Friday August 17, 2018

Murillo: English for Filipinos and politics

GOING over some writings about the English we speak in the Philippines, a whole political scenario has flickered in my mind. We all know about our national heroes who went to war against Spain; the consequences that followed are basic in our school memories though their details are not fully remembered nor understood by most.

Oh yes, the dashing hero Jose Rizal was shot at the Luneta for his writings, the brave though not too well schooled (as books say) Andres Bonifacio fought the Spaniards with a fiery heart, but he was liquidated at the advice of Emilio Aguinaldo who was a rival for our Philippine Republic’s presidency. This Republic was declared in Benguet Province but was not recognized by the Americans. And the reason was...And so it goes...

The Spaniards sold our country to America and despite our expected independence and liberation from foreign rule, we had to remain a dependent of the USA. We had American governor generals, mayors; even the Bureau of Public Highways was led by Americans.

And then came the bright idea to integrate the Filipinos more closely with the Americans. There was born the Thomasites, a group of American teachers in 1901 who would teach English to the Filipinos starting from the elementary level. These teachers came from good schools, Harvard, Princeton and so on.

Many, however, came from the ranks of the soldiers who fought in the Philippines. They wanted to stay and some made their residences here.

American officials were wary about the cussy soldiers’ language that may cause shame to the USA, if the language learned would be cussy too.

Therefore, selections were done carefully but as everyone knows, the cussy language was learned too by our forefathers until the present generation. Blame this on the movies and technology of today!

So where’s the politics here? American officials thought that integration with a new people would be better if their image could be softened. Our heroes continued to fight those that would take over our sovereignty but we were not as strong as the great powers then, so from Spain, we were taken by the Americans.

Here and there were still rebellious groups in the mountains. To lessen these, English was taught to the Filipinos for our ascendants to integrate better with the foreign milieu.

The Thomasites were our first English teachers and some of them were assigned in Baguio and in the Cordilleras, mostly Benguet. Don’t wonder then if Baguio or Cordillera people speak better English than most of the lowlanders. We had more of the better Thomasites.

These teachers, however, had a role in connection with American rule. They symbolized the maternal image of the colonizer with language as the weapon, while the soldiers of war were the paternal image of violence with their cannons and their guns. This new group bore “tender violence” while the soldiers, the exact opposite. American officials wanted to neutralize the picture that many Filipinos had against the USA.

To speak their language then, and to meet with very kind and motherly teachers would give the picture of a benevolent colonizer...and so “Uncle Sam” was created, referring of course to the USA as a caring family member, an uncle or a big brother.

The Thomasites were the bringers of better education, and speaking the English language correctly became a measure of better educated or highly educated people. The teachers then were strict when learning the new language. Not to speak the language well was criticized and downgraded.

To this day, this idea persists. Sadly it has become and is still... the measure of a person’s intellectual prowess. When English is not spoken well, we think the person is not intelligent enough to do a job or worse, that he comes from poorer schools. This is still a remnant of what we call the “colonial mentality.” We put to shame one who cannot speak English well; we make fun of poorly spoken English on TV and in movies.

These were embedded in our forefathers’ consciousness, and sadly handed over to us ...and perhaps to the next generations?

Speaking about colonizers, when the Philippines was under Spain, Andres Bonifacio did not speak educated Spanish, unlike Emilio Aguinaldo and the literates then. The Spaniards refused to teach Spanish to the Filipinos in order to keep them subservient to Spanish rule.

Only a selected few were given education. Bonifacio was done away with because the elite at that time said he could never be a good statesman. His education was in question...Even if the majority of the Filipinos then clamoured for him to be president, he would just bring shame to the presidency!

Language is a weapon. It was the “tender weapon” for colonization by the Americans. Today, the English language is still considered a measuring stick for the ability of a person to lead in many things, including the presidency!

This is as far as our colonization has gone. We have to shake some of these out of our systems.

Baguio I love you!