We have not seen this happening in a long while—about half a century—when those who had the courage to write in Ilokano were also university teachers and college instructors and school administrators and students and ordinary people who knew what kind of a magnificent and luminous and true world is being opened up by their Ilokano language. Nowhere is the recognition of this ‘courage to create’ by writers of this kind demonstrated than the analysis of a state university president in Ilocos Norte who knew all the problems we are going through and offered her university to be the first headquarters of Nakem Conferences Philippines:
…in the act of resisting our homogenization in the interest of an abstract project of Philippine nationhood, we ought not to lose our names, we ought not to lose our sense of self, we ought not to lose our nation in an ethnolinguistic sense, as it were. We know that cultural diversity and the political agendum towards cultural pluralism are terms that cannot be used for selfish ends but are to be pursued to ascertain that the ends of cultural and social justice are being served. Indeed, we are a nation among nations, as some scholars on Ilokano and Amianan life have asserted. We must make a vow to make it happen that the ‘nations’ in the equation in the bigger notion of the ‘nation’ are not to be left out but are included as terms in that equation. In failing to do that, we shall have failed our people, we shall have failed our communities, we shall have failed the Ilokano and Amianan nation, we shall have failed the Philippine nation as well.6
Kur-itan, now seen only in tattoos and other ‘exotic’ or nostalgic representations, kept a record of what we wanted remembered and expressed in a more lasting way. Except for some vague traces of that palimpsest based on the accounts of the frailes of what they intended to do in turning us all into rote memorizers of “Amami” (the Pater Noster) and “Abe Mariya” (the Ave Maria) and other formula prayers7, we have really inaugurated the death of our being, the death of our being-more-so, so that what we have at this time is a bad prognosis: the commencement of our being-less-so. And we seem to enjoy this, masochistic people that we are.
Response to Erasures in the Diaspora
Let me provide the context of our struggle in Hawaii and connect this to the struggle that we have in the Philippines.
Each year, about 5000 people get into the state as immigrants. Ninety percent of these new immigrants come from the Ilocos and Ilokanized areas of Northern Philippines. The number translates to 4500 Ilokanos in Hawaii each year. With three the average number of children per family, we have half of these coming in as children, easily translatable to more than 2000 Ilokanos. Now where do these children go? How do they get settled in the public schools? Here comes the power of the state to turn these Ilokano children into Americans by having them get into the English as a Second Language or English with Limited Proficiency classes and there remind them that unless they shed off their skin as Ilokanos, like the snake shedding off its skin, they can never become Americans. So your guess is as good as mine: the trauma resulting from this is both personal and social, and the traumatized vows to become American as fast as he could. First off the bat: Speak English. Second, Speak English the way the locals do. Third, Pick up the Pidgin to completely erase your Ilokanoness. Do not claim that you were ever born in the Ilocos but say that you are local even if the Ilokano accent—the accent you are denying—sometimes comes back to haunt you.
But while this is true in Hawaii, it is true here in the Philippines as well. Those who have come to Metropolitan Manila, when they go back to the Ilocos, bring with them this dominant posturing. Back in their homes, they refuse to speak Ilokano, preferring to speak in the dominant language, as this, for the dominant group, is the mark of having arrived at the pedestal of a ‘cosmopolitan’ culture that is unlike theirs. We have comic stories about them, all intended to bring them down and make them realize that they have no business becoming reactionary and adopting the dominant group’s posture.8
We have other tragic stories in Hawaii—and in our work with the federal government that involves other states in many ways.
(To be continued)