Gillian Comonal

"Connecting with my Filipino Culture"
College Writing 1, Dr. Ana Roncero-Bellido

Ever since I was young, I knew two languages: English and Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. Both of my parents were born and raised in the Philippines and grew up speaking Tagalog. They learned English at school because it was a skill that was needed for their jobs and in 1996, they immigrated to the United States. By the time I was born, they decided to teach me English first because they believed it would be easier for me to talk to and understand other people easily. My parents thought that it was better that I learn Tagalog when I was a bit older. I used to be fluent in Tagalog when I was younger. However, as I got older, I started to lose that ability. Even though my Tagalog is not as fluent as it used to be, I am proud that I am still connected to the language and my culture.

When I think of literacy, I define it as embracing my Filipino identity. I first discovered this meaning of literacy when I visited the Philippines for the first time. I was already familiar
with Tagalog and as I noticed how people were communicating with each other in Tagalog, I was able to comprehend what they were saying. Being in the Philippines provided me with
familiarity with my culture because I felt a deep connection with it. I was able to immerse myself in it without being ashamed. In school, since everyone spoke English, it was not common for others to speak a different language other than English. If someone spoke another language, they would be told to only speak English and people would judge them for it. Seeing that happen at my school made me feel uncomfortable talking in Tagalog whenever I hang out with my Filipino friends. The expectation that was there from the community at school made me not be able to share my culture with others. This caused me to only speak Tagalog at home with my family and relatives. Once I visited the Philippines, it helped me become comfortable speaking Tagalog in
in front of other people and understand my culture better. Not only did it help me become fluent in Tagalog and know the culture, it also formed the basis of my identity as a Filipino American. It provided me with the realization that having the knowledge of another language is unique.

Having this idea of literacy also made me look at a different perspective of Filipino culture. I realized how important it was to keep the culture alive. Seeing how important it was for my
family that I have a background in Tagalog challenged me to keep continuing practicing their native language.

By the time I was in preschool, my parents had already started teaching me how to speak Tagalog. They wanted me to learn so that my brothers and I could stay connected to Filipino
culture. It was important for my parents because it will be easier for me to communicate with not only them, but my relatives and family friends. I first learned simple words for objects such as “water,” or “tubig” in Tagalog. As I was practicing, I learned how to spell and pronounce those words. It helped me become familiar with Tagalog when I continued to learn. My parents would tell me the words and have me repeat them back. Once I continued that process, it helped me to remember what the words meant in Tagalog. By the time I was around five years old, I was able to say a bit more complex phrases such as “Mahal kita,” “Salamat,” and “Kamusta ka?” Those words translate to “I love you,” “Thank you,” and “How are you?” I was also taught to call my brothers “Kuya,” which means “older brother” in Tagalog because it was a sign of respect towards an individual who is older than you. As I continued to use those phrases, I slowly started to get used to speaking Tagalog with my family. It was not perfect at that point, but I was glad that I had the ability to use my family’s native language.

When I was seven years old, I became bilingual in both Tagalog and English. I was at that point where I was capable of understanding information and media that were in Tagalog as well as having a conversation with another person. During a family vacation in the Philippines, we visited a museum where the signs placed in front of the artifacts were only in Tagalog. When I took a glimpse at it, I was able to comprehend the information that was on it. I remember it mentioned where the object was found and the history surrounding it. During that moment, I felt confident because I was able to know what the words meant in Tagalog. At public places such as the mall or a restaurant, I often challenged myself to communicate in Tagalog with other people. For instance, when I want more water I would tell the waiter, “Pahingi pa po no tubig,” meaning “May I have more water?” This was important because I wanted to continue practicing that skill of the language and immerse myself in the culture. Whenever I am talking with my parents or grandparents, we would always speak mostly Tagalog and a little bit of English. Our conversations would be about how our days have been or what we are doing. When they cook meals for my family, a phrase that I always say to them is, “Salamat sa paggawa ng pagkain,” meaning “Thank you for making the food.” Speaking in my family’s native language has been valuable for me at such a young age because it helped me practice speaking Tagalog daily. It helped to improve my communication skills and comprehension of the language itself.

When I started my senior year of high school, a few of my friends and I came up with the idea to start an Asian American club at our school. I was hanging out with two of my friends,
whom I will refer to as A. and J., after school. While talking about the clubs that were in our school, I told them, “Hey, you know what club would be really cool to have here?” “What?”, A. and J. both asked. “An Asian American club.” “That’s actually a good idea, but we already have a Diversity Leadership Club, so why should there be a club that focuses on one culture?”, A.
asked. “Well, I think that it would be great to have a club where we provide a community for Asian Americans. Plus I think it will be fun to have a club like this at our school,” I said. “So
let’s do it then,” J. said. As there were clubs and organizations that focused on a specific culture such as Spanish and French, we wanted to create a club where it mainly focused on Asian
culture. This also provided me with an opportunity to introduce Filipino culture, which is an important part of my identity. With some of the student population being Filipino amongst a huge majority of white students, it felt important to show them that representation. I wanted to indicate to those students that they were seen. When I heard about the attacks against Asian
Americans last year, I was heartbroken. It was terrifying to see that people like me were being persecuted because of their race. To make matters worse, people at school started to make fun of other Asian students for no apparent reason. I did not understand why people had to judge a person based on their ethnicity. At that point, I decided to make a change to end this mistreatment by having the club hold discussions about this issue. It was important to me as a Filipino American, that people are educated on why this hatred against Asians was an important topic. I wanted them to have knowledge about why it was serious at the time and how they can become an ally. Not only was I able to inform others about it, but I also had the opportunity to teach them about Filipino culture. I informed the members of the club on Filipino traditions and was able to teach them some words in Tagalog. It made me feel happy because I was introducing others to something that was deeply valuable to me. I felt proud to be doing this kind of work at my high school. Looking back on the club that I had created made me realize how important it was for me to speak my parents’ language. It showed me how special it was to be able to do that and stay connected with the culture.

As I think back on the moments where I spoke Tagalog fluently, I noticed how lucky I was to be able to have parents teach me their native language. There were not a lot of people that I knew who could speak a different language. It makes me appreciate the effort my parents put into teaching me Tagalog as well as introducing me to Filipino culture. Despite the fact that my Tagalog is not as fluent as it used to be, I am currently practicing so that I can be familiar with the language again. I want to be able to speak it when I travel back to the Philippines in a couple of months. I want to be able to connect with my relatives. Seeing how determined I was to get back into learning Tagalog makes me proud to be Filipino.

Whenever we visit the Philippines, I always make an effort to communicate in Tagalog with my relatives most of the time. Even though they knew English, I wanted to speak Tagalog because I felt that we would be able to communicate and understand each other easily knowing that English is not their first language. When we go out in public, I make an effort to speak
Tagalog rather than English when I order food because most of the people in the Philippines speak Tagalog and if you spoke English, people would think that you were a tourist. Being bilingual brought a lot of challenges. If I spoke English in the Philippines, people would judge me for it. If I talked in Tagalog in America, others would think I am weird. Despite this, I did not let it discourage me. In fact, it made me feel grateful to know more than one language. It helped me become confident in my ability to speak Tagalog. I even make an effort to look at media such as television, books, and music in Tagalog so that I can practice my pronunciation of the words. Pronunciation is vital in Tagalog as well as other languages because if a word that someone says is pronounced incorrectly, others might misunderstand it. That proved to be important as I first started to learn how to speak the language when I was younger. When I was taught the word for “water,” which is “tubig,” I pronounced it as “tub-ig” instead of “too-big.” It was a word that I kept messing up and my parents helped me practice saying that word correctly until I was finally able to pronounce it correctly.

Looking back, I realized how much work I put into understanding Tagalog and speaking it compared to writing. With writing, I was able to know what the words looked like and how they were formed. Formatting sentences in Tagalog proved to be easier for me since I understood the vocabulary, but speaking in Tagalog takes practice and time to be fluent in it. By having this ability, it helped me see what literacy means to me. Literacy was not just focused solely on speaking and writing in one language. It was more than that. Literacy to me is the basis of my Filipino American identity, being involved in the culture, and keeping my culture alive. Having the knowledge of Tagalog and discovering what literacy means to me has helped me continue practicing the language to this day.

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