It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment in my life I lost touch with my native tongue and culture. Maybe it was in preschool when I was first beginning to learn the English language? Or maybe in those moments of elementary school where I refrained from trying to talk a certain way because I knew the moment certain words left my mouth, I too would face the wrath of being bullied. Moving to Hawai’i and growing up in a city rich with Filipino culture was such an important part of my childhood. Yet, I never felt as if I belonged here. I constantly chased the idea and feeling of being anything but Filipino. I would very rarely take pride in my identity back when I was a child. In turn, these experiences have led to one of my biggest regrets yet.
Prior to moving to Hawai’i, I was born in the city of Vigan and lived there for approximately 5 months before my mother and I moved to Las Pinas. We would remain in the area until 2003 when my family petitioned for our green cards (and eventual U.S. citizenship). I don’t remember much of childhood really aside from the fact that I was fluent in both Ilocano and Tagalog. Once we moved here, it was difficult for me to understand my teachers in preschool since we did not speak the same language. The only media that I consumed soon began to drift from OPM (“Original ‘Pilipino’ Music”) to strictly Western/English songs and videos in an attempt to “catch me up” with others of my age.
I disconnected myself from the Filipino culture and language at a young age since I felt so different from my peers. I rejected participating in activities that were what I thought to be “too Filipino” for me and the only instances in which I did were when my mother encouraged me to. One of these activities was participating in the Banda Kawayan as a player of the marimba. We played at a multitude of events that celebrated the Filipino culture, yet I always felt as if I performed out of obligation, not out of pride. Even with direct exposure to the music and instruments of the Philippines, I still felt as if I was so far away. My younger self was in a constant state of rejection of my Filipino heritage. I tried so hard and did so much to conform to what it was like to be a local kid at the expense of losing what my biggest connection to my own culture was. Now, what would be that connection? It wasn't the music and the instruments, it was the language. I lost my ability to speak what was once my native tongue in exchange for fitting in with my peers. Forgetting how to speak Ilocano and Tagalog will always be my biggest regret in life.
Looking back at it all now, it was such an unfair position to be put in– giving up a significant part of my own identity in exchange for developing one deemed to be more socially acceptable. Once I was old enough to understand what was stripped away from me, I felt as if it was too late for me to relearn what I lost.
I soon realized that no matter how far off I strained, I would soon find my way back home. While I am nowhere near where I once was in terms of my ability to speak my first languages, I’d like to think that I am halfway there. Although I am unable to speak, I am able to understand. That in itself is an accomplishment that I find pride in. As I continue to make peace with my past mistakes, I find myself asking this question– when I relearn the languages that I once lost, what more can I do to reconnect with my Filipino culture?