As a child, I was taught to speak in English first, and Filipino second.
I was taught that English is the language of the rich, of the successful, of the learned. I was taught to be ashamed of my own culture, my own mother tongue. I was taught that Filipino was for the masses – for conversing with yayas or drivers or people at the market. I was taught that if I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a scientist, a CEO, or a politician, I would need to be fluent in English.
I spoke English at home. After all, I have two parents who spoke mostly in English as well.
In elementary, I attended a small private school. The halls were lined with signs reminding us to “speak in English” at all times. There, I developed an quasi-American accent, and a matching disdain for my own culture. “A is for apple.” Ah-pul.
English is the language of learning. Math, science, religion – everything was in English. All my textbooks were in English, all my lessons, all my exams.
I learned about photosynthesis and the hydrological cycle. I learned about prepositions and articles and conjunctions. I learned about trigonometry and algebraic functions and number theory. I learned of Galileo, da Vinci, Henry VIII.
Everything was in English.
Well, everything, except Filipino. But I never truly counted Filipino, because I hated Filipino in the way that most students hate math or science.
But it’s not just language. Culture, too.
All the books I read were in English. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, JK Rowling – I read them all. But Ibong Adarna or Florante at Laura? I had no intention of ever even cracking open their pages. I could use je ne sais quoi in a sentence, but I could still barely even understand my own language.
All the music I listened to was in English. My iPod contained everything from the Beatles to Taylor Swift to Broadway, but had nary an OPM track in sight.
All the television I watched was in English. Filipino telenovelas disgusted me; I found them boring, unappealing, and contrived. The same old, same old plot over and over again, with slightly different looking actors each time.
All the essays or poems I’d write were in English. I could write entire novelas in English, but not even a one-page essay in Filipino.
I thought, spoke, wrote, read, watched, imagined, dreamed in English.
I am more foreigner than I was Filipino. I am foreign in my own country.
English is the language of success, of progress.
Filipino is the language of my country. It’s the language of history, of Rizal and Bonifacio.
Filipino is the language of necessity. But English is the language of creation.
Filipino is the language of the past. But English is the language of the future.
Filipino is the language of culture. But English is the language of globalization.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we need Filipino. But in this country, English is the language of privilege.