POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 September 2011, Thursday
By Any Other Name
The debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently by Ateneo de Manila University student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.
It was incendiary and set off an explosive string of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I have issues with language and identity myself and have written about them here before. But Soriano’s essay, on first reading, stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. Referring to Filipino speakers as merely the people who wash our dishes or fetch us from school is at the very least insensitive.
On a second, deeper reading – no, still nothing.
Other writers have “deconstructed” the piece and claimed to have found it “satirical” and like Mideo Cruz’s art, meant to provoke. But why ascribe depth when there is none? The work, hardly well-written to begin with, screams that it was crafted by an unformed, immature personality that reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.
Soriano’s was a straight-up statement of fact and I object to the over-readings. Take it at face value.
From all over the world, reactions poured in. Says the California Dreamer (a Pinoy living in Los Angeles): “The fellow might have a serious attitude problem, but it was not about his attitude but his proposition. There’s always privilege and entitlement, especially where access to knowledge is unequal. It was mean-spirited to say the least, but wasn’t he just a mirror of what’s wrong in society with a yawning gap between rich and poor, the information haves and have-nots?
“Once more, vanity is the death of us all. He should’ve kept it to himself because from now on it will be all about a certain (bleep), and not the fact he framed his argument so badly that it fell apart.
“Identity is like water- the more one tries to grasp it, the more it slips past one’s fingers.”
Soriano may have a point in that because of the circumstances shaped by our culture’s colonial mindset and economic exigencies, and some individual families’ affluence, there are Filipinos who speak English better than any of the Filipino languages. Still, there is no call to denigrate the people who speak Filipino through preference, accident of birth, or lack of learning opportunity. And why laud one language over another? We are richer for being conversant in more than one.
We multi-lingual people have the advantage, because the words in the different languages we know have specific nuances; thus we are able to communicate more effectively because we have this formidable arsenal of words. Language is foremost a tool for communication.
This is also the point Carla Montemayor raises in her “How do you make dabog in English?” on Newsbreak Online.
“Since most English people are monolingual,” she writes, “they don’t get this seemingly schizoid shifting from one language and one thought process to another. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine myself using just one language all the time, forever. That’s like having a teaspoon in your hand when there’s a banquet spread before you. Attack with all available cutlery!”
I was in Los Angeles two years when an American friend asked me and an LA-based Filipino friend, “Why do you speak to each other in English and not in Filipino?” We replied “There are concepts we discuss for which there are no words in Filipino; but matters of family and the heart are spoken of in Tagalog.”
That is where identity lies – where the heart is. Language is there to help us articulate what is inside of us, struggling to get free and be shared with others.
* * * * *
My column last week was about first-time novelist Samantha Sotto, whose Before Ever After was published recently by Random House. Her story is a miracle of determination, drive, and dreams coming true. Here’s a Q & A with her:
Jenny: Is this the first time you’ve written anything or had anything published – are you a professional writer? If not, what is your profession?
Sam: I’m a stay-at-home mom and Before Ever After is my first book. My previous career was in marketing management.
J: Where you educated in the Philippines or abroad?
Sam: I studied at Benedictine Abbey School for grade school and high school. I took up AB Communications at Ateneo. During college, I spent one year in the Netherlands where I studied at the Leiden campus of Webster University.
J: You’ve said elsewhere that Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife was your inspiration for Before Ever After. In what way is your novel different from TTW?
Sam: I think the key difference is that while Before Ever After spans different historical periods, it is not a book about time travel.
J: You’ve made your characters, except one, non-Filipino. Why did you choose to do it this way?
Sam: This might sound strange, but it was the story and characters that chose me and not the other way around. Max, my main character, popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in EDSA and told me his story. I just wrote it down.
J: Is there a second novel in the works? Will you set it abroad again?
Sam: I’m 80% done with my second novel. It explores an entirely different concept but is also set in Europe.
J: What has been the most exciting thing so far about this entire experience?
Sam: Holding the finished book in my hands was very surreal. The highlight, however, was when my kids read the dedication of the book.
J: What made you decide to try have your novel published abroad rather than in the Philippines?
Sam: I decided to pursue publishing the book abroad because I wanted to prove to my children that dreams have no boundaries.
The real-life inspiration in Boracay for “Shell”, one of the locations in the book. From the author’s public Facebook Page.
J: It’s been said that Filipinos are not a reading public. How do you think we can increase the popularity of reading in this country?
Sam: I think we should have more accessible public libraries so that people will be encouraged to read.
J: Where can we get your book?
Sam: The trade paperback edition of the book is exclusively available at National Book Store while the hardcover edition is available at Fully Booked. You can also order the e-book version via Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. People can find and follow me on samanthasotto.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@samanthasotto).
J: Describe your novel in one sentence.
Sam: It’s a fairytale for grown ups.
Samantha Sotto has proven that we don’t have to wait for dreams to come true – we can make it happen. May we all find our happy ever after!
* * * * *
Starting today till September 24 at Silverlens Gallery, catch “Slice”, Kidlat de Guia’s first solo photography show. His wife, performer Lissa Romero de Guia, calls him “the accidental artist”. “Slice” was born of those moments, she says, when “on a whim, [Kidlat] drove to Scout Hill at Camp John Hay. What he found there was completely unexpected: a childhood haunt in its death throes.”
Artist Kidlat de Guia setting up his works for his “Slice” one-man show at Silverlens Gallery. From the artist’s Facebook Page.
The images capture “the eviscerated remains of white clapboard structures in peeling green trim, the ice cream parlor transformed into a garage, debris carelessly strewn on the old tennis courts…[Kidlat’s] knee-jerk reaction to the carnage was to start shooting the beloved space that seemed to have found itself caught ‘in the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning’. Through the lightboxes these photographs have become, Kidlat allows us a look into a slice of time that may well be gone in the blink of an eye.”
Kidlat is the first of three sons of stained-glass artist Katrin Muller and multi-awarded indie filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik. ***Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste
Image of writer Carla Montemayor here. Image of author Samantha Sotto from her public Facebook Page.