Interlude #7 - Possibilities


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            Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome to today’s episode. And it’s an interlude because I have a lot to say that I didn’t think I was going to say. But you know, I also wasn’t expecting to drop about $100 dollars on language learning software for Tagalog, but you know, it was presented as a good deal available only for a limited time. You know that advertising trick. And there’s a reason that it’s a trick. It works. I mean, it shouldn’t, but it did

            Yeah… And there’s something odd about that entire experience. Not just me falling for a common business tactic. I mean about this entire thing about throwing so much money into learning something that is technically mine by birthright. To grossly simplify the citizenship laws in the Filipinos, it’s done by blood not soil. So I didn’t have to be born on the islands. By virtue of being born to a Filipina, I have a legal foothold in that world. It just never materialize. Not just in the literal paperwork I never did. I mean, this entire podcast is based on the premise that I feel a disconnect with this part of my heritage. It’s not just culture, folklore and history. In many ways, it’s language too.

            And given the relatively dramatic decrease in my bank account that somewhat haunts me, it’s on my mind and something I really want to talk about.

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            I mentioned in another interlude episode that my tongue trips over Filipino words and maybe you noticed. It’s not just that the sounds don’t fit right in my mouth. Or—maybe a less poetic way to put it—that my tongue stumbles over the syllables. Rather, there are plenty of rules that I just don’t know. I might have been told them once. But probably not. And even if I had been told then, they were never enforced.

            But hey, at least I’m hanging around at all, right? When I got to high school and then college, that was when I met other half-Filipino children for the first and second time. But no one in either of those admittedly small lots knew Tagalog. Not more than a few words. Inay, Tatay, Salamat. Not even with the formal “po.” That was a syllable they knew of but couldn’t confidently use. Meanwhile, I never knew where to put it in a sentence, but I knew to tack it on at the end. At least it was there. Even if (quote) “there” wasn’t exactly right.

            Relatively speaking, my limited accomplishments were accomplishments simply because they existed. That was the only reason to be proud of them, I guess.

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            I can’t speak to everyone’s experience. But I can speak to the fact that I have encountered many people who are shocked that this language hasn’t been passed on so neatly. After all, isn’t that part of being an immigrant’s child to be Complete fluency in the language of their home country?

            I mean, I got that a lot. And I hit myself with that a lot. But honestly, life can get so much more complicated than that.

            Because, as I keep saying on this podcast, my dad’s health wasn’t great. Consistently. Sure, he’d have good days and bad days, but my mother—who was just as much caretaker to him as she was wife—would need those good days to rest and recover from the strain of the bad days. Not teach her child her language. I mean, yes, she did nurture her child and the all important education her child needed to get, but being successful in it didn’t necessarily include this language.

            Above all, she thought, I needed to be a good, caring person. And while I can be quick to frustration and overly sarcastic, I like to think she succeeded on that front. Then there was school. She was a teacher after all. Homework and other part of my academic education were given priority. And while school has its problems and drawbacks as an institution, it still is a critical part to your ongoing success. Getting good grades is a way to demonstrate abilities that my mother didn’t doubt I had. I mean, that was part of her role in my education: engaging and developing my abilities.

            This devotion of hers is partially why you are currently able to hear to my voice. Creative writing or creation in general just wasn’t something that my school was actively encouraging back in elementary. It was a fun little activity to do with students in the course of other lessons. I can remember—and find—the workbook we were given in second grade where, once a week, we would draw some sort of picture on the top half of a sheet based on a prompt and write out a description of that picture on the bottom.

            Just a quick blurb, mind you, not a story. There wasn’t any room for that. And sure, you could always ask the teacher for more paper to then tuck into your notebook, but it was a deviation from the norm. And those don’t typical sit well with students.

            But my mom at home would give me all the paper I wanted. She would encourage me to write things I was thinking about, regardless of what it was. And as I grew, she satiated my desire for more journals to jot down whatever stories I thought of, even the ones that I couldn’t fully bring into completion just yet. She would ask me about all of my projects. She encourages each new potential podcast I float around. For better or worse.

            In all of this, she spoke English, and she did so remarkably well, having been an overseas Filipino worker for over a decade before I was born. English just comes with the territory or you better bring it with you abroad. And she had spent quite a bit of time abroad. She had travelled all over the world, in fact. There was no need for me to learn Tagalog to understand her. For what it’s worth. And that might not be very much.


            But there was no need to assert the importance of her native tongue, is what I mean. At least not one that she could immediately see. So everything else took precedence over teaching me this, and there weren’t other resources around to make up for it. That point is fairly critical in and of itself, but it might not be the one you are focusing on.

            Before you criticize her for not teaching. Stop and think about the other variables involved.

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            It’s not just that there was a very real strains on my mother’s or really any mother’s time. The details might change from person to person, but the underlying themes are the same. That—in many regards—each parent cannot only concern themselves with the wellbeing of their individual children but also with the expectations of the larger world those children will inhabit.

            Tagalog is not that common of a language. And hey, even one of my godchildren in the Philippines started with English first and only learned Tagalog as a backup-slash-non-priority. Sure, he’s still a little kid, and he does learn now, but it’s part of a larger whole, I feel. Not quite a trend. But maybe a looming trend.

            Because, the thing is, if my education experience, pointed out anything about Tagalog it’s that—well—it’s a language with limited use. Maybe some of us can use it with our family, but even then, English proficiency is becoming more and more common in the Philippines. So most of your family will be able to talk to you, even if you don’t learn, and there’s enough of them to translate for everyone else.

            Beyond that, why else would you learn? To have a secret language with your family in public? Okay. Fair enough. But why else? It’s not a global language, its utility is limited to certain situations and those situations are become increasingly irrelevant, and there are other languages to be learning and a school budget that will only go so far.

            I grew up in the American Southwest, so obviously we had a Spanish language program. It was just practical. We also had a mini program for French with about fifteen students. There was talk about having a Mandarin language program, but I don’t care enough about my high school to look back to see if it ever actually happened.

            But regardless, you’d never have a class of one. No matter how useful that language could be. You could just never justify the expense. So of course that would never have happen.

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            Similar story in college, but by then, I had floated the idea of different language softwares to teach myself. I mean, I already had something vaguely resembling the basics. So it couldn’t be so hard, right? Well, I don’t exactly. It never quite came up. I never got that far.

            I looked into the free ones, but they didn’t have Tagalog, but I had hoped it was that just didn’t have it yet. But maybe they never will. I don’t know. I didn’t know, but I was optimistic.

            On days when I felt like I couldn’t wait, I looked into the famous paid software that you see advertised a lot. It was too much for a college student and then a graduate student to spend on something that wasn’t technically a necessity.

            It was also the time around which my desire to learn waxed and waned most dramatically. I don’t know why. Mom and I had been with the family most recently, so I had this fresh reminder of what I was missing out on. But at the same time, once again, school got in the way. Ambitious plans for a much too long thesis got in the way.

            This was the beginning of a pattern. Some days I really want it, and some days I can’t make myself want it with so many things going on. Life happens. Or chaos happens. I guess it happens because my investment was somewhat limited. Not the reasons I care, but the amount of my neck I had already stuck out. That was fairly limited.

            But I guess with that impulse buy I raised the stakes? I threw $100 in the pot, and that’s not money I can easily throw away. So I guess I’m in. Maybe. I hope.

            I don’t know what’s going to become of this. In some ways, I think my abilities will always be limited. And I’ll never be perfectly fluent. I mean, I grew up with a speech impediment in English, so there is an established precedent for oral issues. But I’ve got yet another godchild, and I’m tired of explaining to small children why my Tagalog is so bad. So I guess it’s time to get serious about this.

            Or so I hope.

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            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thank you for listening! Follow us on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on developing projects, like Aishi Online: an audio fiction show about existing on the social internet.

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