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The Filipino American Community Problems on the Pilipino Language

by Arturo P. Garcia Friday, Aug. 11, 2006 at 3:17 PM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

August is usually the National Language Week ( Linggo ng Wika) in the Philippines. Pesante-USA presented this paper this week for Filipinos in the Philippines and America to ponder. Its an irony while the Philippine government ( US-Arroyo regime) is reverting to the colonial mendicancy of propagating English to compete in the international market for labor exports, Filipinos abroad and Filipino Americans in the U.S are advancing the propagation of Pilipino in the United States. This is an important development we should monitor and work on. The more than 3 million Filipinos in the United States might be away from their homeland but their patriotism is afire and will never forget their roots.

The Filipino American Community Problems on the Pilipino Language

By Arturo P. Garcia

Philippine Peasant Support Network (Pesante)-USA

August 10, 2006



Los Angeles – “Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita, ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda”

- Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Pilipino is one of the top ten languages spoken in California. Filipino or Tagalog ranks as number 4 ( 626,399) in the table Language 1 , primary language California after English, Spanish or Creole and Chinese. ( Findings Primary Language Spoken at Home, p. 5 California Speaks, Language Diversity and English Proficiency, Revised, March 2006 )

Besides Tagalog, other Pilipino languages spoken, written and used by Filipinos in the state of California that denotes their regions in the Philippines are Cebuano, Ilokano, Pangalatok, Bicolano, Waray, Ilongo Kapampangan and Boholano. There are other dialects but these are the 8 major languages of the Philippines.

The Pilipino Language

The national language of the Philippines has been subject to several controversies and misunderstandings, even to this day. The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, Article XIV, Section 6 merely states: "The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages."

Although Filipino (formerly called Pilipino) is the national language and one of the official languages of the Philippines—along with English—as designated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The language, a member of the Austronesian languages, is a standardized dialect of Tagalog. It is sometimes referred to as, albeit incorrectly, the generic name for the several different languages of the Philippines.

On November 13, 1937, the First National Assembly created the National Language Institute, which selected Tagalog, the indigenous language with the most developed and extensive written literary tradition (mirroring that of the Tuscan dialect of Italian), as the basis of a new national language. In 1961, this language became known as Pilipino, which was later renamed to Filipino in the 1972 Constitution

The development and formal adoption of a common national language to be known as Filipino had been mandated in Section XV of the 1973 Constitution. Whether the Filipino language should be based on Tagalog is not stated, although a large number of people assumed that Filipino is equivalent to Pilipino, the national language at that time which is clearly based on Tagalog.

Most Filipinos will have one of the following three views when questioned regarding the Filipino language:

- Filipino, like its older version, Pilipino, is simply another name for the Tagalog language.

- Filipino is the amalgamation of all Philippine languages, with English and Spanish serving as possible vocabulary sources.

- Filipino is Tagalog with borrowings from English and other Philippine languages; it is Tagalog as spoken in Metro Manila today.

Most people in the Philippines still consider Filipino as essentially and practically the same language as Tagalog. Filipinos are more likely to ask their countrymen if they speak "Tagalog" rather than "Filipino." Proponents of the second view however, specifically state that Tagalog does not include words such as guapa (beautiful), those terms whose meaning can be easily guessed by native Tagalog speakers but are not generally considered or used in the Tagalog-speaking region. (Wikepedia, 2006)

The Filipinos in California

The Chinese and the Filipinos are the two largest Asian groups and make up more than half of the Asian population. According to Census 2000, there are 918, 678 population of the Filipinos in the state of California. ( The Diverse Face of Asian and Pacific Islanders in California, 2005, p. 4- 5)

Meanwhile the Philippine consulate place the number of Filipinos in California as over 1.5 million about 600,000 are in Los Angeles. (Message by Consul General Willy Gaa, Lotus Festival Souvenir Program, July 2006)

More than one if five Filipinos or 25%, the second largest group are limited English proficient (LEP). If we add the linguistically isolated population I the Filipino community that is 11 % (ibid p. 51), the percentage will be bigger which is 35% or roughly 321, 537 out of the 918, 678 population.

If we will consider another data, 62% (569, 580) of the Filipino American population is foreign born this will be a bigger percentage of the population who can converse in (read and write) English but does not necessarily means understand the language,

Table 1- Filipino American Population, California, 2000

Regions Population (Inclusive of ethnicity) Foreign-born Limited English

Proficient

California 1, 098, 321 59% 23%

Bay Area (Including San Francisco) 321, 333 47% 24%

Central Valley 98, 680 47% 23%

Southern California 581, 120 62% 22%

Cultural Competency on the Pilipino language

There are more than one hundred different dialects and languages spoken in the Philippines ( Tompar-Tiu and Sustento-Seneriches, 1995). Tagalog is the most frequently spoken a Filipino language both in the Philippines and the United States. The majority of Filipino immigrants come to the United States with the ability to speak, read and write in English. The colonial legacy endures through language preference and use ( Rimonte, 1997). (Children of Color, Psychological Interventions with Culturally Diverse Youth Second revised Edition, Agbayani-Seiwert, Enrile, p. 248)

Colonial Mentality Persists.

This is because the Philippines is a colony of the United States and the educational system was based in English, there is a perception in the United States that every Filipino knows how to speak, write and use English. Some Filipinos even take pride being called as “brown Americans.”

But the recent language study called “The Diverse Face of Asia And Pacific Islanders in California” found out that 23% of the Filipinos are Limited English Proficient (LEP) and 11% are Linguistically Isolated or 35% of the more or less one million population in California.

These facts clearly refute such notion that Filipinos does not need translation or materials in English are enough for Filipinos in the United States.

This most evident in the fact that officially the US government considers Tagalog as the national language of the Philippines. It is mentioned in all official documents and there are no national efforts from the Filipino American community to rectify or correct it officially. Although in the community leading Filipino academician correct these official categorization nominally but not vigorously.

Other Filipinos who have been too long in the United States think that Filipinos do as Romans do. “We are in American, thus we should speak only in English,” which is an absurd argument. But usually we can see and observe many Filipinos trying hard to speak only in English and wont even identify themselves or give a clue that they are Filipinos.

The most conspicuous ones can we readily identify by their thick accent mo matter how hard they hide their identity as Filipinos. The Census 2000 affirmed this sad truth when only 918, 678 identified themselves as Filipino Americans out of the more than 1, 098, 325. The rest identified them as Americans or Asians, Hawaiian Americans and others although they were of Filipino ancestry. ( ibid, p. 46% )

Pilipino or Taglish?

In the Philippines, English is as widely understood as Tagalog and has evolved into a slang referred as Taglish. Although majority of the immigrants are able to read, speak or write English, their use and understanding may be limited. Coloquial phrases and words used in the United States may not be familiar to immigrants.

Some people also point out that Filipino should include English words commonly used by Filipinos whereas purist Tagalog does not. During the time when the language was still known as Pilipino (before the name was changed to Filipino), the tendency was to use pure Tagalog, even trying to replace words of Spanish or English origin with new artificially coined words that are based on Tagalog. To some people, this differentiates Filipino from Pilipino. ( Wikedpia, 2006)

Language and lack of cultural competent services.

Many academians and social scientist identify that language itself and the lack cultural competent services may function as barriers to service for many Asians Prior studies suggest that lack of cultural sensitive knowledge and service delivery is related to Filipino American underutilization and retention of mental health services (Zane, Takeuchi and Young, 1994: Flakerrud and Soldevilla, 1986) (Ibid. p.248)

To the well-educated Filipinos, there appears to be a preference for English over the Filipino language. In a study of Filipino American immigrants, the majority reported that they equally preferred English and Filipino dialect or preferred English over a Filipino dialect ( Agbayani-Seiwert, 1993). However, many Filipino American speaks with strong accent that is associated with the strong sense of inferiority according to Rimonde ( 1997) and other scholars. ( ibid pp. 248-249)

This inferiority complex that comes from deep colonial mentality causes Filipinos to appear as knowing how to speak or understand English and lead them to be ashamed to admit that they have problems in understanding the English language. Unlike other races who used their language as a defense mechanism, Filipinos tends to pretend they know although they do not know and this leads to more problems and barriers in pursuing or speaking English. Especially if they have very strong accents that betrays their regional language.

Especially for consumers they need translators, culturally sensitive and competent outreach workers who do not only know their language but also knows the cultural sensitivities of the people. This is where the community outreach workers for are needed.

Acculturation or Alientation.

Filipino parents may view accent as interfering with acceptance by host culture. arents may not necessarily want their children to lose or replace their Filipino culture and beliefs, yet they see structural assimilation as being key to upward mobility. Children are caught in the middle. In order to satisfy parental expectation of success, children must acculturate to a certain degree: if they do not, they will not be able to satisfy their parents’ expectation. To achieve these expectations mans they will inevitably alienate themselves from family ( Batiste, 1987: Berry and others, 1989). (Ibid, p. 249).

But one greater problem is the alienation of the Filipino American youth to the community. Many Filipino American youth resents why their parents did not teach them their own language and they blame this to their alienation to the community they wanted to represent.

Thus, there is a strong movement to learn Pilipino among the youth in the community and in the academe. This came about from the American civil rights movement in the 1960’s and early 70’s but is only gaining more ground today.

Propagation of the Pilipino in America Gaining Ground

The Filipino community was united in pushing for the teaching of the Pilipino Language in schools in California. This struggle has a long history and gained prominence only in 1994.

Filipino Americans launched the movement for years with mass actions, school boycotts, forums and discussions. And there is not letting up in this movement for Pilipino Studies in Southern California. This resulted in the UCLA in Southern California to the formation of the Department of Southeast Asian Languages Studies in 1995.

From then on Tagalog was taught in UCLA but it is still beyond the status of the Latino nor other Asian languages studies. Philippine Studies is still not a department nor has gained its academic status in California. This is because of lack of finances and governmental support that is present with other language studies of other nationalities in America.

This situation speaks much of the status of the Filipino American community. As usual, the culprit is the so called lack of unity in the community. This is the quick reply of anyone who will be asked about the sorry state of propagation of the language.

A.B 420 Approval

But it is not hard to point out that San Diego Filipinos is the most advance element on the propagation of Pilipino in America. When the California law was passed last year that authorizes the teaching of Pilipino in schools, San Diego is now teaching Pilipino in all years in all public high schools while Los Angeles is left behind.

UC Irvine is also advance in teaching its Pilipino to college students who wanted to learn it despite the lack of support from the University administration. They raised funds to maintain its Tagalog Program- the TAPS.

The latest victory of the Filipino American on the propagation of the Filipino language in California was when Assembly Bill 420- the California Subject Examination for Teachers in Filipino Language was passed by the California Assembly last September 2005. The bill was introduced by Assembly member Shirley Horton. The law allows Pilipino to be taught and teachers to be accredited to teach the Filipino language in schools.

This was a product of almost a year of advocacy and organizing by Filipino American activists, academicians especially Filipino language teachers and students. As usual Los Angeles and San Diego spearheaded the petition campaign on line. A record number, 3662 signed the on line petition to the California State Assembly. The biggest number of petition signed by the community for the passage of a bill.

Its an irony while the Philippine government is reverting to the colonial mendicancy of propagating English to compete in the international market for labor exports, Filipinos abroad and Filipino Americans in the U.S are advancing the propagation of Pilipino in the United States. This is an important development we should monitor and work on.

The more than 3 million Filipinos in the United States might be away from their homeland but their patriotism is afire and will never forget their roots. As Dr. Jose Rizal said:

“ If our countrymen hope in us here in Europe, they are certainly mistaken... The help we can give them is our lives in our own country. The error all make in thinking we can help here, far away, is a great mistake indeed. The medicine must be brought near to the sick man. Had I not been unwilling to shorten the lives of my parents, I would not have left the Philippines, no matter what happened. Those five months I stayed there were a model life, a book even better than the Noli me Tangere. The field of battle is the Philippines; there is where we should be. “

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