The issue of Ilokano identity (or, identities?) is in the hands of the Ilokanos. These are primarily those who consider themselves to be Ilokanos. Ilokanos say ‘We, Ilokanos’ (‘Dakami nga Ilokano’) when they talk to non-Ilokanos (e.g., French, Chinese, Americans), and also when they talk to Ibalois, Tagalogs, Maranaws, among other Philippine ethnolinguistic groups. ‘Dakami’ is distinctive and the ‘We’ is limited – it excludes the audience from the speaker and his group. It gives the impression that the identity is one, and is shared by the Ilokanos. The identity appears and sounds unitary. In contrast, ‘Datayo’ is inclusive of both the speaker and his/her audience – the speaker and the audience are of the same group; they have the same identity. And ‘We, Ilokanos’ (‘Datayo nga Ilokano’) in this sense includes all Ilokanos. It is addressed to fellow Ilokanos (‘kapadpada nga Ilokano’).
But when Ilokanos say ‘Datayo’ – the inclusive ‘We’ – they would see cracks and divisions, disparities and inequalities within the Ilokano nation. Supposedly one nation, but there might not be just one ‘We’, but many We’s in the sense of ‘Dakami’. Many ‘Dakami’s within one ‘Datayo’, perhaps? An easy example is the divide between the more fortunate and the less fortunate. Might these sectors have different views and values concerning what Ilokano-ness is supposed to be? Which ‘Dakami’ would put emphasis on values like mutual assistance in time of need (sinnaranay), or fairness and uprightness (‘kinalinteg’)? And which ‘Dakami’ might stress on competition (‘innartap’), or on individual effort (‘kabukbukodan a gay-at’)? Are Ilokanos thrifty (‘managsalimetmet’), or lavish (‘nabuslon’)? Of course, when talking of identity many other traits and characteristics other than language get into the picture. The way Ilokanos conduct themselves in day-to-day life is the source of colors and brush strokes that paint the Ilokano portrait. If some Ilokanos behave ‘this way’ and other Ilokanos behave ‘that way’, the overall Ilokano image will have both ‘this way’ and ‘that way’ as its traits. And the Ilokano identity is made up not only from how non-Ilokanos perceive ‘the Ilokanos’, but also from the way Ilokanos perceive themselves. Colors and brush strokes from both the outside and the inside depict who and what ‘an Ilokano’ is (or, what being an Ilokano should be).
Also to the point, who of the many We’s (‘Dakami’s) can and would contribute their views and values in the conversation that is meant to reconstruct an Ilokano identity (Ilokano-ness)? Who may speak? Who has a voice? Or, how will the many ‘Dakami’s resolve the different views and values that they bring into the discourse? If the differences are not resolved and the views are not integrated, there might be many voices and many identities that come through when particular sectors of the Ilokano nation talk to non-Ilokanos. There would not be a unitary Ilokano identity, but a cracked and fragmented image would exhibit the different ‘Dakami’s.
Further, would Ilokanos keep beliefs, practices, standards that were introduced from non-Ilokano cultures or peoples (a few examples: democracy, free press, social justice, respect for human rights)? Or, do Ilokanos not have something to offer for non-Ilokanos to borrow and appropriate (e.g., ‘pinakbet’, ‘basi’)? What are the standards for including or keeping beliefs, practices, standards, and other elements as parts of Ilokano-ness – and for excluding or discarding something as not part of Ilokano-ness? What is meant by ‘our Ilokano identity’: ‘kina-Ilokano-mi’ or ‘kina-Ilokano-tayo’? These are basic and important questions to resolve.
If the solidary ‘Datayo’ is supposed to be one shared identity and remain as one while it gets reconstructed through conversations, conduct, and behaviors among Ilokanos, it is imperative to acknowledge the cracks within the Ilokano nation. This entails addressing the disparities across several Ilokano-nesses – including disparities within different communities in the Ilokano diaspora. In trying to understand and construct an Ilokano identity beyond the level of language, costume, cuisine, and other ‘easily observable’ elements, the ‘Datayo’ presents interesting questions and challenging tasks. And every Ilokano needs to grapple with these interesting questions as well as step up to the challenging tasks. All these show that life is more interesting than we can handle!