The wind whipped like there was no tomorrow through the narrow streets of Chavayan Village. I was in Batanes, the dream destination of most travelers in the country. There was almost no one around except the silent stone houses and a bunch of giggling kids rolling a plastic drum. Approaching them, I asked what they were doing. They replied in tongues foreign to my ears, controlling their laughter at the task at hand; that is to roll the drum with another kid riding inside.
While absolutely no trace of the Filipino language was uttered from their innocent mouths, I was still able to communicate through smiles and gestures with these Ivatan children.
A realization occurred to me then; had they spoken to me in Filipino, that magical moment I witnessed would have been totally different. It would have transformed it into something ordinary; reduced to a street scene perhaps at the crowded alleyways of Manila.
It would have lost its magic. It would have lost its charm.
“You’re from Dumaguete City, right? How come you speak in straight unaccented Filipino?”
“I’ve been in Manila for a couple of years now, coming here to find better work. But every time I started to speak, everyone would tease and laugh at me for my accent, saying how hard my tongue is.”
Meet E. While we’re not really tight friends, I’ve known her for quite a bit since we move around the same traveling circle. Her being denied of her own dialect and her being forced to change her accent to fit with the Manila crowd saddens me.
During my first half of my life, the metropolitan culture led me to believe that people with any other provincial accent or punto, as we tend to call it, especially those from the south, is nothing short of lowly. It is a harsh generalization, especially for our Visayan brethrens, but we tend to take it in stride and act as if it’s nothing but natural.
With the advent of people from the provinces looking for greener pastures in Manila, the people of the metro started to associate these tones of a different accent to citizens with lowly jobs; our maids, the stevedores, the market vendors, that cashier in the supermarket.
We laugh how they mispronounce words. We ridicule the way they speak.
We Filipinos tend to view ourselves as above racism, but it is happening right within our very own backyards, within our very homes. And I don’t think we’re even aware of it.
”Ate pabili naman po ng dalawang hamburger at softdrinks. Magkano po yun?” (Hi, can I buy two hamburgers and a bottle of softdrinks? How much?)
I was in Bacolod City. A neophyte traveler stepping for the first time on the Island of Visayas. The girl started to speak to me in Ilonggo and things started to run through my head. How rude, I thought. I spoke to her in Filipino and she answered in another dialect. I’m pretty sure she knew how to speak Filipino but it seems she refused to want to. I know for a fact that the Filipino language is taught to all the schools in the Philippines.
It took me some time to understand this incident.
It never occurred to me that I was the visitor in their land. Why should they bend to my own language when they have their own? Would I have reacted the same if I was in another country and I get a reply, not in English, but in Nihongo? Parallel to this, doesn’t the world look to Japan for their sense of nationalism; when almost everything else in the world is in English, they still steadfastly adhere to their own language?
I was standing there, amidst these kids in Batanes, speaking to them in Filipino, and them, returning their answers in Ivatan when something finally clicked in my mind. I started to imagine a Batanes without the Ivatan-speaking populace; these same Ivatan kids, but speaking in straight flawless Filipino.
It felt wrong. It wouldn’t be the same magical Batanes that I’m experiencing that very moment.
The realization that being different is not a bad thing hit me hard. I started to appreciate how things would start to lose their character once they start to conform. And the last thing one should compromise is one’s own language. It is the root of who you are as a people.
I started to see things differently.
Change is inevitable but these changes should not bury your roots.
Visiting the schools in the island of Batanes, I saw how teachers use their native language to teach lessons in classrooms. I saw how they’re able to preserve their own customs while still managing to adapt at the changing times.
The Ivatans who has gone through school now know how to speak in Filipino, but when on their own, they still relish the sound of their own native tongue. And it made me respect them for it.
Traveling does that to you.
It changes your perspective on things you would normally not have noticed. It teaches you humility. It embodies a sense of respect. It makes you understand people; be sensible to their actions, their ways. It tells you that you are not the standard after all and that everyone else is equal. You become a totally different individual through the experiences on the road.
And after years and years of being pre-conditioned by my environment to look down on other people, it made me realize how wrong I was. How wrong society is in passing judgment just by hearing the tongues of another individual different from them.
It started me on path to make people understand this. But letting people understand this seemingly simple thing is not an easy task in itself. Instead of sounding like a preacher, what I advise people to do is to travel.
Travel, and let the world change you.