The gatekeeper of culture-A A +A
Inside Looking In
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
LANGUAGE is sort of a gatekeeper of culture. It can keep the complex threads of a culture intact, and it can also act as a buffer against the less appealing aspects of more dominant, invasive cultures. If you lose your mother tongue, your culture may lose its main glue and defense. You and your community may undergo changes far beyond the language you lost. If an Igorot youth loses his native tongue for example (because his parents chose to “modernize” him and speak Tagalog), and Tagalog becomes his main mode of understanding and communicating, suddenly the center of his cultural universe shifts from the mountains and rice terraces of the Cordilleras to the glittery, plastic, and superficial game shows he sees on TV, the rock bands that flood the radio waves, the polluted, crowded streets of the capital city, the austere high-rise buildings (symbols of economic “progress”)…basically whatever is associated with the biggest, most obvious, and most prolific place of his new language: Manila. He is still an Igorot, even if he doesn’t speak his native tongue. But now that another language has direct access to his conscience, his ideas, hopes and dreams become centered on someone else’s definition of progress. And things that are valued by his adopted language community, so far and different from the Cordilleras, are things he is not likely to have. It’s a recipe for self-deprication. Money and Manila are the future. Staying in the province is a waste of time, he thinks. And at the nearest opportunity, he leaves. For everyone else remaining at home, his departure strengthens the impression that they also have no future unless they leave. It’s a stubborn drain.
This theoretical example sounds very airy-fairy and sentimental. But my point is that when you are exposed to a language, you are exposed to a lot more than the language itself – you’re exposed to all the cultural aspects transmitted by the language too. This might not be a bad thing, but if these imported cultural aspects come with a hint of superiority, it can lead you to believe that someone else’s culture and language is better than yours. People challenge, “So what if many Filipinos are choosing Tagalog over their own languages? It’s practical. There’s more opportunity if you speak Tagalog.” But that statement only makes sense if you believe that what’s on offer in Manila is a better lifestyle than what’s on offer in your province. And the main way you would come to such a conclusion is if you bought into the image of progress transmitted by said imported culture! The more you are exposed to that language and that lifestyle, even from a distance, the more likely you are going to think it’s something desirable.
I personally don’t think that there is anything inherently better about having a nice apartment, a high salary, and being able to shop at all your favourite malls. A simple life, with much fewer resources, can be just as spiritually fulfilling. As long as one is well off enough that basic shelter, clothing, food, transport, and some entertainment needs are met, happiness is a mindset, not an economic condition. My family has represented many ends of the economic spectrum over the years, with little change in who we are or our happiness. Family, friends, nature, and spirituality have been much more important in the grand scheme of things.
We all have to take a step back at times and reevaluate our assumptions. Are the things that are most often talked about on TV the most important or relevant issues for me? Are the stated ambitions of my country’s government appropriate for all groups living inside it, including mine? Will switching to Tagalog and moving to Manila solve all my problems? What are my problems, and how exactly do I want to fix them? If you are proud of your origins, the value of your culture, and your native tongue, it can help put some of these questions in perspective. Knowing the true value of what you have—like a strong social support system, fresh, healthy food, clean air, physical activity, natural beauty, low crime, leisure time, etc—can help lessen the impact of a political and social environment insinuating that someone else / somewhere else is better than you / your place. If you dismiss your language and culture, you are almost certainly to fall prey to such an insinuation, but if you hold on to them, your goals in life are likely to find a better balance: hopefully, a blend of both economic realism and spiritual fulfilment. That is, so that you can pick and choose which external forces of change to accept, and what to politely decline.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 01, 2010.