Being the Filipino Who Couldn’t Speak Tagalog

I can’t speak Tagalog.

When I first moved to Canada it only took me three weeks to drop my mother tongue, and adopt English as my own. My parents never corrected me.

Though both are bilingual, I was raised in a home with a father who read to me in English and a mother who spoke to me in Tagalog.

And though both are bilingual they never expected or enforced me to speak in their native tongue.

While I could fluently understand, constructing my own sentences proved to be difficult, to the point where I sounded like a foreigner from my original mother tongue.

And truthfully, as an immigrant child growing up in Canada, the fact I could only speak English (with a bit of basic French) never bothered me. It was something I embraced, something I thrived in (which, may also explain why I am in journalism to begin with).

Except, one day in my Te Ara Pou class (a Maori-based elective I took during my exchange at AUT) my lecturer told us, along the lines, that without our language we are lost.

Raised in a Filipino-Canadian home, I am a part of the statistic of immigrant children who have been walking on the fence of two different cultures.

I never went to Catholic school like the majority of the Filipinos I have met in my life. We don’t have the painting of the “Last Supper” hanging above my dining table. Nor do we have a giant wooden spoon or fork on the wall. I hate about 95 per cent of Filipino desserts and I cannot stand Filipino soap operas or their music industry.

I know nothing about the Philippines besides Jose Rizal, Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection (she owned more than 3000 pairs), and Pacquiao, but even I hardly watch those fights.

And while I was a part of Ryerson’s Filipino-Canadian Association, I can truthfully admit I wasn’t all into it (read: I’m sorry guys).

I didn’t even have a debut for my 18th birthday.

And when my friend Genée always tells me she forgets I am an immigrant, I am reminded of how far I have come from that three-year-old from a different country.

Over the years I have become so proud of my Canadian passport, but I have never once decided to stamp it with a Philippines customs stamp.

My “To Go To” list has consisted of Ireland and Aruba and Greece and Bali. It never included “back home.”

But now, after 18 years of travelling the USA and Cuba and now Oceania, I’m going back.

In about 10 hours I will land in Manila.

And I don’t know how I should be feeling – at the moment as I sit in Gate 61, I feel a combination of nervousness and excitement and a minor eagerness to just be back in Canada already (read: living out of a suitcase is starting to take its toll on me).

Ironically, I also can’t help but think that the one place I will be culture-shocked after my five months of travelling is the one place I was born.

In a couple hours, like the prodigal son, I will return to a land that I have long ago forgotten, back to the tropical heat and bustling streets. I will finally return to the arms of a grandmother I haven’t seen in almost two decades.

And there I’ll maybe learn to appreciate the stories of jeepneys and fresh pandesal and beautiful beaches that my parents have always talked about. Maybe there I’ll see more than just the ABS CBN side of things, maybe there I’ll finally embrace the Philippines for more than just its celebrities and food.

Maybe while there I’ll learn to actually speak.

After 18 years, it’s a start.

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