensive and protective of their language, and when they travel to the U.S., they introduce themselves to other Pinoys not as "Filipinos" but as "Ilocanos." This is also the reason why I've never even tried to teach my kids Tagalog. What for? When they go home, we go to Laoag where everyone speaks either English or Ilocano. They only need Tagalog to watch TV, and I'd rather they go outside and play with their (English and Ilocano-speaking) cousins instead.

Let's not forget that "bilingualism" as a concept among Filipinos doesn't really exist. Now, if you're talking "multilingualism," that's more realistic, and of course, a lot more difficult to achieve.

Anonymous said...

I think my parents were thinking that it was in my best interests academically and socially to only speak English. The pendulum is swinging back now towards multiculturalism and multilinguism as giving our kids some advantage ("it's a global economy").

Great job on helping your baby maintain his culture and language! I envy you!

pinaynewyorker said...

Karmela, Tagalog is my second language although I am also conversant in Bicolano. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I laud you for teaching your kids Ilocano which is the same idea I had about teaching my boy to speak Tagalog. Personally, helping my son get acquainted with his Filipino roots would be teaching him whatever language I knew, and Ilocano would be to you what Tagalog is to me. My point in the blogpost was imparting to our children that Filipino part of us that they possess by lineage but no longer by environment because they will grow up to be Americans. Bilingualism and/or multilingualism are concepts that many Filipinos raising their children here in the US refuse to embrace for one reason or another, which to me is a sad fact of life, because it deprives the next generation one important link to their heritage. Be it Tagalog, Bicolano, Ilonggo, or Ilocano, I am of the belief that it would be to our children's advantage to help them learn the language of their parents. As they always say, at the end of the day, it's a parent's prerogative.

pinaynewyorker said...

la dra, precisely my point. There I was trying to study French for my personal enrichment when I found myself looking at the modules I was trying to dig into and wondering if I should use a similar approach to teaching my son how to speak the language I grew up with. As a parent, I think of giving my son something that is a part of me, his Filipina Mom, and language is something that I can. It's not easy, and I'm struggling, but I'm keeping at it because I know it can be done.

mamazilla said...

i'm trying so hard to learn tagalog so that i can help my kids learn it too.

originally, i though it would help them communicate with family and friends in manila when we visited... which i realized was incorrect during our last visit in february when my mom's family from iligan and cebu and my extended father's family in manila.

the funny thing is i remember when my mom (who spoke bisaya) and my dad (who spoke ilocano) spoke tagalog to each other at home.

when i asked them why they didn't teach me to speak tagalog they said that they found at any early age i would mix up the bisaya, tagalog and ilocano and embarass them so they stopped trying to teach me. :(

mamazilla said...

just read this opinion piece that related to the topic - http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=89682

pinaynewyorker said...

mamazilla -- it doesn't matter if you teach your kids bisaya, tagalog or ilocano. It's a means of keeping them rooted in your heritage. We are, after all, all Filipinos in one form or other, but this generation needs a way to feel that in their lives, no matter what dialect is spoken. For me and my son, it is Tagalog -- and it doesn't hold true for everyone, but whatever your dialect, it will always lead you home. Thanks for the suggested article -- I can't help but agree with it..

mom2amara said...

OK don't laugh -- I'm running on Filipino time with my blogs and am just getting to read this post now.

First, your son is gorgeous!

Second, I too am envious you can teach your son Tagalog. I often wish that there was a group by us here that could teach her (and me) Tagalog. Again, like I said in my post, my parents did not really teach us the language and what is sad, they both know different dialects and that has been completely off limits for us.

One day, I hope I can visit the Philippines with my daughter and immerse her in the culture -- language and all. And I hope that in that short period time, she will come to understand and appreciate her heritage!