AS A CHILD, my Tatay used to tell my siblings and me bedtime stories, and one of our favorites was the story of the three little pigs named Procopio, Pocholo, and Ceriaco and the big, bad wolf who wanted to eat them.
When finally we would be tucked into our blankets, suddenly our father was not an engineer with a Master’s degree, but a Master of the story, going from “And he happ-ed and he papp-ed and he blew his house in!” to singing “Procopio, Procopio, tabangi ako!”
Thus, a love for reading was born. Back then, my parents had limited our television time so I was compelled to resort to other means of entertainment, mainly finding a book to read. When I fell in love with English, it was a love affair that blinded me of cultural identity and its significance in a deteriorating generation of Filipino readers.
“Ugh. Ano raw?”
At home, we did not speak Tagalog or Filipino. The four walls of my classroom forbade me to speak in a language that was not English, so as a Bisaya speaker I fell short of being able to master and appreciate the beautiful, diverse language of the Filipino. Instead, I developed an unhealthy culture of “So what?” that was synonymous to “Ugh.”
I could say that my dismissiveness of the foundation of our culture springs from an ineffective medium of teaching that dates back to my elementary years. I was first taught what a “lapis” is when I was in Kinder 2, staring at the moving lips of my nasal-voiced teacher and wondering suddenly when the pencil had become a “lapis.” In third-year high school, my Filipino teacher’s post-reading discussions on “Noli Me Tangere” were mostly objective: “What are the names of Sisa’s two children?” “Who is Crisostomo Ibarra’s father?” “Who is Maria Clara’s father?”
Honestly, who cares? Ugh.
How does the truth of Maria Clara’s paternity benefit my life? Why should I give a rat’s ass about Padre Salvi’s fetish for virgin Pinays? Besides the lack of internalization that could have sparked some nationalism in a handful of dormant souls, what always disappointed me the most was the blatant tediousness of presenting the reading materials that fell short of drawing you into an otherwise compelling world that spoke of our identity as a country.
Denise Laurel is not “sayang.” That is. Ugh.
On the other hand, I could say that I put the blame on the cartoon shows I was exposed to when I was younger. Dora the Explorer, not “Math Tinik,” taught me how to count. Likewise, “Juan Tamad” had just been a figurative entity I was compared to on lazy afternoons when I would refuse to do nothing.
At the early age of eight, it was evident that foreign literature had ripened its influence on my life. It did not take long for me to sincerely believe that, in three years, I would be receiving my Hogwarts letter and going to Hogwarts.
In school, I was plagued by signs that said “SPEAK IN ENGLISH” or “THIS IS AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING ZONE” plastered on every surface of the campus. After being forced to stay after class and clean the classroom for speaking in Bisaya and being constantly reminded to “Save your Tagalog for Filipino class” eventually I got the hint: You are only allowed to celebrate your identity as a Filipino was during the annual “Buwan ng Wika” celebration, where the white walls of our covered court would be covered in red, blue, and yellow banners complete with cartolina cut-outs of mostly Anime-d Philippine heroes.
“The Fault In Our Stars” could not have been as sad as that.
In a Tagalog poem entitled “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” the great Filipino writer Jose Rizal wrote when he was a child, he said, “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda.” At that time when my grade-three Filipino teacher wrote it on the board, however, I did not get the point: What did it matter if I smelled like a fish? We were elementary students at the prime of our smelliness, smelling of the 12 o’ clock sun, sweat, dirt and childhood. Probably young Jose never liked the smell of “sinugba.”
But if Filipinos can’t love Filipino, who will?
My only regret is that I did not. Ugh.