Our Ilokano Language and Literature Program at the University of Hawaii is the only degree-granting program of its kind in the world, with a full program for a major in Ilokano, a minor, and a certificate. There is not a single university in the Ilocos, in Cagayan Valley, and in the Cordilleras—all within the rubric of what is called Amianan—that offers any semblance of what we do at the UH. Pretty soon, we are expanding the offering of Ilokano language and culture in another college within the UH System, the Maui College, side by side with an expansion of a pilot program, under a different grant, for Ilokano for high school students in two huge public high schools. We have started the Ilokano Plus Program, also at Maui College, and we hope to expand programs of this kind as soon as we have prepared our teachers. Even as I say these things, we are aware that our initiatives in Hawaii, first formalized with the offering of the first-ever Ilokano class in 1972, are not of the same kind of an initiative that you need here in the Philippines particularly those institutions of basic and higher education in the three regions of Amianan, or Northern Philippine (Region I, Region II, and CAR). The University of the Philippines at Diliman, for instance, is even better off in giving opportunities to students specializing in Philippine Studies to study a full year of Ilokano and some undergraduate and graduate courses in Ilokano literature. Some universities and colleges in the Ilocos do not seem to know what the Ilokano language and Ilokano literature are all about, because, as some teachers and instructors would say, Why do they still need to learn what they already know?
There is thus a whole scale working up of consciousness of self and community here—with so many of our people unable to use the lens provided by their language and culture and instead use, however handicapped they are, other lenses. Why, indeed, do we have to insist on the need to educate our young in the language that they already know? Why don’t we educate the Cagayanon in French and Italian and English so that they will be gainfully employed in France, Italy, and England? If the Cagayanon only knows Bisaya, where would he go? We don’t even care to venture beyond whichever lens we fancy to wear to ask why the Americans or the English who are born with English as their language from their homes, in school and in their communities—why they still have to be taught English at various levels in school, why the Japanese or the Chinese or the Koreans all of whom learn to speak their own mother tongues at birth still have to study their own mother tongues in their schools.
In Hawaii, we have the same troubles when parents learn that their children are enrolled in our Ilokano courses. The blast of dressing down begins with that incredulous question, “You are Ilokano, why would you learn Ilokano?” Their questioning continues, all aimed to destroy the self-esteem of children trying to figure out what they do not know about themselves by going back to their roots. “Why not learn Korean, Japanese, Spanish, English, or Tagalog? The tourists are coming to Hawaii. The Filipino Channel is all over the screen. And Manila the big city where all the big malls are, is a Tagalog-speaking wonderland of commerce and commodities you cannot find in Honolulu. Even the crewmembers of food chains in Laoag and Vigan speak to you in English and Tagalog. Why would you learn Ilokano? It is a waste of time!”
In Hawaii, we have the same troubles as well when our students, because of historical memory, enroll in Filipino courses believing that they are enrolling in Ilokano language classes. At a certain point in the diasporic history of Ilokanos in Hawaii, the Ilokanos are the exact equivalent of Filipinos and the Filipinos the exact equivalent of Ilokanos. With the interchangeability of Filipino and Tagalog as linguistic concepts much later on, the concept of equivalence had been challenged and eroded, and the confusion set in, especially when the University of Hawaii, in its books, changed the course titles of Tagalog to Filipino. So here we have a problem of displacement in historical consciousness: the Ilokano as Filipino is now suspect—as he is suspect in the Philippines—and is now no longer found. The Ilokano as Filipino in Hawaii has gone AWOL. If he comes back at all, he is simply ‘Filipino’ without the regional Ilokano appellation. This is the same view that has prevailed in our educational discourse, this sameness without the qualification, this sameness that refuses to recognize that in the celebration of diversity, there is more hope for us all, that in the protection of our difference, there could be more solidarity and unity.